Disney’s Haunted Mansion Director Justin Simien

The crypt doorways are about to be kicked open with the discharge of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, serving to to usher in spooky season on the motion pictures.

io9 not too long ago sat down with director Justin Simien (Dangerous Hair) to speak about his tackle the beloved Disney Parks attraction. The director was as soon as a Disneyland castmember who truly labored the trip, so it was particularly enjoyable studying how he aimed to make a film that might each fulfill followers and attract new ones, with the assistance of a script by fellow trip fanatic Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation, The Warmth, Ghostbusters: Reply the Name). Alongside for the cinematic trip are stars Rosario Dawson, LaKeith Stanfield, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto, and newcomer Chase Dillion. Simien praised his cast and writer, who are currenly on strike, in our dialog in regards to the family-friendly fright movie.


This interview was performed throughout the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. With out the labor of the writers and actors at present on strike, the movie being lined right here wouldn’t exist.


Sabina Graves, io9: Haunted Mansion is thought for having this big mythology which—you recognize, as a fan, that it’s such a giant enterprise due to the completely different ideas about which of the 999 ghosts ought to be featured. What impressed you as a gateway into the story you needed to inform?

Simien: The script. It’s so clear minimize. It was Katie Dippold who actually is the largest Haunted Mansion fan within the universe. She discovered a technique to inform the story in regards to the Haunted Mansion that was additionally in regards to the individuals who had been experiencing the mansion, and so they expertise it very equally to the way in which you do as a rider—which is that you simply come into this place, it’s very mysterious and also you’re type of selecting up clues about how this all matches collectively: “What’s that and why do these heads maintain disappearing?” “Oh, the bride has an axe!” You’re type of on the thriller whenever you’re on that trip. And he or she discovered a method to do this, to discover a technique to pull out a few of these mysteries and a few of these characters, however not wrap it up so tightly to the place it loses the vibe, you recognize? I imply, a part of what’s so cool in regards to the mansion that you simply don’t fairly have any solutions. We’re all debating it as a result of it’s not given to us. It’s a part of the thriller and that’s a part of the enjoyable of it. So she discovered a technique to maintain that stuff mysterious and maintain the tone very related, I believe, to the writing. I opened that script actually not figuring out what to anticipate apart from it being from Katie Dippold, whose work I already liked. I didn’t actually know what to anticipate and it was like a miracle to me. It simply was like, “Oh—make this film. Acquired it.” That, precisely, was my start line.

io9: Positively, the movie actually facilities the characters that this all taking place to, and that might not have been doable with out the wonderful solid. What was it wish to discover these voices who might steadiness that humor and horror facet of what we love a lot in regards to the Haunted Mansion?

Simien:  It was loopy. It was a journey. However it began with some easy issues for me. I knew that the lead needed to be Black as a result of it was in New Orleans and 85% of the inhabitants’s Black. That was actually vital. However apart from that, that actor had to have the ability to deliver us into, frankly, a grieving man’s story and make us care deeply about him. So it needed to be a type of unicorn actor. And LaKeith Stanfield for me is that man—has been that man for a very long time. He brings audiences into every kind of characters that appear impenetrable on the web page.

The remainder of it was about surrounding him with character actors—as a result of it’s a giant tentpole Disney film, stars that actually knew learn how to play in an ensemble enviornment. Directing an ensemble solid might be the factor I’ve itched to do probably the most all through my life. My first movie [Dear White People] is an ensemble comedy, my [Dear White People] sequence is an ensemble, satirical comedy, so [I needed] individuals who can actually perceive learn how to play their instrument as a part of an even bigger ensemble however play the heck out of that instrument. These are the oldsters we had been we had been searching for. And it’s actually, I obtained to say, as a result of we’re speaking in regards to the solid it’s actually bittersweet that they will’t communicate for themselves of their performances. However we’re household and I’m actually completely happy to talk on their behalf as a result of these are these are simply a number of the most wonderful individuals I’ve ever labored with. It’s a various solid, it’s a humorous solid, and there’s some discoveries in there. Chase Dillon is a revelation. It was marvelous working with them and wind up with a simply *chef’s kiss*, fantastic solid, not solely on the display screen however behind the display screen. It type of doesn’t get higher than that, I don’t assume, as a director.

Justin Simien with Owen Wilson on the set of Haunted Mansion.
Picture: Walt Disney Photos

io9: Wonderful. There are such a lot of scenes within the movie from the trip that simply had been simply magic to see the way you visualized them for the moviegoing expertise. Did incorporating these visuals come seamlessly from the script, or had been there sure issues that you simply, as somebody who’s a former Disney castmember, had been like, “I understand how I need to see this on display screen!”

Simien: Effectively, that’s what’s so nice about Katie’s script, is that there was the work of the director, the visible stuff, the language of it, the precise references, all that stuff. , she left that open to interpretation. And it was so enjoyable to determine that stuff out and to sift by way of the historical past of the trip and all of the completely different references—and all of the issues that they needed to place in however didn’t put in, or they put in and followers seen. Actually selecting between that and learn how to inform a narrative with these issues, as a result of I didn’t need something to really feel superfluous like we simply threw it in for fan service, as a result of that’s irritating. However on the opposite finish, I didn’t need to simply skip over stuff as a result of it was type of annoying to dig by way of all the small print. I come from a number of of fandoms and it’s so annoying to see your factor tailored and to know that the individuals who made it type of don’t actually care in regards to the particulars. And so every little thing from like, “How can we do the stretching room?” “How can we incorporate the stretching room right into a story level?” , “How can we make use of those particular ghosts in these particular work?” “What would possibly their talents be in the event that they had been haunting any person?” That stuff was like, “Oh, simply put it in my veins, you recognize?” As a nerdy filmmaker stuff like that was such a blast to do.

io9: As an individual of many fandoms, myself, I’ve to know… the Star Wars sequence Lando? Is there an replace?

Simien: No replace. Yeah, I’ve been given no replace, so I’m simply as at nighttime as you might be.

io9: Dang. And I imply we’re so excited for it. Okay, simply lastly, let’s speak about New Orleans. I not too long ago visited it for the primary time, and I’m utterly in love. What was vital so that you can deliver to the movie to honor the historical past of New Orleans and create this love letter for it?

Simien: Blackness. New Orleans is what it’s, as a result of it was one in all only a few locations in America the place not simply Black individuals, however individuals of shade had been allowed to create their very own aristocracies and be free and do issues that they weren’t allowed to do in the remainder of the nation. And the explanation why that tradition is so particular there may be as a result of you’ve gotten these people who find themselves not supposed to combine and mingle and be collectively and create tradition facet by facet. And that’s why jazz comes from New Orleans, and that’s why gumbo comes from New Orleans, and all of these items that by no means earlier than in historical past did we predict these items ought to go collectively. And I felt like if we root this film authentically in that tradition, which is completely attributed to Black tradition, we truly will inform the story of the mansion even higher. The Haunted Mansion itself is the story of how pleasure and grief can sit facet by facet and the way humor and disappointment are part of the identical spectrum of feeling and life. And so, yeah, that was a giant one for me, is ensuring you actually felt like this actually was in New Orleans. The precise New Orleans, the one which I understood rising up.

The Haunted Mansion opens July 28 in theaters.


Need extra io9 information? Take a look at when to count on the newest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s subsequent for the DC Universe on film and TV, and every little thing it’s essential to learn about the way forward for Doctor Who.

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