7 Things Richard Kelly Revealed To loaded about Donnie Darko And Beyond

Donnie Darko’s Richard Kelly discuss endings, sequels and an interconnected movie universe.

Donnie Darko
Stupid man suit Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone in Donnie Darko. Image Picture Metrodome

When Richard Kelly first arrived on the scene as a filmmaker with 2001’s Donnie Darko, many felt it signalled the emergence of an exciting new force in Hollywood.

Things haven’t quite worked out that way in the years since, but just over 15 years on from the release of his seminal debut and it would appear that Kelly is on the comeback trail with a raft of exciting new projects in the works.

Ahead of a busy 12 months, he sat down with loaded to shoot down claims of a Donnie Darko return, discuss casting choices and offer a major hint that all of his movies to date are somehow interconnected. Sounds intriguing…


On the man who was almost Donnie…

Richard Kelly behind the camera on Donnie Darko
Richard Kelly Behind the camera on Donnie Darko Image British Film Institute

“Originally Donnie was going to be played by Jason Schwartzman. He got the ball rolling on financing by being attached and then Drew Barrymore signed on. But then he had to withdraw for scheduling reasons and we ended up getting Jake Gyllenhaal.

“I can’t remember what it was but it definitely something he had already committed to and couldn’t get out of. It happens all the time. Movies are so delicate. They can start with one actor but schedules don’t always align. We had one week with Drew – she was the key to the financing.”


Memories of Patrick Swayze on set…

“Nancy [Juvonen] and Drew had met with him on Charlie’s Angels about a role and they thought it would be a great idea. He was looking to do independent films and he was looking to do something edgy and was willing to take a risk. 

“I remember him being nervous and anxious about the auditorium scenes and having to get up in front of all those high school students. But he was great. He was totally committed and there on set every day. He really felt like he was part of something special. He was just a lovely guy who was ready to be a part of the ensemble. He brought no pretense or ego to set at all, just really humble and grateful to work with us.”


Donnie Darko really is dead…

Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko
Jake Gyllenhaal In Donnie Darko

“There was never a discussion of changing the ending or having him survive. That wasn’t really an option. There might have been someone who asked a question about the ending.

“The Financiers were anxious about the ending being depressing and were confused about whether or not the ending was a representation of suicide or something like that. It was supposed to be a martyr death. 

“The big question remains does he need to die at the end? Why doesn’t he get out of bed? Doesn’t he know the jet engine is coming? I don’t have the answer to that question, it’s open to interpretation.”


But a sequel could still happen…

Richard Kelly and Jena Malone in Donnie Darko
Richard Kelly talks Donnie Darko With Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone.

“There’s definitely a bigger story beyond Donnie. There could always be a way of revisiting this world but it would be on a bigger scale and in a new and surprising way. 

“This story with these characters has been told though. If I were to ever revisit this universe it would be in a new and much bigger way.”


The Richard Kelly film that never was…

“I spent about a year and a half on a project called Knowing that almost got made at Fox Searchlight and there were budget issues and rights issues and financing problems and casting problems.

“They thought it was too ambitious to be done on the budget we had so I had to move on. It got made a few years later with Nicholas Cage on a much bigger budget and they ended up rewriting the script.

“I just let it go. I figured it wasn’t for me. The movie I would have made would have been very different but if you walk away from something you just shouldn’t look back. There’s no point getting emotionally attached to someone else’s story.”


  Donnie Darko: The TV Series…

A still from Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko Back in cinemas after 15 years

“TV is an extraordinary opportunity for artists right now. It’s just about figuring out how long something needs to be. I would love to do a long-form piece but I would want to do the whole thing, not just a pilot.

“I would be interested in doing a long-form, eight-hour piece perhaps. Something like what Cary Fukunaga did with True Detective.

You look at the scale for some of these shows and it’s the similar amount of time to a Marvel project. That would be exciting to me, rather than doing a big tent pole project. it’s just about finding the right opportunity and right distributor. There’s a lot of different avenues out there.”


All of Richard Kelly’s movies exist in the same universe…

A still from Southland Tales that features the Donnie Darko bunny

“There’s a lot of stuff in the works. I’ve been very strategic and keen to make sure the next project is set up in the right way. These projects are so ambitious and can’t be done cheaply. 

“Unfortunately, the stuff I do is very visual and very ambitious in terms of effects and set pieces and that costs money. You don’t want the train to leave the station without all of the resources we need.

“It’s frustrating but hopefully I will be directing several movies back to back and making up for lost time. I’ll be doing a lot of very, different very original things. I want to create a world where all my movies are more connected than people realise. I want to surprise people.”

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