INTERVIEW: Killer Inside Me director Michael Winterbottom

Of all the films I caught at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, none was more controversial than THE KILLER INSIDE ME. Based on the classic piece of fifties pulp fiction by Jim Thompson- whose previous film adaptations include THE GRIFTERS and THE GETAWAY (once in ’72 by Sam Peckinpah, with Steve McQueen, and again in ’94 with Alec Baldwin & Kim Basinger), THE KILLER INSIDE ME is a harrowing look at the psyche of a madman. In the lead, Casey Affleck gives a chilling performance, and certain parts of the film are particularly hard to take.

While I loved it (Read my review ) , many others had a hard time with the film, which is polarizing to say the least. I attended the premiere gala screening, which saw several walkouts, and a very uncomfortable Q&A session, where director Michael Winterbottom was taken to task by several audience members for the level of violence in the film. Making matters worse were the rumors that circulated in the following days that star Jessica Alba- who was on hand to present the film, stormed out of the screening in disgust, and that star Casey Affleck refused to put in an appearance due to his own dislike of the film.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Winterbottom towards the end of the festival, and he addressed several of the ugly rumors involving the film…


Regarding the reaction to the film at the premiere, there have been all kinds of things over the net. Obviously, people are excited to see it. On JoBlo, the talkbacks were lit up on the review, so there’s an interest there. But, at the same time, a lot of the reaction since the screening has been negative, as some have been put off by the violence. Someone even compared it to an Eli Roth film, which I think misses the point, as this isn’t ‘torture porn’- the violence isn’t titillating. It’s repulsive, and depressing.

I understand how people can be shocked by it, or not want to watch it. What I disagree with is how anyone could think this is a film supporting violence. Certainly there are general entertainment films with violence, but this isn’t really one of them. Even Lou doesn’t enjoy the violence, and you feel sad at the violence. It’s not meant to excite people. Its violence you know, it SHOULD be disgusting.

How has it been received by the cast? I’m referring of course to the rumor that Jessica Alba walked out of the screening, and that Casey Affleck is somehow not behind the film, which I assume is bullshit.

Yeah, there’s a lot of bullshit knocking around. Kate hasn’t seen it; she’s working on another film. Jessica’s seen it and liked it. She made a special effort to be here Sunday, but she left before the film started as she had somewhere to be. I saw Casey the other day, and he’s bogged down in doing his own film, so he hasn’t seen it. However, he’s coming to Berlin when we show it there, so there’s no problem.

How did you jump into a Jim Thompson adaptation, which is quite different from your earlier films (including the recent Angelina Jolie starrer- A MIGHT HEART, and the Steve Coogan vehicles, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, and TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK N’ BULL STORY). Is this your first American film?

Well, a few years ago I made THE CLAIM in Canada, but yeah, this was my first American film. Thompson’s a classic American writer. I happened to read THE KILLER INSIDE ME, and I thought it would be great if you could do it quickly and simply- keeping it as close to the book as possible. The rights were owned by two American producers, who’ve been trying to do it for fifteen years. They sent me the adaptation by John Curran. We just did a little work taking it back to the book, and then we started.

Well, this seems like the first time a Jim Thompson book has been really faithfully adapted. I mean, they did THE GETAWAY twice, and both times it was toned down. Even Peckinpah wasn’t able to do a straight adaptation…

Funny you say that, as I met Walter Hill (who wrote the ’72 version) and he saw it just before it came out. He enjoyed it…

This feels like the type of film Peckinpah might have made if he was still alive…

Well, THE KILLER INSIDE ME is quite a dialogue heavy film. THE GETAWAY has action, but this is a series of conversations.

It didn’t feel that way though. I also loved the way you shot it- kinda retro, with the Saul Bass style titles. Although, you get away with a lot more here then they would have in the fifties...

You’d think that, but remember, the book was actually written in ’52. Imagine how people reacted reading it back then. And the book is AT LEAST as shocking as the film. It certainly would have been filmed differently back then, but the book is just as bold and extreme as our film…

Have you seen the other KILLER INSIDE ME film (it as made previously in 1976 with Stacy Keach in the lead)?

I didn’t know before reading the book it had already been filmed. I made a conscious decision not to watch it, but I might watch it now.

How did Casey Affleck come on board?

Well, he was keen to do it. We had a period where the financing had fallen through, and I was afraid we’d lose him. Finally we got the money together, but he was editing a documentary he shot, and wanted to delay shooting by three months. We waited a few weeks, and got started in New Mexico, and he drove down on the first day, and we were off.

Well, he had two great roles in 2007, with THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWWARD ROBERT FORD< and GONE, BABY, GONE, and this really feels like a logical next step for him after those films. Maybe the reason people were so taken aback by the film is that Affleck’s got a certain likability, despite the horrible things he does. It probably would have been very easy to turn him into a Hannibal Lecter character, where he’s almost a parody of himself. Still, you can’t help but like/ relate to him, although to be sure, you want to see him die for what he does.

But also, HE wants to see himself die. I agree with you, Casey dominates the film, and he’s convincing in the role. There’s no winking to the audience. But in the film, he’s a killer because he’s screwed up inside. It’s important that Thompson made both of the women in the story love him, so perhaps there was something good in him. He could have been a good man, but he just fucks it up because of all his problems. He doesn’t feel he deserves to be happy, and whenever anyone gets close to him he gets claustrophobic. He is a tragic character, because in a different world he could have been happy…

Well, the two victims DO love him, and neither fight back when he attacks them, and I think that’s why people have such a hard time with the film. How did you get Jessica Alba on board, who I thought was great? To be honest, I didn’t think she had a performance like this in her, which I suppose is somewhat prejudice on my part.

Both Jessica, and Kate were really strong. In a way, the front of the film belongs to Jessica, while the second half is Kate’s. One thing I love about the book is that the attraction between Lou and Joyce (Alba), only takes about five pages to get going, so I needed someone who could grab the audience right away.

Kate Hudson was great too. I read somewhere that Kate Winslet was signed, and that after meeting Hudson you decided only she could play the role…

Not true. I met Kate Hudson in London, and thought she’d be great. Thompson’s got the whole traditional good girl/bad girl thing going on. But he confuses these elements. You have Joyce- the whore, having real love for Lou, while Amy, the girl next door also has a sexual side. I think that’s true to the world, and also bold and interesting as he toys with the film noir conventions a bit.

When do you expect this will come out?

As soon as possible I hope. It’s playing in Berlin at the film festival. In the UK it’s coming out in May. (Note- IFC has picked up the North American rights, and the film is slated for both a theatrical and VOD release in the summer).

What’s next for you? (Winterbottom’s other Sundance entry, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE- a documentary with Naomi Klein, is now available on VOD).

The film we want to do next is set in 1930’s Palestine, centering on two British Policemen working on the anti-terrorist squad. The two main actors will be Jim Sturges and Colin Firth. Before that I’m doing six filmed conversations with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (both worked with Winterbottom on TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK N’ BULL STORY), which be them just sitting and talking bullshit. That should be on the BBC this summer.

Well, I loved this film, and thank you for making the time to talk to me.

My pleasure…

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