SIMON KILLER Interview with Director Antonio Campos
Simon Killer is a noir film set in Paris, very much an homage to French noir from bygone eras. Brady Corbet plays the title character of the film, Simon, who initially seems to be a heartbroken traveler attempting to forget his lady love back home in the states. During his time in the city, Simon seems desperate for a friend, in particular a lady friend and finds such a person in Victoria, a prostitute played by Mati Diop. As the film goes on, we find that Simon is not all that he seems and that the reasons for his broken relationship may be deeper and darker than first revealed.
The most striking element of Simon Killer is the raw nature of the relationship between Victoria and Simon. Both Corbet and Diop have writing credits on the film and I can’t help but think this kind of control over one’s character must be not only empowering, but rewarding. From a director’s standpoint it must help the actors really infuse themselves in their character and make them their own. The performances are gritty and unapologetic in their sometimes slightly depraved, very intense nature. Whether you like it or not, Simon Killer is a film that will stick with you.
I had the opportunity to discuss some of my thoughts on the film with Writer/Director Antonio Campos. This film started coming to fruition through a partnership Campos and Corbet created during Martha Marcy May Marlene in which Brady acted and Antonio produced. The men shared with me their take on actors as writers and the intimate nature of Simon Killer.
SI: The film was different than what I was expecting. After reading the description which referred to it as erotic, I was surprised to find the scenes involving sex seemed less erotic in nature and more real, speaking to Simon’s subversive nature. Was this more the focus you were looking for with the intimate scenes in the film?
AC: Yes, erotic was never what we were going for. We were going for very direct and we were trying to capture something regarding the change between Victoria and Simon and also exploring the way Simon sees women through the way the sex plays out in the movie. Erotic, if anyone is aroused by the film or sees it that way, that’s okay, but that wasn’t the intention.
SI: One of the things that caught my attention with regard to the making of the Simon Killer was that not only one, but both of the lead characters are credited as writers on the film. Did that come about ahead of time?
AC: Mati came on before it went into production. The intention from the beginning was always that Brady and I were going to collaborate on this and I went to Brady with the initial idea and then Brady and I fleshed out an outline and we always knew that whoever came on as Victoria was going to be someone who should be involved in the process. We work shopped things, we improvised dialogue and come to what a scene was. Sometimes I would show up on set and we would go over some new ideas. It was very collaborative.
SI: The scenes that did involve sex were very raw and seemed to take on their own life. Did the collaboration make it easier to direct these scenes since the actors had more control over their characters?
AC: We talked about all the sex beforehand and there is a very clear understanding of what each sex scene meant for each character and why it was included. Sex scenes are uncomfortable in general. It’s uncomfortable to be asking someone to do that and for someone to be doing that in front of a bunch of people. We handled it very professionally. Brady is very good at being aware of when his costar is uncomfortable or comfortable. When you do a sex scene there is always a dialogue and everyone feels confident to say, “I don’t feel comfortable in this moment or can we stop or rethink or take a break?” As long as there is a dialogue it isn’t hard to get what you need from a scene, but you need to be patient.
SI: I liked the subtle nature of the relationship between Victoria and Simon. Victoria’s reluctance to buy in to Simon’s pursuit of her, but eventually giving in was very realistic of the way abusive or codependent relationships can start. It shows how even strong women can be pulled into something of this nature.
AC: The idea was never to make her (Victoria) seem like she was a dupe or gullible, and that is why she had to be a strong character. We didn’t want it to seem like he (Simon) just took advantage of one character. There was something that she saw that she wanted to get out of Simon, and she just didn’t see him for what he really was. It was important that Simon wouldn’t clearly be taking advantage of her, it’s just that he was very manipulative and recognized a vulnerability in Victoria. In doing this we did a lot of research and most of the women we talked to were very savvy.
SI: What was the story inspired by and when did you start collaborating on the film?
AC: We started collaborating during the process of Martha (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and after that we were moving to Paris for a few weeks. It came from just coming out of a break-up, partially from being inspired by French noir and wanting to go down this road of contemporary noir world in Paris and partially just to explore this other side of masculinity and the part of this guy’s (Simon’s) misogyny that exists that is uncomfortable and hard to deal with.
Thus concluded my interview with Antonio Campos, writer and director of Simon Killer, a French noir film that explores the disturbing nature of one particular man and the ways we allow ourselves to be manipulated.
Simon Killer is Written & Directed by Antonio Campos. Produced By Sean Durkin, Marie-Louise Khondji, Florence Lobet, Josh Mond, Alexander Norton, Matt Palmieri, and Melody C. Roscher, Starring Brady Corbet and Mati Diop.
Simon Killer is in theaters April 5 and available on VOD April 12.