The indie thriller To Catch a Killer hails from director Damián Szifron, the Argentine filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated anthology film Wild Tales, and though it’s been flying under the radar on VOD for the past week or so following its recent theatrical release, it’s well worth your time.
The gritty film stars Shailene Woodley as Baltimore beat cop Eleanor Falco, who is investigating a sniper attack that left numerous people dead on New Year’s Eve. Ben Mendelsohn co-stars as an FBI agent named Lammark who sees Eleanor’s potential as a profiler, and they work together to put an end to the killer’s shooting spree with the help of another young agent (Jovan Adepo).
Is Lammark the shooter? We wouldn’t dare spoil it, though we wouldn’t blame you if you entered this movie already suspicious of Mendelsohn, who has played villains in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as well as Steven Spielberg‘s Ready Player One and Joe Wright’s Cyrano. He even starts out acting villainous in Captain Marvel, though his benevolent Skrull Thalos turns out to be on the side of good — a side he’ll return to in the upcoming Disney+ series Secret Invasion.
Above the Line recently spoke with Mendelsohn about his role in Szifron’s twisted crime film, as well as some of the other projects he’s been in, as well as those that are coming up. The Australian actor has been working steadily since his breakout turn in Animal Kingdom and shows no signs of slowing down. Here’s what he had to say:
Above the Line: This film was originally called Misanthrope, and when I first heard you were in it, I thought, “Oh, no, Ben is still being cast as misanthropes, and he’s not like that at all!”
Ben Mendelsohn: No, no, no. I got offered an absolute gem of a role and [the chance to] work [with] Damián.
ATL: You had seen Wild Tales and were familiar with his work?
Mendelsohn: It is the greatest opening of a movie ever made. I mean, it’s just unforgettable. It’s genius. It’s unadulterated, hilarious, genius, and the freeze-frame? And then the credit roll? I mean, forget about it. I knew we were in [good hands], and Shailene I’ve wanted to work with ever since I saw her in The Descendants, and I was staggered by how good she was, how effortless and beautiful and fantastic her work was.
ATL: How did you originally hear about this movie? Did you reach out to Damián when you heard about it, or did he send you the script?
Mendelsohn: I think my agent knew the producers. I’m not sure who asked who or what happened with what? I got told about it, I knew Shailene was in it, [and] I knew Damián was doing it. [I was like], “That’s it, I’m sold.” It wouldn’t have mattered what the script was. If it’s Shailene and Damián, I’m there, no matter what.
ATL: It’s amazing to see how she’s grown as an actor over the years and taken on much more mature roles.
Mendelsohn: Also, genuinely producing — she’s incredible. Incredible.
ATL: For a role like Lammark, did you feel the urge to meet with FBI agents as some form of research, or was everything you need right there in the script?
Mendelsohn: No, no, no… I do a lot of nonfiction type of stuff, right? So I have enough feeling of this, that, and the other, and to be honest, I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. It’s very helpful to have [an] understanding about certain things. If there are very technical things that you gotta perform, that’s a different matter, but when you’re just talking about character and script, it’s not as helpful for me as I think it is for other people.
ATL: Our country is obsessed with true crime, which has really taken on a larger role in our culture of late. Your film opens with a sniper killing random people, and I’m curious whether we’ve become desensitized to stuff like that because we see it all the time in the real world, or if our reality just makes those kinds of scenes that much more jarring.
Mendelsohn: I think one of the things [that’s] really important to talk about is how horribly topical the central event has become, and it’s very, very important to not draw any conclusions or discussion between a movie and the horror and the actuality of real life. I wish more than anything in the world it wasn’t.
ATL: When it comes to movies about serial killers and mass murderers, I assume most people never think that they’ll ever come in contact with one, but you hear about these kinds of events on the news, so it’s good when a movie focuses on the people trying to find and stop those responsible.
Mendelsohn: That’s a really good thing, right? That is fine, and I’ll give it that. That’s a very satisfying thing, that path, but it’s very difficult and something that I’m not comfortable with, crossing wires about real actuality and the film. I think it’s something I just can’t do.
ATL: Understood. What’s Damián like as a director?
Mendelsohn: He’s like a composer. He’s incredibly excited and animated and involved in what he does. He’s very, very precise, and this is an inspired filmmaker. In terms of his writing, he’s got something to say — he’s remarkably talented.
ATL: And you shot this movie in Quebec?
