Film & TV

Antonio Campos & Brady Corbet on ‘Simon Killer,’ Online Porn, & Why Their Lead Character Is Not a Hipster

Film & TV

Antonio Campos & Brady Corbet on ‘Simon Killer,’ Online Porn, & Why Their Lead Character Is Not a Hipster

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Brady Corbet is no stranger to edgy material. The twenty-four year old, New York-based actor got his start with a role in the controversial Thirteen––the film about self-mutilating middle schoolers––and has since played a gleeful sadist in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and a manipulative cult-member in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. But his latest role in Antonio Campos’s Simon Killer breaks new ground: revealing a major talent that can carry a film from start to finish.

Simon Killer follows a young, lovelorn American who travels to Paris for some soul-searching but ends up on a trip to existential rock bottom. In his nocturnal wanderings he meets a damaged prostitute and together they hatch a scheme for blackmailing her clients. Of course things don’t go according to plan. What follows is a grim ride––full of sexual perversions and more psychological violence than 70s Scorsese––but if you’re willing to stick it out, the payoff is oddly cathartic. It’s heartening to see balls-out filmmaking back on the American indie scene. And if there’s one thing Mr. Campos isn’t, it’s queasy.

As is often the case with the most risqué of artists, Campos and Corbet are, in person, affable, well adjusted, and eager to talk through the provocations behind their work. In our discussion, director and actor touch on everything from the effect of internet porn on a generation to how their Moms react to their work––and why Simon would make the perfect match for Lena Dunham’s Hannah.

Both of you are drawn to edgy, disturbing subjects. And yet you’re both quite young. What’s that like? How do you explain your work to your mom, for example?
CAMPOS: I don’t explain it. I don’t think at any point my parents sat me down and were like “Is everything okay?” They just take it for what it is, and they like the films. I know my mother wishes I made a different kind of movie.

More upbeat? With Meg Ryan?
CAMPOS: [Laughs] Not with Meg Ryan. But maybe more pleasant and more in line with what I was making when I was like thirteen or fourteen––which was more nostalgic or sentimental. But there’s no discussion. It just is what it is. At different points in my life I’m drawn to different things. For whatever reason, this is where my mind is right now.

CORBET: We should also say that we’ve got pretty hip, cool moms. I think my mother gets a little bit of a kick out of it. She’s not easily offended. When I told her what Simon Killer was about, the only question was whether she would be put off thematically by the film—by the misogyny of the character. It was never a question of explicit content. When I was growing up my mother really was concerned about films that glorify violence. She wasn’t worried about me seeing movies where people were fucking. She didn’t care. And so it was a great relief to me when she saw the film. She was incredibly moved by the movie and really thought it had something to say. So she signed off on it. Every screening that’s she’s been able to be there for, she’s been there with me.

I know Haneke has been a big influence for both of you. What was it about his filmmaking that grabbed you?
CAMPOS: There was just something so direct and effective about his shooting style.

CORBET: And economical.

CAMPOS: And economical, yeah. I guess I’ve always been interested in filmmakers who can shoot in a very economical way. I like films that can grab you very quickly and effectively but without doing much. And he did that for me. I remember seeing Code Unknown for the first time. There are a few moments, as a filmmaker, when you’re watching a film and you tell yourself––that’s it! For me, Code Unknown held a couple of those moments. My brother, who’s a writer, said the same thing about Moby Dick. For me it was Code Unknown and Clockwork Orange. There was a language they were speaking that I understood and I wanted to learn how to speak it myself. Also Haneke’s filmmaking is so cathartic for me. It lets you settle in. I like settling into movies. In films like The Last Detail or Scarecrow or Cimino’s films like Deer Hunter or Heaven’s Gate. There’s like an hour of settling in.

And then shit gets real—
CAMPOS: And then shit gets real, and it’s that slow burn.

CORBET: The thing about the most successful minimalism in cinema or music is that you have ambience that gives way to melody.  So if you have 11 minutes of ambience, and then at the 11 minute mark, suddenly even if it’s a simple melody that’s birthed from it, that melody is richer, more engrossing than any melody you’ve ever heard before, because your ears have been aching for it, yearning for it. It’s like good sex: it’s the journey not the destination. In a way, when a film finally arrives there, it’s so much  more powerful than it would have been otherwise.

