'The Bad Batch' Director Ana Lily Amirpour On Building A Wasteland And Throwing Knives With Jason Momoa [Interview]

The Bad Batch is a vibrant and surreal western with a quiet drifter (Suki Waterhouse), a towering but sensitive cannibal (Jason Momoa), a mute savior (Jim Carrey), and a mysterious leader called the Dream (Keanu Reeves). Ana Lily Amirpour's film mixes death and loss, psychedelia and body builders, to tell a story that's certainly original. Amirpour's follow-up to her breakout debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, feels like a completely new body built with a few old spare parts.

The writer-director's sophomore effort has a kind of freewheeling, acid-induced flow to it – shots are bursting with color and life. Amirpour told us about imagining some of these frames along with creating the world, Arlen and Miami Man, and the music from The Bad Batch.

Below, read our Ana Lily Amirpour interview.

This movie has definitely stuck with me since seeing it.

Can you tell me what pieces stayed with you? I'm very curious.

The visuals, for sure, but I like the idea of watching someone completely adjust to a different way of life, basically having to abandon the way you looked at the world and question what's good and bad in a place like this. 

I love hearing how people interact with it, and remember, and think about things, too.

Have any interpretations in particular stood out for you?

I feel like for me, when one of the things that ... It's just weird. I'm just realizing it now as I'm having these conversations with people about the movie. I think because it's a movie that, for me, looks at and reflects on American systems and our social cultural systems and realities and tensions. It's questioning what makes us who we are, and questioning our environment, and the hand we're dealt. I don't know. I just feel like the conversations that I've got into with people about it, when they connect to it in a certain way, are really deep and psychedelic. Like, you know? It's not something where you'd be like, oh it's cool when that happened. Like, we're talking about the fabric of humanity in a way.

I know you started off with the image of a girl missing an arm and a leg. What other images and ideas did you have in mind from the beginning? 

I think like, that [image of a girl missing an arm and a leg] was really the leading thing and it was the feeling of being that incapacitated by life. But, trying to be brave, and just going on, and figuring out how you exist again, and again, and again; which is what I feel like I'm just always doing. And then I knew that there was going to be this small desert community of survivors in a lifeboat out there. Like, the dream and comfort and you know, someone who is rebuilding civilization or society and so it was really fun to ... 'Cause I knew I wanted to have this guy [the Dream]. And he just got these people in this town and he's protecting them and taking care of them in a way. And that he was gonna be dishing out psychedelics and that there would be these weekly gatherings and stuff. So, it was just another thing I was planning and was a fun thing to observe and design the story; was creating that weird nighttime alter-ego of the desert.

There's a life in a day kind of approach in The Bad Batch, where you don't have every character stopping to explain backstories or the world. You really go along with Arlen's point of view.

Yeah. I mean, it's weird though. I do actually have the answers. I'm planning on doing a one-off, a supplemental graphic novel. Because the backstories are really cool, I just thought it'd be fun to do that. So, I actually do know how the dream creates his little operation. But, I feel like do you every really know? Here we are in a city or a town in America or wherever you are. Do you really understand how the system works? Who does? I don't even know if we can. We can sit here and grasp for the facts and the information but we know so little about the systems that we exist in.

You know what I mean? Like, even if you just think about how a certain plastic is made. That your coffee cup that you get every day at your coffee store ... It's so vast and overreaching; like all the things that comprise modern day life. I kind of stripped it down. I'm really interested in how civilization grows, and builds, and begins. And how we form these little societies and things that become "civilization." But I feel like, for me anyway, we know so little about what our daily lives are made out of.

You seem to be asking some of the same questions as Arlene.

Yeah, you mean the shit speech?

Yeah. 

Like, you know, your shit goes away from you. I mean, it's a miracle.

The Bad Batch

Suki Waterhouse is so expressive. She communicates a lot by saying little. What were you looking for in an actress for that part, or did you write with her in mind?

It's that magic. For Momoa, I wrote Miami Man for him. And then the other characters, once I had written the script, I knew who I wanted. For Arlen, there was just no actress of that age that did it for me in the way I wanted. So, then I ended up really excited to just discover someone new, you know? I just remember seeing her tape. My casting director sent me a bunch of tapes, actresses reading the scene. And I was just like, she just like was it. I didn't even want to say anything to like fuck it up. She just naturally was this girl. And she brought it to life in a way. She looks incredible but it's not skin deep. It's like this deeper, wild, grave thing about her. I'm really just excited to see her in more movies. It's kind of like one of those special, special, special treats to get to make a film and discover someone new because then it's kinda like I hope that's who I get to watch in more movies.

Arlen and Miami Man, the both of them have such distinct presences. Their costumes, too, make them pop together. What inspired their looks?

Totally. They both are really distinct. I mean, she's clearly defined by her physical ... You know, once she's missing an arm and a leg, I kind of wanted the winkie shorts. And I knew we were gonna design with Tony Gardner, who's my practical set designer. We were gonna design a prosthetic leg that was basically like, that's what the limbs were like in the 30s and 40s. That one was actually designed off of an actual real prosthetic leg that we had looked at as a reference. So that character already had a certain look built into her.

And then with Miami Man, I wrote it for Jason Momoa. And if you picture Jason Momoa that's Momoa. There's no other Jason Momoa. I see him as a mix between this gladiator Momoa but also Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing; a Cubano, smooth, sexy, kind of guy with the pink pants. And Jason's really super creative and collaborative about the physical stuff, and the costume stuff, and like his knives. Both of those knives were Jason's knives. He has a massive, amazing knife collection. It's like, butcher knives, swords, Samurai swords, throwing knives. The first day I hung out with him, flew to Atlanta to hang out with him. He was like in the backyard of his house throwing knives at this wooden target. He taught me how to throw knives. The knife that he ends up throwing in the film, it was those knives. That was the first five minutes of meeting him.

So like all of these things that are part of him came to life in Miami Man and how he would look. And the holster that the butcher knife is in, I just loved that. Momoa's idea based on what's given like a taxi driver. 'Cause my thing was, everything that you find in The Bad Batch, everything that these people have on them, everything in that inhabits the space should be reminiscent of the 80s and 90s America. Nothing too tech. Everything has to be like you could believe that you would find it here. So, everything, you know what I mean, is kind of lo-fi. So, that's what was so cool. He would have like this taxi driver, self-made holster. And then we made it with my costume designer Natalie O'Brien. I was just like, I love that stuff. The details of the characters and bringing them to life. It's joyous stuff. I feel like they should all ... I want to own all of the action figures of The Bad Batch. And imagine how cool it would be to have Arlen and have her arms and legs magnetically. Like you could have Arlen in many different forms and stages.

[Laughs] You should talk to someone about getting that done. 

I know, right? Someone needs to do this pronto.

Music is very integral to your movies. Do you listen to music while your write? How early on do you know your song choices? 

It's way at the beginning. I had the soundtrack before even the script is all the way done. I actually end up ... I have more music when I'm planning, and writing, and doing. Sometimes I'll have a playlist for certain characters. And then I give those to the actors and I'm like, this is what they feel like and this is what they sound like. All the music is played on the set. Every department head and everybody in the cast has it well before when they're given the script. And it totally leads the way. Sometimes things shift around but I'm playing it on set. So it's very much planned into the fabric of the filmmaking. And if anything, I end up having to cut things out because I have too much. But, I'm so excited about this special edition vinyl we're gonna do for The Bad Batch. The vinyl is gonna be so sick. The artwork that Mondo and Death Waltz are doing for it is like next level. I can't wait.

***

The Bad Batch is now in theaters and available on iTunes and Amazon.