Crime-thriller action movie Bad Samaritan premiered last week, and we had the opportunity to interview director and filmmaker Dean Devlin as well as starring actor Rob Sheehan at a press roundtable promoting the film.For the uninitiated: Devlin’s best known for writing and producing STARGATE, the American version of GODZILLA, and INDEPENDENCE DAY. Sheehan is an Irish actor beloved for his role playing immortal Nathan Young in the cult hit TV series MISFITS. He has also appeared in the films Cherrybomb, Killing Bono, and the 2013 film adaptation of The Mortal Instruments novel CITY OF BONES. He stars in Bad Samaritan alongside everybody’s favorite (fight me) Doctor, David Tennant.
According to Dean himself, the premise of Bad Samaritan is this: “Two young guys who work as valet parkers at an upscale restaurant have come up with a little scam. They’ve realized that when people hand them their car keys, they usually also hand them the keys to their house. So they look at their registration and if they live near enough to the restaurant, they figure they can get into the house before dinner is over. These are not sophisticated criminals,” Dean said. “They’re not wiping houses, they’re not wiping people’s lives out. They’re taking things that make people say “Where did I put my watch?” or “where did I put my cash?” It’s a small time scam and they’ve been doing this for awhile. One day, they break into the house of someone they shouldn’t have, and there are immense consequences for having robbed the wrong house.”
Whilst robbing Cale’s (David Tennant) mansion, Shawn discovers that a woman (Kerry Condon) is being held prisoner there. He is forced to leave to try and get help, only to realize his robbing victim isn’t just extremely rich, but extremely sadistic and murderous.
Otter Lee (OL): Rob, how would you have acted if you found yourself in your character’s shoes?
Robert Sheehan (RS): I would probably act similar to Sean. The people who have seen the film, it’s been really lovely because they say that they identify with the moment that causes Shawn so much despair. The moment where he leaves this girl, abandons her, fails to save her, and is deeply despaired. He is just stricken with remorse. The rest of the film has to undo that moment. I think he was looking death in the face. That’s how we played it. I think it would defy anyone not to wimp out. I certainly would.
OL: Dean, how did you get involved with the script?
Dean Devlin (DD): The script was written by Brandon Boyce. He had written Apt Pupil and Wicker Park. What a lot of people don’t know is that there was a moment where Roland Emmerich and I almost financed Apt Pupil because the original financing almostfell apart. It ultimately came together, but we almost financed it. I always remembered that and we became friends. Brandon speced the script and showed it to me early on just to get my advice on it, and my advice was “Don’t show it to anyone else because I’m buying it right now!”
RS: It’s interesting that Bad Samaritan and Apt Pupil have such similar themes: horror down the road in your own neighborhood.
DD: And a horror that is based more on real horror in real life than fantasy horror.”
OL: What motivated you to make BAD SAMARITAN, and how does it differ from your past works?
DD: I’ve made big movies that worked and big movies that didn’t work, and when they didn’t work, it’s because I didn’t pay enough attention to the characters. You can have all the expensive effects in the world, but if you don’t care about the characters, you don’t care about the movie. I think the last 10 years of my career, I’ve really tried to move my focus to the characters. Having just done two big studio pictures again after not working in studios for a very long time, I really needed a palette cleanser. I needed to kind of do something independently, just through my company without a lot of other voices involved. I was in love with the script, and I actually asked the writer to rewrite the lead role for Robbie because Robbie had just worked with me on Geostorm and I was just crazy about him as an actor. I begged him to do the part, and he agreed. So just to be able to do a movie where it was all about great actors doing very intense characters, which of course still has action. It’s a Dean Devlin movie, I’m going to blow something up! It was such a refreshing experience to make a movie in a really pure way. There were no outside influences whatsoever. We financed the movie ourselves, we shot it with our crew up in Oregon, and I got to work with two of my favorite actors in the entire world.
RS: There’s this lovely space in and around the performances. There’s lots of just watching the characters make decisions in their heads and stuff. The story is nudged along by the changing of an expression on one of the characters’ faces, and in that you see vulnerability. It’s the filmmaker solely focusing on character and story. I think with this one, the audience goes “What would I do? Would I do the same thing in this scenario?” It’s drama like that, twisty-turny drama like that I absolutely love.
OL: Dean, what are the craziest, most unsustainable pitches and movie premises that had ever been brought before you?
DD: I’ve heard them all, and actually, the unsustainable ones are the most interesting because they make your mind go ‘impossible to make? How would I make that?” It’s the pitches that go on for three days. Those are the ones that drive you crazy. You don’t have to pitch every single line. If you know every one, just write the script and send it to me, I’ll read it. Pitching to me is a very unique artform, but I recommend that writers just write their scripts. This one was a finished script that was handed to us, and when I read it, it was just beautiful to me. The tricky thing about development is that lot of people get to put their voice in it, and sometimes, it dilutes what the writer wanted to do. Sometimes not, but you know, I’m a big fan of speccing scripts. The best scripts I’ve ever written were Stargate and Independence Day. Whenever I’ve had to write for a studio, it’s much more challenging.”
OL: And how did you decide to cast David Tennant as the villain?
DD: I’m a gigantic Doctor Who fan—not a secret, so I’d always wanted to work with him, but it was actually after I saw Jessica Jones when I realized how intense he could be. Here’s a guy I knew doing light work, then I saw him do insanely intense work in Jessica Jones and I also saw him do this incredibly complex work in Broadchurch, and I thought “Okay, this guy can just do anything.” I lobbed it out there if he wanted to be in the picture, had no idea if he would say yes. He agreed to do a Skype call with me, and then I embarrassed myself by acting like a crazy fanboy and wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt. He overlooked all that and agreed to do the movie anyway.
OL: Rob, how did you prepare for your role as Sean?
RS: A lot of wearing out the carpets in my apartment, pacing back and forth. I like to try and sit with the material as much as I can, and through sheer battering my head against a brick wall, the character eventually comes to me. It doesn’t often happen easily, but this one, this guy, he felt close to me. For me, it’s all about sitting with the material, even just in my head, thinking about it. It sounds obvious, but putting myself in the character’s shoes, [imagining] myself in these extreme scenarios as best as I can. And then once we got into the filming of it, we had strong ideas for who Sean is in the beginning of the film as opposed to who he is after the event near the beginning. He’s sort of clawing his way back to being this footloose, fancy free, happy person, but what he’s unable to see is that person is gone forever. It’s all in the material. You just have to make a serious effort and go at it as best you can and try to bring the intensity that it deserves. I was going to say about the script as well. It was really, really easy to read the script, which is not the case when so many scripts are in an aggressive format. I think it was just because it was such a page-turner. I was desperate to see what was going to happen next. It was ultimately a cat and mouse game. I was absolutely gripped, and if that’s the case in script form, you’re onto a winner.
Bad Samaritan is playing in theaters now.
**This interview was conducted at New York Comic-Con 2017, and edited for clarity.