Film - Beckett

Beckett poster with John David Washington in Greece

With the film coming to Netflix on Friday, read a conversation with director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, producer Luca Guadagnino and star John David Washington on the making of Beckett...

While vacationing in Greece, American tourist Beckett (John David Washington) becomes the target of a manhunt after a devastating accident. Forced to run for his life and desperate to get across the country to the American embassy to clear his name, tensions escalate as the authorities close in, political unrest mounts, and Beckett falls even deeper into a dangerous web of conspiracy.

As director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s English language debut feature, Beckett is a manhunt thriller set in contemporary Greece starring John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Vicky Krieps and Boyd Holbrook. It comes to Netflix on 13th August...

What was the central premise and inspiration behind this film?

Ferdinando Cito Filomarino: The inspiration for Beckett came from a multitude of manhunt stories in cinema and literature where these great stakes are all placed on the shoulders of a single character. In creating this story, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if that archetypal hero was just an ordinary guy. So, the premise revolved around the question: How does an ordinary man manage in an extreme situation like this? How is he going to survive?

Luca Guadagnino: There was a time in which Ferdinando wanted to bring another manhunt story to the screen, but the rights weren’t available. And I remember telling him, “You know the genre very well. Why don’t you write a manhunt story and make it?” Ferdinando, of course, accepted my invitation. And that’s how it started. Eventually in the development process, I introduced Ferdinando to Kevin Rice and they started to work together on the script.

What aspects of the traditional manhunt-thriller were you seeking to uphold, but also upend?

FCF: There are certainly genre elements that I’ve borrowed, like political theatre and espionage, from books and films that I love — The Three Days of the Condor, Odd Man Out, The 39 Steps (book) — but I used these ingredients in trying to make something more relatable in Beckett. In the great tradition of manhunt thrillers, there’s always something heightened and fantastic about what’s going on, and something superhuman about the main character’s abilities and intelligence. I held those teachings dear, and maintained the sense of adventure the genre brings with it, but what I was looking to do was make the audience feel closer to the protagonist — who isn’t a spy or a cop — but a normal person who is experiencing a deep personal crisis, trying to figure things out as most of us might. This dramatic essence to the main character, and a grounded frame around him (itself inspired by various real events), could give the story a feeling of tangible reality.

LG: I think the greatness about Beckett lies in the fact that he’s the wrong protagonist for the movie. He’s not a natural hero. He’s not somebody who was going to somehow become a force of nature. He’s an everyman in the wrong movie, but he has to survive. I think the audience has the opportunity to see the unravelling of the fragility of a man and his mourning process. I think that’s beautiful that you are in a very high-octane thriller that involves you in proximity to the mechanism of a manhunt, but at the same time, allows you to witness the behaviour of the actor. It’s a beautiful contrast study as much as it is a thriller.

John David Washington as Beckett wearing a blue overall

Beckett is a very different character than who we’ve seen you embody in your previous roles, John David. What drew you to this character?

JDW: I was drawn to the story of a man fighting for his right to live. A man who has to push himself to do the right thing and to be a better version of himself because of the circumstances brought onto him. I related to that. I’m always trying to push myself to see what I’m capable of and learning what challenges help bring that to life. It seemed like Beckett was at a crossroads in his life at the beginning of the film. He isn’t an ambitious person at all. Whatever his dreams were, they were lost for some reason. Or he just let life go. But what’s interesting is that you don’t know what a person is capable of when they’re staring death in the face. The human will to survive gives you superhuman strength in some ways. So, I found myself admiring what Beckett does to survive, but also realizing that he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t do the right thing.

The stunt work in this film is interesting in the way it challenges viewers to keep their expectations of what an everyman is physically capable of doing in check. How did you approach this aspect of the film?

FCF: At the centre of this film is a dramatic character who finds himself thrown into the middle of a thriller, so when thinking about the action/adventure moments it was important to keep track of the things such a character would experience: sweat, pain and fatigue among others. Also, not being primed for this experience, his “plans” don’t necessarily go well — and the adventure would emerge from how his deep survival instinct kicked in.

John David is such a refined and precise actor, but he’s also able to embody true genre characters. So, on the one hand, he was completely immersed in the inner landscape of this character and what he’s going through, and on the other, he insisted on doing all of his own stunts. He’s basically a dream come true. 

JDW: With the exception of two very steep jumps, I did all of my own stunts. You better believe it! Ferdi had me running for my life! He really put me to the test. It’s not like Beckett’s a Marine or someone with a military background — this is a guy who probably played a little bit of football in high school and just let himself go physically ever since. And in that regard, I had to get into character. I wasn’t doing a lot of running in preparation for the role. I gained weight for it and I paid the price, but that’s the job! Shout out to Krispy Kreme and all the things that helped make it that much harder and a much more believable struggle in having to run everywhere.

