“This film goes into some very dark territory…” - hmv.com talks Bad Times At The El Royale with director Drew Goddard
For the second time this year, we’re treated to a stylish thriller set inside a strange hotel.
The first time saw Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella and Jeff Goldblum holing up in Hotel Artemis, a tense thriller set inside a secret hospital for criminals in futuristic Los Angeles, under the direction of first-timer Drew Pearce.
Now, we’ve got another Drew, Drew Goddard, screenwriter on The Martian and World War Z.
But for his hotel-set thriller, Bad Times At The El Royale, we’re heading back to 1969 and the border between California and Nevada. Straddling this border is Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past, where dirty deeds and debauchery are accompanied by a glorious soul soundtrack featuring the likes of The Four Tops, Frankie Valli and The Isley Brothers.
The movie tells the story of seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, who meet at the hotel. Set over the course of one night, the movie promises each of them a last shot at redemption before everything goes to hell...
Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and Jeff Bridges lead the way, with Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman and Nick Offerman co-star.
As the movie arrives in cinemas, we spoke to Goddard about bringing the world to life, his love of soul music and his plans for Deadpool sequel X-Force...
How long has this taken to come together? Have you worked on the script for a few years?
“The way I work is I like to simmer on a story, I’ll think about it for years before I do anything. In November of 2016, I finally sat down to write it, I’d worked on the outline for a long time and then it was time to do it.”
And after that things came together pretty quickly?
“It moved very fast. I like to work that way, slow to reach the runway, but once we’re on the runway it’s all go. Once I finished the script we moved very, very fast and we were shooting a few weeks later. In fact, we only finished shooting in April and we’re coming out in October. That was a lot of hard work.”
How did you go about creating the El Royale? The hotel itself is as much of a character as any of the actors…
“The best part about being a director is you get to imagine things and then having a team of people to make it happen. I’ve always loved hotels and I’ve always wanted to make my own hotel. I’ve heard a lot of urban legends about these strange voyeur hotels and wild stories at hotels in the 1960s, that all sparked my imagination. I sat down with my production designer and we built it from the ground up.”
Did you ever consider finding a working hotel to take over?
“The story pretty much dictated that we’d need to build our own hotel. There were too many specifics with the architecture and the hotel’s layout to find somewhere that already existed. And the weather, the movie takes place on one very stormy night and I needed to control that. Those two things made building from scratch the only option.”
Did you write the script with any of your cast in mind?
“I’ve learned that you need to treat the writer and director differently. When I’m writing, I don’t think about budget or casting or how I’m going to shoot something, just character and story. I fire the writer as soon as I finish the script and then re-hire myself as a director.”
Was casting difficult? Or did you get everybody you wanted?
“We sent it to Jeff Bridges, he was my dream for the role and he said yes very quickly. After that, it all came together very quickly. I can’t believe the cast I’ve managed to assemble, I’m so grateful.”
How did you find directing? It’s a small cast, was it an intense shoot?
“It was a very intense shoot. The film goes into some very dark territory. There’s a lot of emotions at play. But getting it right made it very satisfying. I’m not a believer that you need a crucible to great performances, I wanted a cast and crew to protect and nurture and we all looked after each other.”
Another key part of the movie is the soundtrack, you’ve got a lot of great soul songs in there. Some of those must have been a nightmare to clear...
“I wrote every song choice into the script. I wanted everyone who read it to understand how important music is to the script and these particular songs are. The music here is a Shakespearean chorus, it’s a character of its own and it's really the soul of the movie.”
Were those the songs you listened to as you wrote?
“That’s very much my process. I start with the playlist first. That came before the story. I need songs to evoke emotion in me and then I used those emotions to guide me through the story. I listened to them over and over as I wrote and shaped the script.”
The period detail in the movie is quite something, how was it to oversee all that?
“It’s one of the most fun parts of the job. Living in these worlds and trying on a different era is amazing, all the fabrics and designs. We obsessed over every detail of this film.”
You’re booked to take on Deadpool, Cable and Domino in X-Force next, can you give us an update on that?
“I’m hyper-focused on one project at a time. I can’t multitask. The smoke is clearing now and I’m beginning to look towards X-Force.”
And do you have any of your own projects on the go?
“I always have ideas, but like Bad Times, they’re ideas until they step forward and I decide to do something about them.”
Finally, is Bad Times a one-off or can you see a path to a sequel?
“It was written as a stand-alone. I wanted a distinct beginning, middle and end. But I won’t say never, I love these characters and I love this world. If an idea presents itself, I’ll be ready to listen…”
Bad Times At The El Royale is released into UK cinemas on Friday (October 12th) and will be available to pre-order from hmv’s online store on the same day.