In this exclusive interview with Boy Kills World director Moritz Mohr and producer Simon Swart, we dive into the making of this action-packed, violent genre-bender. From a collaboration six years in the making to working with Sam Raimi, Mohr explores the stylistic and thematic inspirations, which I can best describe as The Hunger Games by way of the Shaw Brothers. From a proof of concept trailer to a feature directorial debut starring Bill Skarsgård as a bonafide action baddie, we're taking you behind the scenes of bringing Boy Kills World to life.
Moritz, this is your feature directorial debut. Sam Raimi is one of the producers on this, obviously we are huge Raimi fans here. How was that experience working together?
MM: We started the process of making this movie, I think about six years ago, and he was basically the guy, when I took the proof of concept trailer to LA, on day three, he was the fourth guy I met and he was like, "Yeah, let's do it." So we've been on this journey for quite some time and he's been an amazing collaborator. He was very involved during the script stage, the whole development of the script in different phases, and then he took the back seat during the shoot and then he came back during the editing process where he was a great help and a great collaborator, and it was amazing. I was a huge fan myself, so it couldn't have gone a better way, basically.
That's kind of like the dream collaboration, right? "You have my blessing, you have my help when you need it, but also just go, and I trust you."
MM: Yeah, just basically we shot the movie and then at one point we had these sessions with him. Zoom sessions, because I was at that point in South Africa. No, I was already in Berlin editing, but he was there remotely and we had two hours every day for two weeks where we just watched a movie together, talked about every scene and everything, and it was fantastic. It was like getting one of your idols, giving detailed feedback to your movie and really getting into the thick of it and it was really great.
That's amazing. In some ways, this is elements of The Hunger Games by way of the Shaw brothers with little bits of Deadpool sprinkled in. I obviously mean that in the most complimentary fashion because those are all some of my favorite things.
MM: It was so funny because that came up in, I think, one of the friends and family test screenings we did. It was like, what movie reminds you this movie of? And I think the second one was Hunger Games. I never thought of this because for me, the culling thing in the beginning was such a small thing. It was just like one-fifth of the movie. But over the time, it became more and more important and we keep talking about it all the time, but yeah, suddenly there's a reference to the Hunger Games.
What were some of your biggest inspirations for tone and aesthetics as you were making this?
MM: So definitely the Revenge Trilogy by Park Chan-wook. Those are one of my three favorite movies. There's definitely some Deadpool influences there and definitely on the action side, some John Wick stuff. Yeah, but I mean there's a whole barrage of things. I can't really name them all. There's little things here and there. Takashi Miike is one of my favorites, and so there's a lot of stuff. The old kung fu movies, definitely. Drunken Master came up a lot when we talked about the training sequence in the beginning, the way that the master treats Jackie Chan, sort of tortures him a bit and we're like, yeah, let's do that with a kid.
One of my favorite things in this movie is that we get to experience it in a very unique way because Boy can't speak or hear, so we're sometimes only able to hear the other characters as well as Boy can read their lips, which we learn is not always an easy task. That adds some unique comedy elements to this otherwise very action-packed, hellaciously gory movie.
MM: Yeah, we really tried to make it funny and that's why we got all these very funny actors in and I think they definitely took the whole script, made it their own, and added their personal touch to all the characters.
Let's talk about the cast. You've got huge names in a rather unconventional script, so did you have any qualms initially about approaching these very big-name actors with this kind of thing, or did you know they're going to be into it?
MM: Good question. I didn't think they would definitely be into it, because you never know. You send it out there, and then sometimes you get it back like, "Oh, I do not know what this is, thank you. I do not understand this." And sometimes you get it back, "Hell yeah, I always wanted to do this." So yeah, it was a mix-and-match. The people we got, they definitely all got what we were trying to do and that was really a pleasure to work with in that scenario because there's nothing more difficult than getting somebody on board who doesn't get it or doesn't want to get it or anything.
