Mr. Harrigan’s Phone interview with director/writer John Lee Hancock

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a new dark drama film based on a Stephen King novella from his 2020 collection If It Bleeds. The film stars Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland, with John Lee Hancock writing and directing.

Hancock previously wrote and directed films like the Academy Award-winning feature The Blind SideThe Little Things, and The Alamo. He also directed The HighwaymenThe Founder, and Saving Mr. Banks.

Netflix Life had the opportunity to talk to the filmmaker about his work on Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, including what it was like to direct Martell and Sutherland, how he got involved in the project, and much more!

Interview with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone writer and director John Lee Hancock

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. (Featured L-R) Jaeden Martell as Craig, director John Lee Hancock and Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2022

Netflix Life: As a writer, why this Stephen King story versus his many others?

John Lee Hancock: It was sent to me by Jason Blum at Blumhouse. Jason and Ryan Murphy had discussed it. It came out as part of a Stephen King book called If It Bleeds, and it was the first novella. Jason called to see if I was interested, and I said sure! So that’s why it was that one. But then I read it, and I was very drawn to the themes and the characters, and I thought it would be a good challenge.

Netflix Life: Creatively, what made you decide to include so much of Craig’s narration, his inner thoughts, and monologue?

John Lee Hancock: Well, the entire novella is Craig talking about what happened, so it’s already kind of inherent in the DNA of his remembrances because the entire novella is his remembrances, if you will.

So it was going to be a hard thing to activate if you didn’t have some of it explained. The movie would probably be 30 to 40 minutes longer because you would have to show and shoot a lot of stuff, so it’s a good shortcut, but it’s also completely in the DNA of both the novella and lots of other Stephen King [works], especially his other coming-of-age stories.

Netflix Life: As a coming-of-age story, I thought it was interesting that it was set in the early 2000s when the first iPhone came out. In what ways would it be a different story if it was set in 2022?

John Lee Hancock: Well, everybody has a phone, you know? They wouldn’t be this brand new thing that was changing everyone’s lives. What would be different would be someone deciding not to have a phone; that would be the main thing. It is kind of an origin story for smartphones, and I think that’s why it works.

Netflix Life: Did it influence how you interact with your phone?

John Lee Hancock: Yeah, it makes you think, sometimes, when you’re shooting a scene where every high school kid in the cafeteria is staring at their phone, and you realize when you yell cut, you’re staring at your phone, you go, “Oh, maybe I should learn from this.”

Netflix Life: The casting is so great, the scenes between Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland in particular, there’s magnetic chemistry between them. Can you tell me a little about what it was like working with and directing them?

John Lee Hancock: Donald, I’ve always been a huge fan, so it was a dream come true to have him say yes because he was at the top of the list for sure. I heard his voice even while I was reading the novella; so distinct, and he just sounded like Mr. Harrigan to me.

As far as Jaeden goes, I was a fan; I had seen him lots of things. Our producer Carla Hacken had worked with him on Book of Henry and sang his praises, as did John Schwartzman, who shot that one and was shooting this movie, and I’ve done several movies with John, so I knew not only was [Jaeden] really talented, he was a good person, which is important too.

Jaeden and I met at my house, and we talked for a couple of hours, and I thought, “This is the perfect guy,” because he also had to be not only a fine actor but he had to be someone who could play between 15 and 19, which draws from not only his acting ability but just kind of how he walks in the door, what he looks like because there is a vast difference between 15-years-olds and 19-year-olds.

Netflix Life: He has a lot of heavy lifting to do in the movie. He does a lot of scenes on his own or just with a phone as a co-star, so to speak.

John Lee Hancock: Yeah, it’s his movie. He carries it. He has to. Whoever we cast needed to carry this movie, which is a daunting task for anyone, but Jaeden was more than up for it and up to it.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is now streaming on Netflix.

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