Inside the Creative Swings of Jordan Peele’s “Nope”

Jordan Peele’s greatest strength as a director is paying tribute to the horror genre while pushing the boundaries of storytelling.

Get Out introduced a fresh take on the social thriller. Us has turned a home invasion slasher into an allegory of classicism. Peele’s latest film, Nope, explores the idea of ​​exploitation and spectacle through the lens of an alien invasion.

Peele’s right-hand man in executing these bold visions has been his friend, Ian Cooper, for nearly 30 years.

As producer and creative director of Peele’s production company Monkeypaw, Cooper has helped shape Peele’s take on horror, which he describes as “pop darkness,” i.e. movies with an air of hyperbole, “but somehow it goes. flexible.”

Perhaps the greatest proof of that approach is, in fact, Nope, which is being billed as a reimagining of the summer event film.

Nope follows siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer), horse caretakers who work in film and TV, who struggle to keep intact their late father’s business and legacy in the industry. Not far from the Haywood ranch is a Gold Rush-inspired theme park run by Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former actor still grappling with a horrific incident from his childhood stardom when Gordy, a trained chimpanzee and Park’s costar on a TV show, tore up the cast during a live recording. But OJ, Emerald and Jupe are soon confronted with a different kind of “animal” that they must learn to tame.

[Photo: Universal Pictures]With the caveat of not answering questions that are too spoiler-y, Cooper breaks down some of Nope’s creative swings (e.g., that damn damn shoe, and why you’re sure to have unanswered questions), how the movie innovates on the sci-fi horror genre, and its collaborative dynamics with Peele.

You and Jordan have loved movies since your teens. How did it translate that early friendship and bond over cinema into actual collaboration in the industry?

It’s actually been remarkably fluid. We’ve been good friends since we were 15, and our dynamic that we built both creatively and interpersonally when we were teenagers has remained almost comically unchanged. We each have a son and they are [around] the same age, and we already see the dynamics transformed across the generations.

So what is that dynamic?

We are both creative people. I was a visual artist before I became a filmmaker. Jordan had a whole range of visual arts, puppetry, improv, all these things. When we were in high school, we even played in plays together. So we’ve had an in-depth exchange of ideas. Much of it was both conceptual and visual. So I think the origin story of our friendship was a lot about the exchange of ideas and how to condense ideas conceptually into imagery.

Ian Cooper [Photo: Kirk McKoy/AB Images for Universal Pictures]So when did that exchange of ideas lead to a working relationship with you as producer and creative director at Monkeypaw Productions?

When he asked me to change my whole life and move to LA and become his producer – which was definitely filed under midlife crisis feelings I was having – it was super scary. l [had] just completed my MFA. I’ve taught at NYU for 12 years. I was head of the thesis program. I’ve had this entire academic career. And then Get Out, which I helped him with as a friend in the six years he wrote it, read and gave feedback; once that [film] broke, he was like, what if we really did this as a team for real? He always says it’s a power multiplier. It is someone you trust with whom you have a very intimate relationship who knows you. I think the nature of the director/producer dynamics fits so well with our strengths and our personalities. I don’t want to do what he does, and he probably doesn’t want to do what I do.

Knowing that, how did you get started developing a movie like Nope?

Jordan had an idea about making an unquoted Great American UFO movie for quite some time. Many of his first ideas about the film were visual. I remember very early on, before there was even a plot for the movie, he had this image of a UFO as an umbrella in a rainstorm, and the feeling that it should feel like rain on the roof of your car or in your house. And then suddenly to feel a heavy rain wash over you, which is the watershed of the UFO’s perimeter, and then suddenly be completely without rain – what a horrible feeling that would be. He thinks very visually and much of the way he builds around a film in its origins is through a series of haunting images.

I find it interesting that the original working title for this movie was Little Green Men, which indicates a very different movie than what we got with Nope. How much has this movie evolved since its inception?

Little Green Men was much more focused on the monetary exchange of exploitation. It was much more focused on Emerald and OJ trying to monetize this, which of course is still in the movie. But it evolved into a larger discourse around exploitation and industry. In a way, it’s more conceptually exciting now, and it’s fairer to what Jordan struggled with, which is the victims of spectacle.

What do you see Nope adding to the sci-fi horror genre?