Speaking of sex, Simon seems to have most of his interactions with women, at least at first, through a computer. Do you think Internet porn has changed the mental landscape of our generation?
CAMPOS: Probably. I would say yes.

CORBET: I would say yes, without question. It has to have shaped our desires a little bit, because they’re starting to get weirder and weirder and more creative. Whether that’s a dangerous thing or not, I don’t know. Maybe we’re a generation that’s less likely to be repressed. Because when you repress a lot desires, obviously, those things come out like a leak. Sometimes they manifest themselves in very scary and violent ways, like they do with this character. And on the flip side of that, I’m sure that overexposure can develop a sort of numbness to things that are frankly despicable and disgusting. It’s something we should be a little concerned about.

Would you say Simon is a hipster?
CAMPOS: Is he a hipster? I don’t know. I mean. [Talking to Brady] Is he a hipster?

Did you guys talk about that?
CAMPOS: No, we never talked about whether he was a hipster or not. He’s a New York City kid. He came from that universe, but he was never a hipster in our minds.

CORBET: I guess it’s a hard thing to define. None of us really know what it means. All we know is that it seems to be a bizarrely derogatory term that we call each other all the time. [Laughs]

You can’t escape from it.
CORBET: But he’s definitely a product of his generation. There was not one moment when we were not keenly aware that he was a person from right now. For us the film, in a way, I don’t want to put words in Antonio’s mouth, but it was definitely a portrait of a generation.

What was so powerful for me about the film was how it upended my expectations. I’m more used to seeing generational portraits that are whimsical and funny––like Girls, for example. With Simon Killer it’s so much more brutal and austere. No one else is really going there right now.
CAMPOS: My brother had this funny idea. He said, you know who would be really interested in Simon as a partner? Hannah from Girls. She likes demeaning herself and going out with guys that are kind of weird. After Simon Killer ends, maybe he goes to New York and ends up having an arc on Girls.

What about Sundance. You’ve both returned to Sundance a few times now. What’s your experience been like?
CAMPOS: It’s good. It’s Sundance. It’s the American festival. A lot of people there have been very good to us, I’ll say that. They were very good to us with Martha Marcy May Marlene. And I think it was a ballsy selection to put Simon Killer there.

CORBET: There was Craig Zobel’s movie, Compliance, and Rick Alverson’s, The Comedy. Also, the world section had some really interesting films.

Did you write Simon Killer with Brady in mind?
CAMPOS: Oh yeah, we developed it together, collaborated throughout. And we had wanted to do something together for a while.

Where would you guys collaborate?
CAMPOS: We were on the set of Martha [Marcy May Marlene] at that point.

But would you go to coffee shops? I’m just curious.
CORBET: Motel rooms.

CAMPOS: In a hotel room upstate in the Catskills, in between shooting and Martha [Marcy May Marlene], that’s where we were. And then in Paris we were in weird studio apartment that we were living in. Brady was living in one place, and production was set up in one apartment, and then there was my apartment. We were working out of the apartment; we didn’t go to cafes or anything.

Both of you are New Yorkers. Any temptation to move to LA?
CAMPOS: Brady’s lived in LA for a little bit.

CORBET: Yeah I lived in LA for a few years. I was a teenager. I moved here when I was 17, so I’ve been here for a minute. I’ve got a lot of good friends in LA. I’m going to LA in 10 days for a week. It’s not really my town, but it’s nice to visit.

And what’s next for both of you?
CAMPOS: Back to writing, for me.

CORBET: I have two films coming up. One I wrote with a filmmaker named Mona Fastvold. We worked with Christopher Abbott, who [was] on Girls. He’s one of our best friends. He had a small role in Martha Marcy [May Marlene]. This film has turned out very well. It’s a very, very beautiful, haunting, very feminine film. And then I just got back from Panama last night, shooting a film with Benicio Del Toro about Pablo Escobar. That’s called Paradise Lost.