Matthew McConaughey has been nominated by the Film Independent Spirit Awards as Best Male Lead for his dark turn as Killer Joe, out on DVD today, and the film's director, Oscar winner William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist), reveals to ETonline the trick for capturing such incredible, genuine performances -- and some extremely uncomfortable, off-kilter sexual moments -- from his actors.
"It starts with casting. If you haven't cast these roles properly, there's nothing you can do -- then there are no tricks," he says. "Before you get started, you spend a lot of time talking to them, trying to learn as much as you can about the details of their lives, about what pushes their buttons. … [And then] what I go for is to have the actor use sense memory in order to recreate all the emotions that his character is supposed to represent." For example, with McConaughey, "He grew up in East Texas. He remembers guys like Joe. He remembers all of their attitudes, and he wasn't trying to imitate them -- he was channeling them."
Amusingly described as "deep-fried noir," Killer Joe follows Chris (Emile Hirsch), a young man who finds himself in debt to a drug lord and hires "Killer Joe" Cooper (McConaughey) -- a cop who moonlights as a hit man -- to dispatch his mother, who supposedly has a $50,000 life insurance policy that benefits Chris' little sister Dottie (Juno Temple). When Chris can't pay Joe upfront, the creepy hit man sets his sights on Dottie as collateral for the job. What follows is like a modern-day, twisted fairy tale, as Joe becomes the prince to Dottie's Cinderella. Gina Gershon and Thomas Hayden Church also star in the surprisingly twisted Texas tale.
In addition to the emotional nakedness of the characters, Killer Joe contains copious amounts of physical nakedness -- not to mention one particularly steamy sexual encounter between McConaughey and Temple – and the Oscar winner says with a laugh that his actors simply won't strip down if they're not comfortable about it.
"I had a number of top actresses who wanted to do this, but were concerned about nudity and violence, and the minute those concerns were expressed, I sort of moved on [from considering them]," Friedkin reveals. "Because, what could I tell them? That I was going to try to fake it? Or hide it? Or suggest it? You know, it was all in the script."
The screenplay was written by Pulitzer and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts based on his own stage play, and Friedkin comments, "I think Tracy is certainly one of the very best American dramatists, if not the best, around today." Friedkin also adapted Letts' claustrophobic Bug back in 2006, and he observes, "We have the same world view. We both share the same curiosities and obsessions. We're not troubled by controversial material.
"A lot of people think and have written that I made this film as kind of a reaction against standard Hollywood fare, and there may be some of that in motivation," continues Friedkin. "But I made it because I think it's a great script and I believe in the truthfulness of it. I tend to respond to something that's very, very well written and takes you to extremes -- and produces sometimes discordant emotions."