Simon Killer, about a vaguely unhinged, recently graduated New Yorker who travels to Paris and ends up shacking up with a sex worker, opens today at the IFC Center. We spoke to director Antonio Campos, who lives in Williamsburg, where he moved after a breakup, about the script vs. improv, how to film a sex scene in France, and why he’s so interested in fucked-up characters.
Why set the movie in Paris? Was it so you could take a trip to Paris?!
It seemed like the natural place to start the story of a young college graduate trying to find himself, and love, on his first European trip.
In the movie, you withhold for so long so much information about Simon’s true nature, or at least his sense of himself, but the title gives something away. Were you worried about being too withholding?
It was a delicate balance we were trying to arrive at, but we really didn’t want anyone to mistake that this was a dark journey about the slow process of someone becoming capable of killing.
How much of the movie was scripted versus improvised?
There was an incredibly detailed outline, whose structure the film follows very closely. There were scenes that were completely scripted, others written the morning of the shoot, some scenes shot and then rewritten and reshot or dialogue moved from one scene to another, and some stuff completely improvised on set.
Are the actors really having sex in those sex scenes?
No real sex. Sex scenes are uncomfortable, but we discuss everything in advance and try and choreograph all the beats. Also, the actors are incredibly generous to one another and always make sure the other is ok. The funniest part of that process was when we had our first really intense sex scene, we asked the wardrobe department if they had that seamless underwear or pieces of fabric actors use to cover just their private parts during “full nude” sex scenes, especially when there’s going to be parts bumping into each other. The costume designer looked at us like we were crazy “It’s a sex scene, no? They are naked, no?” The fact that this might be uncomfortable made no sense to our French costume designer. We had to think on our feet, and quickly we were cutting pieces of duvateen and the actors would tape the pieces with black tape to cover up their privates and the private corners in those parts. It actually worked quite well.
Both Simon Killer and Afterschool center on chronically detached, vaguely mentally ill or sociopathic characters. Where do you think your interest in such people comes from?
Honestly, I don’t know. I think part of it is a masochistic thing, and maybe part of it is that these characters are mysteries to me and the challenge of trying to get in their heads does excite me.
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