The first surprise of Knives Out is just how current it is. The notion of the whodunit is tied to the past, conjuring images of drawing rooms, feather dusters, and Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. But Knives Out doesn't just nod to the fact that, yes, cell phones exist now. It's actually about 2019. The Thrombey is not entirely Trumpian but they live in a bubble of wealth and some are more sympathetic to his cause than others. Meanwhile, nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) emerges as the protagonist of the story -- no one from the Thrombey family can remember where her family is from -- but her mother is undocumented and her involvement in Harlan's death could lead to potential deportation. "One of the exciting to me was this notion of making it modern day, making it America in 2019," Johnson explains. "I was like, okay, if we're going to do that le'ts not just give it a modern skin, that means really plugging it into right now. So often when we see whodunits these days they are period pieces because they are usually Christie adaptations and they have a kind of timeless feel to them."
That means the Thrombey's have a fight about Trump's border policies, and one of the youngest members of the clan (Jaeden Martell) is a straight up alt right troll. On a lighter note, there's also vaping. Katherine Langford's Meg, Harlan's liberal grandchild, takes some not so discreet puffs. "In the script I just have on a single line, 'Meg vapes.' It's like, 'Jesus wept,'" Johnson says. "I find vaping oddly hilarious. I don't smoke myself. I don't vape. I don't know, the fact that it's this thing where everyone is sucking on these little robots just cracks me up."
Johnson knew he wasn't making a subtle movie, but he was also careful to not make it didactic. But it's not as if class hasn't been crucial to the genre. "We're used to seeing that class discussion happen in the context of British society, because so many of these stories are British," Johnson says. "And as Americans, we get to kind of cluck our tongues and say, 'Oh, those Brits.' We love to pretend here in America, that class doesn't exist. So the idea of using that tool that who done it to plug into America the idea of how that would allow you to kind of look at issues of kind of privilege in class in America, that seemed very interesting. And obviously the character Marta is kind of at the heart of that in our movie." Johnson cast Cuban actress Ana de Armas, best known for her work in Blade Runner 2049, in the role, impressed by her audition in which she "would always go for the determined, strong choice."