Having carried this film from the start, what is something you wanted to avoid from the get-go?
I don’t think there’s anything I wanted to avoid. Honestly, I really don’t. I think that I knew that I was very interested in starting with a prologue, where you experience these characters and then you sort of pass the baton to another character and throughout the duration of the movie what you’re seeing unfold changes your perspective on those first couple minutes. That was something that I was very interested in doing. And that passing the baton I think you’ve obviously seen it done so beautifully, in films, like Psycho, for example, it happens a little bit later than ours, but it’s just a type of storytelling that I’ve always been drawn to I think.
Benicio del Toro is not just an actor in this but is also credited as a co-screenwriter. How did that come about?
Ben I had written the script and we set up with our producers who had worked with Benicio on Sicario. And we had him in mind for the role we went out to him and he responded to the project and wanted to meet and once he met and we decided that this was perhaps a project that he would want to pursue, we started working on the script and it was a really beautiful collaboration and the story just evolved. He is incredible at research and I love that aspect of filmmaking too, and he’s just incredibly thoughtful and insightful in terms of character and story and he brought a lot of wonderful things to the film and just the project evolved and I think it really benefited from his participation.
You and Justin Timberlake both have a music background. So how did you see Justin as both the musician and then as an actor and to be able to have a shorthand with him?
Well, Justin is a cinephile, which is incredible because we have so many overlaps of favourite movies, and favourite filmmakers. He’s such a fine actor, and I thought it was really an inspired casting idea for him to play Will. It’s a role I’d never seen him in before. I had worked with him, maybe nine months before we started shooting a little project and that was great and we really hit it off. He responded to the script, he liked my vision for how I was going to direct the movie, we just have a great shorthand with each other. So it was really fun.
There’s something Justin said, “There are so many good directors who have come from commercial and music video work to understand how to tell this story. There’s a musicality to filmmaking.” So how has that world sort of influenced your style as a filmmaker?
Great question. I don’t know if I can describe my style but I know that one aspect of my style is rhythmic, like I love the editing and the pacing, things that are very rhythmic and at times propulsive and they have maybe even a musical element to the way they’re cut and constructed. And I’m sure that my background in music videos played a part in that even if it was subconscious. I’m sure that you can’t make as many music videos that I’ve made and then not take aspects of that into your movie career. You’re gonna be who you are. I think of directing like the way you speak. You might want to sound a certain way but then at the end of the day when you speak you just speak and you can’t control the way you sound. You can kind of discern how you’re going to say something, but then in the day, you’re just going to talk the way you talk. Directing is like that where it just comes natural. You might have inspirations, but then at the end of the day you come to set, it’s a blank slate. You work with the actors, you shoot it, and you just have to intuitively direct the scene.
Making your first film is no easy feat. Being a fan of the thriller genre, what did you always want to make sure was incorporated in the film?
I wanted the film to be very mechanical in terms of its construction, where like the action and the storytelling that you’re seeing is in dialogue with the lens that is filming it. The camera is almost a character in the movie. It’s restrained, but it’s really in conversation with the actors that are in a scene and It was very important to me that the film be presented and shot in a way that was very precise. But also elegant, hopefully. It’s more of a classical approach. So those are things that I knew I wanted in my first film.
Given this experience, what are the goals you have set for yourself as a director going forward?
I think that I want to continue to make movies and I want to continue to push myself and make movies that I’m inspired by and moved by and really movies that I want to see. Something like Reptile, I felt like this was a movie that I wanted to see. Also, I love the process of making movies. It’s such a really intense and amazing journey. I love that process. I think you have to love that process. So I just want to keep challenging myself and being inspired and working with great actors. That’s really the ultimate goal.