In Touch With Your Evil Inner Child
An Interview with David Johnson, screenwriter
though I hadn't remembered David Johnson's name from a decade
or so past, I remembered that he had written a well-liked
screenplay for Arnold Schwarzenegger to star as my favorite
pulp character, Doc Savage. So when this item showed up
in his biographical information, I knew I had to sit down
and talk to the guy that had almost redeemed Doc's cinematic
he seems so harmless...
then, of course, he's dabbled on the side of evil (metaphorically),
as this week his first produced screenplay opens in theaters
as Orphan. From
the trailers, it looked pretty scary, so again, I had to
sit down with this guy and pick his brain. We met Wednesday
before Preview Night at Comic-Con, and for a man whose mind
teems with evil deeds, David Johnson is...nice.
course, that's just what he'd want me to think, isn't it?
What attracted you to Orphan?
I've always been a fan of the evil child sub-genre. It's
a kind of a diabolical subject matter. There was a treatment
that had been written by Appian Way, an executive named
Alex Mace. They were looking for a writer to adapt it.
They gave me
the first three pages; I came up with an ending for it.
I just jumped at the chance to get involved with this genre
that I've loved so much and for so long.
McCaw: How hard was it to find a unique spin
on this, as you call it, the evil child sub-genre?
always play piano...is that Au Clair de la Lune?
It was a little difficult. One of the things that is great
about the genre is that there is a sort of a formula that
you enjoy seeing unfold. But at the same time, I wanted
to have it unfold in a different way.
So that was
actually the first thing I thought of, which was how could
this be different? And once I thought of how it was different,
I worked my way backwards to the beginning that they had
actually written in the treatment.
McCaw: So you had a lot of freedom in plotting,
even though there was a treatment?
Actually, they only gave me the first three pages because
they didn't want anyone coming in with a pre-conceived notion.
They said, "go crazy. Here's the beginning, do anything
you want and come back to us."
And I did. I
went a little crazy. (laughs) And I thought, well,
either they'll hire me or they'll throw me out of this building.
Luckily, they hired me.
McCaw: Before this film, what was your favorite
of the sub-genre?
Johnson: The Bad Seed. Hands down. It's the
original and still best. It is to the evil kid what Dracula
is to the vampire mythos. It's the movie that set out the
formula, and nothing like it had come before it. It was
ground-breaking at its time.
No evil kid
movie doesn't owe something to that movie.
McCaw: You first got attention as a writer
with a screenplay for Doc Savage. That's quite a big leap
from action-adventure to this. What attracted you to Doc
Savage in the first place, and would you jump back in if
Arch-Enemy of Evil
Absolutely. When I first started writing, I was in the action-adventure
genre. Doc Savage is a great character and I had a lot of
fun writing that script. I'd love to be working in that
But what I was
doing was I was a writer with no produced credits writing
hundred million dollar summer tentpole blockbusters which
no one was going to read because no one had any idea who
That one (Doc
Savage) actually happened to work out. It shouldn't
have. (laughs) I was working for Frank Darabont at
the time and he said, oh, this is pretty good, and we wound
up getting the option on the rights to that.
a couple of adventure movies after that, and realized that
it wasn't realistic to think that was going to keep happening.
I moved to my other love, which was horror, and things that
took place on a slightly smaller scale.
McCaw: But now you've done work for Appian,
which the Hollywood Reporter announced this week was looking
to do Aquaman. So would you try and pitch anything for that?
Johnson: I will do anything that they will let me do.
They were great there. I would love to take a crack at that.