SS: We have so many outtakes of them ad-libbing with each other. We probably got a couple of hours of footage of just jokes in between takes.
There's obviously tons of action for Bill Skarsgård here, I'm sure. What training did he have to undergo for this?
MM: Well, we tortured him. We really put him through the wringer. I can't deny that. He did all the action stuff and the acting stuff. And the more committed your main actor is, the more you can actually shoot with him. And we wanted to shoot as much with him as possible, sort of in the Tom Cruise kind of way where we go, "Hey, don't double him." And sometimes we needed to double him or replace him because we didn't have the time. That came because we're still in a low-budget realm and we want a lot of bang for our buck. But he wanted to do everything and sometimes he couldn't do it and he was a bit pissed. He really knocked it out of the park and he trained a lot and there's obviously getting the whole in-shape thing, that's one part. And then it's the choreography he has to learn and that's basically dancing, learning the moves, which are physically very demanding and you have to actually remember them. So yeah, we put him through the wringer.
SS: And then we added onto that. "By the way, Bill, we want you to do all that and no dialogue. And you have to look at the people that are talking to you because remember, you can't hear." So let's just add that layer on as well.
There are so many instances where he's doing these crazy things, and it doesn't cut away. And I'm like, I'm pretty sure that's Bill Skarsgård doing all this really crazy shit.
MM: He did a lot of crazy shit, definitely.
SS: Bill was all-in on every level. Moritz would challenge him and push him and Bill would go, "I want to do more. I can do this, I can do this." No, no, you might not be able to do that, due to time and risk.
MM: Yeah, sometimes we just had to be the adults. You can't do it. You can't do the parkour stuff. We don't have time. You need to be somewhere else, to shoot somewhere else. So we spent now half a day shooting a parkour thing. But he really wanted to. This was great because we didn't really know because he hadn't done action before in that way. We really didn't know what we would be getting. We just had to take his word that he would commit fully, do all the work, get in shape, and then do all the training.
He was in Berlin for John Wick, so he dropped by the stunt facility so we could basically just meet him for a day and do some tests. We were so relieved and so happy, and it was like, all right, the guy can move. He's in shape, but not where we need him, but we can get him there. We sent a guy to Stockholm to start training with him, and we did learn combinations and just punching and kicking and all the basic movement stuff. But yeah, we tortured him for months.
You guys touched upon this wordless performance, which adds a whole other layer to it. What is that like when you're shooting? Are you reading lines? Are you recording a voiceover and he's acting to that? Or do you record the action first and then do a voiceover later? What is that process like? Because that's a lot to think about in a performance.
MM: It is, and there are actually also two different kinds of things. He looks at something and he has a voiceover, so he has to act the voiceover out. And then there are these conversations that he has with his sister where she actually has to answer, and there needs to be a timing and a rhythm. So we thought out this crazy thing with in-ear buds where he would record something, and then she would hear it, and he would hear it, and he would time it. It took us so much time and it was so complicated that at one point we were just like, all right, drop it. Let the first AD read the lines. Then we had the timing down, and then the first AD just read the lines, and then we moved on.
SS: What Moritz got was pretty amazing because it's such an absurd character. Boy is really strong, capable and competent and lethal, obviously, as a martial artist, but he's also naive and innocent at the same time, and he doesn't have dialogue. I mean, honestly for us as producers watching Moritz dance that line and watch Bill dance that line, honestly, it was a tightrope walk. He's not just a badass, he's still got to maintain that innocence and naivety in the character, and I think Bill did that really well. I think you see that collaboration coming out between Bill and Moritz.
MM: And when we started shooting, it was really going, how much expression do we need? How little do we need, and we figured it out over the course of the first few days, and then it went pretty smoothly afterward.
You know what's interesting? We get two movies this year that have a really horrendous cheese grater scene.
