Antonio Campos, director of Netflix thriller The Devil All the Time, says British actors have been “slowly taking over” Hollywood in recent years.
Despite the distinctly American story of his sprawling literary adaptation, Campos’s cast is full of actors from the UK and Australia, including leading man Tom Holland.
Key roles are also filled by British stars Robert Pattinson and Harry Melling — aka Dudley Dursley — while Aussie standouts Jason Clarke, Eliza Scanlen and Mia Wasikowska also feature heavily.
Campos told Yahoo Movies UK that the dominance of non-American stars in his movie came about “completely by chance”.
He added: “There’s just some really talented actors in England and Australia. You guys have slowly been taking over, I think.
“There are so many British actors playing American characters. It just speaks to the kind of talent that comes out of England and Australia.
“I don’t think it speaks to the fact that there’s not that talent here [in the USA]. It’s just the way it played out.”
The Devil All the Time adapts Donald Ray Pollock’s multi-stranded novel into a grimly compelling tapestry of violence, corruption and misery.
It follows a series of families in Ohio and West Virginia whose lives intersect, with devastating consequences for all involved.
Read the full interview with Antonio Campos, in which he discusses why his film is an example of Midwestern Gothic, the novel storyline he had to axe and the creative freedom of working with Netflix...
Yahoo Movies UK: This is obviously a part of the Southern Gothic genre, which is one we don’t see that often. Do you have any idea why that’s the case?
Antonio Campos: I don’t know. I think it’s a tough one because it can get too heavy. The danger of Southern Gothic is that it has the potential to get too heavy and people sometimes miss the opportunity for a dark sense of humour that is very much a part of Southern Gothic.
I think that what made this story particularly unique is that it’s not solely a Southern Gothic story. What made the book really cool to me and my brother was that it was a kind of hybrid of Southern Gothic and hard-boiled fiction, [which reflects] our two favourite writers — my brother loves Flannery O’Connor and I really love Jim Thompson. This felt like a really great combination of those two writers.
I would also characterise this less as Southern Gothic and more what I have been calling Midwestern Gothic. You’re seeing it a lot in literature right now, with a lot of books coming out of the Midwest that have this hard-boiled tone. But there’s not so many that have this relationship with religion, which is a key ingredient of Southern Gothic. Midwestern Gothic, to me, implies something different because Southern Gothic is born out of a certain tradition that is very Southern and this book is set very much in the Midwest. That has a different flavour.
I don’t know why Southern Gothic movies don’t get made more often. I think they’re wonderful and I love those stories. But the thing that was particularly interesting to us with this story was that it wasn’t just solely Southern Gothic.
You mentioned religion there, and I wanted to ask about that. This film is full of various different characters, all of whom are flawed and have good and bad elements. But if there’s an element that comes in for criticism above all else, it’s religion. How important was that theme for you?
It’s key to the movie, and it’s key to the book. The way that we looked at is that the story is critical of fanaticism and extreme religion. We tried to explore the dangerous places that religion could take you.
Even Carl [the serial killer played by Jason Clarke] is trying to find transcendence through murder. [Harry Melling’s preacher] Roy wants to feel the presence of God and he does what he does to find that, which leads him to delusional places. Willard [Bill Skarsgård] is taking a note from the Old Testament and thinking that God wants you to prove your faith.
So it’s the dangerous places where religion can take somebody who might be susceptible to that. But the first Church scene for me captures the kind of warmth through the music and communal aspect that religion can provide and the comfort that it can provide. But the film is really focused on the dangers of it, so that’s why that’s what is most prevalent.
You have this absolutely exceptional ensemble cast, including people like Tom Holland who people won’t have seen in a role like this. It’s also a cast packed with a lot of British and Australian talent. Is there a reason for that, especially given the very American nature of the story?
It is completely by chance. It’s so funny. Someone else asked me that and I was like: “It’s not like I was saying that we need to get the Aussies and Brits”. There’s just some really talented actors in England and Australia. You guys have slowly been taking over, I think. There are so many British actors playing American characters. It just speaks to the kind of talent that comes out of England and Australia. I don’t think it speaks to the fact that there’s not that talent here. It’s just the way it played out.
When you and your brother sat down to adapt this big, sprawling book, were there any elements that had to come out and you weren’t able to fit in?
The whole Roy and [his brother] Theo storyline in the book is so fun, but we just didn’t have the real estate to tell it. That storyline goes into such a wonderful, crazy place. Basically, Roy and Theo get away and they live out their life bouncing from one carnival and odd job to another, then you catch up with them when Roy and Theo have an act called “Prophet and the Picker” and they perform in between the Flamingo Lady act at the carnival. Roy has a relationship with the Flamingo Lady. It’s just so funny and wild.
But we had to always remember that the main spine of the movie is the story of Willard and Arvin — the father-and-son story that begins and ends the movie. We couldn’t deviate from that too much into any one storyline. So stuff like Roy and Theo’s storyline had to be very focused and contained.
With that in mind, was there ever any consideration of doing this as a TV series rather than a film? Particularly when Netflix got involved?
No, because we always felt like the cool thing was the idea of experiencing it as a feature. There is obviously a miniseries you could make, but I think that this intense, non-stop journey through time and all of these different storylines would hopefully capture the feeling you have at the end of the book. That’s why we always focused in on it being a movie.
There’s a lot of talk around Netflix projects about the level of creative freedom you get as a filmmaker. Was that your experience working with them?
Yeah, absolutely. They weren’t like “go and do anything you want”. We were very responsible and we had a budget. They had notes. You go through the process of showing them cuts and they give you notes on the cuts, but it was always a very respectful and thoughtful process. There was so much that came out of that dialogue.
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It was a very warm, collaborative process and, at the end of the day, they were always very deferential to me as a filmmaker. If I was really adamant about something that they might have been on the fence about, they would say “well, if that’s how you feel and you really believe in it, then we can’t stop you”. That was the nature and the tenor of the conversation.
That’s great to hear and it really comes through in the film. Before you go, I wanted to ask what’s next for you?
I’m currently developing The Staircase documentary. I’m developing that story into a limited series with Harrison Ford. That’s what I’m doing right now.
The Devil All the Time will premiere on Netflix from 16 September.