Unlocking the Key: Charlie Plummer on his Horrifying Discovery of The Clovehitch Killer

Building up an impressive resume, Charlie Plummer continues his budding career with this viscerally effective horror film.

Telling the tale of a son (Charlie Plummer) who, after the discover of some upsetting images in his father’s possession, has to confront the possibility that one of the most important people in his life may be a famed serial killer, The Clovehitch Killer is a disturbing slow-burn that forces its way under your skin and tightens its grip on your heart the further it goes. It’s both a visceral horror film and a biting peek into the darkest corners of the American Family.

MovieMaker had the chance to speak with rising star Charlie Plummer about the beguiling, unique nature of the film as well as the secrets behind his impressive performance.

Ryan Williams, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Tell me a little bit about how you came to choose this project.

Charlie Plummer (CP): I’d actually met with the director [Duncan Skies] and screenwriter [Chris Ford] back when I was 15 or 16. My agents had sent the script to me just to give it a read through and I really loved it. I really loved that it was taking a genre that I was a big fan of growing up and kind of turned it on its head, playing with the central idea of the film: examining the part of growing up where you realize your parents aren’t who they say they are. Duncan’s goal was to engage with this in a very suspenseful manner, while sticking to who these characters are at their core and never shying away from that. I felt like it was a really gutsy script in that way and that was one of my favorite aspects about that. When I met with Duncan, I found that I really liked him a lot and liked his plan for where the script would go. When Dylan [McDermott] signed on, I got excited hearing how passionate was about the project and the character, especially with a character like this. After that, I went and did a couple different movies and was able to get a little more experience under my belt before I came back to this. You always need some experience before you do something as intense as this.

MM: What do you think the benefit of coming on to a project this early is?

CP: Coming on to a project this early always gives me more time to think about who this character is and to grow with this. It also gives me the most possible time to collaborate with the director on the story and flesh all of the ideas, themes and character arcs out as much as possible. I’ve mainly done independent films so I’m used to having about three weeks to two months, at the most, of prep time before we start shooting. When you have the script for a couple of years, you get to really think about the film and work to make it a central part of your headspace. You really get to feel confident in your understanding of the material. I think it’s always important for me to be a part of this process at an early point.

MM: You mention you’ve mostly done independent films. What are some of the benefits you’ve discovered working on independent films versus other, higher budget productions?

CP: I grew up doing independent films so that’s really the only thing I knew for a long time. Some of the recent films I’ve worked on are, in comparison, bigger but I’ve never done anything that cost more than $70 million to make. I have no idea what it’s like to make a Star Wars, Transformers or something like that. I really love independent production because, though you may have less money and time on the day, traditionally, you have a lot more creative freedom. You can be much more clear, open and even-handed in your relationship with the director. You don’t have to deal with 50 or more people weighing in on the small decisions. For me, as an actor, these small productions can be great but, as with everything, it depends on the kind of movie you are making. Personally, it all comes down to the filmmaker. If my relationship with the filmmaker is strong, where I trust them and they trust me, then it doesn’t matter if we’re making a movie for $250,000 or $250 million. That’s always the most important relationship in this business. I always try to prioritize and make sure that, before we start shooting, the filmmaker and I on the same page. I need to know how he or she likes to work and that’s that.

MM: Can you tell me about your relationship with Dylan McDermott? How were you able to develop your relationship so convincingly for the screen?

CP: Just like how my relationship with the filmmaker is built on trust, I really feel that way about my relationship with my fellow actors as well. Making movies is a team sport and you really want trust whoever is on the other side of the camera, much like you want to trust whoever is on the other side of the screen. I was incredibly fortunate to work with him Dylan. He’s a phenomenal actor and I really respect his approach to the work. Hopefully he feels the same about to me. As for our relationship on the screen, it was just about trusting that respect, playing off each other and then seeing what happens, hoping that we get something that’s truthful and exciting for both of us. We were able to meet up a few times before shooting in order to really get a chance to talk things through. We talked about the certain points of the relationship that were integral to the understanding of the film, so we could have a thorough understanding of each other before we even got to set. We shared openly about what our relationships were like with our parents and then ultimately the way that these guys interacted. That was a big center point for us.

