For the release of the thriller SWEET VIRGINIA, about a mysterious stranger who arrives in a small town and sends a shockwave of carnage through the close-knit community, Shannon had the opportunity to speak with actor Christopher Abbot about his role as Elwood and what it was like to go from a family man in IT COMES AT NIGHT to a detached drifter in SWEET VIRGINIA.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Christopher, thank you so much for speaking with me today. For those who may not be familiar with SWEET VIRGINIA, can you tell us a little bit about the film and your character Elwood?
Christopher Abbott: The film is a small town thriller about a woman who hires someone to kill someone else and this killer-for-hire gets caught up in the lives of the people who inhabit this small town, especially with the character Sam, played by Jon Bernthal. They wind up establishing this weird, strange relationship. I think the film really focuses on how these people’s lives get upturned as well as the duality of everyone. You have some that seem good but are capable of doing bad and some that are seemingly more bad but with some glimpses of good. I also think the film is a fun piece of entertainment.
NC: What was it about the script that drew you to want to take on the role of Elwood?
CA: The script, as written, kind of evolved a bit into something else through Jamie Dagg, the director. When I first read it, it was really tight and there was a lot of poeticism with some really beautiful lines of dialogue and really specific characters. My character was written as a pretty classic villain, which as an actor, of course you want to play that, but then it evolved into something a little more realistic. Jaime decided to change the time and setting of the place, which I think really helped it and made it a little bit more unique. I was attracted to the script but then I kind of doubled my excitement when I talked to Jaime about what he wanted to do with it because I agreed with all the changes he wanted to do.
NC: Last year you were in IT COMES AT NIGHT where you play a family man trying to survive a mysterious epidemic and now, in SWEET VIRGINIA, you are playing a villain who is detached from everything. What was it like going from playing Will in IT COMES AT NIGHT to Elwood in SWEET VIRGINIA?
CA: Weirdly, I actually was filming IT COMES AT NIGHT and then they had started shooting SWEET VIRGINIA before I got there, so I literally went from shooting IT COMES AT NIGHT and the next day flying to Canada to start on SWEET VIRGINIA. Obviously these characters were extremely different but I feel like the tones of both films had a sense of unsettling, ominous qualities, so at least there was a little bit of a thread for me. It’s funny because a lot of people want to talk about IT COMES AT NIGHT because they think that my character was a bad guy which I think is funny. Once I’m done doing something I immediately want to do something kind of different right after, so it worked out kind of perfectly to shift tones in that way.
NC: Because Elwood is so detached emotionally, were you given any research to do to better understand his psyche?
CA: I was the first person to sign on to do the film, so Jaime and I had talked quite a bit before we started filming. Jaime had written these bios that explained the character’s backgrounds so it was nice to use some of that. I inadvertently was researching this type of character before I knew I was going to do this movie because I’m interested in psychology and human nature in general, which is probably why I’m an actor (laughs). A couple years before, I had read Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test” and I definitely used dome of the thing that happened in that book and some of the things he described with the people that he talked to in that book for the character. I was also able to have the script floating around my head for awhile before I started shooting which was really beneficial because I had to go straight from IT COMES AT NIGHT to SWEET VIRGINIA, so I didn’t feel unprepared. The main thing that I wanted to focus on was the mental health of the character, not to just play a villain for a villain’s sake, but to really figure out the ‘why’ and the sociopathic tendencies, which was an incredibly fun thing to research.
NC: Last, but certainly not least, do you have any other upcoming projects that we should be keeping our eye out for?
CA: There are two movies that are done, the future of them we will see, but both will probably be doing the festival run at the beginning of the year. I did a movie with Sebastian Silva called TYREL as well as a movie with Nicolas Pesce (THE EYES OF MY MOTHER), called PIERCING that’s based on a Ryu Murakami novel.
SWEET VIRGINIA is now available in select theaters from IFC Films.