Your new movie The Hollow
- in a few words, what is it about?
At its core, for me, the film is really about how human beings have the choice either to master their baser, animal inclinations or be destroyed by them.
And how quickly things can spiral out of control when we allow those beasts
that live in all of us free reign. The plot deals with a random act of
violence in a small town in Mississippi that brings together these tortured,
frail, complicated characters, each of them carrying their own baggage and
reckoning with demons large and small. Everybody’s something of
an exposed nerve. It’s hard to locate a real “hero”, at least in the
modern sense of the term. I liked the idea that our two main characters,
Vaughn and Ray, are both military veterans and have been “wounded”
physically and mentally, that they have not yet come to terms with their past
and so cannot fully live in the present. They literally bear scars that have
not—perhaps cannot—heal. How do they move past that fact? The landscape,
the Mississippi heat, the flies, the wildlife ... in a way, they’re all
players in a kind of old-school western about redemption and retribution.
Maybe it's an exploration of what those two words really mean. I'm sorry. Were
you looking for a synopsis?
What were your inspirations when writing The
There were a lot
of them. Some of them literary heroes of mine. Mississippi, my home state,
has quite a literary legacy. William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora
Welty ... all native Mississippians. In some sense, I was trying to stand
on their giant shoulders. The
Hollow's Cutler County is maybe my
twisted ode to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. It was important to me
that the film have a very specific sense of place, that the Mississippi
setting, the atmosphere, that it was this tangible force, a character in
and of itself. Faulkner's Mississippi always feels that way. Also, I
wanted to make a film that felt like those gritty character dramas of the
1970s, especially Sidney Lumet's stuff (Serpico, Dog Day
Afternoon). Even the look of the film was an attempt to pay homage to
that high-water moment in cinema. More recently, I loved and admired the
Coen Brothers' crime dramas, Blood Simple and No Country for Old
Men especially. The first season of True Detective was
lightning in a bottle. So damned good. I think that was finally the thing
that inspired me to sit down and write that Mississippi-based crime drama
that had been percolating in my head for a while.
Hollow set in the Deep South - how hard was it to find the right
locations for your movie, and what was it like filming there, and how did
the locals appreciate your portrayal of their town?
easy, actually, at least most of them. You hardly ever say something was
easy on a film at any level, but finding these locations ... it was; many
of them found us in a lot of ways. Growing up in Mississippi, I knew these
places existed. I wrote to them, I suppose. Even if I had never visited
some of our specific locations before scouting, I knew they were there. I
had grown up around them or traveled to so many places like them. I'm so
proud of how these locations came off in the film. Some of them, as shot,
are even better than they were as written. They just leap from the screen.
I think that's a testament to their richness and, of course, to the
meticulous work of my extremely-talented DP, Ben McBurnett. We shot in the
dead of summer and, despite the fact that it was hot as hell, it worked
out beautifully. The sweat you see on actors' faces, on their clothes ...
it's real. The flies are real. Summer heat and humidity in Mississippi is
oppressive; it makes you feel like you're walking in a steam bath
sometimes. That climate gave everybody in front of and behind the camera a
little edge that was perfect for the film.
What can you tell us about your
approach to your story at hand?
try to write (or get your hands on) the best script you can, to create
complicated, fully-realized human beings ... a good script goes a long
way. Then I spend a lot of time on casting, locating exactly the right
actors. So much of directing is casting. Then I think about how I want the
film to "feel". What's its mood? Its attitude? Is it gritty?
Slick? I had a very specific "look" in mind (inspired by the
aforementioned 70s character dramas). I knew I wanted to use vintage
lenses to give the film an aged, raw, imperfect look, like something was a
little off. If you're confident in your script and cast and you can
definitively answer that "feel" question, I think you're on your
way to making a quality film. I just think I had a very clear vision about
this film's identity. Most good films really know what they are or what
they're aspiring to be.
also play one of the lead characters in The
Hollow - so what did you draw upon to bring your character to
life, and how much Miles Doleac can we find in redneck deputy Ray Everett?
And did you write him with yourself in mind from the get-go?
did not write "Ray" for myself. I actually wrote
"Vaughn" (James Callis' character) with a notion of playing him.
Then, at some point early in the casting process, my brilliant wife,
Lindsay (who was a co-producer and plays "Dinah" in the film)
said to me, "You know, have you ever considered playing Ray instead?
I really think you ought to play Ray." She was absolutely right. I
don't know why I hadn't seen it from the beginning. I guess I was too
close to it.
can you tell us about the rest of your key cast, and why exactly these
They're all so good and
so interesting as actors.
Bill Sadler, I had worked with before (on my
first feature, The Historian). He was brilliant in that film in a
very, very difficult role. He's such a pro and a genuinely wonderful human
being. I knew I had to have him back on this one.
I had been a huge Battlestar
Galactica fan and James Callis' "Gaius Baltar" was my favorite
character on the show. When James' name came up, I knew he'd be the ideal
Vaughn. I love the way he's able to play the enigma in his acting. You
never quite know what makes him tick, where he's coming from. Is he a hero
or a villain? Vaughn had to be the perfect shade of grey and I knew James
would deliver that, all the while remaining charming and magnetic enough
to keep audiences on the hook.
Christiane Seidel, I had seen on Boardwalk
Empire and loved how strong and vulnerable she was all at once.
Forsythe's work I'd admired for years. He's such a force of nature on
screen. I knew I needed that in my "Big John". I needed a man
who could snap his fingers and turn the world upside down.
Jeff Fahey I'd
been admiring from a distance since Lawnmower Man. There's this
wonderful, nostalgic hurt behind his eyes when you watch him work. He's
great at playing those wounded characters who have dragged themselves by
sheer force of will to the moment you meet them, but they're not quite
ready to tell the tale.
