William Friedkin Interview
William Friedkin Interview
William Friedkin is a renowned American director, most famous for producing films such as The Exorcist and Rules of Engagement. Having worked with play and scriptwriter Tracy Letts before on the Michael Shannon film Bug, Freidkin has teamed up with his friend once more to create the film billed as a totally, twisted, deep-fried, Texsas redneck trailer park murder, starring Matthew McConaughey.

Here he talks to View’s Matthew Turner about working on the project with Letts, why casting is the key to good directing and the problems with the ratings board in America.
How did this come about, first of all?

William Friedkin

I worked with Tracy Letts, the writer, on Bug. We had a good working relationship and we were sort of on the same page in how we view the crooked timber of humanity. A few years after that, he sent me a screenplay he had written on Killer Joe and said, ‘Would you be interested in doing this?’ And I read it, I thought it was vintage Tracy Letts and I decided to try and put it together.
I loved Bug, is this perhaps second of a planned trilogy? Has Tracy got another one?

William Friedkin

I hope to work with him again, we have nothing particularly planned. But we’re in touch all the time. He lives in Chicago and works there and I’m from Chicago, so I see him often. He’s also a very good actor and he’s going to Broadway in the fall, playing the lead in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?.
So he won’t really have any time for screenplay writing?

William Friedkin

I sincerely hope to be able to do stuff with him. I worked with Harold Pinter early in my career – I did the Birthday Party on film – and Tracy is, for me, an equivalent talent. And a unique talent, as Pinter was.
Jonathan Romney, in the Sight and Sound review, summed it up quite nicely. He said it was like a cross between Jim Thompson and Tennessee Williams ...

William Friedkin

I haven’t read Romney’s review yet, I read Sight and Sound but I haven’t seen that. I like his work very much. I think that’s an apt description, although I don’t really know that you need comparisons. Tracy Letts is a very unique talent. Williams was a unique talent. It’s hard to compare the two of them. Williams’ plays were very set in the deep south and Tracy’s plays have a more urban feel.
Did you bring any other influences to the script, outside of what was already on the page?

William Friedkin

Well, my own life experiences. Tracy grew up in a trailer park and I grew up in similar circumstances, in a one-room apartment in Chicago in a very poor neighbourhood. But I never knew we were poor, because all of my neighbours lived the same way we did. I never saw any other kind of life. We were never hungry because when I was a young man, food was dirt cheap. You could get a hamburger sandwich for 25 cents, and a coke for a nickel, with French fries on the side. And so we always ate well. The wrong food, we now learn, but we ate well, and you could see a movie for 25 cents, a first-run movie - it was a different world.

Today, money is meaningless. The American dollar is virtually worthless. The country is close to $17 trillion in debt. Some day that’s going to have to be paid – how, I don’t know. But what that tells you, is that over the decades, the economies of so many countries of the world have been completely ballsed up and mismanaged! Here, as well as in my country. I remember as a young man, hoping to one day be able to earn $10,000 a year, I thought I’d be a rich man. And now $10,000 a year is way, way below the poverty level in America.
Can we talk about the casting? Matthew McConaughey is incredible in it.

William Friedkin

McConaughey is a really superior actor. He’s both blessed and cursed with good looks. If you’re good looking and you become an actor in Hollywood, they don’t want you to act, they want you to just be. Show up, take your shirt off and make love to the leading lady. For many years, he was known as just a good looking guy in romantic comedies.

But he has the acting chops, as we say, and I knew that about him. I knew that he grew up on the dark side where this film is set, at the Oklahoma/Texas border. So he knew and understood the character, and was ready to go for it. It wasn’t like a studio casting. I knew he could do it, and I cast him knowing that his reputation as a romantic comedy lead would precede him, that people would have to get over that for Killer Joe.

For the role of Dottie, that Juno Temple plays, I was going to go with one of three other very prominent young actresses. And one day an audition came in, via the internet that Juno Temple had done. Unsolicited, she auditioned for the part of Dottie with her ten year old brother reading Joe. And it was brilliant. She was exactly what I was looking for. I don’t know how Juno got this script, I never heard of her before, I have since learnt that she has done quite a number of very prominent UK films. But on that audition tape she was perfect. And she was a gift from the movie God. She’s the centre of it.

The others I went after: Gina Gershon, who is a real woman and not afraid of her sexuality and she’s a courageous actress. And Thomas Haden Church is also a very fine actor who was, again, from the area where this is set. He still lives and has a small ranch in Texas. So he knew these people.

And look, I’ll give you a secret about directors, the thing we look for most is not having to direct. We want the people to be in the moment when they arrive on the set: in costume, in character, and know the script. I don’t want to have to mine it out of them, like looking for golden nuggets. I want it to be there. I’ll be very honest with you and your audience, I like to cast on the nose. I’m not looking for the late Laurence Olivier to put on a mask and make-up and become Coriolanus or Richard III, I’m looking for Richard III! So, call it lazy or whatever, in that the films I make deal with a kind of reality. I want people who understand that reality and possibly have lived it.
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Content updated: 17/01/2018 19:34

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