Sondheim was also a lover of wordplay, games and crossword puzzles, and he enjoyed orchestrating murder-mystery parties together with his friend Anthony Perkins. He and Perkins wrote the screenplay for the 1973 whodunit “The Last of Sheila,” which starred James Coburn, Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch and Ian McShane, and which Johnson proudly cited as a source of inspiration for his “Knives Out” movies.
Sondheim’s ties to the mystery genre go deeper still: his only nonmusical Broadway production was the play “Getting Away With Murder,” which he wrote with George Furth and which ran for just over a month in 1996. In an interview with The Latest York Times that yr, he recounted how Laurence Olivier had told him he’d used Sondheim as his model for the game-loving mystery writer he played within the 1972 movie “Sleuth.” (In the identical interview, Anthony Shaffer, the writer of “Sleuth,” denied a longstanding rumor that he had originally titled it “Who’s Afraid of Stephen Sondheim?”)
Through his love of Sondheim’s musicals, Johnson was introduced to Angela Lansbury, who played Mrs. Lovett in the unique Broadway production of “Sweeney Todd,” in addition to a filmed version that played continuously on Johnson’s television. That’s, when Johnson wasn’t glued to “Murder, She Wrote,” the comfortable CBS series that solid Lansbury because the crime-solving writer Jessica Fletcher. For youngsters of the Eighties, that show “was actually pretty pivotal in installing a love of whodunits and murder mysteries into all of our brains,” said Johnson, who also slipped a number of seconds of a Spanish-dubbed “Murder, She Wrote” episode into the unique “Knives Out.”
Ram Bergman, Johnson’s producing partner, said that Sondheim’s and Lansbury’s cameos were recorded in the course of the editing of “Glass Onion,” as he and Johnson tried to succeed in them, working every connection that they had.
In Sondheim’s case, Bergman said, “I wasn’t really sure tips on how to get to him. But then I used to be on a call with Bryan Lourd, our agent, and it someway got here up. I said, we actually would love Stephen to do that. And I swear, five minutes later, he emailed me: he’s going to do it.”
Bergman added, “Rian was in heaven, and I used to be in heaven because I knew how much he meant for Rian.”
Sondheim performed his contribution on a recorded Zoom call. In that conversation, Johnson said, “I discussed to him that we were attempting to get Angela Lansbury. And he said, ‘Oh, Angie — I’m friends along with her. Tell her I’m doing it. She’ll do it.’”