Jaume Collet-Serra © Warner Bros

In 1975, Jaume Collet-Serra was a successful commercial director. His stylized, surreal and dark imagery caught the eye of producer Joel Silver while he was looking for a director to helm the remake of the Horror classic House of Wax. So pleased with his work, Silver has employed Collet-Serra again to direct his intriguing psychological thriller Orphan.

The tragic loss of their unborn child has John and Kate (Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga) considering adoption. At the local orphanage, they both find themselves strangely drawn to a 9-year old named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), but she is not what she originally appears to be, and Kate must persuade her husband to see beyond the child’s sweet façade in order to save their family.

How hard was it to find Isabelle?

Jaume Collet-Serra © Warner Bros

It was a long process, we were looking pretty much everywhere, it was open casting and I personally didn’t see every girl, but the casting director did. When I saw Isabelle’s taped audition I was really captivated, she really came in and owned the character. When I met her in person and she did it for me I could really see she was delivering the lines and the wheels were turning inside her head, and that’s what I needed for the character. I needed somebody who was very smart and very believable, and she just owned it, she was just better than anybody else that I saw by far. We were very lucky.

What about casting Vera, because she has a pivotal role as the mom?

She was on a very short list of actresses that I thought could pull this off. She’s a fantastic actress, she has a great reputation in Hollywood, every actor wants to work with her because she makes everyone that she’s with on screen [look] really good.

My only concern is that she had done Joshua right before, and that she might turn the role down. But when I met her and I explained what I wanted to do with the movie, she quickly understood that it was a completely different movie, and it was like a creative match made in heaven. We got along immediately in the first meeting and I felt that not only was she talented but she was very collaborative and I could really see that, and we had an amazing time, I can’t wait to work with her again, I would put her in every movie.

There’s a big twist at the end of the movie.

That makes the movie, that’s the reason why [I did it]. There were two things that I liked about the script, one was the characters who were very well-developed, well-rounded, and you really felt for those people, and it felt very interesting that the back story of these characters comes into play in a real way, it wasn’t just like something made up, every aspect that you learn about the past comes later to hunt them down. And then obviously the ending was something very rare, for me to read a script and not know how it’s going to end [is rare].

What are the challenges with today’s audience to make a scary movie?

I like to treat the audience as intelligent people obviously, and I think that for me I’m always struggling to make the fears real so that people can relate to the fear. I think that’s what makes it scary. There are types of movies like House of Wax that I did, it was a different type of movie where it’s more about the shock, or how is it going to happen, maybe little jumps here and there, but that’s not really as scary as this movie where you actually really feel for the characters and you feel like you’re there, it’s very realistic.

Did you have any trouble with the studio with the children, especially the 5 year old, shooting the gun?

Jaume Collet-Serra and Isabelle Fuhrman © Warner Bros

I’m sure you’ll talk to Isabelle at some point, she’s obviously a very smart girl and we tried to make it in a way that it’s fun. I have to say that for me when I was shooting the scene when [Isabelle] was holding the gun to the five-year-old’s face, as a person I felt disturbed, the kids were laughing. It was so hard to shoot that scene because they were just cracking up. So that shows the way that we were approaching the whole thing.

With so many psychologically disturbing scenes in the movie I wondered what your take is on the occasional stinger that you have to throw in there, like that noisy-as-hell bathroom cabinet. Do you feel like that’s a cheap shot or do you feel like you need those to kind of shake things up?

Any of the fake scares or little jumps are all in the beginning, I think the movie then evolves into something else and that’s just playful in the beginning to use those clichés to kind of keep some tension going. But when the movie gets real and serious it all pays off in a psychological and a much bigger way. It’s not like the climate of the movie is a mirrored cabinet like many other movies.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane