Ahead of 2023’s exciting iteration of the Toronto International Film Festival, Allison and I interviewed director Moritz Mohr about his outrageous, balls-to-the-wall action thriller, Boy Kills World. In-demand actor Bill Skarsgård (Stephen King’s It, Barbarian) plays deaf-mute lead Boy with a ferocious and vengeful energy. Brought in at a young age by a mysterious shaman credited as “Mentor,” (Yayan Ruhian, The Raid), Boy (initially played by twins Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti, Big Little Lies) trains with a single purpose: kill Hilda.
Moritz gave us an exclusive interview about the film’s Asian inspirations, the involvement of horror legend Sam Raimi, Skarsgård’s “stoic Swedish sense of humor,” and much more. Read on for our interview with Moritz.
Can you tell us a little bit about the seven-year journey to realize Boy Kills World into the fully-formed action extravaganza now debuting at TIFF?
MORITZ MOHR: We started out shooting a proof of concept trailer on our own dime back in 2016. We took it to L.A. on a whim a year later, and got really lucky when Roy Lee and Sam Raimi showed interest in the project. It was a dream come true. We found a studio partner and started developing the script.
After some ups and downs (the world going in lockdown for one) we found our partners in the indie sector: The producers at Hammerstone studios and Nthibah Pictures really believed in our vision for the project and supported it wherever they could. They even raised the budget to make the action bigger! It was a wild ride, and I am glad that we all wanted the same thing for the movie!
Boy narrates the entire movie, often providing hilarious insight to the proceedings. Was the entirety of Bill’s dialogue recorded off set?
MORITZ: Yes, we recorded it during the editing process, changing and adapting it as needed. It gave us alot of creative freedom. Bill was very aware of the dialogue, and had watched a lot of silent performances for inspiration [it was amazing how committed he was to nonverbal communication]; he knew that without dialogue he had to portray a wide range of intense emotions in such a way that the audiences knew exactly what he was feeling. When you view his performance through this lens—a complex character that is tough and strong, yet damaged, innocent and vulnerable—the nuances and transparency of his performance is apparent. How many action stars can’t hear or speak? It affected his positioning on screen, and how he always had to look at the speaker and be hyper aware. We recorded the narration in post over his performance, but found in many instances we didn’t need it because of the strength of Bill’s physical performance.
Speaking of Bill, how did the in-demand Swedish actor become involved, and how did he help keep things light in between takes?
MORITZ: Bill Skarsgård was the first actor we cast. He saw the previz and read the script, and was immediately drawn to the challenge of bringing Boy to life. We were looking for a great character actor that could also do action and had a sort of childlike innocence. Bill saw the challenges, and committed himself to it 100%—he is a risk-taker. It comes through clear in his performance. In prep, we did a little test shoot with him in Berlin, while he was working on John Wick, and he blew us away—he definitely delivered on his promise. His days on set were intense and long, and in between takes he would be reviewing the previous takes. He has that stoic Swedish sense of humor which got us all through it.
Jessica Rothe steals the show in some scenes, particularly in the final act. Can you tell us a bit about the design inspirations for June 27?
MORITZ: I am an anime fan and all the characters are supposed to have a certain animation quality in that they should be instantly recognizable. With June, a bit of 90s animation reference went into it: Sabre rider’s and the star sheriff.
In HBO’s Big Little Lies, Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti play the younger songs of Alexander Skarsgård’s character. In Boy Kills World, the twins obviously play the younger version of another Skarsgård, Bill. How did their casting come about, and involvement in this project?
MORITZ: That was definitely a crazy coincidence. The credit to finding and casting them solely goes to our casting director, Nancy Nayor, who did an amazing job! We cast quite a wide net for the role of young Boy. It was global search, but we were delighted to get Nicholas and Cameron. They are both such accomplished young actors with such a wide range of work already. The way they both collaborated to bring the single character to life was brilliant—they committed to the emotions, the stunts and the training. They are amazing young actors.
Filming on location in Cape Cod, South Africa, must have been a wild ride. Do you have any favorite memories you would like to share about your time on set?
MORITZ: Shooting in and around Cape Town was an amazing experience. The team was great, and the area is very beautiful. We tried to create our own world, a city surrounded by jungle and water, neither American nor European. Cape Town provided the perfect canvas for that. We just loved the people there, the crews are so talented and generous. I have so many favorite moments from this shoot—both on set and off set. The locations were all fantastic, and the city is stunning with such a great food scene. Everywhere you look is a stunning view and some amazing restaurant. Favorite moments on set would have to be the endless riffing and ad libbing from Andrew Koji, Isaiah, Sharlto and Brett Gelman, a lot of which ended up in the final cut.
What were your primary cinematic influences in crafting the zany atmosphere of this unique film?
MORITZ: I am a huge fan of Asian cinema. Old Kung Fu and Samurai movies, John Woo’s early action masterpieces, Takashi Miike and of course Park Chan Wook. I worked really hard to create a world that was familiar, yet unfamiliar in a time uncertain. I wanted to create something fresh and different, and as we recruited our department heads, we challenged them all to “wave their crazy flag”.
Producer Sam Raimi is a huge supporter of genre films. How did he come on board, and how hands-on was he during filming?
MORITZ: Sam was on board from a very early stage. He loved the genre and freshness of this audacious script, and my unique and fresh take on it. He has been with me on this ride for 6 of the 7 years, and he has been a great partner and collaborator. He was very involved during the script and the editing stages, and it was fantastic getting his insights and thoughts and his years of experience and wisdom.
The breakneck action in Boy Kills World is on another level from the type of energy we usually see from Western action films. How did you approach filming for some of the more demanding sequences and stunts, such as the live broadcast, or that big final showdown?
MORITZ: The action set pieces were among the scenes we worked out first. Dawid Szatarski, the action designer on the show, created detailed proof of concepts for each scene before the start of principal photography. That way we could be as efficient and fast as possible. This is very clearly a wild and fun revenge movie, showing the destructive path of revenge. It is entertainment, and meant to be a roller coaster ride! It shows very clearly in an audacious and ridiculous tale how we can be manipulated to do things in an “us versus them “ world when there is usually more to it. There are crazy twists and turns that ultimately showcase the importance of thinking for yourself, and being aware of the potential for being manipulated into doing things for some other purpose.
What was your favorite scene to film?
MORITZ: There were so many scenes that were fun to shoot, but the ones with Isiah Mustafa always cracked me up. He ad libbed so many lines that just came unexpected.
Big thanks to Moritz Mohr for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with us! Boy Kills World debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, September 9th, and is a definite must-see if attending in person. Be sure to add it to your watchlist, and keep it on your radar!
My full review for Boy Kills World is coming soon…