“The Hunger Games” scribe Billy Ray takes on latest directorial seat in “Secret In Their Eyes”
Billy Ray, an Academy Award nominee known for his stirring screenplays of box-office smash hits such as “The Hunger Games,” “Captain Phillips” and “Flightplan” takes director’s seat in “Secret In Their Eyes” where he has assembled an award-winning cast and for the first time brings together Academy Award winners Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman with Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor.
“Secret in Their Eyes” is based on “El Secreto de Sus Ojos,” the 2010 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, directed by Juan Jose Campanella. In the movie, a parent’s worst nightmare happens when investigator Jess Cobb (Roberts) finds her daughter brutally murdered, along with his best pal in the force, Ray Kasten (Ejiofor), the two set out to uncover the elusive killer with the aid of district attorney Claire Sloan (Kidman). Years passed and the killer is still lose on the streets of Los Angeles, beneath the missions, Jess tries hard to cover the pain that has haunted her for years after her daughter’s death.
The movie is also produced by Academy Award winner Mark Johnson (“Rain Man,” “Breaking Bad”) who has known Ray’s works for decades but it’s the first time that Ray and Johnson work for “Secret In Their Eyes.” When they saw the Argentine thriller “El Secreto de Sus Ojos,” neither of them could stop talking about it. “El Secreto de Sus Ojos, is spectacular,” says Billy, “I was completely floored by it, had a reverence for it that bordered on awe. Then Mark asked me if I wanted to adapt it. At first I was hesitant because you don’t want to take on anything that is so great that you feel dwarfed by it before you even start.
But I did feel there was an American version of the story worth retelling and exploring.” Every time the pair got frustrated tackling the weighty subject matter, they had an unabashed cheerleader in Juan Campanella, who directed the Argentine film. “Here was a man who wanted to solve a cold case but the reason why he wanted to solve it was not only to find the culprit but to find the root of his own loneliness,” Campanella says.
“That to me was very original. Contrary to what people might think, I really like it when somebody takes a piece of work and turns it into something different.” Billy says an impetus for the American version lay in the events of 9/11. ”The horror of that event was so big and so indelible for anybody who was in America at that time. But it created a story opportunity for our movie that no other context could have.” “Billy found a great twist on the story,” Campanella says. “He respected a lot of the emotion of the original but found a very American way of telling it.” Billy admits that he initially thought he was writing a movie about loss. “But it turns out that I was writing a movie about obsession. Stories do that sometimes, they tell you what they are about.
For Julia Roberts the essence of the story is about the evolution of people who were taken off track by destiny. “I was very taken with Billy’s script. I don’t read a lot of scripts that I like and I don’t work very often. But I read this and thought it was truly interesting. “Billy has been remarkable for me as an actor. He’s so available and he’s like Encyclopedia Brown. He knows everything, he’s calm and he’s super-loving. He’s always taking care of all of us in these very fragile scenarios that he’s created. I think he probably feels bad for putting us through all this,” she laughs.
Nicole Kidman says that the plot intrigued her when she first read the script. “Rarely do you get scripts that have three strong protagonists and a really, really strong storyline. I’ve known Billy for a while now and I wanted to work with him and the idea of doing this with Julia and Chiwetel was compelling. “For me writer-directors are the best combination. Billy is so collaborative and he has a great sense of structure and a great sense of humor. He frequently would rewrite or change things a little bit in order to adapt to what Chiwetel and I needed. I call him Professor Billy because he also teaches writing and has so much knowledge of film.”
“Secret in their Eyes” opens December 2 in theaters from Axinite Digicinema.