True crime stories, particularly about serial killers, have long held fascination for people, with critically-acclaimed work such as David Fincher’s film Zodiac (2007) and TV show Mindhunter (2017-2019) being successful examples of projects inspired by what many view as a grim or grizzly aspect of life. Perhaps surprisingly, women have driven much of the success of true crime books, podcasts and websites – as discussed in the fascinating HBO series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (2020) which examines both a serial killer and the obsession that some people, especially women, can have with such events. Despite this, women are rarely the ones who get to make films about serial killers, even though there are over twenty films about Ted Bundy alone, for example. Director Mary Harron is a rare exception to this – with her phenomenal film about fictional serial killer Patrick Bateman – American Psycho (2000) and her much more recent film about the women involved in the Manson cult – Charlie Says (2018). Now, indie director Amber Sealey has taken on another Ted Bundy film, which has much in common with the aforementioned Mindhunter. It focuses on the last few years of Bundy’s life, when FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier was sent to try to find out more about his crimes in order to help solve other cases.
How did the project come about and why did you want to make the film?
SpectreVision (Elijah Wood’s production company) had it for about five years before I was attached to it, they were trying to make it for a while, but for whatever reason, it didn’t come together until I came on board. I wanted to make it partially because, when they sent me the script, I was like; “me and a Bundy movie?!” If you know any of my previous work, I wasn’t a natural fit for it and I liked that. I thought; “wow these people are cool if they want to hire me, that’s interesting to me” and I liked that I was an outsider. I also felt that, of the twenty, now twenty-two Bundy movies that have been made, as far as I can tell, there’s only one other narrative that was directed by a woman. There was one documentary that may have been directed by a woman, I can’t find out online if it’s a man or woman. And that’s over the course of thirty years that Bundy films have been made. I just thought; “that’s messed up, this is very much a woman’s purview. It’s women who know what it’s like to walk down a dark alley, hear footsteps behind her and get scared. We’re the ones who are taught to carry our keys sticking out of our fingers, so we can stab someone if we have to.” This isn’t just a male story, it’s not just about male aggression and toxic masculinity, it’s also about the fear and the experiences that the women go through. So I felt like I had something to add to the canon of Bundy films, rightly or wrongly. I think the people who say that there are too many Bundy movies are not wrong and I’m certainly guilty of that. But at the same time, I felt like I had something new to add to the conversation. So I’m trying to be the problem and the solution, I guess.
I really want to talk to you about the casting of the two leads because the film rises and falls on those two people. So, starting with Luke Kirby as Bundy – why him and what was the process like?
I’ve always been a fan of his and he just popped into my mind and I thought; “God he would be great.” I’ve always wanted to work with him and I couldn’t get him out of my mind. There were some really wonderful actors who were interested in the role and I was just like “no it has to be Luke, it has to be Luke.” We offered it to him and he turned it down. The producers were saying “bummer, we’ve got to try someone else.” But I kept saying “no! no!” Luckily I had friends who were friends with him and I hunted him down and made him talk to me. He happened to be in LA doing another job and I said “look let’s just meet and chat. I completely respect you saying no. I don’t want to force you into this, I just want the chance to speak to you, to tell you why I’m doing this movie. I’m not someone who is interested in the gristle and the gore.” So luckily I convinced him to do it, once he heard that this wasn’t about glorifying Bundy. I was cognizant of the fact there were already so many Bundy movies and what it meant that we were making another one and putting that into the stratosphere. He was happy that I was thinking about those things and then I was really happy that he came on board.
I think what’s interesting with Elijah Wood’s casting is that people view him as a small and sweet person and not necessarily as a formidable presence. What was the rehearsal process like with Wood and Kirby?
We had rehearsals over Zoom, we were one of the first films to come back after the whole industry shut down. We shot it in September of 2020, so we were scared. It was obviously new to us and we were really adamant that we were going to keep everybody safe – it was very important to me and all the producers and we worked really hard for that to happen. I was really happy – we had no positive cases the whole time.
Elijah was already on board when I came on because he’s a partner at SpectreVision. He was really interested in Bill’s journey and I’ve always been a fan of Elijah’s. So I lucked out with both him and Luke, I’ve been interested in both of them forever. What I loved about Elijah’s casting, even though it wasn’t my choice to make, is that Elijah has that natural empathy. He’s very loving, open and giving but he’s also very private and Bill is like that – they have that in common. They are both very empathetic, they’re not judgmental, they’re very open people; but they also have a very strong protective boundary around their own self and heart – they have that in common. When you look at Elijah’s eyes, you kinda want to just dive into them and I could imagine these serial killers doing that. Bill has a similar warmth to him, you feel comfortable with him, you feel like he really cares about you and Elijah has that same kind of energy – so it just worked.
And then when the two of them got together, they just had a great chemistry. They’re both so smart and they’re both so kind, that the process and experience of making it was quite loving and beautiful (even though we were making a sad, horrible movie due to the uncomfortable subject matter). It was the first time we had come back from the pandemic, first time we had been around other people, so there was a real camaraderie that we had for each other and our industry and for this film. They’re both constant professionals, so it was a great experience, working with both of them.
I want to ask about the score, particularly when paired with the montages you used, set to electronic music.
The composer was Clarice Jensen, myself and Elijah were fans of her music. I think she’d only scored one film before, this was really new to her. We wanted to embrace something that felt of the time period – that synthy, electronic sound of 80s pop songs. Those interstitial montage moments, those were pieces that I asked for and said “just pretend you’re in the 80s and you’re making an 80s pop song.” Then I’d ask for darker or grittier or another layer. She’s was wonderful to work with. I wanted the music to feel very much its own thing but have a relationship to the time period.
With the cinematography – how did you want to keep it visually interesting, when so much of the film is a two-hander? What were some of your visual choices eg. there’s one point where you really zoom-in on Bundy’s handcuffs and ankle chains. What decisions did you make to keep it varied, when it is pretty much two people in a room talking for a lot of the film?
Yeah, in the beginning, I was thinking “oh God – it’s just two guys in a room, and not just any room but it’s an interrogation room which by their very nature are meant to be plain – nothing on the walls, nothing in the room.” So I was a little worried. Then once we started shot-listing, I started thinking about how the human face is endlessly fascinating. Luke and Elijah – I could watch them read the phonebook, they’re both fascinating looking, so that put me at ease. Once I started to construct the film language – the visual language of each scene is supposed to represent what’s going on in the relationship between Bill and Ted. So it was about creating movement and lighting and angles that were representations or manifestations of what was happening to Bill and Bundy at that time. Once we started doing that, it wasn’t as daunting, I wasn’t as scared. There’s beauty in boundaries, these are our constraints, but a lot of really cool creativity comes out of that. So we had this constraint of the room and of only two people, but I’m really pleased with what came out of it, but at the same time, really keeping it authentic. I was adamant that the room had to be authentic interrogation room, the lighting had to be authentic, so we used that to our benefit. Karina Silva, the DP, did a wonderful job making it look both beautiful and authentic.
No Man of God is available to rent on VOD now.