Reptile: Director Grant Singer on his influences and casting Benicio Del Toro

The director of Netflix’s Reptile, Grant Singer, speaks to us about his various cinematic influences and how he nabbed Benicio Del Toro.

Last Updated on November 3, 2023

Netflix has revealed a batch of images that offer the first look at the thriller Reptile, starring Benicio Del Toro and Justin Timberlake

With Grant Singer’s Reptile, Netflix has a solid word of mouth hit on its hands. A crime thriller starring Benicio Del Toro, Alicia Silverstone, Justin Timberlake and Eric Bogosian, the film has sat at the top of Netflix’s top 10 for the last two weeks. Indeed, we caught it at TIFF (read our review) and really enjoyed the darkly humorous thriller, which eventually evolves into a tense action thriller boasting one of Del Toro’s most outstanding performances.

It marks the feature directorial debut of Singer, best known for his music videos. We were lucky enough to chat with Singer recently, who seems to have a bright future ahead of him as a director. While some have dubbed the film David Fincher-esque, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll note that it likely owes more to the work of Sidney Lumet, which is by design.

“So Sidney Lumet’s one of my favorite directors ever, and the film has much more in common with a movie like Serpico than it does a Fincher film. By the way, I love David Fincher. He’s one of my favorite living filmmakers, but I agree with you that the film is, I don’t, I wouldn’t call it Fincher-esque in my opinion, but it’s hard for me to comment on the movie because I’m too close to it. I think that people like to say Fincher-esque, probably just because he’s one of the few guys who makes original thrillers of a certain size and level. He’s created a niche for himself.”

Singer’s influences go beyond Lumet into classic Hollywood movies like Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter and the Richard Brooks version of In Cold Blood, which he admits was “a huge influence on the movie.”

Singer also admits he was lucky to get Del Toro involved, who delivers an unexpectedly three-dimensional, humorous take on a detective forced to go to some very dark places. “I mean, there’s some great actors out there, but like, I cannot even imagine another actor doing this role and inhabiting the character, but I will say when we wrote the script, when Ben (Brewer) and I wrote the script, we set up with our producers and they had done Sicario with Black Label with Benicio and from that first meeting they’re like, well, who do you want? And of course we had him in mind, but It felt like such a far-out dream.”

To that end, he notes Del Toro was “a dream” to work with, but notably, the film reteams him with his Excess Baggage co-star Alicia Silverstone, who steals many scenes as his on-screen wife. Another famous cast member is Justin Timberlake, who plays Will Grady, whose girlfriend is killed in the opening scenes and is the inciting incident that turns Reptile into what first seems like a procedural but later becomes something else.

“I’m so impressed by Timberlake’s performance just because knowing him as a person. That’s a performance! And that character is such a departure who he is and anything he’s done before. He’s so vulnerable, and yet he’s grieving, and he’s concealing. You don’t know what he’s concealing.”

While some directors may bristle at the fact that their movies may not be getting the big-screen theatrical release they deserve, Singer has nothing but praise for Netflix, who allowed him to make the kind of movie he wanted, without having to excise scenes studios might view as extraneous, even though they add immeasurably to the film. One such scene is when Timberlake’s character shows a house to a couple, who turn out to be true crime tourists that are sexually aroused by the fact that a murder occurred in the home they’re viewing. Most studios would insist on the movie being under two hours, but Singer did not have that pressure.

“This is my first movie, so I haven’t worked with other studios, but I can tell you that they’ve been a dream partner, to support me and to support this film. They showed me a lot of guidance, I think they, they encouraged me to make the best version of this film.”

Reptile is now playing on Netflix. Check it out!

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.