In Nick Gillespie’s feature film debut, PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK, Paul (Tom Meeten), a weedy charity-shop worker, has his heart set on winning a national talent competition. With a sparkly suit, killer routine, and his dear old mother in tow… this is his big chance. But when the actions of five intransigent, selfish people get in his way and cause him to miss the audition, Paul plans a deathly revenge mission. One lunch break, five spectacular murders!
For the SXSW World Premiere of the film, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to speak with Director Nick Gillespie about PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK where they discussed everything from the meaning behind Paul’s last name, Dood, to what he hopes people take away from the film, and more.
Let’s talk a little bit about how this movie came together. Cause you have this guy, Paul Dood (the last name sounds like “dude”), who is so sweet and kind but ultimately snaps due to how he’s been treated by those around him.
Nick Gillespie: Matthew White, who was the original screenwriter and wrote quite a few drafts, sent [the script] to me in 2010 I think. He wanted to do it as more of a revenge story about a kid who gets bullied at school and then sort of grows up in the same town and then goes and hunts down his abusers and attackers. That’s a great story but we’ve sort of seen that before. At the time, there was a rise of talent shows and big commercial talent shows in the UK, which has always been around, but they sort of were becoming more prominent than mainstream, so we worked that element in.
The Dood name, in fact, you’re the only person who has really picked up on it, dood means death in Dutch. That’s a little nugget there and you’re the only person I’ve ever told that to publicly. It’s always been a dark comedy with elements of… people have sort of talked to me about the horror elements and I think horrible things happen to Paul’s beliefs. I suppose that was the kind of design, that he would be a very lovable character, a very kind of special human being who cares for his sick mum and dreams of being a singer and a dancer. I don’t know if he genuinely wants to be famous in the film, but he probably thinks that’s what he needs to do in order to build a happier life for him and his poor little mum.
Can you talk about bringing in Tom Meeten for the title role of Paul Dood?
Nick Gillespie: Tom Meeten is a brilliant character actor and he’s very chameleon-like on and off-screen. The character of Paul Dood certainly has a progressive sort of change. He’s a lovable individual and then there are darker moments there that are kind of spurred on by social media and his new fans and whatnot. I had worked with Tom a number of times in the past and on and off-camera I’d always adored working with him. He’s a lovely, lovely guy that is very focused, very talented, and he has a very photogenic face, it’s quite lovable and can be quite dangerous. There’s a lot of emotion that he can portray as an actor and we needed that. We needed someone who would be able to have a real range.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when we see Paul Dood completely break from reality and how that was represented in such a stylized way. The film as a whole also plays around with different camera styles that gave sort of a found footage feel. Can you elaborate on that?
Nick Gillespie: We shot with two cameras and 90% of it was handheld. I wanted it to look a bit rough and ready and to be accessible in that sort of… I mean it’s a low-budget independent British film and there’s only so much time, so that’s a quick way to shoot. But once his character breaks, the film kind of breaks a little bit as well. We played with a lot of technical things like slow motion and music sounds, special effects came in a bit more, so it sort of ramps up as he does. I approached all of the characters very, very early on, I don’t think you would get this from the film necessarily, but as if each of them were a social media version of themselves. So if each of those characters had, let’s say, an Instagram, what would the version of them they wanted the world to see be? It’s all very heightened.
Can you talk a bit about the outfit we see Paul Dood in, especially considering how it’s not the best disguise. How involved were you when it came time to outfit Paul Dood?
Nick Gillespie: He makes quite a few errors of judgment, let’s say, and wearing that costume, although he disguises it, probably isn’t the best way to sort of disguise himself. It was always written as a spangly outfit. I’m a big fan of comic books and I’ve grown up reading those and watching cartoons and, more recently, films and things about superheroes. It was about making him as much of a lovable character as possible, but also a bit like a kind of crappy superhero, so you needed the costume that he could change into. And when he reaches his breaking point, he has his costume on underneath his regular clothes. Jasmine Ada Knox, who designed those costumes, had a lot of references to David Bowie, being the most obvious and probably biggest one. When I saw that costume I knew we needed to use it at the end of the film instead of all the way through [the movie]. That costume needed to have a special reveal, so we kind of tease it throughout. His mom’s making it for him and they’re very much a team. June Watson, who plays Julie Dood, she was fantastic and brought a lot of experience in wealth to that character.
Was there a lot of room for improv to happen?
Nick Gillespie: I’m a big fan of improvisation. Once it’s all written down and the [actors] have learned it, I like to throw a curve ball in and get them to do something different. Some actors love doing it, some actors don’t want to do it and that’s fine. It’s two completely different style. There’s something very, very clever about learning lines and delivering them and doing them in a way that they look like they’re making them up as they go along, and some people are fantastic at it. I think there’s a freshness and rawness to improv on set once you know the beats of the story and script, where you can do that, you can explore that. We got a lot of real great dialogue and a lot of it’s written, and some of it was stuff that we came up with in rehearsals on the day. I feel so lucky and blessed to have all of those types of people because there’s so much we couldn’t put in the film cause there’s just so much of it.
I really enjoyed this film, there was an odd satisfaction in seeing the bullies get this type of payback. That said, with dark comedies sometimes they can be misconstrued. What do you hope people take away from this film after seeing it.
Nick Gillespie: Really good question. I hope people find some of it fun at a time when it’s been difficult for everyone. The world has changed since we shot the film and, pandemic or no pandemic, it would have changed anyway. I hope they do see a bit of light and a bit of color in a time when there’s been a lot of dark and gray. I think the film has got a lot of heart but it does tread a tight rope with certain issues. But I hope they’re entertained by it, that’s the main thing to me. Playing it at South by Southwest is really special and I’m really excited that the film has a life, so it’s great that people will finally find it.
For more on PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK had its world premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. For more on the film, check out our SXSW review here.