Even if it werent directed by the highly-sought-after Cary Fukunaga, Netflixs Maniac would be an alluring prospect for any performer. The chance to play not one but several characters bouncing from genre to genre, all under the umbrella of a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of the alienating and depressive way we live now? That premise was a lure shiny enough to hook Jonah Hill and Emma Stone as leads Annie and Owen…and Linda and Bruce… and Arlie and Ollie…and Annia and Snorri…and, well, you get the picture.
As Annie and Owen enter an experimental drug trial intent on curing the need for therapy, they wind up intersecting again and again in various dream worlds that are inspired by—but not direct copies of—classic films. In the latest episode of Vanity Fairs podcast Still Watching, director Cary Fukunaga dives into the filmic influences behind Maniacs controlled chaos.
Stones on-screen sister and co-star Julia Garner also joins the podcast to discuss the challenges of playing both Ellie—a very real American girl—and Ellia, an accented elf, complete with a flowing platinum wig and pointy ears. (Did Garner take home a pair of those ears for herself? Tune in to find out.)
Maniac goes full gonzo for the first time at the end of Episode 3, when deep in their dreams relative strangers Owen and Annie find themselves as two mulletted and permed halves of a Jersey married couple on a madcap caper in pursuit of a lemur. Yes, a lemur. Fukunaga says that the early Coen bros. film Raising Arizona, starring Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter as hapless husband and wife H.I. and Ed, served as the inspiration here: “We just wanted something that brought them together in this sort of non-traditional domestic situation. [They are] such lonely people, to throw them together as sort of dysfunctional married couple seemed like the right move there.”
Other inspirations are a bit more obvious. Its impossible to look at Stone and Garner in their matching braided Legolas wigs in Episode 7, for example, and not think of Lord of the Rings.
But one film reference took even Fukunaga by surprise. In Episode 9—which serves as a perfect calling card for the directors future work on the Bond franchise—Annie and Owen find themselves drawn into a spy story set at the United Nations. “I didn't intend to do Dr. Strangelove,” Fukunaga says of the Kubrickian style that crept into that particular dreamscape. “It just sort of naturally went that way based on the circumstances.”
But as much as Fukunaga is happy to talk about the cinematic influences on Maniac, hes disinclined to label either those or any other repeating motifs throughout the season as “Easter Eggs.” He refers to the recent proliferation of Easter Egg culture as “a gimmick to get people to watch something again.” Fukunaga prefers, instead, to “think along the lines of the layers being so hopefully well-constructed that theres nothing—even if something feels random or tangential that its all tied to something. Randomness is somehow just not satisfying in terms of a final project piece.”
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