Confronting your unwavering beliefs that have been the foundation for your career, and uncovering evidence that what you have long held to be true, can be an emotional journey that also physically puts you in harm’s way. Such is the case with the protagonist, Dr. Cara Harding, in the new horror thriller mystery, ‘6 Souls,’ which was written by Michael Cooney. The scribe, who has experience in the genre, having written the hit 2003 mystery thriller, ‘Identity,’ chronicled the psychiatrist’s taunting journey of witnessing that her conflicting beliefs on modern medicine and religion may not be as contradictory as she always believed.
‘6 Souls,’ which was helmed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, follows Cara (Julianne Moore), who is still dealing with the death of her husband, several years after his passing. Her faith in God has been shaken, but not her belief in science. In an attempt to open her up to accepting unexplainable psychiatric theories, her father introduces her to Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a patient with multiple personalities. Adam takes on some of the physical characteristics of his other personalities. Cara quickly discovers that Adam’s other personalities are murder victims, and the more she finds out about him and his past, the closer she and her loved ones are to becoming murder victims themselves.
Cooney generously took the time recently to talk about writing the script for the horror mystery thriller over the phone. Among other things, the scribe discussed how his research on possession and exorcisms for ‘Identity’ led him to pen ‘6 Souls;’ how he approved of Moore’s casting as Cara and enjoyed her performance of the conflicted psychiatrist; and how he felt Marlind and Stein captured his vision of the story with their directing skills.
ShockYa (SY): You wrote the screenplay for the new horror mystery thriller ‘6 Souls.’ Where did you come up with the idea for the film’s story?
Michael Cooney (MC): Well, years ago, I wrote a film called ‘Identity,’ which deals with multiple personalities, or Dissociative Personality Disorder. In my research for that screenplay, I started to read about the history of that disorder. I found how not too long ago, people showing those symptoms were diagnosed with possession by demons, and they were treated with an exorcism. I thought that was fascinating, but it was the wrong thing for ‘Identity.’
So I started to think about that, and the story then came about whether we should have abandoned those thoughts as the cause of the symptoms. I thought that would be the twist to it, that we’d start off scientific and end with something more supernatural.
From there, I thought about which character would best serve that, and I came up with Dr. Cara Harding, who I think was quite beautifully played by Julianne Moore. It started as a straight-shooting belief in her science. Since she is so rigidly holding onto those beliefs, she takes her entire family into danger.
SY: Since the story is based on Cara working as a psychiatrist and trying to treat Adam, and also contains elements of the supernatural, like you mentioned, what kind of research did you do before you began writing? Did you do any additional research from your inquires for ‘Identity?’
MC: I did, yes. What tends to happen when you’re writing a thriller, at least from my point-of-view, is that I usually know the ending. I know the point that I’m trying to get to. What happens is that you start doing the research you want, whether that’s into multiple personalities or into the mountain religion and spirituality. You do the research, and when it stops leading you to the ending that you know you want, that’s when I abandon my research.
I do a lot of research, so that a lot of what’s in there is real and true. Obviously, the endings of my movies are complete fantasy. Since you start the film with your feet firmly on the ground, the audience goes along with you on the ride.
The extra research that I had to do for ‘6 Souls’ was more into the spirituality of the Appalachian Mountains. When I originally sold the screenplay, it wasn’t set in those mountains; it was actually set in Salem. It had that witchcraft as its history. But as we started to develop the story, I thought that was a little cliché, so I looked for something a little more original and unique.
I came across this story of the Native American dwellers of the Appalachian Mountains and the Scottish settlers. So you’ve got the history of both the Native Americans and the Scottish spirituality coming together for this mountain faith that’s there.
SY: With the film being in the horror mystery thriller genre, were there any particular horror screenwriters or films that have influenced your writing style, with ‘6 Souls’ and your career in general?
MC: Not when I was working on it. But the major influence in my writing happened about 11 or 12 years ago, when I picked up a (Quentin) Tarantino script. You could absolutely look at my writing before I, in particular, read ‘From Dusk Till Dawn,’ and afterwards. He has been a huge influence, just in how I write; not necessarily in the types of stories I tell, but the actual style of the screenplays I write.
SY: Like you mentioned earlier, Julianne Moore plays Cara, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays Adam, in the film. Did you offer the directors of the movie, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, any suggestions on who would be cast as the lead characters?
MC: No, actually the script was written on spec and sold. I was deeply involved in the whole production, but the casting tends to be the job of the producers and executive producers and the casting director and the directors. Unless you have some enormous problem with the casting, I don’t think I would have much influence on that.
