‘Midnight Special’: Kirsten Dunst, Michael Shannon & director Jeff Nichols on sci-fi movie grounded in emotion

midnight special joel edgerton michael shannon kirsten dunst jaeden lieberher

“As I get older I experience different things, and those go directly into my films. For this film I was a new father, and I was trying to understand that experience … then the plot is where you have a lot more freedom, and I just wanted to make a sci-fi chase movie,” said writer-director Jeff Nichols about his new film “Midnight Special,” which opened March 18. He discussed the film at the 21 Club in New York City on March 8 with the stars of the film: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Jaeden Lieberher.

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“Midnight Special” tells the story of a child (Lieberher) with special abilities whose parents (Shannon and Dunst) try to protect him from the US government as well as a sinister cult. But, “I don’t really care about plot,” Nichols explained. “Character comes first, and as long as that is honest, that’s what I feel matters.”

This is the fourth film Nichols has made with Shannon, following “Shotgun Stories” (2007), “Take Shelter” (2011) and “Mud” (2012). “I think Jeff and I have a lot in common,” said Shannon about his connection with the filmmaker. “We’re both from the South. I think we both respond to the same stories and we have a lot of similar preoccupations, concerns and anxieties. And I just really admire how hard Jeff works.”

This is Dunst’s first film with the director. Reflecting on her career up to this point, she said, “At a certain point, especially when you’ve been doing it for so long, you get to a point where you approach what you do differently. What that meant for me is to wait for projects that I truly love and feel passionate about and filmmakers I want to work with,” so it was a “no-brainer” to work with Nichols after seeing and admiring “Take Shelter.”

So far “Midnight Special” has earned raves from critics, scoring 80 on MetaCritic and 87% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes. Consider some of the reviews:

Peter Debrudge (Variety): “Nichols’ impressively restrained yet limitlessly imaginative fourth feature takes its energy from an ensemble of characters who hold fast to their convictions, even though their beliefs remain shrouded in mystery for much of the journey.”

David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter): “In his fourth feature, ‘Midnight Special,’ Jeff Nichols pays transporting homage to the rich tradition, spanning the late 1970s through the mid-’80s, of intelligent sci-fi emotionally grounded in relatable human dynamics.”

Tim Robey (The Telegraph): “It’s remarkable how well he marshals this cast, painting nuance in with their faces and voices, conjuring feeling you didn’t know was on the cards. Shannon and [Joel Edgerton] both have their practical, slightly dog-eared heroes down to a tee, while Kirsten Dunst whips up a moving, worn-out futility as the ‘birth mother’ reunited with Alton, and having to renegotiate the terms of their bond.”

Emmy Awards 2016 Best Movie/Mini Actress preview: Sarah Paulson, Kirsten Dunst …

Dunst also earned raves for her performance in the FX anthology series “Fargo.” Do you think she’ll win the Emmy for Best Movie/Mini Actress? Make your early Emmy predictions using the menu to the right or below. 

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Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

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