M. Night Shyamalan Shines On Bright
by Una Lamarche
photographs by jennifer s. altman
Shirt, Hugo Boss. Similar styles, King of Prussia Mall; hugoboss.com. Jeans, Adriano Goldschmied. Similar styles, The Pier Shops at Caesars; agjeans.com. Work boot, Rag & Bone ($495). Barneys Co-op, 1811 Walnut St., barneys.com. Watch, IWC. Similar styles, Govberg Jewelers, 292 Montgomery Ave., Bala Cynwyd; govbergwatches.com
For someone named Night who spins dark tales for a living, M. Night Shyamalan is surprisingly sunny. I’ve finally gotten the director on the phone at his Main Line home after three scheduling attempts, and in order for him to speak with me uninterrupted, Shyamalan’s essentially locked himself in his writing room. “I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life,” he says happily, adding that he can’t so much as take a bathroom break without hearing his name being called by an assistant, summoning him for a conference call with Paramount Pictures.
Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan—he started going by “M. Night” in college—has lived in Pennsylvania for almost his entire life, having moved with his family from India to the suburbs of Penn Valley when he was just six weeks old. “I think my dad was the classic immigrant, coming to America for the dream, and he wanted to settle in a historic city,” he says. “[It was between] Boston or Philly, and he chose Philadelphia.”
Shyamalan the younger also chose the City of Brotherly Love. Today he lives with his wife and two daughters in Gladwyne and has never moved west even though, he admits, “in retrospect it was a completely unrealistic and foolhardy position to stay in Philly as I was establishing a career.” The director’s decision to remain in the area seems natural for a guy with such loyalty to the town. “I’m just a huge Philly fan,” he explains. “But I am not alone. [Lots of natives think that] if you grew up here, you come back here to live. That is just standard behavior for Philadelphians.”
From an early age, Shyamalan was inspired by the movies. “A lot of the filmmakers from my generation were infl uenced by Star Wars and E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he says. “[George Lucas and Steven Spielberg] were making their iconic heyday movies at the exact moment that I was going to the movies, and I was impressionable.” In his teens, Shyamalan procured a Super-8 video camera from his father’s closet and began experimenting. But his talent was, shall we say, raw. “I don’t know if you would call them fi lms as much as convulsions,” he laughs. “They were terrible! They were terrible in every way you can imagine. I was a prodigy of terribleness.” True to his directorial nature, he goes on to describe his early efforts via a tried-and-true cinematic cliché: “It wasn’t like in the movies where the coach sees the kid running across the fi eld and he’s, like, a world-class athlete,” he explains. “[It] would have been the coach seeing the kid tripping over himself, disoriented, and then that kid becomes a world-class athlete.”