I think the script was sent to Julianne with an offer, and she read it and accepted. When I got that phone call, that Julianne Moore wants to do it, that was a very happy phone call to receive. She is just a queen and fantastic, and I think she’s terrific in this role.
SY: Once you completed the script and Måns and Björn signed on to helm the film, did you visit the set and/or work with them at all as they began production on the movie?
MC: I was there for most of the filming. What you hope is that you get the right directors and that you’re not meddling. What you want to happen, and this occurred with James Mangold on ‘Identity’ as well, is that you get someone who utterly understands the movie. You don’t want someone who has their own vision and is just using the script as a backbone, and is taking it off in a different direction.
I have been very fortunate with the directors who have taken on my screenplays, in that they utterly understand the script. You find that your influence is the script itself. You don’t have to be a whisper in the director’s ear; you trust that what they’re going to do is elevating your piece, which is exactly what I believe happened with both ‘Identity’ and ‘6 Souls.’
SY: Have you seen the finished theatrical version of ‘6 Souls’ yet, and if so, what are your thoughts on it?
MC: I have seen it a couple of times. I have seen it with an audience. I find it simply moving. I obviously understand the piece more intimately than anyone watching it for the first time. But I love the relationship between Cara and the father and the daughter, the three generational relationships. I find myself very moved by the piece.
SY: What types of reactions have you received from audiences who have already seen the film?
MC: My favorite reaction was from when I saw it in London. I took all of my friends to go and see it, and there were about 40 of us there, along with a general audience. My friends and I stayed until after the credits rolled, and then we exited the theater.
As we were exiting the theater, there were two girls, who were about 20 years in age, who were sitting on a bench just outside of the theater. One of the girls was weeping uncontrollably, and her friend was saying, it’s alright, it’s only a movie. I actually sat down next to her and said, it’s alright, I’m the writer. I think that confused and frightened her even more. But it was quite a terrific reaction.
SY: Like you mentioned, you also wrote the screenplay for ‘Identity,’ another mystery thriller that was successful at the box office. What is it about the genre that you enjoy so much, and how did working on that films influence your career?
MC: Well, ‘Identity’ changed everything for me. Before ‘Identity,’ I had written and directed a couple low-budget, direct-to-video movies. There were some stage plays that I had converted into film. There were about half a dozen of these movies.
‘Identity’ was the first of my movies that I think was beautifully handled, all the way from the producers to the casting to the direction to the cinematography to the music to the editing. It was successful at the time, and it offered me the opportunity to write more expensive, nicer productions. ‘6 Souls’ wouldn’t have happened, I don’t believe, if it wasn’t for ‘Identity.’
I’ve also enjoyed writing. I had been writing for 15 years before I sold ‘Identity,’ but there’s nothing quite like that. It put me in the peripheral vision of Hollywood.
SY: ‘6 Souls’ had a reported modest budget of $22 million. Do you think having a lower budget may have influenced the way Måns and Björn could have shot the film? What are your overall thoughts on the finished movie?
MC: I actually don’t know what the budget was. All you could tell is how long they had to shoot, they shot this in five weeks in several locations. It wasn’t a skeleton crew in any way.
I think the film looks fantastic, and the cinematography is just beautiful. In my opinion, it holds up beautifully on a large screen. I was very impressed.
SY: Like you mentioned, besides writing ‘6 Souls’ and ‘Identity,’ you have also penned and directed several films, including ‘Jack Frost’ and its sequel, ‘Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.’ Do you prefer directing the films you have written, or do you enjoy just writing screenplays?
MC: I had so much fun directing the two movies that I did. They were silly, low-budget horror spoofs about an abominable snowman. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. However, seeing ‘Identity’ and ‘6 Souls’ and what a “real” director does with my work, I have no intention of going back behind the camera again. Once you realize what a truly talented director can do for your piece, I don’t think I should be allowed behind the camera.
SY: Do you have any upcoming projects, whether writing, directing or both, lined up that you can discuss?
MC: Well, I’m always working. I’m working on a new spec, so as a writer, it’s always back to the drawing board. It’s a thriller with a good, spooky twist. What I like is that I have kids, and they love spooky stuff.
I have a little girl, Spencer, who’s age eight, came up with the title. I told her a little about the piece, but I didn’t go into too much detail because it’s gruesome and spooky. A couple of weeks later she came back to me and said, “Daddy, I have a title for you.” I thought, okay, here we go. Her title is so simple, and it’s called ‘In the Dark.’ I just loved that title. So that’s one of my favorite things about it.
Written by: Karen Benardello