The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of No Man of God.
What was your initial reaction to the script?
Elijah Wood: I came into the script about five years ago, at a film festival in Austin, Texas, called Fantastic Fest. We were seating for a film (I can’t remember what the movie was), and the writer of the screenplay leaned over — knowing my company, and the kinds of movies we’re interested in making (genre films) — and he said, “I have this script about Ted Bundy that is about a portion of Ted Bundy’s life that is not as well documented, about his relationship to Bill Hagmaier, the FBI profiler, in the last four years of his life.” And our eyes kind of darted open! And we were super-keen to read the script. And we read the script, and we were blown away by it. Particularly because it’s this sort of chilling document about something that really happened between these two men over the course of these four years. And the script was so sparse in a way, in a beautiful way… that it sort of left room for these two people to discuss what they’re discussing over this period of time. I just found it really chilling, and moving as well.
Amber Sealey: My first thought was, “another Bundy movie?” And my next thought was, “me directing a Bundy movie?” But I was intrigued because I knew of Elijah’s company, and I was obviously a fan of his work, so I read the script and then it was such an easy, smooth read… like I just tore through it. And I found that I had a take! And then I met with Daniel Noah and Elijah and pitched, and I thought, “well, we’ll see if we’re on the same page.” If we’re on the same page, this conversation might get interesting. And it did— just right away there was a kind of… chemistry that we had. And we were talking about the same kind of things that we thought were really important to put forward in the film, and why we felt it was important to make this film even though there were already so many Bundy films out there. So we were just really on the same page, and I signed on.
Luke Kirby: I was in the middle of production of a play called Judgement Day, an Ödön von Horváth play, up at the armory in New York. And that play had a lot of… there were some themes about commitment to the state, sexual confusion, religion… it had a number of things. And I read the script for No Man of God, and it also moved very smoothly, it kind of offered that compelling reading experience, just by virtue of the writing being so fluid. And there was something within the story that kind of resonated with the play that I was doing. It sort of felt like there was a theme that was kind of culturally resonant that I attributed also to the play, and it felt like this was maybe a natural progression somehow. That maybe in some ways, the character I was playing in that play (which was written during World War II) was sort of an antecedent to this character. But I was really kind of reluctant and worried about the responsibility that comes with telling a story like this, so I kind of evaded it for as long as I could! And then Amber and I met in a park in Los Angeles. It was March 16th 2020, right before everything kind of collapsed and shut down. And we were able to just have a very thorough and open and honest conversation that was not just sort of, you know… effervescent and bubbly and looking forward to working together, but was more comprehensive in terms of the actual substance of what were going to do to tell this story. And Amber had such a compelling… well, personhood! And I was sort of drawn in, and as time wore on through the land of pandemico, I got on board.
everything has a whole new appearance when you’re researching this kind of stuff
LK: In terms of getting ready, once the die is cast, you’re just sort of committed. And no matter how hard you try to move away from it, at that point you do have a job to do. So, I sort of found myself almost physically kicking and screaming within myself. I didn’t feel especially… I didn’t have a lot of appetite. There were things that were kind of infecting me that didn’t feel great, but you know, in some ways — because were were in COVID and I was quarantining with my wife, and we were put up in a house in Los Angeles, and I had a pool, and we had this kind of very quiet lifestyle and I had her as my support… And I was able to jump in the pool and sink to the bottom and scream every once in a while. But there was really no way around it kind of infecting your perspective for the duration of the shoot. One of the things I do is I go for long runs. And every dark corner, every bush, everything has a whole new appearance when you’re researching this kind of stuff. And the world feels very dangerous and very scarily alive. Even, you know, any music you listen to is going to be completely altered by what you’re thinking about. I remember listening to Leonard Cohen’s album Death of a Ladies’ Man and suddenly it had this insanely different, disgusting perspective… and I’m sure Leonard Cohen would slap me with his Zen stick for even making the connection. But yeah, it’s just an impossible thing. The good fortune was that, you know, Amber and Elijah are excellent people, and by virtue of that, the whole crew was excellent people. We were sort of in an environment that felt very comfortable, very easy, fun was very present and curiosity was very present. So I was just happy to come to work and be with people, because it had been a long time since any of us had been with anyone. It was really kind of a delight in that way.
What would you hope your audience would do, think, or feel after seeing this film?
AS: I find that when I’m making a film, if I think about, or worry about, what the audience is going to think or feel, I sort of start drowning. Because the weight of those expectations, or, you know… I guess you could call it my “hopes” for what kind of experience people will have with the movie… it feels too heavy for me to bear. So I really try to just focus on telling the truth of the story. And making it, I guess to put it simply, a film I would want to watch myself. And I always like to assume that the audience is really smart— they’re going to see things in it that I don’t even see in it. And I love the concept of, every audience member is going to bring their own story to the film. It’s all subjective, right? We love things, we hate things, we see this, we don’t see that… and I kind of love that about film, in general. Someone can love something that someone else hates. I assume that whatever it is an audience brings with them, it’s fascinating to me. I love talking about film, I love hearing what other people got out of it, what it made them think or feel, and I love answering questions and hashing things out. So, in a sense, I don’t really have any expectations. At the same time, all I can talk about is what was interesting to me about this story and this film. What’s interesting to me is that two things can exist at the same time: we can be interested in this kind of person — the Ted Bundys of the world — we can be interested in why they do what they do, and how they do what they do… and we can know that this interest is maybe glorifying people that we shouldn’t glorify, or it’s putting our attention in the wrong places. Those two things can exist together, and they both need to be looked at. So, to me, you can make an entertaining film about someone like Bundy, and you can also ask really intelligent questions at the same time. It doesn’t all have to be just gore, or other salacious stuff. I guess I just hope that people think and feel something! And that they want to talk about it, bad or good. I hope that people pay attention to where we, as a society, put our attention. I think we are trained to put our attention on certain things by the world. By our phones, and computers, and the media we consume… we are trained to look at certain things. And I always like to ask, “yeah but what about that thing, or that person, off in the corner?” So that’s what I hope it makes people think about.
EW: I think what’s really unique about the film is that it doesn’t editorialize for you. It leaves you, in the audience, with the pieces of the puzzle to put together yourself and it allows you to walk away with your own feelings of what you just witnessed, about Ted and about Bill. And I love that about the film. I love that different people take different things away from it. Those are my favorite kinds of movies— the movies that don’t necessarily have tidy conclusions. They don’t tell you what you need to feel or think; they kind of leave it open for you.