Much like the lead character in his new movie, “Simon Killer,” director Antonio Campos was reeling from a breakup when the film was first germinating in his head. He was also reading a lot of Georges Simenon and Jim Thompson, gutter noir poets who wrote tales of casually amoral men.
“It’s not like we were trying to make a film noir,” Campos says of the finished product. “But we were in that universe. We were just embracing the environment and the settings, the certain look these spaces have. It was more a feeling I was running with.”
In the film, Brady Corbet plays an American tourist in Paris who worms his way into the life of a prostitute (Mati Diop). Eventually the two try to milk money out of her clients. “The plans play out in a clumsy way,” says Corbet, who co-write the script with Campos. “It’s almost absurd, this plan of theirs. It’s so half-baked. But if you read real stories about blackmail, they usually are this haphazard. Very few end up like ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’ We were trying to find the potential for truth in a genre film.”
For Campos, having your lead actor as your screenwriter made a lot of sense. “It’s the best way to do it,” he says, “because who else would know the character as much as you do than the person who’s embodying him?” Campos describes the nontraditional screenplay as an “amalgamation of a lot of approaches”: some scenes, he says, were scripted, others had some room for improvisation, others still emerged from rehearsals.
“The way we made our film,” Corbet recalls, “is similar to the way I try to work as an actor. I never learn my lines anymore until the day I get there, because there’s so much potential for things to change. I don’t waste my time anymore. I don’t like rehearsal. On this we had very loose rehearsals, but they would often times turn into discussions about what our next day’s material would be. It’s much more interesting if you remain open to the environment. I don’t think every film can be made that way, but I can’t imagine this movie being made any other way.”
Campos said they would even shoot scenes they knew wouldn’t be in the movie. “That act of doing it is going to inform [the actor] so much,” he says. “The actors were able to live that moment. In the back of their minds it’s real. There’s a universe they’ve created, it’s real, and we’re just choosing to show part of it.”
They reshot one scene: After getting beat up, Simon visits Diop’s character at work to beg for her help. She goes to get her coat and Simon’s expression changes to a blank, then changes back when she returns. “It was so wrong,” Corbet remembers. “It wasn’t the movie we had shot thus far. It betrayed the character. It told the audience too much. This one moment could have changed the entire experience of the movie in a way that would have made it so kitschy. We didn’t realize that at the time.”