Timothée Chalamet and David Michôd on the set of ‘The King’.
David Michôd’s 2010 debut feature Animal Kingdom propelled him to international attention. But as that was happening, the writer-director wasn’t sure where to go next with his career: so many of the studios were shutting down their specialty divisions.
“Nobody was making those properly resourced, mid-budgeted movies for grown ups. And then Netflix arrived,” he tells IF.
Michôd has since made two films for the streamer: 2017 Brad Pitt vehicle War Machine and the upcoming The King, starring Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton (who also co-wrote and co-produced the film with Michôd), Lily Rose Depp, Sean Harris, Robert Pattinson and Ben Mendelsohn.
The King premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September and is currently in limited theatrical release ahead of a launch on Netflix November 1. Last week, it garnered some 13 AACTA nominations.
Michôd says Netflix is making the kinds of films he grew up loving. And as a filmmaker, his approach is unaltered by screen size; while he readily admits Animal Kingdom did very well for him, he hazards that “95 per cent” of the people who saw the film saw it on a TV.
“When Brad Pitt and I were trying to prep War Machine, we just knew that the move was going to be expensive and none of the major studios were going to take it. It was too tonally weird, too dense with political information, it was politically contentious, and it was going to be expensive. We thought, ‘Let’s see what happens if we take it to Netflix.’ Doing that felt like a radical move. But it also felt like the kind of thing everyone would be doing pretty soon.”
The King’s limited theatrical release has raised the hackles of some exhibitors in Australia, due to the shortened window. However for Michôd, a short cinema run before it is widely available is a happy medium.
“I feel like it’s been heading this way a long time; I don’t think it’s any secret that the distribution and exhibition space for movies that aren’t tentpole is getting tougher and tougher all the time. People want to watch things at home. I like to watch things at home. And people’s TVs are amazing,” he says.
“War Machine didn’t get any kind of meaningful theatrical release. This one has one that I actually really like, which is a short, curated, intensive opportunity for those people who really want to see the movie on the big screen. But from there on out, it’s just available to people.”
The King could be termed an adaptation of sorts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V. However, Michôd and Edgerton always set out to eschew The Bard somewhat, even though they knew it might rattle people.
“We spent virtually no time talking about doing a direct adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays. We knew that we wanted to steal a couple of key elements, and felt comfortable doing so knowing that Shakespeare was an avowed historical revisionist himself. But we wanted to tell quite a radically different story to the one being told in the plays.”
Chalamet is Hal, a wayward prince who ascends the English Throne upon his father’s death, and inherits palace politics, chaos and war. Edgerton plays Falstaff, an ageing, alcoholic knight and Hal’s closest friend and mentor.
“Rather than it being a story of a young, heroic war king with a burden to carry and issues of conscience to grapple with, we wanted to tell a story of a young, idealistic, but also kind of naive leader, being consumed by the machine of power – becoming isolated and paranoid, and therefore, almost inevitably, a bit tyrannical,” Michôd says.
The director was drawn to Chalamet after seeing him in Call Me By Your Name.
“I instantly started getting excited about that version of The King. His soulfulness, his fragility, his availability – not mention his talents, and what I knew of his training, his preparation and everything. I loved the idea of taking that soulful, gentle kid, dropping him into a position of incredible responsibility and watching the machine turn him into a tyrant. The transformation for me felt like it would be profound.”
Shot in Hungary and the UK, the Blue-Tongue Films/Porchlight Films/A Yoki Inc/Plan B Entertainment production is packed with Aussies both in front of and behind the camera, and around 90 per cent of post-production was completed in Oz.
In addition to Michôd, Edgerton and Mendelsohn, the Aussie team includes producer Liz Watts, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, production designer Fiona Crombie, editor Peter Sciberras, sound designer/supervising sound editor Robert Mackenzie, sound designer Sam Petty and first assistant director Steve E. Andrews.
“It was very, very, almost sacrilegiously Australian vibe on set,” Michôd says.
Earning 13 AACTA nominations at home for The King is heartening and exciting for the director, who says he never knows how his work is going to be received.
“They feel reassuring for me, because they make me feel like the movie has landed softly in the world,” he says.
The film is up for Best Film, Best Direction (Michod), Best Lead Actor (Chalamet), Best Supporting Actor (both Edgerton and Mendelsohn), best Screenplay (Michod, Edgerton), Best Cinematography (Arkapaw), Best Editing (Sciberras), Best Sound (Mackenzie, Petty, Gareth John, Leah Katz, Mario Vaccaro, Tara Webb), Best Production Design (Crombie) and Best Costume Design (Jane Petrie).
Animal Kingdom won nine AFI Awards from 18 nods back in 2010, including Best Film, Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay. For Michôd, there is a reminiscent feeling.
“I remember how exciting it was for me when Animal Kingdom got all those nominations, almost 10 years ago now. It’s those feelings of validation. On a certain level, I am of a firm belief that art shouldn’t be like an Olympics event. But there’s something that’s reassuring about knowing that something you’ve spent so long making is being appreciated by somebody. That feeling for me with Animal Kingdom was so extraordinary, and I’m finding it quite reassuring to know that I still feel it – I still feel the sense of relief that comes from being told by somebody that we weren’t wasting our time.”