Kat Candler and Josh Wiggins Talk ‘Hellion’
An expansion of Kat Candler’s 2012 short film of the same name, Hellion, starring Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, and newcomer Josh Wiggins, follows a family in Souteast Texas reeling from the loss of their mother. Wiggins plays 13-year-old Jacob, an unruly spirit with a passion for motocross and metal music who isn’t the healthiest influence on his younger brother. Paul plays Jacob’s father, who’s trying desperately to keep his sons out of trouble while suppressing his own demons. When the household begins to spin out of control, the boys’ aunt (Lewis) calls Child Protective Services, threatening to break up the family for good.
We spoke to Kat and Josh at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival back in April about the film’s soundtrack, getting help from Metallica, Aaron and Josh’s chemistry on set, why Josh isn’t allowed on bikes anymore, casting Juliette in an atypical role, and more.
Hellion opens tomorrow, July 4th at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Let’s start with the soundtrack. It was nice to hear metal in a movie for a change!
Kat: The Hellion short and Black Metal both had metal soundtracks. Working with Metallica on this one was kind of a dream come true. Coming into the film, my ideal scenario was to have Metallica do the score. Jeff Nichols, our executive producer, knew Lars [Ulrich], so he connected us. Lars said that they were a little too busy to do the score, but that they would help us with music from their existing catalogue that we’d be interested in using in the film. It was pretty incredible when he called for the first time! “Hi Kat, this is Lars!” [laughs]
“Oh, oh hi…LARS ULRICH!”
Kat: [laughs] It was very surreal! They were incredibly generous and it was a dream. Working with The Sword was great, and Relapse Records was great to us.
Josh, do you like Metal?
Josh: I…[laughs]…I grew up in Texas, and that’s not the main culture there. But after this movie I gained more of an appreciation for it. Before, it was pretty hard, but I can listen to it now.
Kat: I made all of the boys mix CDs of a bunch of metal. [To Josh] I think you guys only listened to it, like, once! [laughs]
I’m a fan of black metal in particular, though I do get made fun of for that a lot. Aaron Paul is coming off of the most definitive role of his career so far, in which he played a hellion himself. Josh, did he help you get more comfortable in your role?
Josh:I was very nervous on my first day coming in, but he has a way of making you feel comfortable really fast. He encouraged me to go to these places and not be afraid. Going where you need to go is very important.
Even though Aaron was coming off of Breaking Bad, any ties I had to that character faded very quickly. He speaks differently in this film, with a little bit of a growl.
Kat: I’d only gotten through two episodes of Breaking Bad. I’d gotten to the bathtub episode. Basically, I chose not to go on that journey. [laughs] But then I saw Smashed in the movie theater with my husband, and I just loved his performance in that film. Then I went back and watched the rest of Breaking Bad. There’s such an honesty to him on screen. I’m really excited about seeing him play something completely different from what audiences are used to. I liked taking that journey with him; figuring out a new character, playing a dad. He’s really easy and trusting. He was incredibly trusting of me as a director. The first time I got he and Josh together in the house we shot in, it was so exciting. You just see the chemistry between them. He trusted that I was a director, and I was like, “Yeah! I am a director!” [laughs]
Josh, there’s an interesting push-and-pull dynamic between you and Aaron in the film. You’re kind of keeping each other afloat: When one starts to drown, the other will hold them up, and vice versa. It’s really subtle, complex stuff.
Josh:I kept pulling from what Aaron was doing and using it in my own way. You’re right; I think if one person improved in that family, the other would follow. They’re kind of on a chain.
Kat: You see these performances on set, but when you’re in the editing room, you’re watching all these tiny subtleties between the two of them, and you’re just like, “Holy shit. These guys are fucking good.” There were days when me and Alan, my editor, would just freak out. [To Josh] With you never having done this before, it’s kind of astounding how intuitive it is.
Like you said Josh, metal isn’t the biggest thing in Texas, but what I love about the film is the combination of the dusty, Southeast Texas landscape with the crunchy, raw soundtrack. Kat, talk about creating that atmosphere and building that world.
Kat: I started going down down to Southeast Texas when I was developing the script. Production design starts with the location, and that was so true with us. As I was writing the script, I was finding these amazing locations that encapsulate this town and this area. I’d use this little league field, refineries…I was like, “Oh my god…this exists! How do I incorporate this into the script!” We found this world; how do we pull the story and characters out of it and be respectful of that place as well?
Josh, did you actually ride that dirt bike?
Josh:I did not!
Dang! Did you even get on it or test it out?
Josh:It’s a funny story. [laughs] I’d ridden a bike, like, twice in my life. Because of that, Kat signed me up for motocross lessons. At first, it was just me riding my bike around a hill for a while. I was like, “I got this.” Then, the instructor was like, “Let’s try it when you let go of the clutch and you accelerate really fast.” I did it, and it was fine. Then he said, “Let’s do it again, but harder this time.” I did it way too hard and I did a wheelie and threw myself back onto the bike, kind of in a Superman position, trying to throw my fist forward to stop it. I’m swerving and swerving, trying to avoid the only tree that’s in the area for miles. [laughs] I eventually teetered and fell, but I was totally embarrassed.
Kat: He wasn’t allowed on a bike ever again. [laughs]
Josh:Other than that, it was great!
In terms of character actors, I think males outnumber females too much for me. I love female character actors, and you’ve got one of the best ones in your film, Juliette Lewis. But she’s not cast in her typical role of playing a cartoonish personality.
Kat: It was great, because like you said, she hadn’t really played this kind of role, this real, kind of subdued character. It was an interesting flip on people’s expectations of her. She was really rad to work with. She went places I wasn’t expecting. She’s incredible.
Do you have any metal recommendations for our readers who perhaps haven’t dipped their toes into the genre?
Kat: Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All is classic. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Pig Destroyer I love.
Kat: Slayer, yeah. I used Agalloch for the black metal short I was working on. I love them. Deafheaven I like a lot.
Sunbather is so good.
Kat: Right!? It’s funny, there’s a song on that album that I was trying so hard to fit into the film, but in the end it just didn’t work out.
I’m just glad we somehow got Deafheaven into this interview.
Kat: [laughs] The best!