Best of 2017 (Behind the Scenes): Jordan Peele goes inside Get Out's biggest twist
No movie in 2017 garnered more positive word of mouth than Get Out, the result of unique storytelling, an idea that seemed to sadly resonate with the current environment, and a shocking twist. Here, writer and director Jordan Peele breaks down the big reveal, which he called his film’s “hardest scene to shoot.”
Move over, Seven and the mysterious box, because we’ve got a new iconic movie question to ask: “Where are those keys?!” Since Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott, perhaps no character has ever been more determined to get to a car than Get Out‘s Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya).
From the beginning, something was off with the young African-American photographer’s trip to the Armitage estate, home to his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents. Chris’ disturbing therapy session with Missy (Catherine Keener), encounter with the man formerly known as Andre (Lakeith Stanfield), and the foreboding auction are all warning signs, but the cherry on the frightening sundae starts with the discovery of Rose’s not-so-diverse dating history.
After finding pictures of Rose with numerous black partners, including Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel), Chris expedites his exit plan with Rose in tow. There’s only one slight problem: She can’t find the keys to their car. As she frantically looks through her purse, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) blocks the door and Dean (Bradley Whitford) delivers a monologue about being “Gods.” Chris repeatedly screams for an emotional Rose to give him the keys, eventually asking one last time. “You know I can’t give you the keys, right babe?” a suddenly stone-faced Rose says as he she pulls the keys out. Chris’ brief attempt to escape by brute force is quickly thwarted by Missy’s spoon tap on her teacup, sending their visitor to the Sunken Place.
“This is an introduction of the person we didn’t realize she was,” Peele tells EW of the Rose twist. “It’s hard to say why I chose to do it like that, but I think I was sort of backing into what I thought would be the most effective way to reveal the character to the audience.”
For EW’s Best of 2017 (Behind the Scenes) collection, Peele is pulling back the curtain on the pivotal scene of his Golden Globe-nominated film (a total riot according to the HFPA) and addressing why he refused to allow the key moment to be tipped off in the trailer.
An open closet door catches Chris’ eye, leading to the first of Peele’s two reveals of Rose’s true self. Despite the suspicious pictures, Chris tries to rush out of the house with his girlfriend.
“When he sees the photographs, the intention is that without enough time to process what that means, he knows that she’s been keeping something very dark and very important from him,” shares Peele. “He doesn’t have time to think it through, but he knows she’s evil, he knows at the very least she’s part of the problem he’s sensing. I wanted to make a movie that would have an intelligent protagonist in it, a horror movie where the lead does the right thing. And my first instinct when creating that was like, ‘Okay, at that moment, you punch the girl and you jump out the window and start running.’ [Laughs]. But I wanted to make Chris a little bit smarter than that and that is to say, look, he’s in the middle of nowhere, he could run, but they could catch him. And if there’s a possibility that they don’t know that he knows what he knows or that Rose doesn’t, that if he just plays it cool, he can get out of the house without alerting them to the fact and getting a head start. So his goal at that point becomes, ‘If I can get the car keys, I can get out of here.’ That’s his goal.”
“It would be too reckless to go straight into violence,” Peele explains, “and so, for the rest of that scene, I think there’s a little bit of doubt in his head, or at least he’s hoping there’s something he’s not thinking of. Maybe [Rose] was hypnotized by her mother, maybe these are all just past boyfriends of hers and she didn’t tell him because she didn’t want him to know. But as the scene progresses and she can’t deliver those keys, he knows in his heart of hearts that it’s not right. And the only thing that by the end is pushing Chris to continue to fight for those keys, it becomes less about the keys and more about communicating, ‘I trusted you, you betrayed me, and now’s the time to be real for once. So where are those keys?’ He’s resigned and the keys kind of became a metaphor by the end. His tragic flaw and his sin that he’s been dealing with this entire movie is that when he was a child he felt like he abandoned his mother when she was in need. So this character isn’t going to just run without knowing for certain that he doesn’t have any family here.”
