Richard Kelly recalls working with Dwayne Johnson on his sci-fi cult classic.
It was an interesting decision to follow up Donnie Darko with Southland Tales, but that's exactly what director Richard Kelly did in 2006. The film is a sprawling sort-of post-apocalyptic science-fiction epic about a movie star named Boxer Santaros who writes a screenplay with porn star Krista Now (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), which foretells the end of the world.
The cast was impressive, featuring the likes of Seann William Scott, Mandy Moore, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shaun, Bai Ling, Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, and Cheri Oteri. Justin Timberlake also appeared as a drugged-out soldier who participates in an elaborate, choreographed music video in which he lip syncs to the Killers' All These Things That I've Done.
Despite its star-studded lineup, Southland Tales only grossed $375 thousand internationally against a reported $17 million budget. In addition to being a box-office disappointment, the critical reception was equally harsh.
Despite not having a finished cut, Kelly opted to debut the film at Cannes in 2006. The audience was merciless. Famed critic Roger Ebert went so far as saying that the boos were deafening. He even described himself as being affronted by what he had just watched.
With a new special-edition Blu-Ray on the way, Richard Kelly sat down with Entertainment Weekly to talk about the movie. He says that he has been working on a prequel screenplay and would love to work with The Rock again, but cannot address that situation at the moment. Additionally, he shared the story of how Johnson was cast in the film. Here is what he said:
"Well, we were trying to figure out how to cast the role of Boxer Santeros, which was a huge, huge challenge. I believe we had Seann William Scott and Sarah Michelle Gellar attached to the film but we couldn't make the film without Boxer Santeros. It was an extremely challenging role to cast, because we needed a big star who was willing to play this schizophrenic deconstruction of a movie star having a complete meltdown. It required a courage and a bravery on the part of a big movie star willing to take that plunge.
When I met wIth Dwayne, it was just an immediate connection. He was immediately excited and open and just completely eager to take all these risks and dive into playing this role. It was just this wonderful connection. Getting to sit across from him — I think this was the very beginning of 2005 when we met — I was just blown away by his charisma. I'd seen him in the wrestling ring and seen a few of his movies. It was so clear to me that he was on his way to becoming the biggest movie star in the world, that he had that potential, that he had that charisma. Looking at all his work, and looking at all his performances in the pro-wrestling ring, I could just tell he had this just incredible comedic timing. I just knew that he could do an incredible job.
So, we knew that we had found Boxer Santeros and we knew that there was no other actor who could have ever done it except for him. It was just this wonderful opportunity where he was excited to do something really edgy and provocative and go outside of the wheelhouse so to speak. A lot of actors have their comfort zone where they feel like they're safe doing specific kinds of roles or genres, doing the specific kinds of movies that studios are comfortable putting them in to make money. This was a much bigger sandbox for Dwayne to play around in, to play this unhinged character, so I was just so thrilled to get him and the movie would not have been made without him. Dwayne, Seann, and Sarah, that was the glue that held the whole movie together, and then we could fill the rest of the cast around them. Yeah, it was a real gift to get Dwayne."
The former WWE Superstar has since gone on to become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He can next be seen this July when he stars in Disney's Jungle Cruise.