David Warshofsky has been in so many great films
in the last decade or so, he's been impossible to miss.
What's great about
all of them is they give you this fascinating gumbo pot of emotions,
expressions, deliveries. None of them are vanilla or predictable. All of
them feel formidable and impossible to completely pin down to some
specific type. I can't imagine other actors playing any of their roles.
They really left it all on the field.
Do talk about the shoot as such, and
the on-set atmosphere!
just say that everyone was invested fully. They all bought in. The
chemistry and energy between the cast was electric. Maybe it was the
The $64-question of course, when
and where will your movie be released onto the general public?
will be released theatrically in select cities October 7, with a
simultaneous VOD release on all major cable providers. DirectTV and Dish
to follow thereafter. DVD/Blu-ray down the line.
Anything you can tell us about
audience and critical reception of your movie yet?
far, both critics and audiences are responding quite positively. It's been
heartening. You pour everything into a film, especially an independent
film. The hope is it actually moves someone in some way.
future projects you'd like to share?
have a couple scripts that I'm very excited about, a psychological
thriller ... I think you'd call it an "elevated" horror film and
a near-future, action drama that is, in some ways, the retelling of an
ancient story. I'm developing both with an eye toward probably
shooting the horror film first. They're quite different films and both are
quite different from The
Hollow and my previous film, The Historian. While I think there are themes that I'll always be
interested in exploring, I don't want to keep making the same movie. I
want every one to feel like it's a completely different animal.
What got you into
acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the
I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark when I
was 6 years old. I was never the same after that. I knew I had to do that.
I was on stage in one capacity or another not long after (and almost ever
since). I was very lucky that my high school (Hattiesburg High School) had
an incredible theatre program, even by regional standards, and that my
town had a thriving community theatre organization (Hattiesburg Civic
Light Opera). I had lots of opportunities to perform. In the deepest part
of the Deep South, that was a real blessing. I wound up attending the
North Carolina School of the Arts, where I got a BFA in Drama. I worked
with some amazing folks there, especially Bob Francesconi, who taught
Improv and Mask classes.
What made you pick up directing as well
Necessity, really. Although I had directed
theatre, I had never directed a film before The Historian. I hadn't
planned to direct it. But there was some issue with everyone I talked to
about directing that film, be it scheduling or money or that they just
didn't get it. Ultimately, with some prodding by my wife and my dear
friend (and The Historian
producer), Mackenzie Westmoreland, I decided
to direct it myself. Very few film directors were going to know the world
of that film (that is, the world of higher education) like me and I had
been something of a student of films and filmmaking for years. I had just
never had the occasion to make that leap. Looking back now, I'm very, very
glad I did. I'm so grateful that I had people around me who believed in me
and pushed me to step off that ledge.
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior
to The Hollow, in
I've had the
good fortune to be involved in a lot of great projects in television and
on film, from working with Jessica Lange in American Horror Story: Freak
Show to this killer episode of Banshee, where I got to work
with the fantastic Denis O'Hare, to the upcoming Magnificent 7, to
some terrific indies like Mike Mayhall's Jake's Road to, more
recently, a recurring role of the Julie Plec/CW series Containment. At
the end of the day, it's about the material, sure, but also about the
people you get to work with, the relationships you create. Most of all, I
hope that people reading this would go take a look at The Historian,
if they haven't already. It was such a labor of love, such a personal
piece for me. It's my great hope that The
Hollow's profile shines a
bit more light on that film.
would you describe yourself as an actor and as a director?
general, I try to leave that kind of thing to others. I guess I'd like to
thing of myself as daring, relentless, and, at the end of the day, someone
whom the people around me want to work with again.
writers, whoever else who inspire you?
That'd be a long list. In terms of body of
work, you have to admire Spielberg and, as I mentioned above, it was
really his films that inspired me to want to be an actor as a kid, so I'll
always have a special place for him and his work. I love David Fincher's
style, even if I don't love every movie. Seven and Fight Club
meant a lot to me when I was finding my voice as an artist. The Coens have
made masterpieces across seemingly disparate genres, in my view,
some of which didn't get seen nearly widely enough (Inside Llewyn Davis
comes to mind). Tarantino made at least one, surprisingly enduring,
masterpiece in Pulp Fiction, and he's always ballsy, which I
admire. Pulp Fiction, though, is every bit as brilliant today
as it was in 1994. Linklater's Before-trilogy is one of the most
simply sublime things ever committed to film. The stuff Lumet, Coppola and
Scorsese were doing in the 70s changed the game. Hard to deny that the
first two Godfather films are among the greatest achievement(s) in
the history of the medium.
Actors, there are so many good ones, but, in my
humble opinion, Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the greatest film actor
alive. He's proven that he can do anything and be absolutely arresting in
Writers, William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Eugene
O'Neill, William Faulkner and Scott Fitzgerald are my all time favs,
although the more I read of Cormac McCarthy and James Lee Burke, the more
I like them.
If we get on to historical figures the answer to this
question may become a novel, so I'll leave off there.
In no particular order
(and without thinking too hard about it, so I may leave something out): Raiders of the Lost Ark,
Jaws, Godfather 2, Pulp Fiction, Sideways, Casablanca,
Schindler's List, Seven, Before Sunset, No Country for Old
Men, Dog Day Afternoon.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
I have to? In general, I don't like films that are soulless, that feel
like they were born on an assembly line. I want a film to aspire to
something, to have a unique identity. If it does that, I can get behind
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
on Facebook TheHollowMS.
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
been very thorough. Thank you for reaching out.
for the interview!