Antonio Campos and Brady Corbet Talk Simon Killer, in theaters and on VOD now
Director Antonio Campos burst onto the scene in 2008 with his critically-acclaimed debut Afterschool. After producing his Borderline Films partner Sean Durkin's debut Martha Marcy May Marlene, the filmmaker is back with his second feature Simon Killer, which is currently playing in theaters and available on VOD formats. Brady Corbet stars as the title character, a recent college graduate who heads to Paris and becomes enamored with a prostitute (Mati Diop), a relationship that heads down a dark path very quickly. I recently had the chance to speak with both Antonio Campos and Brady Corbet over the phone about this new indie drama. Here's what they had to say.
I read that you secured financing in an unusual way. You were seeking more funding for Martha Marcy May Marlene, and this became funded as well. That's not exactly your garden-variety way of getting financing.
Antonio Campos: Yeah. Matt Palmieri had come in on set for Martha at the very last minute for more funding. Because we had gotten to know each other, we had been talking about this idea for a little while, and he was excited about it. He put money down, even without a full script.
How long did it take you to write the script after that then?
Antonio Campos: We went into production, basically, with just an outline, a very structured, detailed, outline, about what the tone would be and what the film would be, structure-wise. We had scenes written already, and, as we were heading into production, more scenes were being written, but there was a great deal that was written just based on improvisation, once the actors came in. It was mainly for developing who Victoria (Mati Diop) really was.
Brady, can you talk about what that process is like for you, as an actor? Is it more freeing to have this character that is always evolving?
Brady Corbet: Sure. It's not a situation that I think I would have stepped into with anyone other than Antonio. There were two factors that made it possible for me. One is that Antonio and I are very, very close friends, so we speak the same language and we're very much on the same wavelength. Two, as a lover of movies and cinema, I really trust Antonio the filmmaker. There were elements that were freeing, there were elements that were nerve-wracking, for all of us, including Antonio. I don't think we started feeling really confident until a couple of weeks into shooting, when suddenly we realized, 'OK, we definitely have a movie on our hands.' Now we know what to do. We had a few days of finding it and trying a few things. Most things were working, but I think in the last two weeks of production, we felt particularly at ease.
Antonio Campos: Yeah, it was a very different process, because the thing about movies which rely on improv in a major way, you just kind of shoot, shoot, shoot and overshoot so you have enough to edit with. Our process was really different. We would shoot very specific scenes, and my job was to go at night and work with my co-editor, and we'd have to review everything. What parts and what scenes would work, and what story elements were going to make it from that scene. If that story element wouldn't make it, but another would, we'd have to figure out where else we were going to shoot that would make that work. It was sort of a moving jigsaw puzzle that we were always trying to put together.
It must have been tricky shooting in France as well. Aside from any kind of a language barrier, did you find it more obstructive, shooting in France, as opposed to shooting in America?
Brady Corbet: The thing is, because of the culture of the auteur and the director in France, French crews are really willing to follow you down the rabbit hole. Of course, there were production aspects of the film that were extra difficult, with the potential of miscommunication between an American crew and a French crew, but for the most part, I think we were surprised by how easy it was.
Can you talk about the process of finding Mati Diop? What specifically were you looking for when you were writing this, that you needed to be brought out in this performance?
Antonio Campos: There were so many strong actresses. There's also a great deal of Moroccan and Algerian and North African actresses that work there as well. We weren't finding an actress that was willing to go down this road with us, particularly because they were scared of the idea of playing a prostitute, which carries a lot of stigma for them. There was this strange kind of tension. Mati was kind of a godsend. Brady immediately knew who she was, because he loved 35 Shots of Rum. We met Mati, and she was just this amazing force. She's incredibly intelligent, beautiful, and she brought this kind of strength that you want for Victoria. She wanted to portray Victoria as a strong character, and not as a victim. She describes her as a survivor. From the experiences we had meeting women in that area, their home lives were difficult, but they were surviving. Mati captured that, and then the process of collaboration from there was kind of seamless. It was a very rich and exciting collaboration.
I was reading in the production notes about the various sources of inspiration for Simon. Can you talk about your process in translating that inspiration into scenes or into a script or what you create on screen?
Antonio Campos: It was Georges Simenon's work, that were so opaque and conflicted and complicated. There's sort of this fascination with the other side of life. We took that and made it our own, in a way.
Brady, can you talk about these very intimate scenes with Mati. Is there a certain process you have to go through, when filming a scene like that?
Brady Corbet: It's very technical. They are the scenes that you sort of rehearse the most. There's a great deal of conversation about, 'OK, I'm going to put my hand here.' Basically, it's awkward and it's kind of funny and bizarre and masochistic. It's a lot of things, because you all agreed to be there, we've all agreed to do this thing, then suddenly you're doing it. On the other hand, I don't think it's a wildly difficult thing to do either. It depends on your scene partner. It was not a difficult thing to do with Mati, because of her savvy and wit. It made everything go pretty smoothly.
Is there anything you can say about Paradise Lost?
Brady Corbet: I actually just finished shooting it yesterday morning. The film is coming along very well, it seems. It's a very flashy and entertaining film, but the filmmaker, Andrea Di Stefano, is a really soulful and sensitive creature. I think the movie is in pretty good hands. I play Josh Hutcherson's older brother. We basically play two young men who go down to Colombia and, while we're there, he meets Pablo Escobar's niece, and I meet a young woman that ends up being my wife. The film takes place over the course of seven years, so it's about how our family is divided and him getting caught up in this whole situation, with Benicio Del Toro's character.
I see you're also writing and directing a project yourself. How far along are you in the process? Do you have funding set up?
Brady Corbet: We're putting everything together now. I have my lead actor cast, but I want to hold off on announcing anything until I have the female lead cast. The film is about a family that relocates to France in 1918-1919, and it's about seven months leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. It's about this little boy who seems to be sort of haunted or possessed by the notion that he knows what will happen if this document is forged and signed. It's a very, very dark fable. We have to find the child, and it's not an extremely expensive period film, because a lot of it is fairly contained to this house in the countryside, with some major exceptions to that rule. We have to find the right money, and hopefully everything comes together. I'm happy with my cast so far, so we'll see who else decides to come along for the trip.
Antonio, is there anything that you're developing that you can talk about?
Brady Corbet: (Laughs) Antonio has now disappeared (Laughs). I don't know where he is now. I can tell you this. I know what he's developing (Laughs). They're gearing up to produce their partner Josh Mond's first feature film, and Antonio is currently writing a film he's been working on for awhile, that he's just doing the drafts of now. They've got lots of stuff going on.
What would you like to say to anyone who might be curious about Simon Killer, about why they should check it out in theaters or on VOD?
Brady Corbet: I think that it's a fairly intoxicating experience. I think that anyone who wants a fresh experience that is, at times thrilling, at times curious, at times bizarre, at times sexy, and at times, really not sexy, you should take a look.
That's my time. Thanks so much. Thank Antonio for me as well.
Brady Corbet: I certainly will. It's so chaotic over here. Thank you.