The crime drama Meeting Evil, (currently available through Magnolia Ultra VOD here prior to the film’s theatrical release on May 4th) follows John (Luke Wilson), a depressed suburban family man and recently fired realtor, who offers to help a stranger named Richie (Samuel L. Jackson) with his car. Upon doing so, John is quickly sucked into a nightmarish murder spree that forces him to go to any length he can to protect his family.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, writer/director Chris Fisher talked about how this project came about, why it was important that the characters live in a grey area, what led him to Luke Wilson as the lead, and how intimidating Samuel L. Jackson’s professionalism is. He also talked about being the producing director on the Syfy series Warehouse 13 (he’s directing six of the 20 episodes for the next season), how he’s going to direct a couple episodes for Season 2 of Person of Interest, and how he would sell his soul to direct an episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
CHRIS FISHER: It was actually brought to me from another director, who is not a writer. He approached me and asked me if I would consider adapting something for him, way back in 2005. He had seen my movie, Dirty, and said, “I have this neo-noir that I want to adapt. Would you consider doing it?” At that time, I was mostly just looking to do my own thing, so I said, “Probably not, but I’ll read the book.” Then, I read the book and it just got totally underneath my skin, so I said, “Yeah, I’ll take a stab at it.” Ironically, I found out that, after working for free for a couple months, he didn’t even own the rights to it. So, I was like, “Oh, shit, man! Pretty much all I’ve accomplished, at this point, is copyright infringement.”
I did something that was not the safest thing to do, but I wrote a letter to the novelist and just said, “Hey, I’ve written this script and I don’t have the rights, and I’m a struggling independent filmmaker. I’m not going to have the money to option this in a legitimate way. Would you read my script and work with me on this?” That was before I started doing my TV work. And, he responded super-positively. He liked the script and he liked the direction I took it in. It was quite different than the novel, and he was very generous, as far as allowing me some creative breaths to expand and change some of the themes. That’s how the project happened. It was awesome. I sent him my letter and the script, and I’m a little bit more eager than my agents. When I called them and told them I had done it, they were like, “No, you didn’t! He’s just going to hate it! They always hate it!” Like most great things in life, his response was unexpected.
FISHER: That was the part of the novel that I fought for the most, in making this movie. I loved the point of view of an average, everyday guy, at best, who’s been hit with the fate stick. I wanted to keep that down-and-out, loser point of view, and I had to fight really hard for that. People always say, “Why doesn’t John do this? Why doesn’t he just get out of the car? Why doesn’t he tell Richie to F-off?” And I’m like, “Well, he’s a spineless wimp. He makes compromises, all day long. He has no integrity. He has no backbone. He cheats on his wife. He can’t stand up to anybody.” My argument to keep it the way it was, was circular in the sense that I was just saying, “Look at the way it is. That’s the character.” And, Richie was this villain that flew off the page. I was like, “I know everybody is going to relate to this guy. The audience is going to be so drawn to this guy, just as I was, when I was a reader of the novel.”
I haven’t talked to Thomas [Berger] since he was sent the movie, but I’m hoping that those are two of the things that he’s going to enjoy, as well. We were able to keep this anti-hero point of view, and we never, ever let John become anything remotely heroic in the movie, which has frustrated a lot of audience members. And, our villain was absolutely this charismatic superhero. He really was a messenger of truth to John’s world. He appears to be evil, and to John he is, indeed, evil. Certainly, he’s not the most altruistic of entities, but he is of John’s own creation. In a very real sense, John conjured this being. Richie and John are very symbiotic.
FISHER: He was somebody that I thought about when I was writing it. I’ve always been a huge fan of his. He’s just so innately likable. I knew that, to create a character who was going to be making the sort of mistakes that John was making, people had to like him. He had to be a guy they’d want to go get a beer with or go throw a baseball with. Speaking to Luke as a human, as much as an actor, he had to have an innate likability. So, Luke was always in my mind, for that reason. And then, the practical side of things was that he and Sam [Jackson] were friends and they’ve always wanted to work together. Sam was cast before Luke. When we got a shortlist from the financier, of people that they thought would get the movie made, he was, by chance, on that list.
We didn’t make formal offers for that character. We went to agencies and said, “Here’s the shortlist we have, do you think any of these people would be interested in doing this?” I was expecting him to say, “No, I’m not interested in this.” But, in my mind, he was someone that I was very interested in, and he was really excited about it. I felt really lucky to have him. The only thing I would have thought would have been more interesting would be to have the roles switched. I would have been interested in seeing Sam playing the sad sack and Luke playing the maniac. If I had pulled that off, then that would have been brilliant. But, as is, the attributes of the actors really played well into the characters, as written in the novel.
FISHER: He was intimidating, in so far as his professionalism is at such a high level. He showed up for the read-through and he was off-book. The first time I spoke with him, he had read the novel multiple times and he was so inside the script. He was ahead of me, as far as creating the backstory and the subtext for this character. I had heard that. Clifton Collins is an actor I’ve had the fortune of working on a few different movies with, and he and Sam are very close friends. He said, “Just be on your A game with him,” so I was. But still, to have someone of Sam’s caliber show up for a read-through and be off-book was mind-blowing.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next? Are you looking to continue to balance a film and TV career?
FISHER: I’m booked on television for the next year. I’ve really lucked into this amazing job as the producing director of the Syfy show Warehouse 13, which is this goofy steampunk show that shoots up in Toronto. It’s been an amazing experience for me. It’s a really visually exciting show. It’s a really fun show to work on. The cast and crew is exceptional. I’m directing six of the next 20 episodes, until mid-November. I know people always get excited about this stuff, but it’s just one of the most fun shows to work on. The light-heartedness and the humor of the show really translate to the floor. We ruin take after take because we’re laughing so hard, behind the monitors. The uniqueness of that show lies in the ability to both be visually exciting science fiction, and then tonally just be a really funny thing to watch. And then, I go direct a couple episodes of Person of Interest, the J.J. Abrams show. So, I’m knee-deep in sci-fi television. Except for being knee-deep in sci-fi film, it’s the best place I could live. I’m really enjoying myself.
FISHER: I would kill to do Game of Thrones. I’ve already sold my first child, so I can’t do that, but they can have my soul, for sure. I can’t imagine how amazing that would be!
What led you to want to be a director? Did you just always want to be a storyteller?
FISHER: I did, but I really just wanted to be a writer. It was my dream to be a writer. For my undergrad, I studied film writing and philosophy at USC, and then I went to law school after that. Law school gave me an extra three years to grow up and, I hope, develop a voice, as a writer. I sold my first script when I was 28, and it was getting produced when I was 29. I attached myself to it as a producer, just with the intention of being a writer and producer, and not being a director. Once I got to the set, it just seemed like it was so much fun. I also realized that nobody was going to care about my scripts as much as I was. If I could learn the skills and learn the craft, I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I went had my own little film school and bought every book on directing I could and studied the films of directors who I admired, and then I found myself directing a movie for Sundance, the next year. I definitely lucked out.