Michael Winterbottom Interview(0)
If any film is going to split opinions this year it will most certainly be Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me, some people (like myself) will think it’s one of 2010′s best films, while others will be disgusted by it’s violence. The film is based on the 1952 Jim Thompson novel of the same name and remains brutally faithful to the material, even I was taken back by some of the violence, yet I really do feel it helped make the film one of the most intriguing and unsettling insights into the mind of a serial killer we have seen on screen for years. Check out my Interview with the film’s director Michael Winterbottom below.
First of all how did you come across the book?
Michael Winterbottom: Well I was planning to make a movie about gangs set in Manchester in the 1950s, with elements borrowed from a noir fiction by pulp author David Goodis but we were caught out by copyright issues. Then I read The Killer Inside Me and I thought, this is great, I loved the book and I thought that instead of trying to adapt it, we would just film the book almost like a text. I think when I read it, I thought it was such a claustrophobic world, I thought it would be better to stay very close to the book.
Why did you want to stay so close to the book?
Michael Winterbottom: In the original screenplay the narrative was made a little bit more complicated and was broken up more, what I liked about the book was that it was very direct, almost straight away Lou meets Joyce and is hitting her. It’s very linear and not complicated. Because we see the whole film from Lou’s point of view, bits get left out, for example we realise the cash had been marked after the event, it’s very straight forward and because Lou is actually not aware of a lot of things in the film you’re not aware of them either, your kept in the quiet, I found that more dynamic.
How hard was it to find the right actors for the film? Casey Affleck’s role is such a key to the success of the film for me.
Michael Winterbottom: It was actually quite easy because the first person we wanted to cast was Lou Ford, it’s obviously Lou Ford’s film, he’s in every scene, everyone else is only in the film briefly, so Casey Affleck was the only person I actually met for Lou, from previous things I had seen him in and then meeting him I knew he’d be perfect for it, he was really up for it as well, from the first meeting with him we knew he was the one. After that we thought whoever plays Amy or Joyce could play either part, with the descriptions of them in the book even though they are both different, they are quite synchronised,. Jessica Alba wanted to play Joyce and she was great, it was easy on that level. The people who came to me all knew the book or either knew what the book was all about, they knew what they were getting themselves into. It wasn’t the case of having a big discussion to persuade anyone to do it. Jessica was really clear she wanted to play Joyce and had some strong ideas about how to play her, she was incredible to work with.
I loved how the film looked, other than the book what other sources did you use for that?
Michael Winterbottom: To be honest not that many, by chance I had a lot of documentary’s and footage from the 50′s in middle America where this story was based, so we looked at that and checked out cars from the time period. There’s a difference from what you get in the magazines of the time period and what actually people where wearing or driving at the time, we shifted the time of the film to 1957 because we thought it would look bolder, 1952 visually wouldn’t be quite as obvious, we also looked from the perspective that it wasn’t the case of what was the latest car or clothing of that year, people would have been driving cars they had for maybe twenty years, so we tried to make it look bold but realistic.
What we found so important was finding the location, so we spent a lot of time driving around West Texas then also Oklahoma and New Mexico, then finally because of tax breaks we couldn’t shoot in Texas so we shot the landscape in New Mexico and we used the town in Oklahoma, that basically meant it ended up looking pretty much like West Texas, the story and the world the book created can happen pretty much anywhere, but it wouldn’t have the same feel if the story was based in 1950′s Bradford (laughs). I think giving it that landscape made it so much more cinematic, the towns over there have such broad streets to this day, it looks so harsh and hot, it has a particular feel to it, what was amazing that I hadn’t exactly understood from reading the book was that the central building in these towns wasn’t the town hall like over here (in the UK), it was the courthouse, with the court room, sheriffs office and the jail all in one building, right in the middle of the town, so many town’s in those states followed that pattern, with the police and punishment element at the centre of society.
I loved the music as well, with the more operatic side of it and also the country and western stuff. Did you ever have a piece of music in mind when you were shooting a scene?
Michael Winterbottom: I never have a particular piece of music in mind, I would often think of what music I might put into a scene. I love the idea of filming a scene with a certain piece of music in mind but to be honest the one or two times I’ve tried to do that it didn’t work, I love to play around with different pieces of music, music is so important in film, it can change the whole tone of the scene. Before hand we listened to a lot of Texas Swing, we thought it had a nice quality to it, it often talks about themes covered in the film as well, with death and broken hearts and that sort of stuff, with that sort of bright surface. I think the music kind of helped Lou’s image as well as this sort of easy going sheriff. The book made a big point of Lou reading his Dad’s medical book’s and figuring out algebra problems, but I thought you can’t really film someone reading a book and make it have much of an impact, him listening to music was the equivalent of that in the film. What’s great about the story is that, that side of him is a lot like his Dad, but he hates and wants to destroy his memory’s of his Dad, but at the same time he wants to emulate him, music in the film references his Dad a lot.
Has the reaction to the violence in the film surprised you?
Michael Winterbottom: I don’t know really, at the beginning when we were thinking should the violence be shot in the film I always thought it should, it’s important for the shape of the story. When Lou is violent to Joyce and Amy, two people who love him in an absolute way, it shows he’s destroying anyone who’s close to him. The violence is a way of showing the whole point of the story and the pointlessness and wastefulness of Lou’s actions. Yet at the same time once you’ve made a film, you’d rather people would be shocked but liked it, than shocked and disgusted by it (laughs). Literally the first screening of the film at Sundance the first person to speak after the film finished was a woman who stood up and shouted, ‘It’s disgusting! It’s disgusting! The festival should be ashamed of itself showing the film here, it’s immoral’ I wasn’t quite expecting that to be honest.