Combustible Celluloid Interview: William Friedkin
Combustible Celluloid

Interview: William Friedkin

Emile Hirsch and William Friedkin on the set of Killer Joe. (Photo Courtesy LD Entertainment)

'Killer' Instinct

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

July 11, 2012—The new movie by 76 year-old filmmaker William Friedkin, Killer Joe, is so ferocious and alive that it could have been made by a 26 year-old.

Yet Friedkin -- who won a Best Director Oscar for The French Connection and directed one of the biggest hits of all time, The Exorcist -- claims that he didn't do anything other than pick the right script, cast the right actors, and show up.

Killer Joe comes from a play by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the play Bug, and the screenplay for Friedkin's startling, underrated film of the same name.

Friedkin, who recently visited The City to discuss the film, says that Letts is a "genius."

"Letts created this world," Friedkin says. "Once I read the script, I knew it was something that I really wanted to do, but it could never have originated from me."

Killer Joe concerns a family of trailer-dwelling outcasts who, in order to collect a life insurance policy, hire a cop (Matthew McConaughey) that doubles as a hitman. The hitman becomes enchanted by the family's youngest girl, the dreamy Dottie (Juno Temple).

"It's a kind of Cinderella story," Friedkin says. "She's living with these animals, and is looking for her Prince Charming to get out."

"Killer Joe examines the human condition on that level," he continues. "They play out their roles in situations over which they have no real control."

Despite Friedkin's assertions, he did add his own touches to the movie.

"I wrote to Tracy and I said, 'I think I've got to expand the film in a visual way and put in a chase.' And he emailed me back and said, 'chase away.'"

Though Friedkin is known for his breathtaking car chase scenes in The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A., and Jade, the new chase features characters on foot and reveals a ruined, abandoned, graffiti covered world. "That world is blasted out," Friedkin says. "It's waiting to die."

The director also discovered interesting sound cues as he went along, such as a monster truck rally playing at top volume on a television set in the background, a barking dog, a thunderstorm, or the click of Killer Joe's lighter.

"I discover these things once I get into them," he says. "One day Matthew started to play with the lighter. It's a vaguely threatening sound, but it's in fact harmless, except that the instrument itself is capable of destruction."

Friedkin smiles. "And that's Joe."

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