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'Donnie Darko'

Coming-of-Age Story/Sci-Fi Thriller

Richard Kelly
Writer and Director
Thursday, August 19, 2004; 2:00 PM

"Donnie Darko" was released in the fall of 2001 and faded quickly from local cineplexes. But in the ensuing months the movie, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a disturbed teen plagued by visions of an evil rabbit, became a cult favorite. Now, nearly three years later, the quirky coming-of-age story/sci-fi thriller is being rereleased as "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut."

Richard Kelly, the writer and director of "Donnie Darko" was online Thursday, Aug. 19, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the film, its unexpected popularity and what fans can expect from the extended version.

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"Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut" opens in Washington on Aug. 20.

Kelly, a Virginia native, recently wrote the screenplay for "Domino," an action thriller in which Keira Knightley is slated to star. He is also directing a film called "Southland Tales," from a screenplay that he wrote.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Richard Kelly will be joining us momentarily.


Alexandria, Va.: I haven't seen "Donnie Darko," but from what I've heard about it, it reminds me of "Harvey." How much did you take from that movie? Also, what will be added to the director's cut? Should I watch the original on DVD before I see the director's cut in theaters?

Richard Kelly: I've never seen "Harvey." The director's cut has lots of new material. Definitely see the director's cut first. To experience the film on a big screen is a much better experience than on a small screen.


Norfolk, Va.: Like many, I'm sure, I had never heard of this film before I came home one night from the bars and it was just starting on HBO. I was entranced. "How could I have never heard of this?"

What was it like for you in the period after the box office release but before the movie started catching on as a cult hit? Disappointing? Frustrating? And how about once you realized the movie was finding an audience on its own?

Richard Kelly: I too was often at bars getting drunk as I felt my career was in the toilet. With each passing month, it became apparent that the movie was going to get a second chance and that gave me hope.


Middlesex, Washington, D.C.: Are you considering releasing a new soundtrack with a collection of the songs from Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears, Joy Division, etc.? I think there is a demand for it out there; some people were disappointed that the released soundtrack was mainly just the score.

Also, I haven't checked that neat Web site in two years. Have you updated it since? Will there be anything new up there that connects to the added scenes or anything? Thanks again.

Richard Kelly: Record companies just aren't interested in putting out a pop soundtrack for this movie. They just don't care. Start a petition, maybe it will happen, but don't count on it.
The Web site has not changed. If anything, the new material is in the film.


Takoma Park, Md.: Up until the release of the director's cut, an art house cinema here in Washington had been showing the theatrical release of "Donnie Darko" at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays alongside "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and recent cult favorite "Bubba Ho-tep." In your opinion, how has Darko's cult status affected the way viewers experience your film and the way you approach writing and directing?

Richard Kelly: It has actually given me more confidence to try to make more unconventional films. It has been very difficult for me to continue pushing forward with projects like "Darko" when everyone in Hollywood sees it as a financial failure. The more people see this film, the more that perception is challenged. But I end up having to direct "Princess Diaries 3."


Fredericksburg, Va.: "The Philosophy of Time Travel" states that the Manipulated Dead are people who died in the Tangent Dimension, who are more powerful than the Living Receiver and who contact them through the Fourth Dimensional Construct. Frank clearly illustrates this. But what of Gretchen? On the Web site, the "Notes" page in "TPoTT" lists her with Frank under "Manipulated Dead", and she was certainly instrumental in the Ensurence Trap (albeit apparently unknowingly), but unlike Frank she demonstrated no knowledge of the future. Are we to believe that she belongs in the same class as Frank but does not reveal herself to Donnie as Frank does? Or perhaps the truly Manipulated Dead are only those who die at the hand of the Living Receiver within the Tangent Dimension?

Richard Kelly: I think you understand this film better than I do. Not a bad theory, not a bad theory at all. I think perhaps you may be right.


Arlington, Va.: Where did you grow up in Virginia? Watching the movie, I had to assume you were from the Northern Virginia area, what with the Darkos watching the Redskins game and all. Were you a Redskins fan growing up?
Even though it's set in 1988, the movie still seems really current. Joe Gibbs is coaching the 'Skins again, it's an election year and George Bush is running for office. Pretty freaky. Thanks for taking my question.

