CS Interview: Director Vaughn Stein on star-studded thriller Inheritance
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Vaughn Stein (Terminal) to discuss his upcoming ensemble thriller Inheritance led by Lily Collins (Mank), which is available on DirecTV Cinema and digital platforms now!
In looking back at first getting the script and choosing to direct, Stein recalls loving the material “from the moment I read it,” having been sent it from his agent who called it “very special, something in which “he never does” and himself finding it “incredible.”
“Matt Kennedy, who wrote it, did such an incredible job,” Stein said. “I think it’s such a complex material thriller with all of these twists and turns and thrills and chills. It’s got this amazingly sort of simple folkloric sense to it, it’s like a dark fable. It’s a story about the monster in the basement, the skeleton in the closet and to find a way of taking something so simple and then sort of interweaving it into this high stakes family thriller I thought was just amazing. And I love the characters, from the first time I read it that sort of Starling/Lecter-esque relationship that was going on in that bunker sort of below ground while the world above was crumbling I thought was really just amazing.”
Alongside Collins, the film features an ensemble cast including Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl, The Boys), Connie Nielsen (Gladiator, Wonder Woman) and Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld), the whole experience of which he described as “an absolute honor and privilege to work with a cast like this” and noting his own personal connections to Pegg and his excitement in bringing him on to the film.
“I like working with him, I think he’s an absolute genius,” Stein opined. “He’s a world-class actor and we got the ability to play him against-type in this way and to watch him embrace the physicality of the role of Morgan Turner, to sort of become this wicked, nocturnal person, this emaciated skeleton in the closet was amazing. Lily, from the first time I spoke with her I was always amazed by the work she’s done and she’s just incredible, she’s unreal in her talent and she’s a pleasure to work with. Her discipline is amazing, she’s work-perfect every time she comes to set, she takes direction amazingly, her response to notes are just incredible. Connie Nielsen is just a legend, I have Gladiator in my top three films, so to get to work with Connie was a dream come true. Chace Crawford was just amazing, we story of discussed the silhouette of his character, the idea of sort of creating this Kennedy-esque glib, handsome politician he used to sort of turn it on its head, it was amazing. It was an amazing ensemble, and Patrick Warburton is incredibly generous and it was great getting to play him against-type. He sort of haunted the movie, we needed Archer to be a huge presence throughout and Patrick did that, so I was delighted and absolutely honored to work with him.”
Prior to Collins getting the role, however, the film was set to be led by Kate Mara (House of Cards), who had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, and in looking at the possibility of seeing a different kind of direction for the performance, Stein feels that most of it stems from the writing moreso than the performer themselves, though does feel it’s possible he and Mara may have gone down a different path than he and Collins did.
“I think the character of Lauren was so beautifully drawn by Matthew, the writer, that it sort of inspired a huge amount of paint for them that the role could be executed brilliantly,” Stein explained. “It was such a complex character from the beginning, this strong, fiercely independent woman that is sort of forging her own path, eschewing the family money and eschewing the family name and sort of striding out on her own. I think that really resonated with both Kate and Lily and I think from my approach, absolutely, I love working with actors, I love being led and govern by the systems that they want to make, because inevitably that collaboration between director and actor gives the best performance, so I’m sure it would’ve changed, but it was a pleasure to have the chance to do it with Lily.”
In looking at the various hurdles the crew had to overcome to bring this story to life, Stein finds the biggest came in the form of their need to “make sure the scope and scale of New York was there,” especially as the film was not shot in the sprawling metropolitan state, but rather the more open country area of Alabama.
“This idea that sort of half of it plays in this two-hand, below ground, cramped, damp, dilapidated bunker, while above ground we wanted scope and scale and a mansion in upstate New York and tourists and downtown Manhattan and huge courtrooms and to do that on an indie movie with a healthy but limited budget is always tricky,” Stein described. “We shot in Alabama and were extremely lucky with our crews and we were super lucky with the weather, we got the verdancy and the greenness as we moved from winter into spring that could pass for upstate New York. I think that was a big one, sort of the scale and making sure that we could imbue a sense of the fact it’s a New York story and a New York movie. We shot there for a few days at the end with Lily and it was sort of to make sure that there’s some real DNA of New York in it and I think those were the two biggest challenges on the top of my head.”
With only a handful of locations being used for the story, Stein found that his two favorites came in the form of the bunker in which Pegg and Collins’ characters spend the majority of their time together and he credits to production designer Diane Millett for her “stunning job with it,” as well as the family’s mansion.
“The way that Michael Merriman, the DP, shot it I just thought was astonishing, we really wanted it to have a very different feel of below ground and above ground,” Stein noted. “We worked with Simon and Lily in this amazing two-hander as they were pacing around each other and diving into Morgan’s secrets and the legacy of her family were sort of laid bare. It was high-stakes emotion in there, it was a challenge in terms of cinematography and design to keep the room interesting and to make the audience feel the weight of the world on Lauren’s shoulders. So I really enjoyed that. I think the other thing I really enjoyed was the mansion we shot in was the Monroe Mansion, it was a really interesting space we had to shoot in, it was a modern mansion but designed with an older architectural mind, so it was a classic layout but they’d taken a lot of rooms out and that was fascinating. We tried to really embrace that space and make it feel very rich.”
The conversations Pegg and Collins’ characters had, which became increasingly heated as new secrets are unveiled, Stein did note came mostly from the pages of the script but did mention they would sometimes be allowed to go off-script if the moment called for it.
“They were raw perfect, we had the chance to rehearse for a few good days before we started which was very funny, because we all became very good friends rather quickly and it was amazing because they had an amazing personal relationship,” Stein warmly recalled. “They got on so well and to watch them sticking poison at each other and watch Simon take on the sort of Lecter-esque soliloquies and Lily have to sort of rip up them and retain her coolness and her cross-examinations as we ruminate the lawyer in her being able to keep the emotion off her face. That was fascinating to get to direct and it was a pleasure to direct. There was definitely improvisation, I would say because Matt’s script is so strong, it tended to be within the parameters of the script. They’re both so intelligent and they’re so immersed in their characters that when they sort of followed their natural instincts, some of the most amazing moments came out of that.”
Before being acquired by DirecTV and Vertical Entertainment, the film was set to make its debut at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, though that premiere was cancelled as the global pandemic hit, which Stein described as “gutting” and feels that “Tribeca is an amazing festival.”
“Some of the movies that have come out of there the last few years have been astonishing,” Stein described. “It was a real shame, it was a body blow, I was really looking forward to debuting it there, but what’s going on in the world is sort of realigning everyone’s perceptions on what’s truly important. I think hopefully, for us, being a little movie that tries the best it can within the parameters it has, a lot of people are seeking comfort and solace in entertainment and you know, hopefully millions of eyeballs will get on this movie, people are looking for an opportunity to escape.”
Inheritance is directed by Vaughn Stein from a script written by Matthew Kennedy. Richard B. Lewis (The Space Between Us) will be producing through his Southpaw Entertainment banner, joining David Wulf (The Night Clerk) of WulfPak Productions and Dan Reardon and Santosh Govindaraju (The Night Clerk) of Convergent Media.
The film is available on DirecTV Cinema and digital platforms now!