Who hasn’t spent the last few years dreaming of a glorious beach getaway? In 2020, while in lockdown, Academy Award-nominated writer and director Rian Johnson decided to take a fantasy vacation — with a killer twist. The result is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which sees detective Benoit Blanc (Golden Globe-nominee Daniel Craig) reprising his role from Knives Out and traveling to the Mediterranean to solve a brand-new mystery.
If Knives Out was about the murderous ties of flesh and blood, Glass Onion makes a good case for being just as wary of one’s closest friends. When tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites some of his nearest and dearest for a getaway on his private Greek island, it soon becomes clear that all is not perfect in paradise. And when someone turns up dead, well, who better than Blanc to peel back the layers of intrigue?
Johnson describes his casting approach as “throwing a dinner party.” At the table this time around are Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn (Private Life), Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick (The Gray Man), Madelyn Cline (Outer Banks), with Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista (Army of the Dead).
“You try and invite people that you like,” he says. “But the reality is you never know. At the end of the day, just trying to get the best actors in each part, the actors that are most right for each individual part. So, you also just throw the dice and hold your breath. Luckily, we got a great group that really meshed.”
Holding them all together is Craig’s philosophically minded sleuth, whose mouthful of an accent chomps through bluster and subterfuge to tease out those all-important clues. In fact, Johnson teases that Blanc will be getting a little more of the spotlight this time around.
“You definitely get to know him a little bit better,” he says. “In the first one, because of the way it was structured, Marta, Ana de Armas’ character, was very much the protagonist. In a big way, Blanc was the threat. He was almost the antagonist in terms of just the story structure, because you were worried, even as they got closer, that he was going to catch her and he was going to have to turn her over at the end. So Blanc was always outside of the sphere of our protagonist and was a little bit more of an enigma in the first movie. Whereas, in this one, Blanc gets an invitation to come to this murder mystery on this island. We’re very much meeting these people and getting into this world through his eyes.”
According to Johnson, Blanc’s penchant for bombast is partly to thank for the film’s title, which pays homage to the 1968 Beatles song of the same name. “I’m always fishing for something fun that Blanc can grab onto as an overwrought metaphor that he can beat to death,” he says. “This is all in plain sight from the very start. So, the idea of glass came to me, something that’s clear. I’ll be very honest. I literally got out my iPhone and searched my music library with the word glass.“There’s got to be some good glass songs.”I was like, “Oh, is it a glass fortress? Is it a glass castle? Is it a glass man?” The first thing that came up, because I’m a huge Beatles fan, is ‘Glass Onion.’”
In keeping with its more coastal vacation vibes, the new film trades in Knives Out’s creaky Massachusetts mansion for a billionaire’s compound in Greece. Johnson says he stumbled upon the perfect location — Villa 20 at the Amanzoe in Porto Heli, Greece — and just knew he had to shoot there. The setting also doubled as a hotel for the cast, many of whom brought their families along. “It felt like a summer vacation where we also made a movie,” Johnson says.
Less a traditional sequel than the second installment in a narratively cohesive universe, Glass Onion has its roots in Johnson’s longtime love affair with Agatha Christie, whose most famous character, Detective Hercule Poirot, drops into no less than 33 novels — all with different tones, structures and plots.
“Every single time, she found a way into it that felt unique and fresh, and you could tell it was challenging her creatively,” he tells Tudum.
In other words, if you’re expecting a Knives Out repeat, don’t. Johnson, whose original screenplay for Knives Out was nominated for an Academy Award, wanted everything about this next film to look and feel as different as possible. Along with Christie’s novels, he looked to “tropical getaway murder mystery” films like 1982’s Evil Under the Sun, and in particular, 1973’s The Last of Sheila, for inspiration. Written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, and starring the likes of Raquel Welch, Ian McShane, and Dyan Cannon, Sheila’s sun-soaked tale about a group of glamorous socialites whose pleasure cruise turns sour is one of his “all-time favorites.”
“There are absolutely some very clear inspirations that I took from it,” he says. “First of all, it’s structured around a group of friends, or frenemies, who all have a power dynamic with one of their successful friends. It begins with him sending an invitation for them to come and play this murder mystery game at this exotic locale. In The Last of Sheila, it’s on his yacht, and everything ends up going horribly wrong. That is essentially how Glass Onion begins.”
In any whodunnit, part of the fun is putting on your own deerstalker hat and trying to guess the ending — and the culprit. But before you spiral into your very own version of the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia conspiracy meme, Johnson has some advice. “It’s a roller coaster and not a crossword puzzle.”
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will premiere globally on Netflix Dec. 23. Consider the game officially afoot.