If there's one character Brady Corbet runs the risk of being typecast as, it's the creep. Corbet pushed the edge of creepdom in Michael Haneke's Hollywood remake of Funny Games, where he played one of two homicidal preppy kids who slowly torture and murder a family vacationing at their Long Island home. More recently he played an unstable acolyte to a cult leader in Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, tasked to tempt a young woman back into the fold.
In Simon Killer, the new film from Antonio Campos (Afterschool), the 24-year-old Corbet plays Simon, a lost soul from New York visiting Paris to try to get over an ex. He stumbles through the vacation trying to meet other girls but fails with sad sack lameness. He soon turns to porn and then a prostitute (Mati Diop) for affection. Things grow grim fast when he finds himself in over his head when he tries scamming his way using his new "girlfriend" to blackmail some rather menacing johns. It makes for a rather bizarre thriller where the crux of the suspense lies in the ineptitude of the titular character. As he did in Afterschool, Campos infuses the drama with a raw, distinct style and allows his lead a collaborative role beyond acting.
Corbet is currently in Paris, diving into prep work ahead of what he hopes will be his feature-length directorial debut. "The film is called The Childhood of a Leader and chronicles, in part, the seven months leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles," he writes via email. "The film is focused on a political family that relocates to France for the Paris Peace Conference and is about their little boy's metaphysical response to this tumultuous period of world history that paved the way for the Second World War."
He took some time out from his future project to answer some questions from Cultist via email, ahead of this weekend's theatrical premiere of Simon Killer at two Miami art houses, the Miami Beach Cinematheque and the Bill Cosford Cinema.
Cultist: How does an actor score a writing credit in a movie?
Brady Corbet: Antonio came to me with a few elements of the story the summer we were due to shoot Martha Marcy May Marlene [Campos was a producer on the film]... While we were working on that set, we quickly fleshed out an outline together in our off-time-- brainstorming about the narrative's potential through a series of conversations about what we were interested in: exploring contemporary male behavior.
How did that writing process work?
Antonio and I have very similar taste. We are very close friends and we sort of speak the same language, if you will-- it was a fairly organic process for the both of us. When we met Mati Diop [who also co-wrote] in Paris, we both knew that she was both the correct person for the role, as well as the best fit for a creative partner in fleshing out the film's detail. Mati is a very accomplished filmmaker in her own right.
The film is a sort of bizarre thriller where the suspense seems to come from the creepy ineptitude of your character, Simon. What inspired this story?
The story was very much inspired by Georges Simenon's novels which were stories that would frequently chronicle the downward spiral of its male protagonists into a pit of urban decay. We were interested in subverting Noir genre expectations, as well as the expectations of the "coming-of-age" story.
How did you feel about immersing yourself into this character? What was your inspiration in fleshing him out?
He's a character that quickly adapts (or lies) to just about everyone he encounters. I treated each scene like its own narrative because I think his lies are true for him-- he only really starts to come apart at the end of the film when Mati's character starts to peel the paint back, if you will.
Were there other characters in cinema history that informed the personage of Simon?
We never discussed Tom Ripley who has frequently come up in conversation but I like the comparison... We discussed Joran van der Sloot a great deal in pre-production. He was the only point-of-reference for us.
The film calls for you to be rather shameless, sexually. Where do you go mentally to place yourself in those positions in front of the camera?
I have a sense of humor about my body. My body is not something precious to me or something I feel particularly shy about... Those scenes are only uncomfortable because you never want your scene partner to feel awkward in any way. I was very lucky with both Mati and Constance [Rousseau, who plays another love interest] on this film because they were extremely confident and had the same intentions as myself: to make it as true to life as possible.
I noticed the film is unrated. Was the film submitted to the ratings board?
I'm not sure about the ratings board... I mean, the MPAA is such an irrelevant dinosaur of an institution that I'm not entirely sure why anyone bothers with them anymore. Are there still advertisers who won't advertise your film without a rating? I feel like everything has changed with Internet advertising but maybe I'm out of touch... The MPAA would have given us a NC-17 for sure, so I doubt we ever submitted.
There's a real disconnect between men and women in this film. Not only is there a failure of communication but also a sense that there's a danger in the gaps of communication. It's especially ironic that this young man is a graduate in neuroscience concerned with how the brain processes peripheral vision. Why is this character, who is infused with such an intellect, making so many bad judgment calls? (but... wait... he could be making up his background story, too, right? His emails back him reveal him as a liar, after all...).
I think that the character is physiologically disposed to behave in the way that he does. I also think that his own narcissism bars him from making intelligent choices. He may be as academically inclined as he suggests but academics have historically never been able to augment anyone's soul-- look at the financial crisis.
It's a rather grim film but still quite engaging. Visually, the director has rather inventive approaches to keep some scenes long yet interesting (languorous camera movements and surprising focal points in many scenes). What do you know about his inspirations cinematically?
I know that Antonio and I were talking a lot about Killing of a Chinese Bookie in reference to this film. We most frequently discussed '70s American cinema-- really letting certain scenes breathe and play out. I think the exciting thing about Antonio though is that he's such a well-versed Cinephile that he doesn't run the risk of being influenced by only one thing.
There are also these subtle interludes where images seem to fade out in a flickering light that washes away the prior image. What can you tell me about that creative choice?
Those interludes were a part of the very first treatment. The idea was to introduce the film's entire color palette from the very beginning, as well as to convey Simon's mental state and abstracted way of seeing the world around him.
What mood did you guys want people to leave the theater with after such a film?
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