MM: Can you imagine? You sit on set, and then producer Zainab Azizi comes in, she works for Raimi Productions and goes, "Oh yeah, we have a cheese grater scene in Evil Dead Rise." And I was like, "Are you fucking kidding me?" And then I watched it and yeah, it's there. It's horrible. I love it. But also ours is slightly different.
It's a different vibe. They're two different vibes of cheese graters. Also at this point, you guys just pretend it's like an Easter egg thing.
MM: I'm not mad, but it's funny that it happened because I didn't know. I was going through my old pictures on my phone and there was a screenshot of David and me FaceTiming. And David has the cheese grater on his arm. Basically he just put it there and was like, "What do you think?" And I was like, "Yes, yes." And I think that thing is timestamped. So I have basically proof.
Something I liked here, is you play with our concept of good and bad and whether revenge puts you in the good guy camp or if you can veer over into some sort of villainy as well. What are your thoughts on that?
MM: Yeah, revenge movies are always fun because you really get into it and you really understand them and it motivates you and it motivates the character, but it's never that easy. And I enjoy the movies the most where it's difficult. The Lady Snowblood movies where she basically takes revenge and then the guy's like, "Oh, I can't even remember," or the guy's already dead, and you're going, oh, well, no revenge. What a downer. And I like to spin this a bit. Then Park Chan-wook made three new movies out of it. So I really enjoy this, and the world is not black and white. Movies are often black and white, and I think we are going in the gray area here where it's like really, who is the bad guy? And yeah, the guy is the bad guy, but also I understand where he's coming from.
SS: Something that I loved about the script when I first read it, is that it wasn't just a revenge movie. It was really about, I thought it was pretty contemporary with what's going on in the world, even though this is a wild and crazy rollercoaster ride that Moritz has created. It is entertainment, but it does explore the darker side of revenge, but it's also about being manipulated, right? Something you believe is absolute, and then you go, well, maybe not so much. Maybe there's another side to the story. And really, what I loved about is, ultimately the message is about thinking for yourself. That's where, no spoiler alert, but that's where Moritz leaves us at the end is there's a new start and a new journey when you start thinking for yourself.
If you were to choose another graphic novel property to adapt, do you have anything like a wishlist, something that you would really love to take on?
There are a few things that I read in the graphic novel realm, not necessarily as a live action, but also in the animated space. I'm a huge fan of animation and I think animation could become a bit more adult. I enjoyed the Spider-Verse movies and Turtles movies so much, and I feel like if we could push this a little more towards an R rating, I would be the happiest person on the planet. So yeah, there are some, I don't want to name them, but there's definitely some stuff.
How about for an existing horror movie franchise? Is there anything that you would want to take on in particular? I would love to see a straight-up horror movie from you.
MM: I always need a bit of fun in my horror movies, I think. Do you see the Army of Darkness poster back there? I mean, literally Evil Dead II is top three favorite movies of all time. So I've found the right partner, definitely. I always need a bit of fun in there. I don't think I could do something really just straight without a little wink.
Is there a possibility of a sequel?
MM: I think there is.
SS: Definitely. There are so many different ways we can go with this, whether it's a sequel or prequel, obviously there are some characters that could have a bigger story. People really love Benny and Basho and their dynamic, and there's a whole story there. We've had pretty extensive discussions, but it won't be the sequel for the sake of doing a sequel. It'll be a sequel to build out the world a bit more and go a little bit deeper into the world that Moritz and the team created. The sequel probably won't be called Girl Kills World.
MM: For quite some time, we were entertaining that thought. But there's so much we can do and so yeah, let's just get this out into the world. Let people tell us what they think and then we'll find out. Because like Simon said, there's a lot of ways this could go.
Absolutely. This is not a world I want to live in, but it is a world I would love to explore much more.
You can watch our Convo X Fango interview with Boy Kills World director Moritz Mohr and producer Simon Swart below and subscribe to Convo X Fango on Youtube. Boy Kills World premiered at TIFF earlier this month, we'll keep you posted on wide-release updates!