Through a “Looking Glass”: An Interview with Director Tim Hunter

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Tim Hunter is a veteran director of both film and television. Making his debut as a screenwriter with the 1979 film Over the Edge, Hunter shifted to directing when he re-teamed with Matt Dillon on Tex. While Hunter would follow it up with films like Sylvester, Paint It Black, and River’s Edge, Hunter has also found success as a television actor, directing episodes of series like Hannibal, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and recently, Riverdale. Hunter returns to feature films with Looking Glass, coming to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on February 16 from Momentum Pictures.

World Film Geek had the chance to talk with Hunter about making the film.

Thank you so much Tim for talking about Looking Glass. This was quite a pretty good film as it kept me engaged into the plot with its twists and turns.
Oh good! I’m so glad you got into it. You know it’s a small picture so it needs people to get into it. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

You’ve done both films and television work. How did you get approached for this film?
The producer sent me the script with Nicolas Cage already attached to it. The script was fully formed well and it was approved by Nic so I took it on as an assignment. It’s in the neo noir, murder mystery genre that I really love and the opportunity to work with Nic Cage was exciting. So, it just came to me and I was really happy to dive into it.

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Nicolas Cage and Marc Blucas in Looking Glass (Momentum Pictures)

I felt this film brings one of Nicolas Cage’s best recent performances. Having seen him in another recent film, Mom and Dad, he went crazy in that film. Here, he does a 180 and tackles a more serious and emotional role. What was he like on the set of the film?
He was great! Here’s an actor who does a number of films a year and he’s pretty much great in all of them. I think a director could possibly be worried at the beginning because Nic goes from movie to movie that maybe he doesn’t care that much about all of the material or he doesn’t find that much to do in.

But he showed up knowledgeable of every detail of the script, how he wanted to play it. He understood the nuances of it. He understood his character was a flawed everyman who tries to do the right thing but has to deal with the dark, psychological issues that are still inside him. He was just a complete pro and everyone felt his commitment to it.

And it brought everybody up. Robin Tunney had always wanted to work with him. Marc Blucas and Ernie Lively, who play the sheriff and truck driver, were excited to be playing scenes with him. It was a nice piece of business. One of the scenes between Nic and the sheriff and the sheriff takes him by surprise questioning him about the murder and if he did it and kept rolling with it. That was something Nic had in mind and actually worked it out with Marc. Before they shot the scene and they popped it on me.  So he couldn’t have been more committed. And that made the whole experience pretty exciting.

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Nicolas Cage and Robin Tunney in Looking Glass (Momentum Pictures)

The film has a pretty good supporting cast, from Robin Tunney as Cage’s wife, Marc Blucas as a police officer, and Ernie Lively as one of the locals who has an addiction in his own right. The performances seem natural and not forced. Did the cast have input in how to convey their performances?
I had worked with Robin before and so I asked her if she wanted to work with Nic. There were aspects of the character that were not as fully developed in the script, so, she, Nic, and I went through it and selected certain scenes where we felt we can bring a little more out in terms of the underlying emotional issues and bring some depth into them.

Because of my television experience, I worked with Marc on Necessary Roughness and I worked with Ernie on a number of shows in supporting parts. I knew what these guys can do, so I brought them in with the confidence that they can come in and give me great performances. And I think they did just that.

I love actors and love acting. I always thought that writing was the most difficult job in the business and then acting and then directing in a distant third, especially if come naturally to you to have to play a scene over and over again and find the emotional heart of it. Keep it real and spontaneous and still deal with the repetition of planning it over and over again from different angles. It’s not easy and I didn’t want these performances to go overboard. I wanted them to be real and nuanced. And I thought the cast was wonderful. I was so happy to be working with these guys.

It does help that you’ve worked with them before, so it brought the film on a grounded level to where they can actually perform without too much pressure.
Exactly. You have to find the heart of the scene and keep it grounded with underlying emotions. And with this kind of a cast, they were never interested in grandstanding, or overplaying it. They always went in the other direction. One of the things they are especially responding to is Nic’s performance, as it is a quiet performance with a lot of subtlety and nuance compared to some of the Nic full-on psycho roles that he’s been doing at the same time. So it was a chance to work on him from a different register from some of the parts he’s done recently.

Were there any difficulties you faced during production?
Not really. It was a small production but it was very organized. We shot for three weeks in Kenab, Utah. Largely really based on a visually striking motel. Then we moved to St. George on set. Room 10 of the hotel was a set, the tunnel was a set. Everything else was on location. So the biggest problem with that is doing it with the tight budget and scheduling. It was about a 20-day shoot but everybody was into it so it went by pretty smoothly. We rehearsed the love scenes very carefully so the actresses can feel very comfortable and have a dramatic effect as well, not like softcore stuff. So you just meet the challenges.

Are you continuing your work on television and will you do another feature film?
I directed another film from the same producers called The Smiley Face Killer, which was written by Bret Easton Ellis (the author of the novel American Psycho). I won’t get too much into that but it’s a small feature as well. I did an episode of Bosch for Amazon and I directed an episode of Riverdale, which aired a few weeks ago. So yeah, I’m always looking for work. I’m a freelance director but yeah I’d love to do more feature films and people seemed to enjoy this one so hopefully that will lead into more.

Excellent! Looking Glass comes to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on February 16. If you like a good mystery film and you want to see some good performances, then this is one to check out. Thank you again Tim for talking about the film.
Thank you so much!

A special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Tim Hunter for making this interview possible.

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