The Calling is Jason Stone’s latest film, a small town crime thriller set in the fictional Canadian town of Fort Dundas. It is an adaptation of Inger Ash Wolfe’s novel of the same name, the first in a series about the hard-nosed Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef of the Fort Dundas police department. The film is brimming with award-winning talent, Susan Sarandon as Hazel, with Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, Christopher Heyerdahl, and Donald Sutherland in supporting roles.
On the surface this seems like a departure for Stone, his previous film was This is the End, a comedic disaster film starring Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Jay Baruchel portraying themselves in an apocalyptic setting. The two projects couldn’t be more different “except there’s a spiritual or biblical overtone” Stone says, pointing out the one similarity. “That seems to be the thing I’ve been doing the last couple of years.”
Stone was first attracted to The Calling because “it was an unconventional take on a pretty familiar genre.” The serial killer story has been done numerous times, but what stood out to him was “the idea he was preying on people who were willing to give themselves up. I thought it was an interesting take that would make that side of the story more sympathetic. Also that collision course between him and Hazel [Susan’s Sarandon’s character] was a way to explore some interesting ideas around desperation and being a victim. The spiritual fanaticism that drives them, something I haven’t really seen before.”
Writer Scott Abramovitch first brought the adapted script to Stone, who found it most compelling out of several scripts he was considering at the time. He describes the evolution of the script:
“I worked with [Scott] developing the material and moving it a little bit farther away from the procedural nature. Obviously it’s still there, but what I thought was interesting was the character side of it. That became the focus, moving away from the cop side and investigation side, and really getting to the meat of what the story was really about.”
Though a fan of the source material, Stone has actually never read Inger Ash Wolfe’s novel, he explains that it enables him to be more objective that way. “I specifically never read the book because Scott had been so versed with the material when he adapted it. I thought my approaching it with fresh eyes, and being less precious about what we could use and what we could lose from the novel, helped the script become something that it could stand on its own. Obviously you have to make choices on what to leave behind and what to add to adapt it for the screen, and I thought that my keeping my eyes specifically on the film version would help.”
This by no means indicates any disrespect to the fans of the Hazel Micallef novels, Stone just wants to achieve a balance. He explains their importance and how he hopes to connect with them through his version:
“You’re always hopeful that the built-in audience of a piece of material supports where you’re going with it, but all you can really do is make something you really want to see and the way you want to see it. The thing that brings you to it in the first place, is that you’re a fan of it to begin with. You can’t get too caught up with trying to please the audience, cause there’s so many things that can connect with an audience. You’ll be chasing your tail trying to figure out what that is, so you just try to execute on something as a fan, keep what’s great about it, and hone it in to what makes it work as a film.”
Susan Sarandon was Stone’s first choice for the role of police detective Hazel, he was naturally thrilled when she liked the script and came onboard. “The whole aspect of having her involved was the biggest gift you could imagine” Stone says. Sarandon captures the nuanced characteristics of Hazel whom Stone describes as “not the most pleasant and joyful person that you’ve ever come across. She can be both a little sarcastic, and a little dark, but also very likeable at the same time. You’re sorta rooting for her even though she’s very alienating in some ways.”
Once Sarandon was attached to the film, the production received interest from a number of other talents. Ellen Burstyn had worked together with Sarandon previously on a charitable cause, and took an interest in playing Hazel’s mom in the film. Burstyn, Donald Sutherland, and the others cast in The Calling were all amongst the top choices for Stone in terms of casting.
With a room full of Oscar winners, it’s tempting to want to increase everyone’s screen time. Stone admits to this:
“Obviously you want to give talent like that as much room to play and deliver on what they can bring to it, which is almost limitless, but at the same time, the key is to make the film as good as it can be. That has to be the paramount thing driving you. There were days that we had scenes that we tried to flush out, and make them even more expansive than what they were initially. Some of that actually ends up in the film, but the film is really at the end of the day a cat and mouse story, so that has to play at the front. Hopefully there is enough that these actors bring to the role, where even though they might have limited screen time, those scenes are rich and textured and dramatic, in a way that would be harder to pull off if you didn’t have talent of that caliber.”
The Calling is now playing in theatres.