Just as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg morphed into moguls in the late 1970s, New Zealand native Peter Jackson is following the same career path. He’s acting as a guiding light on multiple movies he won’t actually direct, in hopes of expanding his Wellington-based movie studio into a Down Under powerhouse. Entertainment Weekly has already reported on the news that Jackson might helm a new version of The Hobbit; here’s an extended Q&A that fills out the details on everything he’s currently up to.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You and your life partner, Fran Walsh, who’s also one of your chief collaborators (along with screenwriter Philippa Boyens), disappeared for a while after King Kong opened.
PETER JACKSON: We came out of Kong having finished close to 10 years of a relatively stressful lifestyle. Any film is stressful, but Lord of the Rings and Kong were especially big, difficult movies. We wanted to wind things down a little bit.
Are you and Fran capable of vacationing?
We’re compulsive filmmakers in the sense that once you start doing it, the next idea comes along and you get excited and can’t stop yourself. But that’s one of the reasons we’re producing a number of things now rather than directing. Producing is fun and it’s not as all-consuming. It allows us to enjoy the projects without getting beaten up by them quite so badly.
Did you get to travel or unwind at all after Kong?
Back in May, we did a sort of location trip for The Dam Busters [a new version of the 1954 film about English pilots destroying key German targets in WWII]. The story has been an interest of mine ever since I saw the movie as a kid. We flew to England and visited some Royal Air Force bases and spoke to some of the old pilots. Then we went to Germany and visited the dams they attacked, which are still there. They’re repaired now, obviously. We also went to Pennsylvania to have a look around the potential area that The Lovely Bones would take place in, around Norristown. It’s great to work on [the script of] a movie and then go visit places the movie takes place in, because you feel like you’re stepping into the film, to some degree.
You said a few years back that you had no idea how anyone could make a film out of Lovely Bones, and that’s what made you want to tackle it as a director. What solutions have you, Fran, and Philippa come up with in terms of your approach to the script?
It’s still happening. We’ve just finished what you could describe as a draft, although it’s taken us all year to write. We’ve banged at the doors of the book, and some doors have opened and some doors haven’t. We’ve circled around it, doing outlines and treatments for various bits. For a while, we didn’t have it all joined together. It’s been a great process, and a process that’s only been possible because we’ve had the luxury of time.
Is that a conscious strategy, to slow things down a bit in your life?
We’re not imposing any deadlines on ourselves with all these projects. They’ll take as long as they need to until we’re happy with them.
You dealt very seriously with two young girls involved in a murder in Heavenly Creatures, and handled the afterlife comedically in The Frighteners. What will the tone be like in Lovely Bones, which involves a 14-year-old girl being murdered, then looking down from heaven?
The act of brutality in the book is shocking, but it’s brief and momentary. It’s obviously not something we’re going to dwell on or make explicit. That’s just the catalyst. What’s great about the book is that so much of it is the reaction, the aftermath. Susie, the victim, doesn’t have self-pity. It certainly wouldn’t make for an entertaining movie if she felt sorry for herself. This girl has been murdered, but she looks back on it with a degree of irony.
So will some of it actually be funny?
I don’t think that because you die and move on to somewhere else that you lose your sense of humor. I’m sure humor continues, and that’s part of the spirit of the book. It’s not a comedy or a black comedy, but it certainly has ironic, humorous observations about death.
Is Dakota Fanning an actress you’d consider to play Susie?
We’re fans of hers, but we haven’t given a great deal of thought to casting. Partly that’s because we have to wait until we know the exact [shooting] schedule of the movie. When you’re dealing with that age group — kids who are 12, 13, 14 — they grow up so quickly. Dakota is terrific — boy, she can act.
Let’s switch gears to The Hobbit. If you signed on to direct it, you’d be working with New Line again, as well as MGM, yet you’re still in the process of suing New Line over profit issues on Lord of the Rings. Doesn’t that affect your relationship with New Line overall?
No no no, I’d love to make another film for New Line. And certainly The Hobbit isn’t involved in the lawsuit. Bilbo Baggins doesn’t work for the accounting department of New Line, and I certainly don’t hold him to blame for any of our disputes.
Did you actually do any preproduction for a potential Hobbit film during LOTR, or would you have to start nearly from scratch?
There would be a reasonable amount [still] to do. There are a couple of locations in The Hobbit that are shared with Lord of the Rings. Hobbiton and Bilbo Baggins’ house obviously appear, and Rivendell, where the elves were in Fellowship of the Ring, also plays a part. We’ve still kept the miniatures of Rivendell in storage, and the set of Bag End, Bilbo Baggins’ house, has also been saved.
The larger version of the Bag End set — the one big enough to make Elijah Wood look hobbit-size — is on your own property now, isn’t it?
Oh yeah, it’s great. It’s the guest house. I guess if we needed it for the movie, we could just go and film in it and it’d be fine.
Next page: Jackson’s ideas for a darker Hobbit…