ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Spiderhead director Joseph Kosinski and producer Eric Newman about the genre-bending Netflix film, which is now streaming. They also spoke about Chris Hemsworth as a villain and more.
“In a state-of-the-art penitentiary run by brilliant visionary Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), inmates wear a surgically attached device that administers dosages of mind-altering drugs in exchange for commuted sentences,” says the synopsis. “There are no bars, no cells, or orange jumpsuits. In Spiderhead, incarcerated volunteers are free to be themselves. Until they’re not. At times, they’re a better version. Need to lighten up? There’s a drug for that. At a loss for words? There’s a drug for that, too. But when two subjects, Jeff (Miles Teller) and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), form a connection, their path to redemption take a twistier turn, as Abnesti’s experiments start to push the limits of free will altogether.”
Tyler Treese: Joe, in the film, Chris Hemsworth is playing with the emotions of the imprisoned, but you’re playing with the emotions of everybody watching this film. Talk me through determining the tone, because it’s all over the place, but it all works and it’s very funny in a very dark way.
Joseph Kosinski: Well, that all starts with George Saunders’ writing, you know? His short story, Escape from Spiderhead, was the genesis for this whole thing and has all those elements to it. The question is, could it be adaptable? How do you turn that into a film? And that credit goes to [Paul] Wernick and [Rhett] Reese, who turned that story into this film. What I had read first, actually, was their screenplay. Like you said, it’s like nothing else out there. It crosses genres. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s twisted, it’s thought-provoking. And for me, it was an incredible challenge to want to take on and find a cast of characters that wanted to dive in and take on this story.
Eric, Chris Hemsworth’s charisma is so incredible and he’s naturally likable, but he uses that charm to be the most smug a-hole that I think people are just going to love to hate. Can you just speak to that because it’s such a fun role for him?
Eric Newman: Oh yeah. And he knocks it out of the park. He’s as committed as any actor I’ve ever worked with. It was important for our Abnesti [Hemsworth’s character] to be a visionary and a leader and a guy that has a worldview that, were he to lay it out for you as he does in the movie, you would see a certain wisdom in it, you know? Bad guys don’t know they’re bad and we often can’t see them coming. And so the idea of Chris using all of his charm and all of his charisma [and] his might to convince you that what you’re doing is your choice when it’s not. It seems, in a lot of ways, like an even bigger betrayal. And I think it’s very effective with the audience, who are seeing a guy they’ve come to love as Thor, among other things. A character who has never played a bad guy playing a really bad guy.
It reminds me of Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in America, or Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. When someone does it and they’ve never done it before, it can be pretty shocking. I think it was a very inspired choice and his desire to do it speaks to how cool Chris is that he’s like, “I want to do something really different that I’ve never done before. Let me at it.” So, you know, it was a great partner in this.
Joe, seeing your career develop over time has been so fascinating. I love the Gears of War commercial you directed, and now to see Top Gun: Maverick come out, and now this, is just so wild. Have you had a second to really soak this moment in? Because this is a phenomenal run.
Kosinski: Between Top Gun and this, you’re looking at the last five years of my life putting this together. So yeah, it’s all being released in this kind of three-week window, but this has all been a long time in the making, which for me is the best part of the job. I like making the movies. I like the process. So yeah, it’s great to see how well Top Gun‘s been received and it’s getting people back in the movie theaters, but I’m just as excited about a story like this, which is so unique and different and not based on any existing IP. I think that’s just as important to our business, to be able to tell a wide range of stories.