When it comes down to the genre of true crime, especially in entertainment, the name Ted Bundy is one that most recognize. Just recently, there have been a variety of films and shows made examining the serial killer who was active in the ’70s, and much of the fascination comes from the fact that Bundy was seen as “normal.” When we think of criminals, we think of a separation of good and evil in every sense of the idea, and to see a man who was able to trick so many was unnerving.
However, ‘No Man of God’ takes an all new look at Bundy (played by Luke Kirby), and it’s one that gives a voice to the voiceless through one man, FBI agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood.) It’s clear throughout the film, which centers mostly on their relationship that Bill is, without even trying, is a FOIL to Bundy from the outside. He’s religious, someone who thinks of others before himself and a man who doesn’t want his name with Bundy’s for any clout… he just wants to try and take a peek and understand who this man is. But it’s through conversations that Bill discovers perhaps it comes down to choices, as he peels back the mask of Bundy.
With this format, director Amber Sealey is aiming to give the victims more of that clout that the public gave so much to Bundy, and without any violence shown, ‘No Man of God’ gives the most intimate look at a relationship two men had in the face of evil.
Kirby sat down to discuss what went into playing Bundy in ‘No Man of God.’
I read that you were a bit hesitant with taking on this role. What were some of your reservations?
It was due to my own kind of stuff, not wanting to invest in a story where it would involve imagining all of this violence and looking at the inside of that for a while…[it] felt really scary and ugly. The other sort of bigger conservation was about a person who has been kind of made into a bit of a myth. People talk about him in very strange ways where sometimes you find some people holding him up into some sort of esteem, and I just didn’t want to participate in that.
I know you can’t control those conversations at all, but we wanted to do the best we could to not use that to our advantage. Instead we wanted to go in a different direction where it wasn’t advantageous or turning it into some sort of brand that comes with entertainment. Those were some of the conversations, and Amber had such an interesting take on it and such a compelling angle that really her voice became such an authority to me and I felt at some point that I just had to follow her into it and through it and that all would be well.
I’m happy for the experience, because it’s good to work and I got to work with Elijah Wood which was definitely a draw. It turned out to be one of those experience that felt worthy of your sweat, your toil and your time.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
I did as much as I could stomach on a daily basis. One of the virtues we had at the time was we were all in isolation, which certainly speaks to where he would have been at. I was holed away for a couple of weeks because we had to fly out to LA and we had to do two weeks of quarantine, and it was just a lot of alone time and quiet rumination and trying to invest into work just as much as I could stomach.
But it wasn’t until we were in that space that we started to play around. It was actually a very playful environment and we didn’t feel beholden to this guy where we had to be rigid or sustain any kind of legacy—in that regard we were freed up. But with Bill it was a different story, we were able to speak to him and that was a great way into this tale. That was illuminating to me when I was making my gripes about the ugliness of this material, I was able to speak to people who had looked at this head-on for decades and were able to come out of it okay.
How was it working with Elijah Wood both on and off screen?
In terms of getting to know each other on set was fluid and fun. We’re around the same age so there was a similar zeitgeist on set and a lot to talk about, just forging a little friendship was how it felt. I don’t think that this [movie] is a story about friendship, but it certainly for one of the characters is a story about what they think is a friendship. This is a person who really had a lot of ridiculously skewed ideas about human relationships. But it felt easy [for us.] Elijah’s just a sweetheart and an awesome dude and a dedicated worker, so it was one of those things where we showed up and locked in and at the end of the day felt accomplished.
How would you describe this relationship between Ted and Bill for audiences?
I think it offers the thing sometimes you have with strangers where you just wonder about the possible worlds… you meet somebody and think: In another world could this have been something different? Certainly for my character, he presents that as a hypothetical. I think he’s always trying to search his place in the world and get out of his situation and get out of his culpability and his crimes and presenting Bill with: I could have been where you are and you could have been where I am—we feel these things with strangers.
He did his best to use people to stay alive and I think he did that with Bill. Bill provided something different than the other people he had an interaction with—he never felt that Bill was doing something for his selfish needs in terms of trying to up his ante in the public world. Bill has kept a lot of this stuff pretty close to him for a long time. It’s probably his own goodness that would make him feel conflicted about making this anything else than informational.
Even if they aren’t mentioned, it’s said this film was for the victims. There was also a discussion that, for those who worked on it, this film specifically wants to be the last Ted Bundy film to be made. What are your thoughts?
I think it’s hard to put a genie back in the bottle, but I think what Amber was a reminder of the voiceless. I think it’s done with a deft hand and really intelligently and really with a pulse of the movie. In some ways, I think as you’re watching, its challenging the audience to question their participation in the story. The movie works because it had a good rhythm and pace and it’s entertaining but I also think throughout it, it had this kind of approach to challenge us and to elevate the conversation. I really understand what Amber is saying and she made every effort to make that happen.
RLJE Films will release ‘No Man of God’ in theaters, VOD and on digital Aug. 27.