Setting the Scene: Screenwriter Kerry Williamson Discusses What Happened to Monday

Setting the Scene: Screenwriter Kerry Williamson Discusses What Happened to Monday
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Submitted for your approval: the story of illegal, imperiled septuplets (each played by the Millennium Trilogy's Noomi Rapace), struggling to survive within a vastly overpopulated police state in 2073. Named by their grandfather (Willem Dafoe) for the days of the week, each identical sibling is allowed outside their shared flat only on her allotted day, sharing the guise of a single identity. As they grow into women, dodging the ideological and technological stranglehold of the Child Allocation Bureau (headed with prim menace by Glenn Close), what could go wrong?

The film, débuting this Friday on Netflix, is What Happened to Monday, and it's exciting to discuss its evolution with screenwriter Kerry Williamson. Ms. Williamson's slate includes the development of television series Gangsters of Shanghai (for Ideate Media, based on the book by Gerry O'Sullivan, with Chad Stahelski directing), and The Negotiator (for Gaumont Television, based on the book by Ben Lopez, with John Lee Hancock directing) -- both of which she'll write and executive produce.

Kerry Williamson

Kerry Williamson

“I've just been trying to focus on things that I really spark to, that I really love, that I really felt that I had a strong voice for,” says the clearly inspired Kerry. Thus we have Monday...

“There were big shifts in character arcs that happened,” Kerry reveals of her redesign of the original script by Max Botkin, in which the septuplets were men raised by their mother; whereas Kerry made them women raised by their grandfather. “This allowed me to explore different interpersonal dynamics and play with the nuances of how seven sisters might interact, as opposed to seven brothers. Also it became more of a mystery, because you don't really know who did it — in the original draft you knew earlier in the story who was behind everything.

“It was a Black List script,” Kerry adds. “This would've been back in 2010. Then Raffaella De Laurentiis optioned it, then Tommy Wirkola [the Dead Snow movies; Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters] was attached to direct, and Noomi to star, and that's when I came on board. I knew from our very first meeting that I felt very comfortable with the group, and that we were all on the same page creatively.”

Five of seven: Noomi Rapace in What Happened to Monday

Five of seven: Noomi Rapace in What Happened to Monday

Jonas Stolpe / Netflix

As an unrepentant Dragonheart aficionado, I have to ask...

“Raffaella!” cheers Kerry, “what a great collaboration! This has been a labor of love for her, for sure.” Ms. De Laurentiis' career is amazing, and we also pause to rave up her legendary father, Dino: “He produced some of my favorite films of all time: Serpico, La Strada, Three Days of the Condor -- how crazy, to be in that company!” When I gush on cue for Flash Gordon, Kerry cracks up, adding: “And Barbarella!”

On the other side of futurism -- throw a rock in Hollywood these days and you'll hit a dozen dystopias -- I ask Kerry how she crafted the unique, skewed world of What Happened to Monday.

“That was part of my job: to rewrite the script for the budget. The plus side of that is that you get to focus more on the characters. As you saw, we have some big action setpieces, but we centered them more around the emotional choices. That meant the removal of flying cars; anything too futuristic and expensive all had to go -- which played in our favor, I think: because if you're in a world where fossil fuels are pretty much spent, and electricity is hard to generate, then driving a car is potentially going to be banned. That means everybody's walking, the streets are packed. The only vehicles allowed are authorized electric vehicles of the government. We were able to dial it back a notch, and make it more Children of Men, and less The Fifth Element.”

Kerry further relates: “The whole Orwellian thing — on the wall of my office I have two big pictures that a friend of mine, the photographer David Fokos, shot: massive, extreme close-ups of pages of a first edition of 1984: 'WAR IS PEACE / FREEDOM IS SLAVERY / IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH' -- and the other one is the first page: ‘BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.' Right next to them are graffiti chunks of the Peace Wall in Northern Ireland: ironically called the ‘Peace Wall,’ this wall that divides Protestants and Catholics, divides the city, runs right through people's yards. It's like something that Orwell would have written -- this doublespeak idea.

“So I used Belfast during the Troubles as reference, and mentioned it in my very first pitch to Raffaella and Tommy: growing up with barricades, checkpoints, constant military presence, and surveillance, after a while — and this is the saddest and sickest part about it — that kind of oppression becomes a way of life.

“The film itself was shot on location in Romania; and you can see the Cold War-Soviet influences in the architecture, in the streets, and this contributed, I feel, to the totalitarian vibe.”

Had Kerry specific cinematic inspirations for What Happened to Monday?

“Definitely -- Blade Runner is the obvious one -- but very much Children of Men, District 9, Alphaville.”

And the director? Did his vision match up with her script?

“Tommy, of course, has a very strong visual palette, so he definitely knew what he wanted. It goes through incarnations, I would say,” Kerry states, praising everyone from production design to extras casting. “I knew Tommy's work, going in -- I had watched Dead Snow, and loved it -- so I knew what he was going to do. I think my writing definitely veers closer to Children of Men, but the sensibilities he brings to it -- and the dynamic action -- I think people are going to enjoy it.”

What Happened to Monday premières on Netflix the 18th of August.

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