Scott McGhee & David Siegel, Directors Of 'What Maisie Knew,' On Julianne Moore, Onata Aprile, Steve Coogan
What Maisie Knew, a film directed by Scott McGhee and David Siegel, based on the Henry James novel, tells the story of a precocious 6-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) caught in the middle of a bitter custody battle between her father (Steven Coogan) and rock star mother (Julianne Moore). McGhee and Siegel were surprised themselves at how the project evolved. “It’s funny when a producer pitched it on the phone as 'a custody battle told from the eyes of a little girl, based on the Henry James novel.' It wasn’t like, ‘Oh yeah that’s going to be a great film,’ McGhee told Uinterview exclusively.
Finding the perfect Maisie was key to the production. “We were really taken with [Aprile]. And she really is an amazing kid, she really has an ability to be as natural as anything you’ve ever seen in front of a camera,” Siegel said.
What Maisie Knew is available on iTunes, and Video on Demand. The soundtrack is also available for download on iTunes.
SCOTT: You know, we worked with a great casting director named Avy Kaufman and she saw tons and tons of girls. Onata didn't come to read until we were less than a month from production, and then Amy saw Onata perform. She called us immediately and said, Ã¢YouÃ¢ve got to come down and see this girl!Ã¢ We did and we were really taken with her as well, so it kind of went like that. She really is an amazing kid. She really has an ability to be as natural as anything youÃ¢ve ever seen in front of a camera. In terms of understanding the subject matter, she understood the broad terms of the story quite well. Her mother is an actress. Her mother took care of her in terms of having her learn the background, so she understood that it was a story about a little girl and mommy and daddy were fighting with each other, but they were distracted and concerned with things in their own lives that kept them from paying attention to their child in the way they needed to.
DAVID: The last time they saw each other he just took off. They were in Chinatown. He was asking Margo a favor to look after Maisie, and they bumped into Susanna and some guy she’s been with. Lincoln just takes off without much consideration for Margo. He just leaves and I think the last thing he says to her is ‘I’m through.’ And so I think that apology is just about that and that last moment we really saw them together.
SCOTT: She did rock star training, I think. Well we hooked her up with a friend of ours who is a composer and a really talented music guy. His name is Peter Sheldon, and they worked with another woman, who was kind of a performance coach. They worked with her on, you know, projecting vocals a bit, but before they worked just kind of on getting a rock star attitude so that she could feel like a rock star.
DAVID: Yeah, she did. That is Julianne singing in all instances. The song is by a band called The Kills. Jamie [Hince] and Allison [Mosshart], the two principles of the band they were very kind by letting us use those songs, so we took Allisonâs voice off and replaced it with Julianne's.
DAVID: He was kind of our first choice in the sense that before we could get very far in the casting process his agent recommended him and everyone really kind of took to the idea. We didnât know much of his work, weâve seen a little bit of True Blood and we remembered him from Zoolander doing that funny scene in the gas station where they poured gas on each other [laughs]. He was kind of funny and light on his feet that way. When we met him, heâs such a gentle, sweet guy, you know we just loved the idea and the fact that he was so big and Onata was so teeny. The two of them together was just kind of adorable.
SCOTT: It’s funny when we were first introduced to the idea of this material — neither one of us was especially attracted to it I guess — a producer pitched it on the phone as 'a custody battle told from the eyes of a little girl, based on the Henry James novel.' And it wasn’t like, ‘Oh yeah that’s going to be a great film!’ [laughs] So we read the screenplay and there was a kind of sweetness about it. A kind of lightness that surprised and then there's the point of view of the six year old. The more we thought about it, the more we kind of were intrigued by that challenge. I guess the third part of that is that we were told that Julianne Moore had read it and was interested. For a long time we were interested in working with her. We’re admirers of her work and I think collectively brought us to the table, and the more we got into it, the more excited we got.
SCOTT: The father, Beale, was an Englishman in the book. The novel was set in London with an American woman living in London, that was the source material. So maybe there was something about that the writers were preserving in making Beale an Englishman, but it wasnât a requirement of the character at all. Certainly when we were casting, the list of actors that were put forward was mix of Englishman and Americans. Steve Coogan was the first choice for David and I. He was the guy that we both imagined in the role when we read the script and we were really lucky that he wanted to do it when we met him. Margo wasnât any nationality in particular she was just an American girl, I guess. The idea of having a non-American Margo was something occurred to David and I early on, and we didnât find Joanna Vanderham until quite later in the process. The fact that sheâs Scottish was something that was kind of a nice quality. We saw her acting and were really impressed with her skills and we thought she was the rightâshe had the right qualities to play the Margo we imagined. We liked her Scottish accent and we liked that she and Beale were both from the U.K., so they kind of had this connection from the get-go. We liked the way not being American isolated her a little bit. She was vulnerable in New York.