Interview: William Friedkin, director of ‘Killer Joe’

American director William Friedkin has made a triumphant return with his latest feature Killer Joe (2011), starring Matthew Mcconaughey, Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple. Surrounding a group of morally warped characters, Killer Joe is the story of Joe Cooper, a corrupt cop who moonlights as a hitman. CineVue met up with William Friedkin to discuss his new film.

Joe Walsh: Killer Joe is your second film based on a Tracy Lett’s story. What is it that attracts you to his writing?

William Friedkin: We have the same worldview; we see the world in the same way, we like characters that embody both good and evil, we don’t see people as totally heroic or idealistic. What fascinates Tracy and myself is the fact that the characters we have created show that there is great potential in all of us for good and evil.

JW: Matthew Mcconaughey is an interesting choice for the character of Joe Copper. What convinced you to cast him in the lead role?

WF: Matthew Mcconaughey was from that area he was born in Oklahoma, Texas border, he knows those characters and his accent was right for the part. In Hollywood terms, he is so good looking and in Hollywood it usually means that all is called upon is to show up and take off your shirt. But he really wants to act and challenge the audience. Mcconaughey could carry on doing Romantic comedies but it isn’t who he is, he really wants to act. brightcove.createExperiences();

JW: You have often come into conflict with MPAA when it comes to the ratings for your films and once again this is the case with Killer Joe. I just wondered if you could talk about your experience with them?

WF: The ratings body is an anonymous organisation; we don’t know who they are or what qualifies them to give ratings. They are a totally subjective in what they do and they have distinguished Killer Joe by giving it the most draconian rating. They set it apart from the pack, I was about to do what so many people do, which is to go out in the dead of night and make lots of cuts to the film turning from an R to an NC17. In my case they wanted much more than just a few little cuts. I am not interested in 13, 14 years olds seeing this film. Why do the board do this? Because they can.

JW: Killer Joe features a great deal of sex and violence. Would you say that in Hollywood violence is more acceptable than sex or nudity?

WF: Violence is more acceptable to the MPAA than sexuality because they are always uptight. Interestingly though they will find a way around these problems for a major studio film. For example, the recent adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which has a very graphic anal rape scene later followed by a vengeance scene, that was one of the most violent scenes I have ever seen. There isn’t anything like that in Killer Joe. They are against the independent films and why? Because they can be. They perceive violence in the studio movies as cartoonish when it happens in a film like The Avengers, so they get away with the murder of thousands in the film. If the violence is too real for them they slam it, especially with Independent films.

JW: Is it a challenging bringing a play to the big screen?

WF: When you know that you are getting great material that helps. How do you adapt a play? Well firstly it has to be a damn good piece of material and then you have a leg up. I have done films that have come from every conceivable source, newspaper stories, novels, and my own imagination and some were plays that I made into movies.

JW: You have a reputation for putting actors through their paces. As a director, how do you get the best performance out of your cast?

WF: By creating an atmosphere where they can feel free and not judge. Feel that they are on the same page as the writer of the script and myself. Once you are able to give them that atmosphere and allow them to feel free enough to make mistakes, then that are when you get the best work out of them.

JW: How did you balance all the genres and themes in the final edit?

WF: I had a story of and a set of characters that I love and tried to cast it as best I could. Some of the films I have made I feel that I have cast the wrong people; I don’t feel that with Killer Joe. I wouldn’t be talking about it today if I felt I had fucked it up and one of the ways you don’t fuck it up is if you have a good cast and I did believe me.

Killer Joe is released in UK cinemas nationwide from today. You can read our review of the film here.

Joe Walsh