CS Interview: Kurt Sutter Talks Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking Adaptation
Chaos Walking is now playing in theaters and to commemorate the event we sat down with Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy), who makes a rare acting appearance in the film alongside Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley. Sutter discussed everything from working with Doug Liman to dealing with the film’s special FX. Check out the interview below!
In the not too distant future, Todd Hewitt discovers Viola, a mysterious girl who crash lands on his planet, where all the women have disappeared and the men are afflicted by “the Noise” – a force that puts all their thoughts on display. In this dangerous landscape, Viola’s life is threatened – and as Todd vows to protect her, he will have to discover his own inner power and unlock the planet’s dark secrets.
Based on author Patrick Ness‘ young adult sci-fi trilogy novel, Chaos Walking stars Tom Holland (MCU films) as Todd Hewlitt and Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker) as Viola Eade, and co-stars Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange) as Mayor Prentiss, Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Davy Prentiss Jr., Demian Bichir (Alien: Covenant) as Ben, Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter as Cillian, and David Oyelowo (Selma, Interstellar) as Aaron.
Chaos Walking is directed by Doug Liman from a screenplay written by Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford. Doug Davison (who worked with Liman on American Made) and Alli Shearmur (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Cinderella) are producing Chaos Walking with Robert Zemeckis and his ImageMovers’ partner Jack Rapke.
ComingSoon.net: I really appreciate you sitting down and talking to us about Chaos Walking. I’ll just start right off the bat. You make a rare acting appearance in this film. What ultimately drew you to jump in front of the camera to play Cillian?
Sutter: Yeah, dude. It’s all a desperate need for attention. You know, I started out as an actor. I love acting — and up until [Chaos Walking], I was usually the only one who would hire me to do any acting. But you know, that movie came to me and at first, I got this email and I didn’t read the whole email. I just read the first paragraph that had the title [Chaos Walking] and I Googled it and I was like I don’t get the dark, edgy indie shit. So I dumped it off and came back again and blew it off. And then ultimately, they made an offer. And I was like, what is happening? As if I had skill that no one else had. And then I read the rest of the email and I saw that Doug Liman was directing, Charlie Kaufman had written the first draft of the script. And so Demián Bichir and Mads [Mikkelsen]. So I was like, oh shit.
So I read the script and it was amazing. And I loved the character and I loved the dynamic, the ambiguous sort of love relationship with Demián’s character and the internal dynamic. It was just beautiful. And two really good friends of mine were producing it – Doug Davison and Erwin Stoff. And I was like, oh. That’s why they kept coming back. [Laughs] I was so grateful. I was so grateful because I figured it out, I had to make time for it. And then I got to work with – I’ve always been a big fan of Doug and it was fun working with him. And we’ve talked about doing things together now and Mads and Demián who I admired so much.
And I have a quick funny story about Tom. Tom had auditioned for me and Paris Barclay for Bastard Executioner, the show I did in the UK. And he was amazing and he got the role. But then we couldn’t make the pilot dates work because the process on callbacks for Spider-Man began. And then considering Bastard got canceled after one season and he’s now an international movie star, I think he made the right choice.
So, it was fun to see Tom again. And he just reminds me of one of my kids. He’s a sweet guy and super enthusiastic. And it was fun. Nick Jonas is such a lovely man. Nick just kept calling me sir. It’s like, I’m already the oldest guy on the set, man, can you please not call me sir?
CS: So when you talk about working with director Doug Liman, what’s his process like? Did he make you feel comfortable in the role? Did he give you freedom to do what you wanted to do with your character?
Sutter: Yeah, he very much did. I mean, we were working with the script that was sort of in process, you know what I mean, because it’s such a big world. And the phenomenon of the noise, of getting that right, which is where men’s thoughts can be seen either through visual or text. So it was wild because we were shooting a movie within a movie. So after every time we rolled cut, the visual effects team would come in, because there was so much they had to do with every frame of that movie. And it was such a long process, it took a minute for it all to come together because it was a monster to put together. But Doug is a guy who I was watching and he’s kind of this savant in that I was watching him and I was realizing as he was shooting, he was cutting the movie together in his head. You know what I mean? And it’s like, I realized he would do a setup, and then it’s sort of like, he would go away for a minute and he realized he was putting it together in his head and saw the next shot.
