Screenwriter Michael Green is happy to admit he is hoping to scare the pants off Agatha Christie fans with A Haunting in Venice, the third Hercule Poirot mystery to star Kenneth Branagh as the fastidious Belgian detective.
"Absolutely," Green tells EW in an interview, which was set up through his personal publicist in accordance with WGA guidance. "When I first brought this up to everyone involved, I said, 'What if we tried to make a horror movie, a ghost movie, for grown-ups?'"
At the start of the Branagh-directed film, which takes place after the end of World War II, we discover that Poirot is living in Venice and refusing to take on cases. "Like a lot of people, he's seen and experienced things that have shaken his faith," explains Green, whose many other screenwriting credits include 2017's Logan and the American Gods TV show. "That, plus his profession, has just shown him too much of the world to want to be a part of it anymore. He is not taking cases anymore [in order] to look away from the awfulness of the world. And then, along comes a friend with a case."
20th Century Studios Kenneth Branaugh's Hercule Poirot arrives in Italy for 'A Haunting in Venice'
The friend is bestselling mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver, played by Tina Fey, who convinces the detective to attend a seance being held by Michelle Yeoh's medium at the house of grief-stricken opera singer portrayed by Kelly Reilly. As usual, there is a murder for Poirot to solve, but the movie also features a thick streak of the supernatural which sets it apart from 2017's Murder on the Orient Express and 2022's COVID-delayed Death on the Nile, both of which were also written by Green and directed by Branagh.
James Pritchard, the CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd. and great-grandson of the famous author, says, "The tone of the film is very different from anything that's gone before. Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile were very classic adaptations. This has elements of horror. It is, at its heart, a murder-mystery, but there are moments that certainly make you jump out of your seat."
Green started to contemplate changing up the franchise in this fashion four years ago while visiting the shoot for Death on the Nile. The screenwriter has a vivid memory of walking around the set, fantasizing about making another film. "I started thinking about voices that don't get heard and how one might incorporate that into a story," he reflects. "Then I [had] the idea of a ghost and the idea of Poirot having to face the unknown."
20th Century Studios Michelle Yeoh, playing a medium, leads a seance in 'A Haunting in Venice'
Green pitched adapting a lesser known Christie novel from 1969, compared to the more famous books that inspired the two previous Green-Branagh collaborations. "I remembered flipping through Hallowe'en Party [while making] Orient Express," he says. "I gave it a deeper read and thought to myself, if we were given the permission to use this as a springboard to tell a different story, but definitely 'inspired by,' we might be able to tell something unexpected and yet desirable." After speaking with Branagh, Pritchard, franchise producer Judy Hofflund, and 20th Century Studios President Steve Asbell, the writer was both delighted and terrified that all seemed on board with this plan. "There was enough trust engendered [by] two successful attempts prior that they said, 'Give it a shot.'"
Green admits that he freely adapted Christie's original novel, which features Fey's character but is set in the fictional British village of Woodleigh Common. "I was asked to write the foreword for the mass market paperback tie-in for the film, and I felt like my responsibility for that was to apologize for quite a lot of liberties taken," he says. "It is a great book, but it wasn't a movie, but it was the foundation of one. The Christie estate forgave me. I hope Christie would."
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios Michelle Yeoh in 'A Haunting in Venice'
The film's biggest casting coup was securing the services of Yeoh prior to her winning the Oscar this year for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Green first heard about the potential of her casting around the time she was being talked-up for an Academy Award. "I think in this film she shows exactly why she won an Oscar, because her performance is extraordinary," the screenwriter says of Yeoh.
The shoot took place in Venice, as well as Pinewood Studios in the U.K., where Green visited and couldn't help but geek out when he met Fey. The writer explains that he has certain rules on set that he keeps breaking. "For example, I broke my never-ask-for-a-selfie rule with French and Saunders [comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders] on Death on the Nile, and they were kind enough to oblige," he recalls. "With Tina Fey, I did have to [tell her], she is the writer whose work I probably quote among my family, among my intimates, more than any other writer. She took it as well as one can."
20th Century Studios Tina Fey's novelist Ariadne Oliver joins Kenneth Branagh's Hercule Poirot in 'A Haunting in Venice'
Green reveals that, if A Haunting in Venice entertains the little grey cells of cinemagoers, then he and the other members of the Poirot creative team "absolutely have in mind a few possibilities of what we'd like to do next." What are those possibilities? "If I said anything more, the Disney, 20th lawyer-snipers would take me out before I got to divulge."
Green and Branagh do have another collaboration on deck, and this one is very different. The actor voices a character on Green and Amber Noizumi's upcoming animated Netflix show Blue Eye Samurai. Set in Japan 400 years ago, the voice cast also includes Maya Erskine, George Takei, Masi Oka, and Randall Park.
"We've been gestating the show unofficially for 10 years and then at Netflix for four," Green says. "It is an animated drama, and it turned out so much more beautifully than we'd ever hoped. All the characters are Asian and played by Asian actors except for one, who is our season 1 bad guy. I did call in one favor and Ken Branagh does play that role. He was very kind to just say, 'This looks great, I'll do it' and is amazing in it. Can't wait to show more."
The cast of A Haunting in Venice also includes Jamie Dornan, Camille Cottin, and Kyle Allen. The film will haunt theaters starting Sept. 15.
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