“It was a lot of fun–it was really just a blast, he was so much fun.” In a recent Dallas interview fourteen-year old Liam Aiken was talking about working with Jim Carrey, who plays the wicked uncle Count Olaf in Brad Silberling’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” an adaptation of the first three books in the humorously macabre collection of children’s tales about the misfortunes that befall the three Bauledaire children, beginning with the suspicious deaths of their parents. Aiken plays Klaus, the avid reader who’s the middle Baudelaire child, and sixteen-year old Emily Browning is his older sister Violet, a clever inventor. “It was hard to concentrate and not laugh” when Carrey did his stuff, she added.
Both youngsters auditioned for their roles, Browning by tape from her native Australia. She’d never made a big-budget film before, but was attracted to this one. “It’s rare to find something that has such a great script, and at the same time had enough money to play around with the look and make it look fantastic–a combination that’s hard to find,” she said. And her own personality, she observed, fit well with the somber Violet. “I find it easier to be serious than to be cheesy, and to laugh when there’s nothing to laugh about,” she said. “I’ve been turned down for parts because I’m not perky enough.” But not this time.
“Actually I auditioned when I was doing [an earlier picture] ‘Good Boy,’” Aiken said. “I auditioned like two years ago with [original director and now executive producer] Barry Sonnenfeld and again with Brad.” He recalled how he’d heard–or rather not heard–about getting the part. “[Brad] called me up and I was out at the time, and he left a message. He was on a cell phone and I couldn’t hear what he said. I got his number somehow from a message and called him up and said, ‘I don’t know what you said–there was static on the phone.’ And he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be horrible if I was just calling to say hi and thank you for coming? No, no, no, I want you to be in my movie.’”
The elaborate production meant a very long shooting schedule–122 days, and as Browning noted, “We didn’t get very many days off.” But Aiken said, “It was a bit of a trip coming on the set every day. It was kind of this wild world that was completely different from anything else I’d ever seen. That was the fun part of going to the set every day. So much of the set they actually made to work. You get there and, like, it’s so cool.”
One element that was a constant burden, in the most literal sense, was the requirement that in many scenes one of them had to carry whichever of the twins (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) was playing their younger sister Sunny on any particular day. “It was tricky, obviously, sometimes–they’re babies and you can’t expect them to sit there and do exactly what they’re told. But at the same time their hyperactivity was a good thing for the character.” Aiken noted, “They have three emotions, I guess–either really happy, or really grumpy, or really tired–there’s no in-between,” and Browning noted that when they were grumpy, “you’d be holding them and they’d push down, try to make themselves heavier, sort of.” So it’s not surprising that each of them wished for the other to carry the baby. “We’d get to the set every morning, and Brad would be, like, “‘Well, the baby’s in this scene, which of you would like to carry her?’” Browning recalled. And it wasn’t always the child: “There was occasionally this really scary doll that we called Scar. It was frightening…its nose was kind of Michael Jacksonesque,” she added.
Aiken and Browning recalled specific scenes that made special impressions on them during the shoot. In the big conclusion, for example, Aiken has to climb a long rope up a tower, and it took days to film. He said, “It wasn’t too bad, though–they have these things called wires, and they pull you.” But the scene he liked best was a big special-effects episode in which a house collapses around the orphans in a hurricane. “It took a really long time, which is why I like that scene the most, because it was interesting to see it come together. A lot of the house being torn apart, they were doing that as we went. You’d be surprised how much was real.” Browning interjected, “There was a wind machine blowing against us, and I had the baby, and there was steam shooting out of the floor, and they were throwing things at us at the same time. That was kind of tricky, and it took a couple weeks to do.” Aiken continued: “Just to see how it came out, I just really loved that, because it took so long to shoot.” For Browning, the most enjoyable part of filming had a personal connection–it was the second part of the picture, when the Baudelaire children are entrusted to an uncle played by Billy Connolly, with whom she’d worked before. “That was probably the most fun I had shooting, when Billy was there…getting to reunite with him was really good. He’s so sweet.”
When asked whether sequels are already planned, and whether they’d be in them, Browning replied, “We have absolutely no idea. There’s nothing definite, because the producers are being so careful about it.” But both doubted that, given the length of time needed for such productions, they could expect to appear in many of them. “First they have to decide, and that will take awhile,” Browning explained, “then they’d have to write the script, which would take even longer, then they’d have to get into pre-production. And by the time that happens, I could be eighteen or nineteen, [and Violet’s] meant to stay fourteen throughout all the books. And it would be worse for Liam, because [Klaus] is meant to stay twelve or thirteen throughout the books, and he’s going to be, like eight feet tall.” (Aiken noted, “I grew five inches during the shooting.”) And Browning added: “There’s no way we’ll be able to do all the books. There’s no way they’ll be able to do that many movies before we’re thirty.”
Though they couldn’t predict anything about possible sequels, however, the two youngsters laughed about the merchandising tie-ins for the present movie, which include chicken fingers and pizza, and their recent experience doing voiceovers for the video game based on the film. The voiceover session was “the weirdest thing,” Browning said, “because you have to be a lot more animated” than in the film. Aiken remembered the surprises in the script, which he’d been given just before they started recording. “I distinctly remember,” Aiken said, “I was just reading along and then I read the next line–‘She’s right, I do have my propeller shoes!’ What?”
But Aiken questioned whether action figures based on their characters were in the cards. “If you think about it, come on, what would they be?” he asked with a shy smile. “They’d be, like, Violet thinking very hard, and Klaus book-reading!”