And for me, at first, I’m so used to the rigidity of TV, where you’re doing five, six, seven, eight pages a day, and you don’t have a lot of time to explore in that way. And so, at first, it was odd for me to have that kind of looseness. But then, after a while, it was fascinating to me. It was fascinating to watch his process. And he, too, is a lovely, really sweet kind of a genteel guy and very respectful for the actors. Like if you came to him or were struggling with something, he would oblige you. We had several – we went to his cabin a couple of nights and had dinner and had long script discussions. And the original shoot was very collaborative and a really lovely experience.
And then, the reshoots, which were like a year later or so were a little bit more by the numbers. Because at that point, you’re on a deadline. You’re already looking at the bottom line and you know exactly what you need, right? And then that process felt like TV. It was like, okay, you’re doing this, you’re doing this. All right, jump into ADR. Get that done. Do that. I was like, oh yeah, this, I know.
CS: What’s your take on noise? How would you handle having your thoughts exposed at all times?
Sutter: Well, look, I don’t think you can deny the obvious parallel or analogy of how we live today, right? Social media and everyone’s personal thoughts are sort of open to be seen. And I think there’s the positives and negatives of that. I think in this movie, it’s really about how that can make you vulnerable, and how perhaps it just becomes overwhelming, the constant download of data and information that you have to process so you’re hearing one thing and seeing another thing. And you know, it’s almost impossible to escape the noise. And I think that is obviously, to some degree, the community that we’re living in.
I also love, and this was written in 2008 and it seems very prescient. But you know, to have a character like Mayor Prentiss, who clearly is very smart and very controlling and a fear-based narcissist at his core, but to have Mayor Prentiss who has named the town Prentisstown controlling it and controlling the information, it just feels very familiar to the situation that we were recently in, where it was all fake news. There was no truth being told, and people who knew the truth kept it to themselves. And so, I thought that was sort of right on the money as well.
CS: Would you want to come back and act in more films after your experience on Chaos Walking?
Sutter: Yeah, I love acting. I started out as an actor. I studied and I got my masters in fine arts with performance and directing. So it’s influenced obviously my career choices, but also it’s really, that for me, has influenced my writing more than anything. So it’s all very much part of my circuitous path. And yeah, I love being a storyteller. That’s what I want to do and that’s what I will continue to do. And sometimes I do that strictly through writing. Sometimes if there’s a project that I feel like I can expand the visual representation of the narrative as well as I do the story components, then it makes sense for me to direct it. But yeah, if there’s something that I have time to do and it’s a role that I think is interesting or more importantly, if I have an opportunity to work with people whom I admire and I feel like I can learn something from, yeah, absolutely. I’d love to do some more.
CS: You’ve given audiences amazing shows like Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, Mayans. What’s next on your plate? And do you feel pressure at all to top yourself, especially after the success of your shows that you’ve created?
Sutter: No, you know, there’s never pressure. For me, it’s just about looking for the thing that makes sense and the characters that feel most compelling to me. And look, no one knew Sons was going to become what it became, right? So and so I don’t really ever go into something with a sense of it having a bar. I just kind of understand it and deliver the best story that I can. You know, and over the pandemic, it’s been actually really good. I’ve actually had time. Now I’m not being under a deal, I’ve sort of had the freedom to meet and work with people whom I’ve never been able to work with before. So most of the pandemic has been taking a lot of general meetings, talking to producers and directors who I’ve admired, and just sort of planting some seeds.
I’m trying to do a little bit more producing now, as well. And sort of fostering projects, helping other writers get things off the ground. So I’ve been doing a lot of that. And hopefully, in the next few weeks, something I’m working on will sort of come together and there will be some news about that. But it’s just been a lot of meetings and a lot of planting seeds in gardens that I’ve not been able to sort of plant things in before. So I know that’s absolutely and completely vague, but yeah. That’s sort of the truth.