Humankind's lust for self-destruction informs much dystopian fiction -- and, alas, nonfiction -- but it takes a nuanced voice to infuse such tales with humanity. Screenwriter Kerry Williamson steps up to the challenge with the new Netflix thriller What Happened to Monday, directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow, and Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead), and produced by the legendary Raffaella De Laurentiis. Heartfelt and harrowing, often at once, the film drives home overpopulation in a world wherein the rule of one child per family is aggressively enforced.
If you thought Noomi Rapace had it rough with the alien squid baby in Prometheus, check out her searing performances as septuplets, named for the days of the week, allowed outside just one day each for fear of discovery. Raised in secrecy by their tough-love grandfather (Willem Dafoe), and threatened at every turn by the goons of a perverse rising dictator (Glenn Close), Rapace's endangered siblings ensure captivating viewing.
It's my pleasure to speak with Ms. Williamson again -- she of Alex Cross fame, who took Max Botkin's original script for What Happened to Monday to new levels. The terrific cast inspire much discussion of character.
“I got to work with Noomi personally,” enthuses Ms. Williamson. “Great talent. You saw it -- she was able to embrace these characters, and she'd give me some wonderful insight, and some great notes. I felt that her performance with all those seven characters was absolutely stellar. She was able to bring each of them to life, and make each of them an individual -- so that you forget you're watching the same actor. That's really tricky to pull off!
“At one of the screenings, a friend of mine said, 'I love this movie! All these women, they're all so ripped!' And I said, 'Well, of course they are -- they're the same person.' (laughs) To me, that one comment, her getting so excited about all these ripped characters, it was a testament to Noomi's skill and range.”
I ask about Kerry's input on keeping the septuplets distinct.
“Part of it was a play on the days of the week, and part of it was a play on the hierarchy, and kind of sibling rivalry. Monday is the firstborn, and she's the good girl, the golden child, the A-type personality -- and she, of all the sisters, embraced the collective identity. Tuesday is the paranoid pothead -- a little bit of a loose cannon. Wednesday is the athletic one, the fighter of the bunch. Thursday is the bad girl -- she's the rebel, and she craves her own identity and autonomy. Friday is the smart one, the computer geek, and the sisters only have their life, their career, their success, because of Friday.
“Saturday gets to hang out on Saturday, be home-schooled, and never went to work probably a day in her life: so she's the wild child, she's the lucky one, she gets to party her face off. And Sunday is the caregiver: she goes to church on Sunday, and is supposed to be the believer of the bunch. But all of them, in some way, are having crises of identity, and her crisis of identity is that she doesn't know what she believes, she doesn't know who she is; and that's a question for all of them: they don't know who they are -- except for probably Monday.
“I'm one of four sisters,” Kerry chuckles, “so I'm pretty familiar with the dynamics, and I knew I could have a lot of fun with it.”
I ask Kerry which day of the week she is.
“Right from the beginning, I'm Thursday. I'm definitely the black sheep, the rebel of the bunch.”
And how did Kerry, who worked closely with Glenn Close, develop the film's intriguing political monster?
“We understand her ideology, but her methodology is so incredibly brutal -- and what happens to someone like that when they're forced to be inhumane: how does she reconcile her demons? Glenn Close, she really latched onto this: she loved the concept that we were just one big human family, and this planet is our only home -- yet we've failed miserably as this species, to live in harmony with each other, and also with nature.
“She has a line in the film, where she says, 'We are the architects of our own extinction.' Working with her on that level, to give her character that complexity and that duality -- and to be able to sympathize with the villain, and to think: You know what? She had a bloody point, right? But the way she went about it was just too brutal.”
I note that fascism is always problematic (Kerry laughs; no fascism fans here), and we turn to an actor known for playing iconic villains -- who, in What Happened to Monday, doesn't!
“Willem Dafoe -- we were absolutely thrilled to get him,” she reflects. “In this crazy, uncanny coincidence, Willem Dafoe has a personal connection to the material! He has a relative [Canadian obstetrician Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe: 1883-1943] -- this guy delivered the first quintuplets to survive infancy [the Dionne quintuplets: who became a tourist attraction and even appeared in movies]. He set up the Dafoe hospital for the five little girls, and he even wrote this book: How to Raise Your Baby.
“I always thought it was a cool irony, with the book, How to Raise Your Baby, that Willem Dafoe's grandad wrote. [In What Happened to Monday], he raises those kids by blowing a whistle, and very strict rules. But to me, anything that got Willem Dafoe invested, I'll take it. He heard about the script, and came to us. That grandfather character became one of my favorite characters in the story: his interaction with those little girls, I had so much fun writing the scenes.”
What Happened to Monday premières on Netflix the 18th of August.