Making its world premiere this Friday night at the Tribeca Film Festival, and coming to theaters, VOD and digital platforms August 27, No Man of God takes a different look at notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. Directed by Amber Sealey, it’s based on transcripts of actual conversations between FBI agent Bill Hagmaier, one of the Bureau’s first criminal profilers, and the incarcerated Bundy between 1984-1989. The more Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) speaks to Bundy (Luke Kirby), the more complicated their relationship becomes. As the two become closer, No Man of God raises the provocative and troubling question: is it possible to see a monster as a human being?
Out of the many multiple murderers in U.S. history, Bundy has exerted a particular fascination and has been the subject of many previous movie and television productions. Wood, who also produced No Man of God with Daniel Noah, Lisa Whalen and Kim Sherman, explains to FANGORIA during a group interview with Sealey and Kirby why he believes this is the case: “From my perspective, what’s fascinating about Ted, and why he has not stopped capturing people’s imaginations, is that he weirdly, successfully led a double life. He didn’t fit the typical profile of what we consider a psychopathic serial killer to be – he was charismatic, he was involved in local politics and he had a degree of intelligence. That just didn’t fit the model, and that’s why he has continued to intrigue people over time.”
“I agree,” says Sealey, “and I believe it’s also just because he looked like a normal guy. A lot of those serial killers, you would see them and think, ‘Oh, wow, that guy looks very different,’ and Ted just looks like an average Joe, you know?”
“Aw, shucks, thanks!” Kirby responds, to the laughter of his collaborators. “Well, some would say he was very attractive, not average!” Wood says, and Sealey adds, “I’m sorry, I meant he looked like a runway model. That’s why everyone is fascinated with him! Luke, of course, is much better-looking than Bundy, so we really had to make him up to look more normal.”
There’s a clear and easy camaraderie between the trio, who were of the same mind that they didn’t want to make a typical serial killer thriller or drama. “What truly attracted me to the project, honestly, was the story of Bill Hagmaier,” Wood reveals. “I wouldn’t call this a Ted Bundy film, specifically; it’s about this strange sort of relationship that developed between these two people. I wasn’t familiar with that story when I read the script for the first time. I was certainly familiar with Bundy, but not with this particular part of his life, and the impact that both of them had on each other. And also, none of us were interested in making a film that glorified Bundy as this sort of charismatic rock star serial killer. Rather, we wanted to present him as a human being – a deeply, deeply flawed and troubled human being. That’s what this relationship reveals.”
“I agree with that,” says Kirby, who admits that the idea of slipping into Bundy’s skin initially gave him plenty of pause. “I have never had the experience of being able to express so much reluctance toward getting involved in something as I had with this, and Amber was there to hear me. She and I, over the course of an afternoon, were able to engage in a difficult conversation about how to go about telling a story that had so much potential for participating in a kind of ugliness that we weren’t interested in. By the end of that conversation, I felt so compelled by Amber; I looked to her as an authority for that, moving forward into it. She had a perspective on it that removed a lot of my prejudice about the potential to… muck it up [laughs].”
Sealey notes that she herself is not a fan of the serial killer genre, and believes that gave her an advantage in dealing with this material. “There are some directors who love this kind of film, or are very interested in the concept of serial killers, and because I wasn’t, I felt like I had an outsider’s perspective. I liked that if I could sort of step outside myself, in a sense, and look at it in a meta way, I thought, 'Oh, it’s kind of interesting to have a director on this movie who’s more interested in the personal relationship.' The other movies I had directed were more female-centric, and I thought it was an interesting take, to have a director who you wouldn’t naturally assume would make a Bundy movie apply that different perspective. I liked that I wasn’t a natural fit for this."
“And also," she continues, "to echo what Elijah said, we all agreed that this is not in fact a Bundy story; it’s more about Bill. I believe we’re showing Bundy in a way that other films have not; we’re showing the real person, we’re not glorifying him. It’s more about how these two people had to sort of perform for each other, and while they were performing, they also forged a bond. That was what intrigued me: how does someone who is such a good person, a moral person like Bill, sit so close to someone who is the antithesis of that, and how does that affect him or change him? Does it or does it not? Those were the questions I was trying to ask.”
Look for more of our conversation with the NO MAN OF GOD trio closer to its wide August release. For information about streaming the film via Tribeca at Home, click here.