Mendelsohn: We shot it in Montreal in the middle of winter, and that certainly adds its own character to the film. Night shoots in Montreal in the winter is… yup. You don’t forget that.
ATL: I think I was there during the winter once, maybe doing a set visit, and when it snowed, you couldn’t see a thing. It was just all white.
Mendelsohn: We didn’t get white-outs so much, but it is bitterly cold. It’s a modestly budgeted film, and the money really is all concentrated on getting everything we can to the screen, [so] it was cold. It was cold.
ATL: Tell me about working with Shailene. I get the feeling she’s a very dedicated actor…
Mendelsohn: She’s the best. She produced that movie. She got that movie made, and she won’t say ‘no’ to putting [some] positivity into it, putting her energies into inspiring the atmosphere. She is an incredible person, and she’s a god of acting. She’s an awesome actor. I’d wanted to work with her since The Descendants. When I first saw her, I just went, ‘Oh, my God. That’s an amazing actor.’
ATL: I remember the first time we met for Animal Kingdom, I remember you saying that you weren’t working that much or as much as you wanted to, but now, I feel like you’re constantly working, showing up in different movies and shows.
Mendelsohn: We spoke after Animal Kingdom? When was it?
ATL: It was probably towards the end of 2010 maybe?
Mendelsohn: No, then absolutely nothing. Basically, I figured, “Okay, nothing’s ever gonna happen,” and then Joel Schumacher called me from out of the blue [for Trespass] and said, ‘Are you going to do my movie?’ I had heard nothing about this at all, but I’m like, “If Joel Schumacher is casting me, this is a very promising sign,” because he’s like a bellwether. I went and did that, [and then] The Place Beyond the Pines, [followed by] Bloodline [and] Killing Them Softly.
By the time those three happened, and they turned out to be effective performances, that was when I started to feel like, “Oh, shit, this has happened.” I came to America [and] for 25 years [I was] looking for work, and I couldn’t get arrested. [I’d] come back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth… and nothing. So yeah, Animal Kingdom was the last roll of the dice. I knew if anything was ever going to have a chance…
ATL: I remember asking you what you really wanted to do, and you cited Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I don’t think you realized that Larry David was shooting at that very hotel for the season in which he starred in The Producers on Broadway.
Mendelsohn: I still do. In fact, I’ve now got a bit of a resentment. If I ever do it, I’m just gonna abuse Larry ferociously for one scene and leave and tell him, “Oh, yeah, you’ve gotten all of these people, these inside jokes that I know were about me? How dare you?”
I walked past him at the Governor’s Ball, and then I looked at him, I said, ‘I bet you’re pretty excited to see me here, aren’t ya?’ ‘Cause I was so excited. It was Larry David, right? Anyway, I wish I hadn’t said that…
ATL: It has to happen eventually because, in my mind, I feel like it somehow already has happened.
Mendelsohn: No, it’s not gonna happen. I still fantasize about it. I still think about what I’d do if I got to be on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I’m not in that league.
ATL: I don’t know about that. I think it will happen. But you’ve been busy between Marvel’s Secret Invasion and a new limited series with Juliette Binoche that finds you playing Christian Dior, which is pretty cool.
Mendelsohn: [That was] done by Adam Kessler, who was the creator of Bloodline and previously [wrote for] The Sopranos. I love Adam, and Bloodline was such an important thing. He told me he had read Dior’s autobiography, and I waited for a second, and he said, ‘I was thinking, maybe, would you play him?’ And I [went] ‘Yes. Yes.’ I’ve been holding out for about four to five years to get to that one, and we shot it all in Paris, and we got Juliette Binoche and some wonderful actors. We got [John] Malkovich. I’m just very excited to see how that one goes, but yeah, that was beautiful.
ATL: I’ll let you go, but I’m looking forward to that and also to Secret Invasion, as I’m a big fan of the comics and the Skrulls.
Mendelsohn: Secret Invasion, it’s not going to disappoint you, mate. It’s gonna disappoint you at all.
ATL: Also, I’ve become good friends with Susan McPhail, who plays the woman who beats you quite badly at poker in Mississippi Grind. Part of that stems from bonding over how much I loved that movie — and especially that scene.
Mendelsohn: Listen, I love that movie. That movie led to Thalos. I just did another film with Ryan [Fleck] and Anna [Boden] up in Iceland, like at the end of all of that. Ryan and Anna… God bless ’em.
To Catch a Killer is now available to buy or rent on all major VOD/digital platforms courtesy of Vertical.