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Wes Craven shooting for high anxiety

Times Staff Writer

WHEN you’re Wes Craven, here’s how things happen.

You want to make a thriller, in this case “Red-Eye.” Your top choices for the leads are Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams, two of Hollywood’s up-and-coming actors. McAdams flies from Canada to Los Angeles for a brief meeting with Craven. And it’s a go. Murphy reads the script, flies from London, has lunch with Craven at LAX, signs on, and then 40 minutes later hops on a plane back to London. You get 80 extras to commit to being on call for a six-week period. And then you make the movie.

Of course, it’s not that easy, and Craven wouldn’t break it down so simply. Craven was working against the clock on “Red-Eye” -- a thriller set aboard a plane: It turned out that another thriller set aboard an airplane was also in production -- “Flight Plan,” starring Jodie Foster -- and the pressure was on to get the project moving.

“The studio was very afraid they were going to come out before us and it would just kind of rob the audience away from us,” said Craven. “As it turns out, we’re coming out before they are.” “Red-Eye” opens Friday. “Flight Plan” debuts in late September.

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It helped that McAdams and Murphy were the first -- and last -- choices. As for landing two stars who happen to be coming off hit movies this summer (Murphy in “Batman Begins” and McAdams in “Wedding Crashers”), Craven feels “blessed.”

“We’re really thanking our lucky stars ... they’re obviously very well known, but they’re also very talented,” he said during a break from zigzagging the country to promote the film."Red-Eye” is new territory for Craven. Considered by some as a master of suspense, he is known for horror films such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the “Scream” trilogy. But “Red-Eye” is more thriller than horror.

The suspense begins when McAdams’ character, Lisa Reisert, finds herself sitting next to Murphy’s character, Jackson Rippner, on a flight from Dallas to Miami -- only to find out that he’s not the charmer she thought he was.

“For me, this is a film about people under pressure,” said Murphy in his thick Irish accent. “That’s what it fundamentally boils down to.”

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Murphy, who remembered watching “Elm Street” as a kid, was eager to work with Craven, proving it by flying back and forth between London and L.A. in a day, something that “says a lot,” Craven said.

“He obviously knows through his movies how to exploit terror, and he seems to be able to investigate fears that we all have and exploit them or magnify them,” Murphy said. “There’s a particular way of doing films like this. There’s a particular way to manipulate the audience to get sort of a reaction out of them, and he can do that.”

Craven said he was lucky to get McAdams aboard.

“She would not take anything she had not thought through a million different ways and was absolutely sure it was right for her to do,” he said. “So I was very excited when she agreed to do it.”

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Craven said McAdams was in a class of the best he’d worked with. “I don’t know where the limits of her range are,” he said. “I certainly didn’t find them.”

As for Murphy, Craven was initially concerned about his ability to break away from his Irish accent.

“I wasn’t totally sure he could do it, but I liked his enthusiasm and liked the films he had done,” said Craven. In the end, Murphy pulled it off without a hitch, the director said.

Another concern was the chemistry between McAdams and Murphy, since they didn’t get a chance to meet until arriving on the set. They got along just fine, although Murphy said he felt bad “throwing McAdams around” during some of the scenes. “She’s really cool and funny and intelligent and down to earth,” Murphy said.

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One quality McAdams and Craven both touched upon when talking about Murphy’s qualities was his eyes.

“I couldn’t believe they were real,” said Craven. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen eyes quite that shade, such a pale but a very, very bright blue.”

“They’re very hypnotic,” McAdams said. “In a creepy way and in a very charming way.”

In that respect, they helped Murphy out, since his character has to be charming at the start and then intimidating as the film goes on. Murphy seemed amused by the amount of effort that went into “reading” his eyes.

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“I just use them for looking at things,” Murphy said with a smile.


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