Woman in Black Producer Simon Oakes Exclusive Interview

Woman in Black Producer Simon Oakes Exclusive Interview
Updated: 02-04-2012

by Staci Layne Wilson

Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer whose grief has put his career in jeopardy, is sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric. But upon his arrival, it soon becomes clear that everyone in the town is keeping a deadly secret. Although the townspeople try to keep Kipps from learning their tragic history, he soon discovers that the house belonging to his client is haunted by the ghost of a woman who is determined to find someone and something she lost... and no one, not even the children, are safe from her vengeance.
Woman in Black opened in theaters yesterday; here in the US or the whole entire month of January, horror films have opened at number one. So you're hopefully on a roll of a wave there.
Simon Oakes: What I feel about that, what I hope is, that the opening is not just the weekend. As you know, these films can have a great success, and then they disappear again. I hope Woman in Black has some legs and attracts a wider audience. We will see what happens.
How did you first encounter [screenwriter] Jane Goldman and what made you think she would be the one to write this screenplay?
Simon Oakes:  I knew her novel. She had written some genre novels. She had been on record as sort of a Gothic kind of character. I got word that she had a passion for J. horror, and I thought she would bring sort of a contemporary feel to The Woman in Black because she wrote Kick Ass, X-Men and on. To be honest with you, on a wing and a prayer, I got a hold of her and I pitched The Woman in Black. She remembered this novel from her youth. It didn't go anywhere else. She jumped on board really really quickly and sort of made it her own. We were very fortunate because she's probably one of the most sought after screenwriters in the world now. We were very lucky to get her when we did.
Can you talk a little bit about what sort of nuance that Daniel Radcliffe brings to this role and how he makes it his own?
Simon Oakes: Daniel read the screenplay the day after the last day of filming the Harry Potter series. He read it on the plane. And then by Sunday night, I heard him say that he definitely wanted to play Arthur Kipps and he met with the directors. He was full of desire for that part [but he] sort of doubted that he could pull it off. [Kipps]  was a father, he was recently widowed. He was the father of a young child. Very soon James Watts the director, realized that he could pull it off and I think one of the things was that the part requires a lot of energy but also requires the ability to act off other actors. A very reactive performance. I think he has some depth to him because he's been acting since 10 years of age, and often acting against very big heavyweight actors that he knows. Whether be his Dumbledore or whether it be Gary Oldman whether it be Ralph Fiennes… great performers. So he had a lot of confidence. There wasn't really anybody else, we considered.
Now the director, James Watkins, how do you know him?
Simon Oakes: I know James because of Eden Lake, which was his first film; he showed a lot of promise, I knew that he was brilliant. I think he's done a tremendous job. I think when you see this film. I think you will agree with us..
How do you feel about the phenomenon that just seems to keep going with the found footage and all the shaky cam? You're doing something very traditional and cinematic here, how do you feel about that trend and also how do you feel about how audiences might take this movie?
Simon Oakes: I have talked about this, that horror is a very broad brush. It's got everything from sort of Hitchcock's and Kubrick's, to James Wan and Eli Roth. It's a very broad brush. Is that an audience will believe if I say, old-fashioned. I think that's the wrong word. I think classical is the better word. I think that the better word for it is classical storytelling and being true to the genre. True to the period, making it look beautiful, and very much like keeping with the design of the screenplay in the original novella. So absolutely I think it's fine and I'm really thrilled if we're getting a young audience to come and see a movie like this. It shows that you don't have to have a hacked up body count by the end of the first reel to get people excited.
How much horror is actually present in this film for fans who are looking for a bit of the visceral? Is it mostly atmospheric, or… how would you describe it?
Simon Oakes: I think the fact of the matter is that I know that we've had all the test screenings in what happened last night in America, and here in the UK. You don't have to show something visceral to get people frightened. In fact, some arguments say that the less you show the more terrifying it can become. I think there is a right balance between some pretty visceral scary moments and what I would call the 'dread quotient'. It's a combination of those two things.
I am wondering also about the comparisons for the real horror geeks who know about the other version of The Woman in Black. 
Simon Oakes: I just wouldn't compare them. The television show was made in 1989. I haven't seen it. It was a television film, it wasn't a movie. It wasn't the original screenplay, it was an adaptation of the book. And I specifically and deliberately didn't look at it. I don't know, I can't have that.
I am curious to know what else is in store for Hammer, what have you got coming up that you are excited about?
Simon Oakes: We've got a pretty actual slate we've got an adaptation ofBoneshaker which I think is very cool. The story was told in 1860 and I think the feel is very Hammer. There is another one, I can't tell you the name of the project because we haven't officially announced it yet. We have a poltergeist story in the works, we haven't announced officially. We're looking at a re-grouping of the Quatermass and were looking into a couple of the iconic characters that you like in the Hammer lexicon. Like Dracula and Frankenstein.
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