What I find most exciting is the idea that we’ve created what feels like a very complex film that actually has a beautiful simplicity. The simplicity is essentially what if a UFO wasn’t a ship containing organisms – what if it was just an animal? It was an organism. That was an idea that Jordan had quite early in the development process and an idea that we were so excited about, and it felt very risky. But it also felt like almost a meta twist on the audience’s expectation that he would have a super complicated twist. He was like, what if the twist just wasn’t that complicated? I also think for a summer movie, it’s a really nice tribute to things like Jaws where you are, yes the movie is about a shark eating people. It’s so simple, but it’s so loved.

Up to that point of simplicity, I have found, at least with Ons and Nope, that there is little that stands in the way of explaining the mythology of the horror with which we are introduced. Not much was revealed about Tethered. And there are certainly still many questions about this threat in Nope. Where is the balance between explanation and mystery?

I hope that doesn’t frustrate people.

[Photo: Universal Pictures]It’s a little, but it doesn’t matter.

[laughs] Sorry! What I would say is we always watch Ridley Scott’s Alien. The scariest and most grounded thing about it is that you get to be next to your main character, and they don’t know what that is. Jordan does a very funny imitation of that moment in B movies where a scientist tells you everything you need to know about the creature. He’s out of breath and a little sweaty and says, ‘Listen, in the 1950s there was an experiment that went wrong. . . .’ The thing that’s so haunting, and I think Nope does it pretty successfully, is, yeah, man, that’s what would happen if you saw a goddamn UFO. There’s no one to tell you shit. There is no way to know more. The raw nature of the fear is that you are in a circumstance where there is no authority to tell you more than that you are having an experience that is otherworldly. There is something that allows viewers to keep touching the film in their minds. You know when you were a kid and you’d lose a tooth and your tongue couldn’t go into the hole where the tooth was? Something about leaving room for the audience is like sticking their tongue in that tooth hole. They want to go further and extrapolate there. It’s not something we purposely try to cover up. It tries to take root in the character’s experience.

There are little creative details that really caught my eye in the movie, like the title cards flashing on the screen with the names of the different animals. There are cards for the Haywood ranch horses like “Ghost” and “Clover” that come to an untimely end. But there’s also a card for Gordy, the chimpanzee who tore everyone to pieces when Jupe was a child star, as well as the alien from the movie called “Jean Jacket.”

We were really hoping that putting that Gordy chapter out there will give the public a much clearer understanding that Gordy and Jean Jacket are no different. They are both wild animals that the man overconfidently thought they could put on a party hat and restrain them until they couldn’t anymore. I’ll say a little more about this just on a geek level, we were so obsessed with those cards and made them feel like they were real. We were concerned about the font. We printed them with a fine art photographer, hung them on the wall, and [cinematographer] Hoyte van Hoytema rolled up IMAX images. So [those title cards are] Real.

Oh wow!

Isn’t that insane? I don’t know if you noticed there was a faulty light leak on the cards. So at the bottom of the screen it almost looks like the foot lamps of a stage. But there was a light leak in the IMAX camera, and we were all so romanticized, we just went for it.

[Image: Universal Pictures]Speaking of creative touches, I have to ask: what was up with that shoe? In the scene where Gordy tears up the cast, is there a shoe with a bloodstain on it that just sticks straight up after the attack?

You know what’s funny? [Hereditary and Midsommar director] Ari Aster texted Jordan and said, “Oh my God – the shoe.” I have the feeling that the shoe is an enigmatic object. For Jupe, it becomes a really dissociative focus at that point. Basically, everything around you is going to shit, so as a way to protect yourself, focus on something abnormal that you can’t watch. It is not an image of materialized horror – it is an associative horror. Getting rid of us, Jordan is really interested in things that are puzzlingly lined up — the world behaving in ways that don’t necessarily make sense, but that you can pay attention to. And I think for Jupe, he has [the shoe] in a private museum oriented the same way he saw it in reality. It is almost like a talisman for his manner.

There are production companies that have such a clear identity. A24 is a perfect example. And by now I would put Monkeypaw in that category. What makes a Monkeypaw production for you?

Our guiding principle is to let people tell stories that represent themselves and to help represent others on screen. The other is fun and artistic. A24 is a great company that makes such artistic films. We strive to collaborate with them in the artistic field. But we’re also super conscious about making sure we reach a larger audience that also just wants to enjoy the fun and excitement of being in the cinema on a more populated level. The last thing that really matters to us is this idea of ​​mischief. We don’t sit down and repeat ourselves. And that’s actually the hardest, because it means trusting our instincts, going beyond something we know works in pursuit of something we hope works. That’s where risk-taking comes in, and where Jordan is our fearless leader. This movie is a real proof of that.


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