If you love genre movies and haven’t seen any of Jim Mickle’s films, you’ve failed at life. Mickle is one of the most dynamic filmmakers working today. His filmography includes the apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land, the chilling We Are What We Are remake, and the deliciously pulpy Cold July – and I’ll be here all day if I start breaking down his fantastic work on Hap and Leonard. Mickle’s films are as thoughtful as they are bloody; full of rich themes and deeply considered characters who stay with you long after the credits roll.
Mickle’s new movie, In the Shadow of the Moon debuts on Netflix today. It’s an ambitious crime thriller with some unexpected twists. Or as the filmmaker puts it, “It’s an ‘80s murder mystery that takes place over several decades and becomes a story about an obsessive police officer (Boyd Holbrook) who slowly drives himself insane while he tries to find the answer. And along the way, we spiral out into a number of different genres.”
Mickle and his lead actor, Boyd Holbrook (Narcos, Logan), were in town this week promoting In the Shadow of the Moon. That Shelf caught up with the two men in downtown Toronto to discuss their recent work. Our conversation touched on Bong Joon-ho, genre cinema’s lack of respect, and of course, what’s on their shelves.
In the Shadow of the Moon Interview:
Victor Stiff – As someone who writes about the entertainment industry, there is so much content coming my way that I can’t even keep track of it. As an accomplished actor and director, I can only imagine the number of projects that come both your ways. What was it about In the Shadow of the Moon that grabbed your attention?
Mickle – I had just done a bunch of very rural small-town stories, and then I did a TV show called Hap and Leonard for three seasons that was also a small-town story, and I love doing that stuff, but I was getting a little like, “I want to do something different. I want to do something different in terms of genre. And I want to do something big, it can be cinematic.”
In between seasons, I was reading a lot just to see what was available, what was around. And then I read an early draft of this script, and it grabbed me and stuck with me. As soon as I finished it, I was like, “I want to go back to the beginning and see how they pulled that puzzle off.” And then you did, and it became a little almost like a Rubik’s Cube, constantly trying to figure it out; if you moved this piece here, would this work? And the next thing I know I’m like, “Guys I’m obsessed with this. Let’s work on this.”
Holbrook – Likewise. I had done two big movies back to back, and I wanted something that was going to push me in terms of range and depth. And really, I want to satisfy the character actor in me. There’s just so much to play in this.
You find this guy when he’s a really upbeat, striving cop; the world’s looking great for him. And then his next chapter it’s a different story, and the next chapter is a different story. So, it’s a gamut of things to play off of.
Ten different filmmakers pick up a script, and they will produce ten totally different movies. There’s such a specific style and tone to this picture, when did the film’s style crystalize in your mind?
Mickle – It always evolves from the second you read it until you’re shooting it and then even when you get into the edit, it’s always kind of changing and forming itself, which is fun. I think when a movie starts to take on its own life, and you’re sort of listening to it and help it be what it’s supposed to be, that’s the most exciting part about making a movie.
But I think early on, as soon as I read it I had a sense of where this fit in the scheme of thrillers, and giving it enough of an ‘80s, ‘90s thriller sense, to also lull the audience into thinking that’s what it’s going to be so that when it does change it feels…
Holbrook – Significant
Mickle – Yeah. And then having that change also have its own look and feel to it, so it’s like, this is a whole other thing. I like that feeling when you feel like you’re in a movie and you understand what it is and something happens, and you realize, oh, I’m in a completely different movie.
I also read that there were some Korean film inspirations as well…
Mickle – Yeah, a lot. The Chaser is a big one and Memories of Murder.
You have to see Parasite.
Mickle – I can’t wait. I can not wait.
It’s going to throw you off. It’s right up your alley. Trust me. Drop what you’re doing to go see Parasite.
Mickle – It comes out, well, my birthday’s October 12th, it comes out on the 11th.
It’s the perfect birthday gift. Trust me. it’s the movie of the year.
Mickle – He’s my favourite filmmaker. I was fortunate enough to have dinner with him one night. I was just beside myself.
I’m curious about being an actor and putting yourself in a mystery where the audience knows more than you, and you’re always one step behind. Can you talk about putting yourself in the frame of mind of Locke, a character who evolves over the course of the movie? How did you approach that?
Holbrook – That’s a big question. The good thing about it, I don’t really know what’s happening until my character is unravelling. So, the character is active in that way throughout the script, the character is active. He’s not a passive character, regardless of if his decision-making is wise or not.
I compartmentalized things when I was prepping the character for the story. I would work on one chapter at a time, and then it connected itself in a way too. The script, really, I didn’t have to create any impediments for the character. Every project is different, but this one was really unique because it was such a mountain to climb.
I love when a film grabs you by the collar in the opening minutes and demands your attention. You put in a wild set-piece to start off the film. Can you talk about how that came about?
Mickle – A lot of that was in there, in the very first draft. I think that was something that excited me, I think there is no real dialogue until page three or four of the script. And setting something to music and having the operatic beginning to a movie just felt like, YES, this is what I want to do.
I had just come from doing a TV show where you’re doing a lot of talking heads, which is also great, but at some point, you’re like, “I want to do a set-piece.” And so, I loved that, and I also loved that it’s these three separate things, you don’t quite know what the hell is happening, and it just throws you in right away. This isn’t something that you’ve seen before. It’s elements of things you’ve seen but in a different arrangement.
This question is for both of you. You’ve both done a lot of work in pulpy, genre films. What’s the appeal?
Holbrook – It’s so one thing. I love watching horror films. I love getting the shit scared out of me. It’s always the story. For all the bells and whistles that Jim is able to pull off in this, at the core of it is a real story.
