What happens when a young woman from an affluent family learns about a devastating secret that could sour the legacy of her family’s name? That’s what director Vaughn Stein was tasked with showing in his latest feature film, INHERITANCE. Starring Lily Collins and Simon Pegg, this mystery/thriller focuses on themes such as wealth, greed, and power and how families that possess those qualities feel they are untouchable from their actions, no matter how horrific those actions may be.
For the release of the film, I had the chance to speak with Vaughn Stein where we discussed everything from coming up with the look and feel of the film, reuniting with Simon Pegg, and the message he hopes viewers take away from the film.
Hi Vaughn, thank you so much for speaking with me today! What was it about Matthew Kennedy’s story that interested you in wanting to direct INHERITANCE?
Vaughn Stein: I sort of fell in love with it from the first time I read it, to be honest. It just captivated me to read something that, on one hand, is this very dark, very complex, very labyrinthine thriller and then on the other side, is this really dark fairy tale – this sort of satirical, folklore story about the monster in the basement, the skeleton in the closet, and about how corrosive money, influence, and power can be and what that does to the world. It just captivated me to have those two very disparate ideas contained in one beautifully executed script – I thought it was too good to be true.
When you were coming up with the style and feel of the film, what inspired you?
Vaughn Stein: I’m a huge classic thriller fan and I love Hitchcock. I love that sense of creeping dread and that sense of the psychology of the story dictating the pacing and the action of the dark heart of it. I definitely leant into that. I love modern thrillers as well and I guess loose inspirations came in from things like Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and Se7en were featured in our minds quite heavily. I guess they were sort of inspiration points – thinking about what these incredible filmmakers had done putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances while watching their world disintegrate around them. It’s something I’ve always been very fascinated by. In order to ground the film and to give it a raw, emotional heart, Lily Collins really needed to play the truth of the character. It’s an incredibly sad and dangerous situation Laura finds herself in – a bereaved daughter who has split away from her affluent family to forge her own path who’s suddenly left to pick up the pieces after [her father’s] sudden death and exposes this dark cancerous legacy in the family. I think that was incredibly exciting to do with someone of her incredible talent and emotional range.
On your previous film Terminal, you also worked with Simon Pegg. How was it reuniting with him again for his role as Morgan Warner in INHERITANCE?
Vaughn Stein: It was an absolute dream. It’s my honor to call him a good friend and we loved working together and wanted to do it again. Literally, on my first read of INHERITANCE, I thought Simon would be amazing for this. In Terminal, he took on a darker role and we got to explore that a bit and I was blown away by how he embraced that and performed it. To be able to build the character [Morgan Warner] with him from the ground up to create this sort of emaciated skeletal figure was incredible. His physical commitment to what we were doing – he stripped 14 kilos from a very trim frame already while putting on loads of muscle and really working out to give us that obsessive prison-like quality that we were after. It was incredible. He’s so collaborative and such a warm person, he’s so disciplined and precise in the way that he is as an actor and a person. Lily, Simon, and I got on so well. The set was really claustrophobic, confined, dark, smoky bunker and we would spend most of our time trying not to laugh. They [Lily and Simon] are just such warm and lovely people and they managed to create this incredibly fractured relationship while kind of loving each other at the same time, it was great.
I enjoyed how the film had a morality tale attached to it while also building up tension as you wait for the inevitable secrets to unfold. How difficult was it building that tension while still maintaining the secrecy to surprise viewers?
Vaughn Stein: It’s a tight rope because you put it perfectly, Shannon, morality tales by their nature usually wear its heart on its sleeve. We’re trying to balance the narrative of the thriller genre legs with the morality tale. It was tricky and exciting to work that out with the cast. For me, it was all about playing the truths of the scenes, the truth of the emotions, the truths of what was going on, then to let the satire and the big thrills take care of themselves. I think that was sort of the direction that I approached it from. I wanted to explore Lauren’s story and sort of look at the impact and the emotional veracity of what she was going through – the bereavement, the rage, the isolation, and sort of build from there.
Lastly, is there a message that you hope people take away from the film after viewing it?
Vaughn Stein: Yes, I guess what I would love is if people questioned the nature of legacy, the idea surrounding a families name, money, and place in society where people think they can get away with things because they are born into privilege and wealth. I think, for me, that was a very strong political element that I wanted to explore: the nature of privilege, the nature of behind every great fortune is a great crime, I love that expression. Also, on an emotional and psychological level, the idea that family is everything and people are imperfect. Burying things deep beneath the surface, they have a way of getting out. Dealing with the monsters in the basement, dealing with the skeletons in the closet – it’s a huge part of who we are as people to accept and move on.
For more on INHERITANCE, check out our review here. INHERITANCE is now available On Digital and On Demand.