One of the real surprises out of SXSW for me was The Mule. Co-written by Leigh Whannell (Saw 1-3, Insidious 1-2, Death Sentence, Dead Silence) and his Insidious co-stat Angus Sampson (who co-drected the film with Tony Mahony), it may not be a horror film but it’s certainly something BD readers will enjoy. It’s gross, and it’s very good.
In the film, “It’s 1983. A naive man with lethal narcotics hidden in his stomach is detained by Australian Federal Police. Alone and afraid, ‘the Mule’ makes a desperate choice; to defy his bodily functions and withhold the evidence…literally. And by doing so becomes a ‘human time-bomb’; dragging cops, criminals and concerned family into his impossible escapade” Hugo Weaving stars alongside Sampson and Whannell with an ensemble cast including Ewen Leslie, Geoff Morrell, Georgina Haig, Noni Hazlehurst and John Noble.
I was really impressed with the film. To be honest, from the premise I thought I might not enjoy it. Where did it come from?
Whannell: A friend of ours who is a writer and who is credited with the story saw an article in the paper about a drug mule that held out for 21 days and we just thought it was fascinating. He wrote a draft of the script that Angus really liked. Years later we were trying to find something to do together and Angus said, “what if we just go back to this script that I liked?” So we started working with Jamie figuring it was something he would write, but as the years went by we got more and more involved and it snowballed into something where we realized it was our responsibility to get it made. It was hard to find the money sometimes but I’m so glad because there’s a level of quality control and ownership that we were able to maintain.
You guys certainly aren’t playing Specs and Tucker here.
Sampson: I think it was one of the reasons that we wanted to do it. These are the sort of the films that we love watching many times over, with these great ensemble casts like Fargo, The Usual Suspects where there are these great ensembles. A lot of the characters are more interesting than Ray [Sampson’s character], in my opinion. I had a great time casting them. We just kept getting surprised that people would say “yes” to the movie.
Ray is so passive in many ways, was it hard to switch gears from that into commanding the set as a director?
Sampson: That’s one of the many reasons we had [co-director] Tony Mahony there. I remember telling Hugo Weaving I was really sorry about how unorthodox the set was, with two writers, two directors and then the writers being actors and also one of the directors. And he laughed, he said, “this is the most creative set I’ve ever been on. It’s so collaborative, I wish all film sets were like this.”
That means a lot coming from someone who worked with the Wachowskis.
Sampson: That was great. It was on day 3 of a 30 day shoot. But it was a concern for me as a performer to pull away the academic side of my cerebral cortex and switch gears like that. But editorially I think it’s a really tight film.
Was there ever a concern that some of the more shocking stuff in the movie would throw the tone off?
Whannell: I don’t think so. If anything I was the one worried about not having that stuff. When you’re making an independent film like this – it’s about a drug mule refusing to go to the toilet – I was really keen for us to have some scenes that would stand out and push it. It was the opposite problem of worrying about if we should do it, I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough.
The one thing I was worried about was toilet humor, which is usually played for laughs.
And it’s usually lazy.
Whannell: It’s usually lazy and that’s usually how it’s used during a film. But we really wanted to make it a ticking clock and his digestive tract is the bomb. And I think that’s how it comes across. No one can be ambivalent about going to the toilet. We all do it. The queen goes to the toilet. So it’s something we can all watch and empathize with, having to hold that in. That pain. I’m happy with where it sits. It’s not Human Centipede, but it doesn’t shy away from the icky stuff.