And what brings you [Jim] back to the genre?
Mickle – I grew up on it, so a little bit of it is comfort food, and it’s like a return to childhood which is always fun. But I also think it’s the best genre to work on character because you can really… that’s part of the fun of this is you can open up the movie with a bus crash and all this stuff, and then, fortunately, your audience is hooked and then you can actually have a scene with a guy saying goodbye to his wife, and see his life, and go through that stuff which I think is great.
So, I think it’s a great means for playing with character and also themes. There’s a lot of things to talk about socially and thematically that can be a little bit dry if it’s too literal and so it’s always nice to put it through a skewed, heightened lens that entertains you, and you don’t really realize that you’re playing with these bigger ideas.
Do you guys think the genre gets the respect it deserves?
Mickle – No. Never. It never does. When it’s Get Out, and stuff like that comes along it’s like, boom, and there’s these things that remind people, and it’s always like, “Oh, the rise of the elevated horror movie,” when something like that happens. No, there’s elevated horror movies all the time, and I love Get Out. I love when those movies come out and remind us that you can do a lot of really interesting conceptual things and do them within horror. So, no, I don’t think they do. Even Night of the Living Dead, obviously, sort of being the original… no, it’s always frowned upon, and it’s always looked at as kind of childish.
What do you think is the impediment? Genre films can be anything from a horror movie to a crime flick. Why don’t they get more respect or Oscar love?
Holbrook – I think the difference is in like a drama where the two people that are – going back to the talking heads – creating a climactic situation, whereas genre film you really have to be a craftsman of filmmaking to control all that [build up] so the audience is in rhythm with that. It’s a total control thing. Not something you’re born with, it’s definitely something you learn to do. It’s a technical thing that I think is deserving of respect.
Where there any genre films that you guys used to get into character or to say this is the type of mood or style we’re going for?
Mickle – A lot of things. The Place Beyond the Pines.
Mickle – A lot of ‘80s, ‘90s…
Holbrook – Se7en was kind of…Obviously hit that… if you’re gonna go in a certain direction, I think that’s definitely of taste.
Mickle – But it was fun to do that, again, to know you could then pull out of that. So, it’s like we’re in Se7en, OK, I’m into this, I’ll watch a Se7en riff, and then you’re like, “Oh no, it’s actually, now we’re in this.” That’s always the fun part.
Whether someone is working in Hollywood or driving a bus, we grow, we learn, and we change while doing our jobs. How have you guys changed from the time you started this project until now, or what have you learned?
Holbrook – You do learn a lot. It’s such a big question to answer because you’re learning so much about anything from etiquette to how to conserve energy. You think, in hindsight on the previous film, maybe I missed a moment, going back and watching it, well I’m going to do it right this time. Try to manipulate the situation so I can perform better.
Also trying to be conscious of what you’re doing. When you are an artist, you’re conscious a lot of the time because you’re having to make specific choices.
Are there any aspects of this film you haven’t had a chance to talk about, or any little easter eggs you put in there you would like to address?
Mickle – Oh, good question. The Philadelphia thing was a big one for me. I wanted to have Philadelphia be a character in the film, and I grew up outside of there, so it’s nice to sort of go back and plant a lot of these things from my childhood from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and the 2000s.
Holbrook – I think our makeup crew was out of sight; Jordan Samuel and Paula Fleet. We couldn’t have done it without David Lanzenberg our DP. We had a great crew, in terms of that indie thing where everybody wants to make a great movie, not just go to work and collect a cheque.
So, what cool collectible or sentimental object do you guys keep on your shelves?
Holbrook – I’m thinking about my house upstate. I’ve got Sam Shepard Motel Chronicles on my shelf. That’s a killer short story book.
Why’s that meaningful to you?
Holbrook – He’s like a hero for me. A big mentor, one of the great American writers.
I was hoping you would tell me it was a robotic arm sitting on your self.
Holbrook – [laughter] You know, I wore a glove. I wore a green glove. So, I’ve got this limp glove on my shelf.
Mickle – And mine to piggyback on yours is on my shelf… I did a movie with Sam Shepard, and there was a really tough scene to do. We took a crack at this scene over many years trying to get this scene right, and he had to do the scene, and the night before he said, “This is a good scene. I think it’s really good. Do you mind if I just take a little bit of a crack at it?” And I was like, “Yeah, please. Absolutely. Yes” We had moments in the past where we asked what would be the Sam Shepard version of this scene? How do we simplify it and we couldn’t find a way to simplify it. He’s like, “I won’t change anyone else’s dialogue, blah, blah, blah.”
So, he goes home, and his hotel room is next to mine, and at night, I could hear him typing through the typewriter, “Clack, clack, clack.” And the next day, I remember the AD ran up to me, and he’s like, “Sam’s here, and he would like to see you in his trailer. Do you have time?” So, I go to him, and he’s holding this one-page thing, and he’s like, “Here you go. Do you think we should share it with your co-writer and make sure he’s fine with it?” And I’m like, “He’s going to be fine with it [laughter].”
So, he typed up this thing. It was so beautiful. What we had done was a seven-page-long version of the scene, and he put it down to literally this one page, fit it all in there. And it’s on this handwritten thing. So I grabbed it from the script supervisor and framed it, and it’s hanging up there.
You look at it, and there’s just a golden light shining down on it?
Mickle – Yeah. And what’s funny is he really didn’t change anybody else’s dialogue even though he had whittled his thing all the way down; everybody else’s dialogue was all the same. So he had this great respect, in like a play kind of way, of I’m not going to f*ck with his character and his thing. I just know that I can say it like this. That was amazing.
In the Shadow of the Moon is now available to stream on Netflix.