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Jordan Peele on duality and rabbits in hit horror Us

Oscar-winning director Jordan Peele on developing and casting his fresh cinematic hit

Oscar-winning writer, director and producer Jordan Peele already has another hit on his hands with Us, a fresh cinematic scare following the commercial success and pop culture sensation that was 2017's Get Out.

Currently showing here and sitting atop the North American box office with US$71 million (S$96 million), Us - which pits an endearing family (Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) against terrifying doubles of themselves - promises to make audiences think just as much as it makes them quake in their seats.

Here, the 40-year-old US filmmaker talks about developing the doppelgangers, casting the right people and why rabbits trigger one of his personal fears.

Did the idea for Us coalesce in your brain over a period of time, or did it strike all at once?

It is both.

This is an idea that has been germinating since I was young.

I had the daydream - or daymare - of seeing myself across a subway platform, and that chilling image stuck with me.

When I began to think about what I wanted to make a movie about, what really scares me, I started to ask myself: "What is it about that fear that is so primal, universal and unnatural?"

I began to look and study the doppelganger mythology. I found that it exists in just about every culture, and I wanted to modernise that mythology and figure out what it is about, and what it is also about right now.

What was it about Nyong'o and Duke that made you think they would be right for this?

Lupita is an iconic performer, both in her talent and in the way she looks. It all contributes to this idea that she is a singular performer - there is only one Lupita Nyong'o - and how unnatural it is to have a movie where there are two.

That was the key for me that unlocked why she was the perfect person for the role, and she came in and we dug deep and figured out the character together.

Winston was different than how I pictured the role, and when I saw Black Panther and thought about him, it didn't quite fit, which was exciting. After talking to him, I realised more about who this character I was searching for was than I had known before.

The two of them have a chemistry; they know each other. I had seen them do press for Black Panther together, and you can see the magnetism between them. I called Lupita, who was already on the film, and said: "What about Winston?" She loved it and lit up to the idea.

What are the challenges of bringing the dual roles to life?

It is complicated, and it is a lot about scheduling. It is tough figuring out when and how we shoot everything. But the big thing for me was to make sure that we didn't treat the dual role idea like it was some amazing sleight-of-hand that we needed to showcase.

So, in other words, I tried to shoot the movie as if I had two actors playing each role and not get bogged down in overly selling the two people on-screen at the same time, and I think the illusion works.

We heard you performed certain characters to give the actors something to play off of?

I did perform Lupita as (doppelganger) Red when she needed it. It was funny because the original plan was to play for them what they did the day before, but she thought it would take her out of it.

They gave me a microphone, and I read the lines and tried to do the closest to the performance that she had given, and that was where my sketch comedy experience came in. I was very much mimicking as best as I could a speech that she had done the day before, with the emotion behind it.

She is an actor who immerses herself in the scene. She lives in that world when she is in there, so it was quite a daunting task to get that right and to not go into comedy land.

What is it about rabbits that disturbs you?

They are so creepy. I have never really been completely comfortable with rabbits.

There is something about them that is devoid of personality. Most fuzzy, fluffy animals have some kind of personality.

Rabbits have those dead eyes. When they look at you, it is like they are looking through you, or past you.

I love duality and this movie is about duality. The duality of one of the most historically beloved animals, but if you look closely... Nope!

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