Dylan McDermott is a menacing presence in The Clovehitch Killer

MM: Do you feel you put yourself in a different mindset when approaching genre cinema?

I think the working experience is quite different, even if my preparation isn’t always different. For a film like this, you have to be really calculated with what you show and what you don’t show. That was always a part of Duncan’s process and what he had in mind as the director. With something like Lean on Pete, you have a director like Andrew [Haigh] who’s all about showing everything and not hiding anything from the audience, which lets each viewer interpret what everything means. As an actor, that really does affect the day-to-day moviemaking process, as well as the conversations that you have with your director about how you work and how you want to make everything happen. A lot of the times these discussions are about whether we choose to follow my instincts or whether we choose to go with what the director – usually, what the director says is probably what’s best for the movie. I think it does really have an effect on the day-to day.

In terms of the prep beforehand, I don’t operate too differently. The only experience where I would say I changed up my process is on All the Money in the World and that’s because that film was based on true events and I was playing somebody who actually lived. I had a more expansive database that I could draw from and research about who this person was and who he turned out to be.

MM: It’s an unusually bloodless horror movie. I’ve seen you in a lot of pain in your other movies. Did you find something refreshing about working on this kind of horror movie?

CP: Certainly. This guy is going through something that I definitely haven’t experienced, but he’s also going through something that I haven’t really performed yet. Without spoiling anything, my character does suffer some physical pain. I think it’s really more of a mental torture, though, and spread out across a slow burn, as well. I think the really painful, violent thing about it is, while there are all these other things going on around him, the thing that really hurts him is that he has to be the one to acknowledge the horrifying truth. He has to be the one who lets that pain in. I think that, as a human being, we’re always deciding between acknowledging things for what they actually are or letting ourselves off the hook so we don’t have to feel bad or we don’t have to feel pain. This character is having to go through this experience on an extreme level. In a lot of ways, that is a very different thing from having your ear cut off or experiencing a terrifying, traumatic event before your very eyes. It’s a much slower, much more gradual realization. I was able to talk with the director about what this experience would be like — especially a character who grew up sheltered, home schooled and in a religious family. To find out what all of that adds to it.

MM: In exploring such fascinating territory in regards to religion, where do you go to for inspiration?

CP: I grew up in a religious household but not one that practices christianity. My view on religion is drastically different than what Tyler’s would be. I do have lots of family in areas that are similar to the one that Tyler grows up in that are very religious and even home-schooled as well. I have had a little glimpse at what that’s like, or at least, what my perception of this world is like. Honestly, if you’re trying to research and understand and connect the dots between the surface level, where I can’t necessarily relate, and the deeper level. I grew up in a small town though not a small town in Kentucky but, rather, a small town in New York so i was able to get a sense of what that dynamic is like. And now I live in New York City and it’s very very different. When you really can be isolated to your house and the 10 people you see in a day, it changes a lot psychologically. After this, my family moved around a lot growing up, from city to city. I went to 8 different schools.

I grew up very, very close with my family and was practically home schooled, so I have an idea what that’s like. The relationship where your parents are a huge part of your day-to-day life and you trust them with your life. I really understood what that’s like and what’s on the line when that’s your reality. It’s not your parents that you see a couple times a year, these are huge, huge centerpieces to what my life is. The idea of losing one of these centerpieces is not only terrifying on an emotional level, it’s really terrifying for what your daily life would be if you didn’t have this. I was able to take all of this and then give the character the keys to this – if you unlock this door, you will lose everything. And that’s the question behind the film: Do you unlock the door or do you not? That’s the question we’re constantly fighting in our day to day life but rarely are we ever confronted with something like this. But again, I think it’s all something we can connect with: do we turn a blind eye or do we want to look at things as they truly are. MM

The Clovehitch Killer opened in theaters and On Demand November 16, 2018, courtesy of IFC Midnight. All photos courtesy of IFC Midnight.

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