Richard Kelly: I just miss John Riggins, the human plow. But funny how history repeats itself. Vote Kerry.
I grew up in Midlothian, Virginia, a suburb on the south side of Richmond.


Washington, D.C.: Where in Virginia does this movie take place?

Richard Kelly: In a fictional suburb called Middlesex.


Fairfax, Va.: What music were you able to license this time that you unable to afford before? The soundtrack was already beyond excellent. Is the Director's Cut radically different in the music department?

Richard Kelly: INXS, Til Tuesday, Oingo Boingo have been restored to their original placement as they appeared in the Sundance cut of the film.


Boston, Mass.: Who is responsible for the score/soundtrack of the movie? It's quite amazing.

Richard Kelly: Michael Andrews is the composer.


Brunswick, Md.: I've always wondered if you chose Darko's 6-ft.-tall rabbit messenger as a reference to the Jimmy Stewart movie, "Harvey." If so, I applaud the connection, since (and this is simplistically phrased) Stewart's most famous for a role in which he's shown that his nonexistence would ruin others ("It's a Wonderful Life"), where "Darko" is a movie that shows a man whose continued existence would ruin others. Any comment? I'll win a bet if you can back me up.

Richard Kelly: I've never seen "Harvey." I have seen "It's a Wonderful Life" although it never came to mind when I was writing or directing this film. Sorry if that makes you lose your bet.


Bethesda, Md.: Drew Barrymore seems to be doing as well as as a producer as she is as and actor. Can you talk about her contribution to 'Donnie Darko'?

Richard Kelly: Drew was the first actor to commit to this project and she was there for us as a producer as well. There are very few big movie stars out there who will embrace small and provocative projects. That makes her a super-cool lady.


Washington, D.C.: Note: Spoilers ahead: Hi Richard. "Donnie Darko" is a great movie. It is one of those movies that you can't just walk away from. Years after watching it the first time, I still spend way too much time trying to figure everything out. My question is - do you consider the end happy or sad? Yes, Donnie saved the universe, but in the new scenario, his sister and her dance team still die in the plane crash and Patrick Swayze continues to abuse children.

Richard Kelly: I consider the ending of the film to be optimistic. The director's cut gives hints and indications to why this may be true, if you look close enough. This is a science fiction film and the citizens of Middlesex have helped Donnie save the universe from a black hole. That is, if you discount the "it's all a dream theory," which is also a valid theory.


Midlothian, Va.: Richard, being a fellow Midlothian native, I have to ask ... The scenes from the DVD with Drew Barrymore discussing "Watership Down" with the class -- including those wasn't at all an homage to one of Midlo Middle's English teachers from back in the day? Also, did these scenes make the Director's Cut?

Richard Kelly: Ernie Jordan, my seventh grade English teacher, taught "Watership Down." He does not resemble Drew Barrymore in any way, but I remember him to be a fine man. There are also references to literature taught to me by M.I. Cortopassi and Nancy Price, both English teachers at Midlothian High. All of the school subplots have been restored to the director's cut.


Los Angeles, Calif.: What project are you working on now, and what ideas (as much as you are willing to say at this point) do you have for future projects?

Richard Kelly: I'm working on a film called "Southland Tales." I've written a project called "Domino" that Tony Scott begins shooting on Oct. 4. And I have five other screenplays that are completed already that I intend to direct. Hopefully I will be able to make one film a year from now on, but unless these things start making money for studios, that ain't gonna happen. "Princess Diaries 3" will.


washingtonpost.com: From Richard: To that guy from Washington, at the end of the movie the sister and dance team will never get on that plane. And the idea is Swayze will stop his abuse or Kitty Farmer will rat him out. They have fragmented memories from the Tangent Universe.


Bethesda, MD: Do you know when the directors cut will be available on DVD and what if any extras will be included? I realize that it just came out in theaters, but Christmas shopping is a year-round quest in my family (a competition really). Thanks!;

Richard Kelly: It comes out on DVD sometime early next year, and there will be lots of new behind-the-scenes documentaries about the film. Hopefully it will be at least a two-disc set.


