The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of the most talked about horror films from 2016, and for good reason. Not only does it tell a story that is much deeper than you’d initially expect, but it leaves you needing to turn on every light in the house. A legitimately terrifying film can be hard to come by these days, but director André Øvredal was able to give us just that.
As a fan of his work, it was a pleasure to recently speak with André about his filmmaking career, his amazing first big feature Trollhunter, and, of course, The Autopsy of Jane Doe. We also found out what he has coming up next!
You can read our review for The Autopsy of Jane Doe here.
HorrorGeekLife: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me! When did you know that you wanted to work in the film industry? Who or what inspired you?
André Øvredal: I grew up watching movies at home, mostly, not really much in theaters. There wasn’t really any theaters where I grew up, I lived kind of in the wilderness. I grew up watching a lot of weird, random movies. Then I started watching horror movies a lot, like anything from the absolute classics to complete trash. I watch everything for a long, long time.
Then, at a certain point, I started making films, including horror. I made a feature horror film when I was 15 with my neighbors about a kid who gets possessed by an Ouija board. It was an hour and 20 minutes and dull, very boring. (laughs) We had a lot of fun. Then I went to film school in Santa Barbra, North of Los Angeles, and I stayed in that area for 5 years all together and studied film making.
I made another feature film, Future Murder, there with a friend of mine, which was a psychological, supernatural thriller. It was our student graduation project. It was actually released and we made our money back, which I think is rare for a student film to do.
HorrorGeekLife: That’s great that it did so well. Prior to The Autopsy of Jane Doe, you were best known for your work on Trollhunter. Can you tell us where you got the idea for the film and how it prepared you to take on The Autopsy of Jane Doe?
André Øvredal: I grew up with Norwegian fairy tales and, at a certain point, I was trying to come with a movie that was a mix with Noreweign groundedness and something American, something fantastic. So, I came up with the idea for Trollhunter, about a man who protects the public from these trolls. I was very inspired by these drawings that were in these old books that were from the 19th century. There were these amazing drawings of these huge trolls that were taller than trees, you could see them from far away and they were these amazing things.
So, I proposed this idea to a very well known Norwegian producer and he loved the idea. We agreed that I could shoot like I did with the handheld found footage style, which was appropriate for the movie for a lot of reasons. It was low budget, maybe $3 million dollars if that.
Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe were such complete opposite movies. Trollhunter was all improvised, so in a way, it taught me to trust the actors a lot, that I needed to trust them to make a good movie. I mean, of course for Jane, I had amazing star actors, so it was ideal. It also taught me that I want to really control the storytelling. It was great fun with Trollhunter, but in a way, I had to remove myself as a director, visually from that movie. You can’t have a stamp on a movie like that, as a director, you can never feel directed, it always feel like someone’s random film stuff. It really took away my direction.
So for Jane, it was such a great experience to have the ability to control each frame and to lead the story and the audience down the path very very carefully. That’s much more how I think…in cinema, anyway.
HorrorGeekLife: As your first English-language film, were there any differences in your approach to directing The Autopsy of Jane Doe, or was it business as usual?
André Øvredal: It was business as usual because I’m very accustomed to speaking English, I studied it and I know the American culture. I grew up with it in many ways, and spent years in the states. I’m also very close to Britain, where we shot it. I think half of my communication on a normal day is English, still even living in Norway.
HorrrorGeekLife: The script of The Autopsy of Jane Doe presents a mystery that’s constantly unfolding and contains a third act reveal that is entirely unique, yet makes perfect sense within the context of this story. What were your favorite aspects of the script, and did you find the script easy to wring suspense and tension out of?
André Øvredal: Yeah, I found it really easy to bring the tension out of it because it was all in the script, it was all written with an amazing sense of tension. I could just shoot what they had written and it would be good. I didn’t really need to invent the wheel on anything, they understood horror, suspense and storytelling as much as I do, or better. It was a very happy marriage, it’s really rare to connect with the way people think in suspense. I’ve read so many horror scripts, we all have different ways of interpreting the world in a way, and to connect like that…that is when you should make a movie, not until then.
