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KILLER JOE (2012)
Release Date: July 27, 2012
Studio: LD Distribution
Director: William Friedkin
Screenwriter: Tracy Letts
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple
Genre: Comedy, Drama
MPAA Rating: NC-17
WHAT THE FILM IS ABOUT
Love. Lust. Loyalty. Treachery. Innocent. Profane. Greed. Revenge.
When 22-year-old Chris (Emile Hirsch) finds himself in debt to a drug lord, he hires a hit man to dispatch his mother, whose $50,000 life insurance policy benefits his sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Chris finds Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a creepy, crazy Dallas cop who moonlights as a contract killer. When Chris can't pay Joe upfront, Joe sets his sight on Dottie as collateral for the job. The contract killer and his hostage develop an unusual bond. Like from a modern-day, twisted fairy tale, "Killer Joe" Cooper becomes the prince to Dottie's Cinderella. Based on the play by Pulitzer and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts, "Killer Joe" is a garish, provocative black comedy from Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) and stars Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon.
Friedkin notes, "There's a thin line between good and evil and there is the possibility of evil in all of us." Friedkin relished exploring that interplay especially when more sinister inclinations take the lead. "Killer Joe" depicts the definitive dysfunctional family that gives in to its basest instincts and is forced to face the hidden truths about themselves that they've been avoiding for years. It's not an entirely heartless reflection, however; more noble aspirations hide among the cruder ones. As Friedkin puts it, "I myself have felt all of the emotions in my films at one time or another. I was drawn to this project as it's about innocence, victimhood, vengeance, and tenderness."
"Killer Joe" premiered as a stage production in 1998 at the famed Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. The play led to acclaimed productions in New York, London, and other cities around the world. In total, "Killer Joe" has been performed in 15 countries and 12 languages since its Chicago debut. When the play found a home at the Hyde Park Theatre in Austin, Texas, The Austinist announced, "It's like someone took MacBeth, ‘All in the Family' and Sylvia Plath, tossed them in a blender and splattered them inside a beat-to-fuck trailer out in Dallas County." Some have called Letts' work the lovechild of Tennessee Williams and Quentin Tarantino. The Oklahoma-born Letts, a fan of Southern Gothic tradition, calls Williams one of his inspirations, in addition to William Faulkner and Jim Thompson. These influences, combined with Letts' distinctive storytelling, come together to form a play that is shocking, blatant, poetic, and completely cinematic.
Producer Nicolas Chartier of Voltage Pictures was one of the story's early advocates. Friedkin, who also saw the play's big-screen potential, got a draft to Chartier, and the latter was thrilled to work with Friedkin. "He's just brilliant," Chartier says simply of the filmmaker.
Fellow producer Scott Einbinder adds, "Billy knows what he wants and how to get it. It was amazing to watch him work - he really believes in allowing the actors to sink their teeth into their character, but he also believes in a spare amount of takes, so the performances are really spontaneous. He tried to keep the cameras invisible to provide an atmosphere where the actors could do their best work."
"Killer Joe" attracted McConaughey, who was drawn to the enigmatic title character's moral duality. A charming, soft-spoken, and eloquent gentleman on one hand, Killer Joe is also a stone-cold killer with alarming sexual proclivities. Indeed, McConaughey did not entirely wrap his head around the character until he met with Friedkin.
"The first time I read the script, I couldn't quite see the character clearly," says McConaughey. "Then I met with Billy Friedkin and his affection for the love story and the blasphemous humor within this wickedly dysfunctional family helped me understand Killer Joe."
Emile Hirsch was cast next as Chris, the well-intended but often bungling drug dealer who would otherwise be the family savior. Hirsch was eager to work with Friedkin and was not disappointed.
"Every day was exciting working with Billy; he's so energetic and he's so passionate. It really feels like you are part of something. At the same time, he has this unbelievable attention to detail, it's incredible. You'll be doing a scene and he'll be checking every little aspect, even elements of your own character that you may not have even noticed. He has this extraordinary mind in that way - he's able to hold all the different elements of the production in his mind's eye while at the same time he has this strong vision for the movie in its entirety. He is a master and working with Billy was an extraordinary experience," Hirsch says.
The most difficult role to cast proved to be that of Dottie Smith, Chris' fragile younger sister who becomes the lynchpin of the movie. The role ultimately went to Juno Temple, for whom Friedkin was a staunch advocate. Friedkin worked to win her admiration, and the bond was critical when Friedkin filmed scenes in which Temple was literally and figuratively exposed.
"Working with Billy was amazing. I trusted him implicitly and he made me feel comfortable, regardless of the scene. He made me feel like I was perfect for the role and that I could just go for it. I wasn't afraid to take risks largely because of him," she says.
Temple adds that the film's location also contributed to her sense of liberation and ease. While the movie is set in Texas, the production filmed in New Orleans.
"I love New Orleans! I would happily move there. You get an incredible feeling of freedom and lust for life there. It's an alive and electric city," Temple says.
Producer Scott Einbinder adds that while New Orleans' tax credits for filming were enticing, the city itself was the ideal location and, as Temple suggests, set the right tone.
"Tax rebates aside, our filming location had to reflect the mood and atmosphere of the story. New Orleans has so many different faces it proved to be the perfect backdrop for the story," he says.
Studio photos, notes and videos © 2012 LD Distribution