Icons of Fright Interview With THE MULE/INSIDIOUS Star Angus Sampson!
Interviewing an actor or director regarding their current film is always a lot of fun. The interview typically tends to head in one of two directions: either the subject gives short, very brief answers and it’s like pulling teeth asking someone questions or having a nice conversation with them, or the preferred way: the subject is very happy to have to chat, and it becomes much more like a conversation and the sometimes tedious standard of “ask question/get answer” fades away and it’s much more organic.
Such was the case, when we recently had a chat with INSIDIOUS/100 BLOODY ACRES star Angus Sampson, regarding THE MULE, a crime thriller/comedy that Sampson not only stars in, but co-wrote with Leigh Whannell (the SAW/INSIDIOUS series, direction of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER III) and also produced and co-directed. If there was a role in front and behind of the camera with THE MULE, Sampson took them all on, and in turn gives genre fans one hell of a fun time, full of twists and turns throughout the entire film. While some might ask “Why wasn’t Sampson’s involvement in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER III and/or MAD MAX: FURY ROAD discussed at all?”, the fact is, Sampson was so stoked to talk about THE MULE (and rightfully so, it’s brilliant), that those films just didn’t come up. So, here is our chat with one incredibly pleasant and friendly Angus Sampson, read on!
Sampson: Hey Jerry!, How are ya?
IOF: Pretty good and yourself?
I’m doing great, thank you so much for supporting the “little MULE that could” (laughs).
Oh of course, it was a great movie, I really enjoyed it.
Oh yeah? Were you scared or horrified?, What was your take on it?
I was really surprised actually, I went into it expecting something entirely different and was pretty surprised with the directions it went.
That’s been the general thought, people saying “I know what this is” and not expecting what it becomes. We planned it that way, with starting out with one way and the by the end having all this double crossing going on. It’s been incredibly satisfying and rewarding, hearing you guys say that, because that’s exactly what we set out to achieve.
You wore a LOT of hats, creatively, with the film, with being the star/producer/co-writer and co-director. What made you want to take all of that on?
That’s a good question. Leigh and I met on a music show, back in Australia, and we obviously had common interests. Leigh ended up writing a film when he missed out on an acting role in an Alex Proyas film and what he wrote ended up being SAW. We all know what happened with that. Well, we were living together at the time and he left Melbourne and actually never came back. I was like “Isn’t that fantastic?, that’s great!”, and we stayed in touch and we were still great mates. I ended up working on a film called WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE with Spike Jonze and his team, and they really took me under their wing. I was like “WOW, you can do this!, You can make films with your friends!”. It made me realize that you NEED to make movies with your friends, that’s the only way you can make movies, is with people you like, because it’s such a high pressure or low paying gig in general, it’s usually one or the other.
So what ended up happening was that Leigh say “Maybe we can commission something for someone to write”, and I said, “Here’s a script that a friend of mine wrote.” It was given to me by my friend Jaime Browne, to act in and try to raise financing for. Well, with me involved, it didn’t raise anything. We ended up saying to Leigh, “If we give you a note or two, will you do a pass on it?” and he said, “Sure”. So we flew into L.A. and gave him a couple of notes and he did two passes on it, but it still wasn’t “I’ve waiting my whole life for this one moment!”, it wasn’t that. Jaime got busy and Leigh was busy acting and didn’t want to write, so I just said, “C’mon Leigh, let’s just edit it”. We sat down to edit it and ended up rewriting the entire thing (laughs). That’s exactly what it was and that’s how you end up with these credits. You go, “Alright, I want to act in it, I’ve cast the film, I’ve written the film, I’ve edited the film, why wouldn’t I call myself the director? But what if I can’t act AND direct, it’s hard enough to do one, let alone two!”. We got a guy who has never been on a real film set before and he’s credited as a director in our film! (laughs).
Oh wow (laughs).
Not that he wasn’t going to ever be a director, but when you hire people, you tell them “THIS is what we need you to do, and THIS is what you need to do”. We needed to do some posters, and it’s just like the doll from SAW, James (Wan) ended up making Jigsaw’s doll himself, at his mom’s house. The same thing happened with us and what we needed, with our resources, we just ended up saying, “We’re just going to need to do this ourselves”. Leigh wrote what he wrote and Jaime wrote what he wrote, but neither of them could justify spending the time on the film that I could. They didn’t NEED to, they had all of these other things going on, but I said “We’re going to make a seminal crime film, that will one day be herald as a great movie”, but until that point, I didn’t feel we had anything that didn’t just feel like a couple of people just out of film school could have written it.