Alexandria, Va.: Do you have plans to work with any licensing companies to produce the bunny costume?

Richard Kelly: There has been talk of some "Donnie Darko" toys which, to me, is completely insane. But as of yet, no one has manufactured a replica of the costume. I'd imagine it would be quite expensive.


Arlington, Va.: You were a complete unknown before "Donnie Darko." I'm wondering how you managed to get some of the bigger-name stars in the film? (Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, etc.)? Also, I'd like to thank you for casting Katharine Ross as the therapist. Was great to see her on the big screen again.

Also, how did you get Patrick Swayze in this film -- especially playing such an unappealing character? Seems very un-Swayze-like.

Richard Kelly: I guess I was very persuasive with this cast. But the screenplay was what ultimately attracted them. Swayze wanted to completely destroy his image, and I think he should be applauded for doing that.


Fredericksburg, Va.: You keep mentioning "Princess Diaries 3". Is that an actual possibility, or is that title just your personal shorthand for being forced by economics to compromise?

Richard Kelly: I'm a sarcastic person. Please know that I often use sarcasm in online chats. I am in no way involved with the development of "Princess Diaries 3." I wish the project well in its journey toward cinematic glory.


Washington, D.C.: I have often seen this film labeled as a "coming of age" film. However it also has a song science fiction plot line. Normally one wouldn't expect these two elements to work well together, but Donnie Darko weds the two beautifully. What did you focus upon while combining these two elements.

Richard Kelly: The challenge was for the two elements to compliment one another. And in the director's cut, you will see the mechanics of science fiction as I had always intended them to be.


Fairfax, Va.: Did you put together the Director's Cut because you felt the average audience member did not completely "get" the original version? My biggest fear about the Director's Cut is that it will spawn a new wave of fans that think they have it all figured out. Is the D.C. going to be as deliciously ambiguous as the original?

Richard Kelly: The director's cut will offer some answers but if you look closely and watch it several times you will see that there is a whole new layer that has been added. Keep an open mind and know that this was always the original design for the film.


Arlington, Va.: Afternoon. After checking out the cryptic "Donnie Darko" Web site, I'm assuming there's more of a back story to this character than what we get in the film. So, a couple of questions:
1. How long had this character/story been in your mind?
2. What don't we know about Donnie and the events that unfolded from watching the movie?

Also, totally unrelated question: I know the movie is set in Fairfax, but where was it actually filmed?

Richard Kelly: The backstory is certainly pretty elaborate in my head, but there is no reason to elaborate on it anymore. The movie was filmed in and around Los Angeles.


Washington, D.C.: Was Jake Gyllenhaal your first choice to play Donnie Darko?

Richard Kelly: Jason Schwarzman was originally attached to the film, but had to drop out because of a scheduling conflict. When I met Jake, I knew he was the one.


Washington, D.C.: Did you write The Philosophy of Time travel before or after the screenplay? Also, just wanted to say, my favorite thing about this film is the family dynamic -- not just between Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal but the father and mother as well -- superbly cast.

Richard Kelly: I wrote Philosophy of Time Travel as I began to edit the film. To me, it was the final piece of the screenplay. It was always frustrating for me in the theatrical cut to tease the audience with the book and never allow them inside of it.


Old Town Alexandria, Va.: Have you thought of doing a movie that somehow builds on, intersects with, or is otherwise related to Darko (not necessarily a sequel or prequel)?

Richard Kelly: I like to think that each movie exists in a separate realm. Although you might find intersecting themes, I would prefer that each film is in a completely isolated universe, unless it is a sequel. There will never be a sequel to "Donnie Darko."


Fairfax, Va.: I thought this film to be hyper sexualized.
The 80's were a sort of repressed time considering the previous two decades. Arguably, the turn of the century has become sex saturated with media and such.
How would Donnie fit in today's reality if at all? Would he love it? Or would it be too much for him?

Richard Kelly: Woah. That sure is a sexy question. If Donnie were alive today, I think he would spend a lot of time in front of the computer. I believe the Department of Homeland Security should issue an A.P.A.T.T. warning: All Porno All The Time.

Thank you guys. I'm off to work on my next film. I need to move on with my life. Take care.


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