From writer Brandon Boyce (Apt Pupil) and director Dean Devlin (Geostorm), the thriller Bad Samaritan follows Sean (Robert Sheehan) who, along with his best friend (Carlito Olivero), is a valet at a local restaurant in Portland, Oregon, where the two men burglarize the houses of customers while they eat. It’s a situation that works for them, until Sean robs the wrong customer – a wealthy man named Cale Erendreich (David Tennant) – and discovers that he’s holding a woman (Kerry Condon) captive and, in order to save her, he must endure the wrath of the kidnapper, who now seeks revenge on him.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with actor David Tennant and chat 1-on-1 about playing the villain, understanding your character’s decisions, the most difficult scenes to shoot, and what it was like to work with Dean Devlin, as a director. He also talked about the experience of working with Neil Gaiman on the Amazon TV series Good Omens and the fun of a character like Crowley, playing an ordinary guy on HBO’s Camping, what he looks for in a project, how lovely his fans are, and being a big fan of The West Wing.
Collider: I can only imagine that talking about this guy all day must be interesting!
DAVID TENNANT: It is, yeah! People seem very concerned. I had to visit some very dark places, but there is something quite liberating about indulging in that behavior, guilt free.
And being able to say that it’s not you and that you’re just acting.
TENNANT: Exactly! It’s not me. It’s an entirely safe environment. Nobody is getting hurt, psychologically, mentally or physically, and you get to see what it might feel like to be that devoid of any moral compass. It’s quite interesting.
Do you feel like, between this guy and Kilgrave, you’ve balanced out the heroes that you’ve played?
TENNANT: I don’t know. Maybe there is a cosmic balance to try to achieve. It’s not conscious. It’s just the way things have presented themselves, but I like being able to swing between different types of characters and different types of moral standpoints. It’s very reason why I went into acting, I suppose You get to pretend to be all these different people.
Could you ever see yourself playing somebody totally ordinary, who’s not a hero or villain?
TENNANT: I ’m doing that right now, actually. I’m doing this thing, called Camping, for HBO right now, and I’m playing very much an everyday guy, as vanilla as you could wish for. In a sense, that’s fascinating, as well. He has a story, which comes out, but when we first meet this character, he’s a bloke and an everyman. That presents interesting challenges, in itself. You have to try not to be too interesting.
Did you know how normal he’d be, when you signed on to play him, or did he just turn out that way?
TENNANT: Yeah, it was very evident in the script. He’s a dad who works in insurance. I love that. That’s the pleasure of the job, for me. I’ve been very lucky that different things have kept presenting themselves, and that there’s a variety of things that have kept presenting themselves. That’s what’s kept me very much loving my job.
When you play a guy like this, who clearly is not a good guy and even has a murder room, do you try to find ways to understand that or sympathize with him, or do you just have fun being bad?
TENNANT: Yeah. You’ve got to find why that person feels like these are legitimate decisions to make. Obviously, they are very far from the decisions that you, as a human being, hopefully would make yourself, but you’re trying to key into that mind-set. I’m not suggesting you get to a stage where you find all his actions forgivable, but you just try to find what the psychology of that is and try to key into it. Maybe that’s better than saying you understand or empathize with it, and that’s partly to do with trying to understand what psychopathy is, for me. What is that, when you don’t feel any empathy or guilt? Where does that leave you? If you can find a position where other people’s pain means nothing to you, then what are you looking for in life, what satisfies you and what are you chasing? You start to begin to construct an understanding of what takes someone to that place because otherwise you’re just a pantomime villain. That’s the danger, isn’t it? Cale, within this story, has a very specific role to play, in terms of the narrative. He’s a monster, and that’s what makes the story a thriller. That’s what get people jumping out of their seats and spilling popcorn down each other’s backs. My job is to try and ground that in something that feels like a plausibility.