I wanted to find a really good producer, but couldn’t find one in the designated time, I couldn’t find one in the designated geography and I couldn’t find one that would go, “Yes, I’m going to produce your film fifteen days of my life, and you’re only going to give $20 to do it” (laughs). There was nobody that would take the job offer. Fortunately though, we found the incredible Michele Bennett, who had produced a film that I hope you’ve seen called CHOPPER, have you seen that one?
Yes, definitely, I’m a big fan of that movie.
Leigh and I had seen CHOPPER and were just obsessed with it, just loved it. We loved that, we loved The Sopranos, we loved FARGO and we watched TRAINSPOTTING about a hundred times, so we had all of these films that we wanted to follow in…well I don’t even want to say footsteps because we’re not even in the same stratosphere as those films, but we thought it would be great to tell a story in that style, where everybody thinks they’re smarter than everyone else and everybody has something to hide. They’re all everyday men, who don’t know about the ramifications of what they’re doing.
You said you worked on the casting of the film as well. When writing it, did you have certain people in mind like Hugo Weaving and also Leigh to be in it?
Leigh said, “we’re writing the film to act in it”. It’s not like he was writing it because he was short of opportunities, you know?
Sure enough, we interviewed a director and I kept saying, “He’s going to be good, he’s going to be a great director!”. You would know him, but I won’t say who it was, but at that point, he hadn’t done anything. Well he said, “Yeah, but I don’t know if I want you guys in the film.”
It probably wasn’t THAT candidly, but he was like “I want to audition people for those roles.” I was like, “Ok, fair enough, whatever’s best for the film”. When I rang Leigh, he said, “Stuff that, we’re filming this BECAUSE we’re acting in it”. He was always about us and I just thought whatever would be best for the story. The first person we cast was Geoff Morrell (ROGUE), who plays my father in it, and the last person we cast was Noni Hazlehurst, who is acting royalty in Australia. With Hugo, I had never seen him that kind of role, so I didn’t write those lines imagining him, only because I hadn’t seen that yet. The reason Hugo’s lines are so rich, is because I wrote it with an actor in mind, that I had worked with on a film called SUMMER CODA. I thought “I’m going to introduce this guy to the world!”, but unfortunately, he couldn’t do it because he was doing a play. It was a bummer. We said to ourselves, “What if we sent the script to Hugo Weaving?”, but I said, “As if he’d ever read it”. The casting agent, Nikki Barrett, who is also the most unsung hero in the business, she’s the reason that we got Hugo Weaving. To have someone on that level take our script and give it to someone like that, was just a huge win for us. We didn’t hear back from Hugo for ages and we kept saying, “Hugo, he thinks he’s too good for us, does he?”. We ran into him during awards night, and said that we sent the script to him, thinking he never read it, and he laughed and started quoting our script to us! We were incredibly lucky to get him in the film, because he’s an incredibly busy gentleman and we didn’t pay him what he’s used to getting paid. We were forever in-debt to him for doing the job.
It was an incredible thing to cast the film, because every single actor who auditioned for us, I wanted them to get the role they were auditioning for. They were all great. I don’t know if that happens much these days, every single person being so good. Every single person who came in, we didn’t have to give a lot of direction. The only thing I said to them was “If Ray is concealing drugs, what is it that YOUR character is concealing? I invite you to enter the room, with you, yourself, concealing something. It doesn’t even have to be tangible, just YOU, yourself, come into the scene hiding something. We don’t even need to know what it is”. That’s why I think the film feels that way, things are happening inside, that aren’t in the script. The acting was, dare I say, just jaw-droppingly good. We had some of the same crew, sound designers and people who did films like CHOPPER or THE LOVED ONES, which you guys might have covered. We just had really great collaborators and I’m proud of the film.
Right on, Angus, well thanks so much for talking to us today, the film is great!
Thank you so much for supporting it, it means a lot. Have a nice week!