I recently had the pleasure to talk with Swiss director Anthony Jerjen whose crime drama film Inherit the Viper (which I also reviewed), starring Pearl Harbor’s Josh Hartnett, Adventureland’s Margarita Levieva, and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’s Bruce Dern, is now playing in select theaters, as well as on-demand and digital starting today, January 10, 2020. Inherit the Viper explores the life of a pair of American siblings whose dealings in opioids lead to a fatal mistake that brings violence and chaos to their family and town. Below is a transcript of that interview, edited for clarity.
Hannah Tran: Seeing that you’re originally from Switzerland, I was wondering what made you interested in telling a story that’s based in American culture?
Anthony Jerjen: To be honest, there are two things. First, when I read the script, I had never heard of the opioid epidemic. It was something that was actually started back in Europe. And I felt like it was really one of the only movies up to this point that was discussing this topic. The topic and the way it was treated with this story felt like a really interesting approach, so that really intrigued me. Second, a lot of Europeans, we romanticize the American look as sort of the last frontier, and that is something that I really love. I think it is very vintage. And to have such a dramatic story, it’s something I really wanted to sink my teeth into.
HT: And this is your first feature film. What was it like making the jump from shorts to features and what were some of the challenges you faced as a first-time feature film director?
AJ: I think it’s always very scary to make the jump because there are just more people involved, and you have more responsibility. To be honest, I feel like making short films is maybe more difficult because there’s such limited time to tell a story that you have to compromise on some aspects, so you have to be very, very smart about what’s really important to the story. When you do a feature film, you have more time to explore the elements, and you can be a little more subtle. With an independent movie like this, you have to get with the fact that you don’t have unlimited means and that you have limited time to shoot it. Every bigger project has a bit more inertia, so you have more time to make changes on the sly. But, at the same time, you can achieve things that you can’t otherwise with a larger crew. So it’s a little bit of a balance between having more means but still having time to improvise.
HT: Like you said, this film focuses on the opioid epidemic, and I was curious to hear from you what made you most interested in telling this type of story through the dynamic of the family?
AJ: Well, when you look at all the social studies, usually they collect their data through the unit of the family, the nucleus of American society. So, when I read it, it made perfect sense because if you are to make a social study or political statement, although I don’t really think we made that much of a political statement, then it’s really interesting to look at the smallest units of that society. So, I thought about being relatable and making a human story. And I think the reason why you don’t hear much about the parents in this movie, in a way, is to show that it is very current, and it is going to be the new generation’s burden. It’s not going to stop, unfortunately. It’s already transforming. The means are changing, and it reflects a symptom of a much bigger problem, like the recession or there being less jobs in the bigger industries.
HT: The family is all really great. And you’re working with such a great cast. I was wondering what the casting process was like for this?
AJ: We were very lucky to have a fantastic casting director, Orly Sitowitz, and, when we discussed who we were hoping to get in the movie, Josh’s name came quite early. I remember watching Penny Dreadful, and this was the first time I had seen Josh in a long time, and I thought he would be fantastic in this movie. And then he read the script, and he liked it. We met, and we talked about my take on his character and the story. He and Bruce Dern were really the anchors of the whole cast. We really based the rest of the casting around those two.
HT: And the movie itself was so high on emotions throughout, and I was wondering what it was like working with the actors to get through what I can only assume were pretty heavy days?
AJ: I think we really have to give it up to the cast. They really are just amazing, established actors. They made it happen, really. I tried my best to make the best of the situation so they could all do their best work, but everyone knew going in that we would have very little time and have a lot of very emotional scenes. Some of them you can move to the back-end of the shoot where everyone knows each other, but some of them you have to do on day one when everyone’s just getting to know each other. So, it’s definitely a challenge.
HT: And lastly, I was wanting to know if you had any upcoming projects you’re working on right now that you can let us know about?
AJ: Well, I can’t say anything, but I am working on new projects right now that are quite different. They are more genre-based movies, but I hope I will be able to talk about them soon.
HT: Well, that sounds very exciting! Thank you for talking to me. Good luck with your future projects.
AJ: Yes, thank you for calling, and thank you for watching the movie.