Alicia Vikander in character wearing a green jacket

What was it like working with the incredible supporting cast in this film, most notably Alicia Vikander, Vicky Krieps, and Boyd Holbrook?

FCF: Alicia Vikander is just pure cinema to me, she makes everything feel intense and natural. Her character, April, is full of life and energy and love, and Alicia can emit all of those qualities seamlessly with a silent gaze and the hint of a smile.

JDW: These types of films depend heavily on chemistry. Normally, you’d get time to develop that — have a conversation and get to know somebody before you have to make people believe that you guys are in love. It speaks to how great of an actor Alicia is, because her first day of shooting was our first day together. That was the first time we met and it just worked. The chemistry fit and it just felt good. She understood the story, she understood her character, but she also understood that we’re just finding things together. It felt like such a collaboration, and I really appreciated her for that and her veteran leadership. I loved working with her.

Vicky Krieps in character wearing a brown leather flying jacket

As for Vicky Krieps, I had seen The Phantom Thread several times in a movie theatre and I was just hypnotized by her performance. In our film, she plays Lena, a German activist who always demands truth and justice and is willing to fight for it. And Vicky was simply perfect because she has this fire of inner strength and resolve to her, which makes Lena inspiring and real.

JDW: She’s one of my favourite actors, period. I couldn’t believe what she did in The Phantom Thread. I was actually taking notes on this set as well. It’s crazy how talented she is and it could be intimidating when you’re around that kind of greatness, but she’s very humble and gracious. The chemistry with her was really great too. We had more days with each other, and with every scene, we just trusted each other more. She’s a wonderful, wonderful human being and an incredible artist and I think the strength that she exemplifies with this character, she steals the show in my opinion.

Boyd Holbrook in character, wearing a blue suit and shirt, standing in a doorway

And finally: Boyd Holbrook to me is just an onscreen powerhouse. He showed up full of ideas about his character, and it made it so much more fun to tailor the character around him. He plays the ambiguity of Tynan with such a precision, you could cut it with a knife. LG: Boyd is an incredible actor. He’s inspiring and has such an unpredictable way of acting. And I’m proud to say that casting him was my suggestion.

JDW: I agree. It was perfect casting because Boyd is the nicest guy ever. He’s a very caring and giving actor and he’s serious about his business, but as a person, he’s just funny and he’s light-hearted. You would never think he would be capable of certain things that his character is capable of, which is exactly what we needed for the film.

Two stone bridges beside a cliff face

What was the inspiration behind setting the film in Greece and how does the country play a pivotal role in the film?

FCF: There were three main reasons why Greece provided the perfect context for the film. One was because of the genre elements that we were playing with — a country that has been through political and economic turmoil that can stage a political conspiracy — and two, because of the way the people of Greece embrace their ability to speak up through protest. This was the perfect backdrop to Beckett, who, in the course of this story, discovers he needs to change and take action. Lastly, Greece is so geographically rich that it perfectly hosted a story that needed to express the non-stop journey with a perpetual change in landscape, from mountains and dramatic canyons, through rivers, to a dense urban jungle.

LG: All the great thrillers that we grew up with — the Pakula films, the Sydney Pollack films — all these movies were really wonderful because they were great at capturing the anxieties of their time with the energy of the genre. It was the best place to set the story and it made it more effective in that sense. 

JDW: It’s a country that also makes it easy to see the beauty in the backdrop. You see how gorgeous the countryside is, like the Vikos Gorge and these towns, the mountains of Tsepevolo. Being able to put these characters in that sort of space, I think, in a film like this, it just makes it more dimensional. It gives beauty to the tragic story. It almost gives this story a heartbeat of hope, even within the most dark, dire, frantic, and desperate situations.

Did you cast any local actors in your film? What was it like working with the local crew in Greece?

FCF: We were able to work with some of the best actors while in Greece, including the great Panos Koronis. Some, like Makis Papadimitriou, were passionate and generous enough to step in even for smaller key roles.

JDW: Panos was fantastic and he had such a great sense of humor. Ferdi snuck some of that sense of humor in the character actually. There are some lighter moments with his character, which I found rather funny and necessary for the film.

FCF: Panos is an amazing screen performer, he can deliver the perfect amount of danger with a miniature movement of his eyes, or an ironic beat with perfect timing. Everyone was so generous and excited to participate — my collaborator Stefanos Koutsardakis was key in showing me to explore lesser-known areas and guided me through the culture. The movie is shot in so many different locations. We barely shot two days in a row in the same place, so the local crew was key in helping us understand how to portray them truthfully and specifically. In the end, we made the movie with a very international crew and cast from about 17 nationalities. And so it was a very worldwide effort. And I love the idea that Netflix will release it worldwide at the same time so people from all corners of the world and all cultures can enjoy this very specific story about a man in a foreign country.

Beckett debuts on Friday August 13th on Netflix.

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