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William Friedkin: Technology is creating more opportunities than ever

July 29, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • Oscar-winning director William Friedkin has just completed a new film, 'Killer Joe,' based on a play by Tracy Letts. It stars Matthew McConaughey and opens Aug. 3.
Oscar-winning director William Friedkin has just completed… (Photo by Steve Appleford )

William Friedkin has been directing films for roughly 45 years. You wouldn't know it to look at him. You'd likelier guess that he was born around the time his first feature — the 1967 Sonny and Cher vehicle “Good Times” — was made. Maybe it's just his enthusiasm and energy.

Assuming you're not one of the few who caught “Good Times,” you're likelier to have become aware of him in 1971 when his gritty, low-budget cop film “The French Connection” was a huge surprise hit; or the following spring, when it received nine Oscar nominations, five of which (including Best Picture and Best Director) it won. He followed it up two years later with “The Exorcist,” which was an even bigger hit and became the most iconic horror film in decades. Since then, he's made roughly a dozen more movies, including his latest — the riveting, violent, sardonic “Killer Joe.” Like its predecessor, “Bug,” it's from a screenplay by Tracy Letts, based on Letts' own play.

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In “Killer Joe,” Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a ruthless hired killer who gets hired by a not very bright Texas boy named Chris (Emile Hirsch) to kill Chris' mother for insurance money so he can pay off gambling debts. He has no cash to pay upfront, so Joe insists on holding, as “collateral,” Chris' sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). Not surprisingly, things do not go perfectly.

Speaking with Friedkin recently, I asked him about Letts, these two projects, and adapting stage plays in general.

Andy Klein: Early in your career you made “The Birthday Party” and “Boys in the Band,” both theatrical adaptations, and then didn't work from stage material for another 36 years, until you made “Bug.” Is there a reason?

William Friedkin: Just that they were great screenplays with wonderful characters and menace and humor. Material comes
from different places, but in those cases it happened to come from a play. I've done 16 films, and they come from novels, original ideas and events … and, in those cases, plays.

AK: But suddenly two films in a row from the same playwright?

WF: It's just that Letts is the first playwright I've felt this way about since [Harold] Pinter. I was on the same page with Pinter and now again with Letts. I just love the characters and the stories and the dialogue. We sort of share the same world view.

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