With one line, Rose goes from a loving girlfriend to a stone-cold sociopath. Williams has to quickly flip the psycho switch and become a totally different character than the audience has watched for the preceding 70 minutes.
“We had been talking about that scene from the very beginning,” says Peele. “Allison and I knew that if we played the movie right that would be a huge moment and it would be the moment where we meet the real Rose for the first time. And I think that’s what’s so chilling about her performance is that the real Rose in the matter of a line communicates that she has no remorse, has no love for this person, and even with the way she sort of waves at him and says, ‘babe,’ that there is a disdain for this character she’s been sleeping with and pretending to be in love with. I think that was what’s so chilling, this idea that you could be next to a sociopath and completely fooled. So what she did was go so dark so fast. And another detail she brought in was, we knew where the character was going and what the wardrobe would be later, and she said, ‘I think after this reveal, Rose would pull her hair back up, because that’s who the character is, and the second she can get this hair out of her face, she would go for it.’ And obviously, I loved it and think it’s such a chilling part that the character continues to take the costume off after that moment.”
Due to the HFPA’s classification, Kaluuya is nominated Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but he delivers a compelling dramatic turn, highlighted by his powerhouse performance in the emotionally draining scene.
“That was the hardest scene to shoot,” admits Peele. “It was very hard for me to put into words exactly why we were going to be able to reveal this twist twice in a matter of four minutes. But I knew it would work, and I knew after the pictures happened up until the keys moment that we would be in a state of limbo where everyone involved is pretending that they don’t know what’s going on, but everyone knows what’s going on and everybody knows that everybody knows what’s going on. So it’s this stalemate that is waiting for something to break the pattern and then the action can start. And of course the thing that breaks that pattern is Rose breaks character. The reasons the Armitages don’t just come out and click the teacup right there is because Dean has a speech that he likes to make to the vessels, the victims. He likes to explain at least a little piece of the ideology of this group and that’s important to him as the patriarch of the family and the weird twisted spirituality that has gone into this procedure. So once he’s done and says, ‘We are the gods trapped in cocoons,’ that is essentially the cue that now we can take him down basically.”
He continues: “So for Daniel’s performance, we did several takes and each take I was trying to rev him up more and get him to this point where he was going to essentially lash out for the first time in the film. He’s been so patient, he’s been so contained, he’s suppressed so many uncomfortable emotions throughout the movie that this is going to be his chance to lash out in the form of yelling at Rose. I sort of equated it to, there’s a scene in Donnie Brasco where Al Pacino is sitting in a car with Johnny Depp’s character and Pacino sort of realizes that he’s taken this guy under his wing who looks like he’s probably an undercover cop. And Pacino looks at him, he’s holding his gun to Johnny Depp, and Depp’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ and Pacino says, ‘If you’re a rat,’ and he points the gun toward his own head. And it’s this moment that’s very powerful to me because it was a moment where it’s like, ‘I know what you did and you’re going to have to say what you’ve done, but my emotion and my rage is going to be clear in this performance.’ We did it several times and it was only the last take that he approached nearly that level of raw emotion. And so it was a very emotional day and I pushed him and pushed him and pushed him and when he gave that performance, I just knew the whole thing was just going to be magical.”
In a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable, low-budget horror film mastermind and Get Out producer Jason Blum revealed that he and Universal wanted the dangling of the keys in the initial trailer. Despite their wishes and testing suggesting they should leave it in, Peele insisted it be withheld. “He was dead right,” admits Blum.
“I think there are all sorts of reasons why you might give away certain plot points to entice an audience,” Peele says. “But I felt like keeping that twist hidden would be a better experience for the audience, and it would also get an audience leaving the movie to say to their friends, ‘Yo, you have to see Get Out and I don’t even want to say another word, you just have to see it.’ And that to me is always the best way to get me into a theater, if someone says, ‘I can’t even tell you, you just have to see it.’ I had done so much work to protect that twist — we all had — that I would lay down on my sword for that twist.”