INTERVIEW: Amber Sealey and Luke Kirby Talk Bundy for No Man of God
No Man of God gives us a look at some of the most frightening aspects of the Ted Bundy case (in my opinion). Bundy’s horrific crimes offer a terrifying look into misogyny and the male power dynamic. But it is the Bundy tapes that terrify me the most. Because while Ted Bundy was speaking with Detective Bill Hagmaier, it is clear he had no remorse for what he’d done or the scope of his own monstrous behavior.
In Amber Sealey’s film, starring Luke Kirby as Bundy and Elijah Wood as Bill Hagmaier, we get not only an inside look into Bill’s time with Bundy during those four years before Bundy was executed, but a look into Ted Bundy’s refusal to admit to his crimes and bring justice to the families of those he harmed.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film for me was the inclusion of Bundy’s daughter. While she has changed her name and is off the radar, it is documented that she met her father and spent time with him before his execution. One can only imagine how she must have felt seeing all these films almost glorifying her father (or commenting on Bundy’s looks) that have begun to pop up recently. When talking with director Amber Sealey about it, I brought up the fact that his daughter is a millennial and seeing these romanticized versions of Bundy can’t be fun for her, and Sealey had a wonderful response about the idea of how the public now looks at him.
“I mean, you know, I’m just not interested in that. First of all, that’s not real to me. When I listen to the interviews and I watch him talking on, you know, the few videos that are out there, like to me, he seems like this insecure narcissistic, needy, like wants everyone to think he’s so cool and so smart. And so when I look at him, I don’t see that guy, that rock star, you know, I see a kind of, I mean, sure he’s attractive, but I think Luke is way more attractive than Bundy really was. I mean, Bundy was fine looking, but if you look at those photos, like, he’s just average looking, you know, he’s not stunning the way people described him. And so it was really important to all of us, actually all the producers and the writer and you know, to me, it was like, Bundy was not this male model rock star. He was not as smart as everybody says he was, he was not as charismatic as everyone says he was. He wanted to be liked. He was constantly in need of accolades, praise, and that was the Bundy that I wanted to show is, to me the real Bundy.”
Bringing Bundy to life wasn’t easy for actor Luke Kirby either. He’s known for what I affectionately refer to as “hot Lenny Bruce” on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and, more recently, playing Davis Calloway on the new HBO series Gossip Girl. But Bundy is a whole different ball game.
Talking about playing Bundy though, Kirby had to come to terms with his hatred and disgust for Bundy while bringing him to life in a way that didn’t feel exploitive to him.
“I think one of the good things was that I had the good fortune of meeting Amber before we were even sort of on board. And I just got to get out every kind of ugly feeling that I had about it all and, you know, and complicated and how the revulsion that one feels around it all. And Amber was sort of there to hear it. And she had her take on things where she kind of, she felt the responsibility, I think, rightly to approach the material with a deft hand, but, you know, we weren’t just sort of leaning into the ghoulishness of things. We kind of, we did it all gently in a way and tried to not just not explicitly manipulative or use the kind of obvious aesthetic of his violence and the trauma he inflicted, not to use that to our advantage.”
What is interesting to me though is how female filmmakers approach these more graphic and horrific stories, particularly ones that are from our history. While I love American Psycho because of Mary Harron’s take on Patrick Batemen, it’s her work in Charlie Says that shows she wants to give these stories back to those harmed by the men we’ve collectively made famous.
Amber Sealey also masters that art. In No Man of God, there’s a fascinating through line with the women throughout the movie, only one of which speaks, but the women there in the background are representations of Bundy’s victims and the countless women he harms throughout his life, and I do think that having a female director behind the camera helped to give this story the right lens.
Talking with Sealy about how daunting of a task this film was, especially to honor those victims, she gave a beautiful response that shows her vision and why the film works.
“It is daunting in a sense that it was like, to me, that was the most sacred part of the story, you know? Like to me Bundy’s not sacred, but the victims are sacred and their stories and their experiences and their family’s experiences are sacred. They weren’t in the script that I was given. I added all of that and I felt like it was important to it. I just can’t make a movie about these two guys and not have them, like, they’re literally talking about potentially up to a hundred women who have been murdered and young women and, you know, I just feel like I can’t have them not be a part of it. Like, it just feels wrong to me but it was important to me to have them be a part of it in a way that was like not cloying or, you know, just milking the tears. I wanted it to have like some gravitas and some weight and feel like respectful of them and their families.
And I didn’t want to do the thing people do at the end of the movie where they list all the victims names. I just thought that it’s been done. It’s a little trite at this point. So I just was like, we have to have them in somehow. And then I had this idea of like, oh, what if it’s like, you know, there’s only one female speaking role in a movie, which is his lawyer, but other than that, what if every other woman there is a victim and she’s looking, you know, that she starts off looking at Bill and looking at Ted and then eventually she looks at us all down the lens. And yeah, so in there it’s subtle, it’s not the plot of the movie.
Right. But it’s like a sort of meta aspect of it. And then additionally, the, you know, when Bundy goes under the waters as we call it, when he tells everything that he really did to Bill, you know, that moment, it was important to me as well to have Bill be like a surrogate for the victims and a surrogate for like the women in the audience. Because it’s like, I just had no interest in watching like any sort of recreation of the crimes, or even watching, you know, Luke who is imminently watchable, I just had no interest in watching him deliver that monologue straight. We’ve done that, you know, like how can we elevate this and make it complicated, you know, make it have multi-facets.”
No Man of God is available in Theaters and on VOD and Digital Aug. 27.
(image: RLJE films)
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