The script has some amazing moments that you just want to direct. The mystery, all the forensic stuff that these guys do, is really clever and intriguing. I love a good mystery movie, so to do a horror movie that was also a mystery was just so alluring.
In addition, it was also a very mature movie. It was about a real relationship between a father and son and their common grief about the woman in their life, his wife and his mom. It was much more than just a bunch of teenagers running around being chased, it spoke to me as a grown human being.
André Øvredal: It was very easy, in a way. They brought so much psychological understanding. They know how to express psychology through performance and how people think, and how to express so many things. You can just put the camera on them and know that they’ll nail it. Because they did it every single time. I remember reading a Woody Allen quote, “If you cast well, you’ve done 99 percent of your job.” Obviously there’s more to it than that, but there’s definitely a lot of true to that.
HorrorGeekLife: That’s so very true. Considering the success of the film and the way it ends, are there any plans for a sequel? If so, would you be interested in returning to Jane Doe?
André Øvredal: Oh yeah, if so that would definitely be a conversation. Of course, you see the ending and realize there are thoughts for sequels. It all depends on economical success and if the writers come up with a great idea for a sequel. But, we’ve obviously had conversations about it for sure.
HorrorGeekLife: It would definitely be interesting to see what the script would entail, but not sure it could outdo the first. How does it feel to know that Stephen King, The Master of Horror, has praised your film, going as far as to say it rivals Ridley Scott’s Alien in visceral horror?
André Øvredal: That’s pure lunacy (laughs). I was simply amazed. I remember seeing the tweet just minutes after it was done. James Wan retweeted Stephen King’s tweet specifically to me. I’m obviously a huge Stephen King fan. I was addicted to his books as a teenager and in my 20’s I read all his classics, the original classics from the 70’s ad 80’s.
I think he’s influenced my understanding for horror greatly. And also my love for horror because he did mature horror, it was horror drama. It was about characters, it was about people with real relationships. I feel like Jane Doe is not so far from the way he thinks horror.
HorrorGeekLife: I can imagine it’s all so surreal at times.
André Øvredal: I would never even dream that he would see this little movie we made, and then he goes out and says something like that.
HorrorGeekLife: It is definitely a huge deal, you should be proud! Speaking of your love for the genre, what are some of your favorite horror movies?
André Øvredal: I love a lot of horror movies and, in the end, the horror movies that stand out to me personally are the ones we all know and love. I tend to love the classics because they had such an impact on me at a time when you’re quite easy to impact, because it’s before you’ve seen so many things. The Shining, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Alien. The Exorcist is obviously a big one. Poltergeist is a personal favorite to a degree because it’s so much fun and playful. And has such a weird and unique tone to it.
HorrorGeekLife: You definitely can’t go wrong with the classics! If you could work with anyone in the industry, who would it be?
André Øvredal: The Conjuring inspired me to want to direct a horror movie a few years back. So, to work with James Wan would be a big thing because I have such admiration for how he thinks horror. The Conjuring was so grounded and classical, but also so playful and fun, again in that “we know we are doing a horror movie, but let’s do it for real, like a mature serious real cool movie, but let’s also have fun with.” You can sense that “Poltergeist-y” playfulness.
There are others, though. Guillermo del Toro I’d love, and he spoke about Jane Doe on Twitter as well. And, of course, Spielberg would be amazing, but those are all far fetched dreams.
HorrorGeekLife: You’re very humble and may think they’re far fetched, but I don’t believe so at all. Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to talk about?
André Øvredal: I’m working on movie called Mortal that is set in Norway. It’s an action/supernatural drama/romance story with a big kind of Northern mythology twist to it. It’s going to be half way in English and half way in Norwegian. We plan to shoot in the summer.
HorrorGeekLife: Awesome, I can’t wait to hear more about it! We’d definitely love to cover it. Thank you again for taking the time to talk with us! It was great getting to know you and your work a bit more.