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John Sayles talks about The Man who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot

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John Sayles

Where do you even start with John Sayles? Since the late ‘70s he has spearheaded the then-burgeoning US independent film movement with his debut film Return of the Secaucus 7 while at the same time also being a writer for Roger Corman productions like Piranha and Battle Beyond the Stars. He would go on to write and direct some of the best films to come out of the American Independent world of the ‘80s and ‘90s such as Matewan, Lone Star, The Brother From Another Planet, Eight Men Out and Limbo to name just a few. He also has written and rewritten many scripts for the studio films sometimes credited but often not. He has also given back to the younger filmmakers and is the producer on the new and brilliantly titled film The Man who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on 6th May 2019), directed by first-time feature director Robert D. Krzykowski. It stars Sam Elliott as the title character along with Aidan Turner, Ron Livingston, Caitlin FitzGerald and Ellar Coltrane to name just a few. In the first part of a two-part interview with John Sayles, he talks about about his involvement with The Man who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot and in part 2 he will talk about his own work including his work as a Hollywood script doctor. 

 

How did the script for The Man who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot come to you?

I had met Robert D. Krzykowski about a year and a half before and we started talking about movies in general and then he sent me this movie he had made, this short movie that’s kind of half live and half animatronic based on a cartoon he had drawn while he was in college called Elsie Hooper. It was less than ten minutes but you see the guy was a filmmaker. So when he said he had a script and would I look at it, I read it. It’s so hard to read a script and see what the final movie would be. There was something I really liked about it and then just a lot of questions about how you would pull this off. Is he going to pull this tone off? This absolutely straight-faced and my favourite moment in the movie is when the two government guys say to Sam Elliott’s character “It’s the Bigfoot” and he doesn’t flinch. That on a page is one thing but being able to pull it off in a movie is another. I really didn’t do a whole lot on the movie except Bob would have a fairly general question, I really didn’t give him any notes on the script but I talked about directing and directing your first movie and things to watch out for. Having written things like The Howling and being around the special effects makeup of that. We talked about what his options for special effects and getting them on camera.

Sam Elliott in The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot

When was the first time you had heard of Bigfoot and did you have any interest in Bigfoot before?

I had first heard of when the myths first started which was probably the late ‘60s that I remember hearing about it. I had a bunch of dreams before I wrote Brother From Another Planet, one of them was I was directing Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out except it was set in Seattle and instead of an IRA guy who is wounded and running from the cops it’s a Bigfoot. It was called Bigfoot in the City and very film noir looking and lots of cobblestones and wetted down streets and a very grim detective in a trenchcoat trying to track down this poor Bigfoot who somehow got trapped in this modern industrial city.

The Brother From Another Planet

Is that where his big feet in Brother From Another Planet came from?

The big feet were basically the idea of something very different that can be covered by shoes even though the shoes might be a little big. I wanted something that definitely said this guy is humanoid but not exactly our species. If you kept your shoes on, nobody will notice it.

 

Did you visit the set or involved on the day-to-day activity on the film?

Maggie (John’s longtime partner and collaborator) and I went to the set, it was the day they up on the cliff where the character throws his walkie talkie and has the fight with the Bigfoot. He got the meet the guy who played the Bigfoot who had done some of that bodywork before. Kind of like Rick Baker use to do and now you do with a lot of appliances that later a computer will turn into your real look. He was just wearing a suit and eating his lunch and shook hands with him, very hair hands. I thought he did a great job, this poor 11th hour out on his luck creature who is the last one left. He has to be kind of depressed as Sam Elliott’s character is. He is all alone in the world.

And that’s probably how Bigfoot would be if he did exist

If there is only one or two of them definitely. There is a great shot in Aguirre, the Wrath of God the Herzog movie where they’re on a raft and they have a horse and the raft starts to tip and the horse falls of and swims to shore. You are being swept away with the raft and the camera pans back to this horse as it gets onto the shore in the Amazon jungle and you realise the poor thing is the only horse. Even if it doesn’t get eaten by a jaguar it’s all alone in the world.

 

I’m from Portland, Oregon so you could see how Bigfoot could exist up there.

If you go up in the Pacific Northwest woods they just go on and on. The problem is what you going to eat, he would probably have to be like a bear an omnivore and bears will eat pretty much anything including suntan lotion stuff like that backpackers discover when they leave their backpacks too low on the ground. There could be something like, there is always sightings like the Tasmanian devil and some other things that have extinct. Once in a blue moon, one of these extinct animals usually not that big appear again. We were in Madagascar and met a woman on a rope bridge which is pretty cool who had just got a MacArthur award partly for discovering a lemur nobody had seen before way up in the rainforest and it’s a pretty big animal, it’s as big as a big racoon. So there are things we just haven’t seen that are still around.

 

Did your connections help getting this amazing cast?

I did write a letter to Sam Elliot for him and I imagine get Sam’s attention being a first time director but that’s the only time I stepped in with the casting. Bob had a really good feel for that and the people that he wanted. He just got lucky because a lot of the people he wanted just said yes. When I get to make a movie it’s the biggest compliment I get which is when these really good actors see a good part in it, will work for scale even though they get offered more money. I think it’s the combination it’s a good part and it’s not that many weeks out of their money making schedule.

What do you look for in an actor and how has that changed over the years?

It’s all always been the same, I look for actors who can come alive in the moment. I’ve never had the time or incantation to rehearse actors so I’ve basically written a bio for each of the characters, once the actors say yes I’ll talk to them on the phone or in person if they live close. I’ve shot movies in 3 or 4 movies which were less time than Bob had on this. If you are going that fast what you are trying to do is not have their discussion on the set and certainly not when the crew is waiting around. So you really want the actor to come in knowing their lines, knowing who their character is and then open to what happens next. I’m looking for people who can actually adjust and do something a little bit different every take who are not gonna try to direct themselves and come in with a canned performance. With experienced actors I’m also often looking for something I haven’t seen them do before, I know they are a good actor but I haven’t seen them do exactly this thing before and that’s a lot more interesting to me and I think to them than just playing another FBI detective or whatever.

 

I think that’s partly why people respond to your films the way they do, you see actors you’ve always liked but see them do something different.

Actors got into acting because they wanted to act and yes they have to make a living but when you can get them to be having fun and trying new stuff and feel confident enough in the script and in you that they are willing to take chances. One of the things about Bob as a director just personally he is such a personable guy, he is so straight forward and honest. I felt like what the cast would kindly try to do their best for him and be open to his suggestions but also bring some of their own stuff to it. One of the things I like about the movie the most is the performances, there is really some wonderful work in it.

The Man who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on 6th May 2019.

Read Part Two here.

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