'Knives Out' Cast Talks Bringing the Whodunit to the Trump Era

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From left: Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, Daniel Craig, Katherine Langford, Don Johnson, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis

'The Last Jedi' director dusted off the old murder mystery and brought it into the present, intertwining the hunt for the killer with a satirical examination of wealth and privilege in the Trump era.

Don’t expect Rian Johnson’s star-studded whodunit Knives Out to feature any outdated references to past wars or broody main characters common in this genre. Instead, the lively murder mystery includes an eccentric bunch of characters who smoke Juuls and have obviously seen Hamilton.

"One of the big things that’s interesting to me is usually when you see whodunits, they’re period pieces," Johnson said. "They’re set in the past or they’re timeless. I thought, 'What would a whodunit look like if it was set in 2019 in America?'"

When the Thrombey family patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), mysteriously kills himself, Daniel Craig’s Detective Blanc is left wondering why, while most of this millionaire’s family is busy fighting over their inheritance. Johnson, who most recently directed The Last Jedi, dusted off the old murder mystery and brought it into the present, intertwining the hunt for the killer with a satirical examination of wealth and privilege in the Trump era.

While the family debates immigration policy from the comfort of their mansion, their father's caretaker (played by Ana de Armas) worries about keeping her mother's undocumented status under wraps — a fact that becomes harder to hide and is even used against her as police begin to snoop around after Harlan's death.

"Politically, what was going on a year ago is still going on. So, the movie is going to seem very topical, as if they made it a month ago," Jamie Lee Curtis said of central plot, which puts the class divide between the Thrombey family and the people who work for them at the forefront of the story. 

Some of the film’s all-star cast — including Curtis, Craig, and their co-stars Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, Ana de Armas, Jaeden Martell, and Chris Evans — took to the purple carpet at the Regency Village Theater in Westwood on Thursday night to debut the film, which premiered at TIFF.

Johnson said, though the story had been in his head for a while, he found himself in the position to make it when his dream actor for the lead detective — Craig — became available.

"It was really, really fast," he admitted. "We had a really brief window before he made the next Bond movie, so we had to get all of these actors together really quickly."

But, when Daniel Craig is available, you take the opportunity and run with it.

"I got a call that Daniel was available, and Rian was gonna put this together," Curtis recalled. "It came together very, very quickly. Before I knew it I was in Boston [for filming]."

The smart social commentary is what made many of the film’s biggest stars sign on to the project despite the rush.

"So, I kind of play this unlikeable alt-right troll, that’s what they call me," Martell said of his character, the youngest Thrombey who spends his days promoting the alt-right agenda on and, at one point in the film, is called a "literal Nazi."

"It was interesting playing such a despicable person that you definitely don’t agree with his views, but it’s just a fun movie," the young actor told THR.

Langford’s character sits on the other end of the political spectrum and, for much of the film, acts as a voice of reason when her family’s privileged attitude is getting out of hand.

"For [my character] Meg, she’s very much the heart and the bridge between the Thrombey family and the people who work for them," Langford said. "I think that’s always interesting to play within a film that’s so built on tensions and dynamics."

Craig said he took to the darkly humorous tone of the story immediately, and he knows the audience will, too.

"It’s a funny script," he told THR. "Genuinely, you don’t get to read something like this [very often]." 

Knives Out hits the silver screen Nov. 27.

MRC is the studio behind Knives Out, and shares a parent company, Valence Media, with The Hollywood Reporter.