Adam Wingard, the director of of the new Netflix movie Death Note, is used to working on beloved pre-existing properties. He helmed the reboot of The Blair Witch Project in 2016, and is currently working on Godzilla vs. King Kong. But Death Note—based on the bestselling manga series by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata—apparently has a very passionate fanbase.
“The second that I got attached to the film, I immediately got irate ‘Death Note’ fans telling me that I had ruined ‘Death Note’, before we had even finished the script…I understand people’s passion about it, and their opinion, and I really don’t take it personally when people send me death threats, or go tell me to go f*** myself and stuff on Twitter.”
Death Note is about a high school student named Light Yagami who receives a supernatural book from a Shinigami (death spirit) named Ryuk; the notebook allowing the user to kill anybody whose name is entered in the pages. As Light attempts to “cleanse” the world of evil using the book, a detective named “L” is out to stop him.
The story has been adapted as a movie several times before in Japan, as well as a video game and anime. But this is the first time Death Note—which at one point had been attached to both Gus Van Sant and Shane Black—has been a “Hollywood” film, and there were the inevitable changes:
“I knew that Ryuk would be the main carry over in terms of him being the closest thing to the original. I tried to keep him visually as close as possible to the original version of the character. But when it came to approaching Light and L, they just kinda naturally evolved into the characters they are and ultimately we took Mia, who is loosely based on on Misa from the Manga, she in some ways in our film is almost more like Light from the original source material, than Light is in this movie.”
Willem Dafoe voices Ryuk—which is CGI’d—in this new film, but Wingard had originally wanted David Bowie. When Bowie died, he moved over the second choice on his list: Prince. Said Wingard to io9: “And I was like, we got to stop, we’re literally killing them off. Which is really morbid, but it was true.”
Luckily, as of this writing, Dafoe is still with us. Death Note premieres on Netflix August 25.