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The plot of 'Longlegs' may sound familiar but it stands on its own 2 terrifying feet

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The new film "Longlegs" is about an inexperienced but determined FBI agent chasing a serial killer before he strikes again. Sound familiar? It would be nearly impossible not to talk about how "Longlegs" is influenced by the Academy Award-winning "The Silence Of The Lambs," so I won't even try to avoid it.

The Clarice Starling doppelganger here is FBI agent Lee Harker. She's played by Maika Monroe, who was memorable in another horror film, "It Follows." Osgood Perkins wrote and directed "Longlegs." And my first question to Perkins was how much of an influence "The Silence Of The Lambs" really was.

OSGOOD PERKINS: I ripped it off.

(LAUGHTER)

PERKINS: You know, like, I'm not going to pretend like I didn't. That's the whole - that's the fun of it. It's meant to be sort of pop art - right? - that invites the audience in to sort of say, you remember "Silence Of The Lambs." That made you feel good. So it's sort of like doing a little bit of a magic trick, right? With the left hand, you're saying it's "Silence Of The Lambs." And then you let the right hand take a right-hand turn, and it's not "Silence Of The Lambs" at all.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's the movie about? For people that don't know, what's the movie about?

PERKINS: The movie is about this seemingly unsolvable case of the Longlegs killer, who has a weird habit of not being at the scene of the crime.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LONGLEGS")

BLAIR UNDERWOOD: (As Agent Carter) A letter was left with the bodies. We have 10 letters like it over the past 30 years, and all are signed with one word - Longlegs.

MAIKA MONROE: (As Lee Harker) He'll kill and kill again.

MARTÍNEZ: So Lee Harker - that's you, Maika.

MONROE: Indeed, it is.

MARTÍNEZ: Clarice Starling is one of my favorite movie characters of all time. So how are they cut, maybe, a little bit from the same cloth?

MONROE: I mean, I think just on a very surface level, there are similarities - both young FBI agents put on this case. But I think sort of beyond that - I don't know - Lee feels very different to me, just how she goes through life. She's got this sort of awkwardness, uncomfortability - a loner.

MARTÍNEZ: Another reason this character is different than Clarice Starling - we get to know a lot more about how she came to be the flawed person she is. Her mom is a constant presence in her life - protective, pious, but ultimately damaging.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LONGLEGS")

ALICIA WITT: (As Ruth Harker) Will you tell me the honest truth about something?

MONROE: (As Lee Harker) I'll try.

WITT: (As Ruth Harker) Do you still say your prayers?

MONROE: (As Lee Harker) No, Mom. And I never said my prayers - never once. They scared me.

MARTÍNEZ: Osgood Perkins says that basically, her family screwed her up.

PERKINS: All parents - we have to sort of just accept the fact that we are going to mess it up. We're going to poison the well, at least to some degree. And certainly, the movie is much more about the parent than it is about, you know, the devil.

MARTÍNEZ: For those who maybe don't get the last name Perkins, your father's Anthony Perkins from "Psycho." So hopefully everyone knows who that is.

PERKINS: I think everybody listening to NPR knows who that is.

MARTÍNEZ: I hope so. I hope I don't have to do a whole explainer on that part. But, I mean - so I'm wondering, Osgood, then how maybe your family influenced how you portrayed family in this film.

PERKINS: You know, living the life that I did as the child of famous people, especially a famous actor father who had sort of a - not a sort of a - but had a closeted life, had a closeted sexuality life in the '50s and '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. Even today - right? - even today, it's kind of not that OK, which is insane to say. But for a leading man to be gay or bisexual is just not - it's still not a thing that's on the ticket.

Part of what happened in my family life was that sort of a construct was made, and not - it's not even a bad thing. It's what we do as parents. We do our best to sort of insulate and protect and kind of translate the world to our children as best we can, and it's an imperfect science at best. Some of us are lucky to be kind of good at it, and some people are really disasters as parents. I had great parents, but in a complex situation.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So that's the Clarice Starling part of the story. Now let's get to Hannibal Lecter. The serial killer here is played by Nicolas Cage. Now, this is an actor with a history of unhinged performances, but "Longlegs" is really one for the history books. You almost can't recognize Cage, with scraggly hair draped over his head. He's also in heavy makeup, which makes his skin look ghostly and ghastly. Like, he's so evil that even light is afraid to be near him. Add to all that - he's in prosthetics. And then the capper - he speaks in an unnerving falsetto.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LONGLEGS")

NICOLAS CAGE: (As Longlegs) Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

MARTÍNEZ: Oz Perkins says he gave Cage a wide berth when it came to creating the terrifying mannerisms of Longlegs. Maika Monroe has just one scene with Cage in the whole film, and it is a memorable one.

MONROE: Oz decided for us not to meet prior.

MARTÍNEZ: You did not meet Nicolas Cage.

MONROE: I never met him once. And then on top of that, I never saw what Longlegs looked like until I - Oz called action and, you know, I opened the door to the interrogation room, and there was Nic Cage as Longlegs.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LONGLEGS")

CAGE: (As Longlegs) Oh, there she is.

MARTÍNEZ: Were you OK with that? I mean, some performers like to prepare and...

MONROE: I loved it. Yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: You loved it.

MONROE: It's - I've never had an experience like that before on a set. And I think it was so special, and it was so - it was just such a visceral reaction. You know, I have my lines memorized, but I have no idea what is going to happen when I walk into that room, and that - I'll never forget that.

MARTÍNEZ: 'Cause that's one intense scene. I mean, I haven't seen a scene like that in a long time - in a - yeah.

MONROE: Yeah, and I don't - well, that might give something away, but I might...

PERKINS: But also, he - but also, Nic...

MONROE: I was like, I might - I got to be careful (laughter).

PERKINS: But also - Nic also, like - whatever - it's, like, an eight-page scene or something...

MONROE: Oh, yeah.

PERKINS: ...Horrible like that.

MONROE: We were shooting for hours.

PERKINS: We're shooting forever. And so at a certain point, when they were - we're kind of on the rails and things were going fine and we were sort of getting into some of the sort of, like, pickup stuff and sort of dirty work, Nic did sort of say, (impersonating Nicolas Cage) I really liked you in "It Follows"...

MONROE: (Laughter).

PERKINS: ...Just sort of...

MONROE: It was...

MARTÍNEZ: He gave you that much.

PERKINS: ...Just sort of like, (impersonating Nicolas Cage) hi, nice to meet you.

MONROE: Oh, it was great.

PERKINS: (Impersonating Nicolas Cage) Really big fan of "It Follows."

MONROE: Yep - heard his actual voice...

PERKINS: Yeah.

MONROE: ...For the first time, and I was just, like, sitting across the room like, oh, my God. Did that just happen?

PERKINS: Because he...

MONROE: It was crazy.

PERKINS: Yeah, 'cause he's a genuinely real dude.

MONROE: Yeah.

PERKINS: And he's lovely.

MONROE: Yeah, yeah.

PERKINS: And he's smart, and he's - he loves movies, and he loves actors, and he loves acting. He just - he's a big fan of all of it.

MARTÍNEZ: The film is called "Longlegs." Osgood Perkins wrote and directed it. Maika Monroe plays FBI agent Lee Harker. My thanks to you both for coming in.

PERKINS: Thanks for having us.

MONROE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)")

T REX: (Singing) Well, you're dirty and sweet, clad in black. Don't look back, and I love you... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.