The following is part one of our four-part Sundance Film Festival interview series: The Breakout Star, The Debut (you are here), The Returning Champion and The Comeback.
Sundance has always had a knack for debuting the work of talented directors that are on the verge of hitting it big. This year, one of those breakout directors is Blue Caprice’s Alexandre Moors.
This disturbing thriller is a fictional account of the events that led to John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) and Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond) to travel around Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia in 2002 randomly killing people with a rifle from inside their Chevrolet Caprice. Moors’ vision of the film as a more internal exploration of the two men leads to Washington giving a tour-de-force performance as the manipulative, psychotic Muhammad and newcomer Richmond showing a lot of promise.
Moors grew up in the suburbs of Paris. After being active in the graffiti scene he moved to New York in the late ‘90s and has become known for his high-concept music videos, most recently Kanye West’s "Runaway," and the two teamed for the short Cruel Summer, which screened at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Here Moors sits down a day after Blue Caprice premiered at Sundance to talk about the motivations to make the film, tracking down Washington, and if he sympathizes at all with his characters.
Movies.com: Did you follow the news of the Beltway snipers when it happened in 2002?
Alexander Moors: No. I would hear about it through people or small news reports. I've been living in this country for the last 15 years, but I go back and forth from France and I was over there at the time. But it was good because I hadn't seen anything visually about it, I just heard about it. So I think it triggered my imagination. I forgot about it for 10 years and then I knew I wanted to do a true crime story and I just stumbled upon a small blurb about the shooters again.
Movies.com: What fascinated you, the people involved or the horrific events?
Moors: What attracted me was that the story felt like a Greek tragedy. A "father" and "son" head-butting each other in the forest; them against the world. The "father" making the "son" into a criminal, isolated from the world, creating their own fantasy. That part of the story felt like a tragedy and fascinated me. Then when I got the screenwriter, R.F.I. Porto, onboard and we started doing the research and had the story grounded in reality.
Movies.com: Did the complexities of the characters change through the research?
Moors: The movie grew out of learning more about them. Before doing the research I only knew that they had known each other for only a year before doing the attacks. It was finding moments through what we found.
Movies.com: How difficult was it to find an actor to play Lee Malvo?
Moors: Finding the Lee character was the hardest thing. It was a long endeavor. It almost jeopardized the whole film because months went by and I couldn't find the right person. I was looking for a 15 to 16 year old. I was looking at professionals, looking at schools. And thank God we found him.
Movies.com: And what made you interested in Washington?
Moors: He was the opposite of Tequan. From the beginning I wanted him. He was the only guy in my mind who could do it. He's the backbone of the film. We were fortunate enough to get a hold of him, because that took a while. My producer sent him a letter I wrote to his Facebook page because we couldn't find any other way to get in touch with him. Luckily he answered back.
Movies.com: What were some of the things you did to build the bond Isaiah and Tequan would need to play the characters convincingly?
Moors: We had them go to gun ranges to fire guns. We had a stunt coordinator, so they did a lot of rehearsing of the fighting scenes. But beyond that I had the stunt coordinator have them do drills, like push-ups and run, to get into the physical mindset and that bonding experience.
Movies.com: At any point in writing the film or shooting it did you feel sympathetic to these characters?
Moors: It's a complex question. No. I mean, John, the father, I completely despise him and he scares me but it doesn't mean you can’t be fascinated. I mean if you read Moby Dick you read 900 pages drinking every word coming out of this man Ahab. So I don't think it's sympathy. That thought never entered my mind. But at the same time John had a broken soul and you have empathy, you have empathy for anyone suffering and this guy was suffering a great deal.
Movies.com: Is it fair that a film like this will be lumped into issues about gun violence and gun control?
Moors: If it helps to bring conversation. What interested me was this culture of violence in this country, and people have come up to me saying they can't stop thinking about the movie, and that's good. Now the discussions can start. I think the issues that were tormenting me was a broader sense of violence. It's not about what they call terrorism. But it's a very violent world and in this country the policies are very brutal, so that's what I wanted to talk about. And the killers are a product of that, they are not the problem… if you ask me.