Exclusive: William Friedkin Talks Making 'Killer Joe,' The Problem With Exorcism Movies, 'Sorcerer' & Much More

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by Kevin Jagernauth
July 26, 2012 11:59 AM
3 Comments
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Deep fried, dangerous, obscene, hilarious and hugely entertaining, while not for the faint of heart, William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" proves the director hasn't lost the energetic spirit that put him on the map in the 1970s with films like "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist." And indeed, it might be his most controversial film since that latter pic. The film's violence and nudity might have made some folks at the MPAA squirm, but it was undoubtedly a climatic sequence involving fried chicken that pushed them over the edge.

Branded with an NC-17 rating, the film -- which boasts a marquee-worthy cast including Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon -- will be making its way around the country in limited release via the film's distributors LD Entertainment, who haven't flinched from the challenge of marketing this dark and twisted yet funny and enjoyable picture. Friedkin himself is helping to get the word out, and we were lucky enough to talk with him last week about the movie.

Candid, generous with his time, and filled with a plethora of stories from throughout his career, it was a pure pleasure to chat with Friedkin, who was joined by his editor Darrin Navarro, who has worked with the director on his films since "Jade." In addition to talking "Killer Joe," the conversation moved toward the state of exorcism movies, his work on his memoirs, a look back on "Cruising" and "Sorcerer," his desire to do a James Bond film, and much more. Aside from some edits for clarity and flow, we've kept the full Q&A of our talk below. Meanwhile, here's our review of the film from Venice and an exclusive clip of the film we recently acquired. Read on..."Killer Joe" opens this Friday, July 27th. 

After you directed "Bug," did you know that you wanted to do something with screenwriter Tracy Letts again?
I didn't know that but I think he's only written five plays and I directed one of them on the stage, the play called "Man From Nebraska." I just liked his writing but I don't think I'm the right director for all of his plays, although I have enjoyed them to different degrees.

Did you think about maybe going off and doing an original screenplay with him? It seems like your sensibilities are somewhat similar.
We might do that some day. But if I didn't do it it means I didn't think about it, you know? I just tend to try to go one day at a time.

So let's get to the film then. Where do you draw the line between being provocative and daring, or is there a difference between the two?
I don't think about that. I basically go with the screenplay, with what's in the script. If I had a problem with it, I wouldn't do it. I don't know that you do draw a line. People that draw a line, I mean, I had talked to a number of actresses, well just two, before Gina Gershon and they’re very well known actresses, and very good but they wanted to know how I was going to handle the nudity and that meeting was over. I was going to handle the nudity by having them nude. So I was not prepared to make a film like this and draw the line anywhere.

I guess what I'm asking about is in terms of tone, because the film to me succeeds in striking a very fine balance of being very wild, very out there but without ever tipping too far over. How did you manage that balance?
A lot of people think it does go too far, I would imagine. Don't you think? It's disturbing to a lot of people.

Darrin: Yeah, it is...interestingly what I've found, and this is a totally unscientific survey, but my observation has been, and this has been surprising to me, that women embrace it by and large, and men seem to be the ones who express the most unease with the nature of the material, and I haven't really gotten at the root of why that is, but after a number of my women friends see it, and men actually, I want to explore that question further. But certainly there are people who do feel it goes way over the top and others who either love it for that reason or who just don’t feel that.

William: You never know, you can't please everybody, all I can tell you is probably the most beloved film of all time is "Gone With The Wind" and I really don't like it. You know? I don't care for the picture, but I'm certainly in the minority. So I just don't know, I don't try to draw a line. I know the ratings board would have cut the hell out of this picture if they could have, they would have released it in tatters, or not at all.

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3 Comments

  • Stevo the Magnificent | July 28, 2012 4:08 AMReply

    Great interview with the simply irascible Billy Friedkin, one of filmdom's true characters and a genuine living legend, no mistake! I hope the legal issues over 'Sorcerer' get resolved and a lovely remastered DVD and Blu-Ray release happens, interesting comment about James Bond, it's interesting to note that Friedkin is a huge '24' fan, would LOVE to see him direct Jack Bauer's big-screen debut, action scenes Billy Friedkin most certainly can handle - 2003's 'The Hunted' attests to that - but also taut character drama... a Billy Friedkin-directed '24' movie, now THAT I most certainly would pay to see. Several times.

  • zach | July 26, 2012 6:39 PMReply

    I still can't believe Rampage was never released on DVD

  • Christopher Gipson | July 26, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    Excellent interview!

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