Production Information p. 2
Brooks interjects, “Michael is able to articulate all of the levels of Jonathan’s characterhis analytical side, his emotional side and his intuitive side. He absolutely got the tightrope walk that Jonathan executeshe’s clinging onto the world that he knows and yet is being drawn into another world that he can’t recognize and yet has to recognize, because there is an absolute actuality to it.”
Deborah Kara Unger’s character, Sarah Tate, joins Keaton on the journey and becomes an integral part of it. What initially brings the two together is their common loss of a loved oneJonathan’s wife, Sarah’s fiancée.
Says Unger: “And therein we share a common goal: a desire to perhaps help others who are feeling helpless and to share this gift of light, of hope. We’re very much mistaken, however, and we don’t know what we’re playing with. Our white noise is actually fire we shouldn’t be playing with.” And so Jonathan’s journey takes an unexpected and horrifying turn....
In order to get audience members to embark on this rather arduous trip, Geoffrey Sax knew it was crucial for them to actually care about Jonathan Rivers, or at least come to care about him at some point during the course of the film.
As he observes, “The big thing for me is the central character. You’ve got to invest in that character. You’ve got to like him and be willing to go with him wherever he’s going, even if it’s a downward spiral. If you don’t care about the character, you don’t have a movie.”
For Sax, and for producer Paul Brooks, the right person for the part was Michael Keaton.
Brooks observes, “You care about Michael because he’s a consummate actor, and he’s able to make you care about him. He absolutely becomes his character. During one scene in the film, Jonathan is alone in his room, well after his wife’s funeral. Up until this point, he hasn’t displayed much emotion about her death. And even in this scene, there isn’t a lot of hand-wringing or head-clutching because we felt that we could easily get buried in a mire of self-pity if we did that. Interestingly, I think a lot of people are actually very still when they’re dealing with grief. Michael understood that and portrayed it beautifully.”
For his part, Keaton approached the role of Jonathan Rivers with specific ideas about how he would play it, being careful not to over-dramatize or enter into the arena of the maudlin.
He comments, “I worried a little about this being the story of the ‘sensitive guy.’ That gets real old, real fast and it also becomes self-serving. What I liked is that you feel for this guy because you’d feel for anyone in his situation, and because he’s a good guy. I needed to make him relatable and likable so that an audience is willing to get into his shoes to go for the ride.”
Sax knew that the look and feel of White Noise was a key element in telling the story, in setting up the character arcs and in keeping with the supernatural, otherworldly premise of the film.
He turned to the production design team, under designer Michael S. Bolton, to visually translate Jonathan’s gradual undoing (the dark and dangerous leg of his journey) to the sets and, ultimately, bring it to the screen. White Noise was not to be a film laden with an overage of costly special effects, so his approach to the overall production aspect had to be more carefully tuned and subtly crafted.
To further illustrate Jonathan’s emotional and mental backslide, to carry that premise into the production areas of the film, Sax, Bolton and director of photography Chris Seager manipulated the color palette. The lighting, the paint colors used on the sets and the characters’ clothing were all subjected to a backwards ride on the color wheel.