'The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot' Star Sam Elliott On Making A Movie With *That* Title [Fantasia Film Festival Interview]

There are few actors whose voice and mustache are revered more than those possessed by Sam Elliott. From Road House and We Were Soldiers to The Big Lebowski and last year's heartfelt The Hero, Elliott is often cast as the voice of authority and righteousness in role after role, including the current Netflix series The Ranch and the upcoming Bradley Cooper-starring/directed A Star Is Born (in this latest adaptation, Elliott plays Cooper's manager/brother).

And while the 74-year-old performer is often cast as a hero, it's difficult to remember a time when he's played a character who has killed both Hitler and Bigfoot in the same movie. Then again, there's never been a film quite like The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, from writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski, making his feature debut.

As much as the premise and title of the film may sounds like it's a comedy, in fact, it's told as a straight-forward, alternate history version of the world we live in. Or maybe it's the truest version of history, with a younger version of Elliott's Calvin Barr (Aidan Turner) successfully pulling off a mission to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the early part of the story, then agreeing never to mention the event again, allowing a more acceptable version of history to enter into the world. As an older man, circa 1987, Turner spends most night drinking by himself at his local watering hole, until he is approached by the governments of America and Canada to kill Bigfoot, which is spreading a plague-like disease that threatens public health on a massive scale. And by playing all of this straight-faced and "realistically," Elliott and the filmmakers have made one of the coolest men in movies and television just a little bit cooler. If you want to see Elliott punch Bigfoot in the face in an old-school brawl, look no further.

The Man Who Killed Hitler made its world premiere at Fantasia Festival in Montreal recently, and there couldn't have been a more appropriate setting for a film that takes its genre roots and storytelling seriously. It should also be mentioned that the film lists among its producing team the likes of John Sayles, Douglas Trumbull and Lucky McKee.

/Film sat down with Elliott and Krzykowski just hours before their triumphant unveiling and the subsequent, overwhelmingly positive critical praise began rolling in (including a very positive review by this writer) to discuss the origins of the story, and why the filmmaker finally gave himself permission to alter/correct history in order to make the best movie possible.


Sam, the last time we spoke, it was for your film The Hero, directed by Brett Haley. Have you seen his new film Hearts Beat Loud, with you friend Nick Offerman?

Sam: I have. I saw an early version of it that Brett showed me when they were in post-production, and I went again, paid for it, when it opened. I saw Nick a week ago, to see he and his wife do their show together. It's a nice film, and Nick is so good in it.

I realize that you haven't even officially shown the film yet, but I'm guessing that the question you're going to get the most is about the title. Even if it's the worst movie ever, it's the best title maybe ever. And the movie gives you exactly what the title promises. How long did you labor over landing on the title, because you could have gone in any number of directions.

Robert: The very first draft of the movie was going to be a much more pulp adventure, in the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wrote it in 2005; I was just a kid. That was the goal for the movie, and then a couple things happened in my life—to my wife and I—that were really tragic, and they changed the shape. I was still writing it, so I went back and said, "I'm going to make it about loss, about a good and decent person looking backwards." So the title...the movie isn't about the man who killed Hitler and Bigfoot, it's going to be about this other thing. So I'll just put that out front—here's what it's about, and then it's actually about all of these other under-layers. John Sayles and I talked about that a lot and talked about Kurt Vonnegut and how fantasy and science fiction were also a great Trojan Horse for deeper ideas. I don't think there was a lot of calculation going in; it just organically happened. But I knew that that title was big and splashy and absurd, and it would get people's attention, and hopefully if it spoiled the whole movie, they'd realize it's about something else.

Sam, you've been on this incredible role over the last few years. So what goes through your head when you get this script with this title? This is a film where you get vomited on by Bigfoot. What was it about this that spoke to you?

Sam: All of those things [laughs}.

You've been waiting for that script where you get vomited on by Bigfoot. I knew it!

Sam: I don't know why over the last few years good fortune has smiled on me. I know we've talked about it before, and this is part of it. This script came out of nowhere and there was no not wanting to do it. I was working on The Ranch at the time and had very little window to work through my hiatus. I also had another film I was going to do. And, I walked away from it for about five minutes; Robert had written a letter to my agent that I became privy to, and I read it and was overcome by the content of it. I called Robert and said "I'm in." It's just the kind of stuff I want to do; it's good material, great material. It was a first-time filmmaker directing it, but he also wrote it, so who better to direct it. And he had some brilliant filmmakers at his side. How could you not want to do this?

More than anything, Calvin Barr spoke to me. I didn't know much about that war he was in [World War II]; I know men who where in that war and I've portrayed a guy who was in that war in all three major conflicts in We Were Soldiers. I talked to a number of people in that war, but my war was the Vietnam War. I think on some level, war is war; and PTSD is PTSD, and I think Calvin suffered from it. That was part of his persona, at least that was my take on it. I understand lost love, and I think that can destroy a man more than anything if it was a deep love that is lost somehow. There was a lot I understood about Barr, and I like to think that I'm a decent human being, and I know at the core, Calvin Barr is a decent human being. There were a lot of things that spoke to me about him. (long pause) Being vomited on by Bigfoot was not one of the things I knew about.

[Everybody laughs]

Did you have to be convinced to go through with that?

Sam: No, I was happy to do it. It was just a disgusting moment.

At some point, you gave yourself permission to create this—I wouldn't even call it an alternate reality—it might be actual history. At what point in the writing did you say "It's okay to do this"? Was that always there, or did you have to work up the courage to say "I'm going to do this"?

Robert: That is exactly what it was. The whole script always felt organic and came out of this place of wanting to write this big, iconic action hero, but his core is simple decency. In these strange times, I wanted to point people to someone like that. The hardest section, and the most difficult section, to write is when Calvin sits down with the FBI and RCMP. That was my chance to make it all as real as it could ever be. If the audience believes what those guys are saying, then they'll roll with the rest of the movie. And in that moment, he gets to explain his feelings on Nazism, the notion that ideas can be monsters, and then selling this whole notion of Bigfoot and making it real. If that scene worked, the rest would work; if it didn't, it wouldn't. It was just a roll of the dice.

That moment when he says that killing Hitler didn't win the war, that's so powerful, and it explains that if this really happened, why the Allies and the Germans would have agreed to not let that news out.

Robert: The puzzle was, how can we, in 2018, believe that in 1987, these two things could have happened. How do you even approach selling that? How do you connect the dots so that a man killed Hitler, and then history marches on just like we read about. That was the most fun and challenging part of the script, and when I figured that out, it gave me permission to do all of the other crazy stuff. Then when you see Sam in the movie, he's so deadly serious and sells it so honestly, and Ron Livingston [playing the FBI agent] is giving so much on his face for Sam to work with. I was going, "I believe this and I don't believe any of this." [laughs]

I'm half tempted to come to the screening tonight just to hear the audience's reaction. Have you ever been to this festival before?

Sam: I have not, and I haven't seen the movie yet.

Robert: He wanted to wait for the premiere.

There's going to be a moment, and it will be different for everyone, when the realize that this isn't a comedy. I can't wait to hear how it plays.

Robert: That's the most nebulous thing. For all of the filmmakers that made this movie, including John Sayles, Lucky McKee and Douglas Trumbull, we just don't know how it will be received.

And I don't mean to imply that it's all seriousness. In addition to being a meditation on growing older and loss, it's also a tremendous action-adventure film. The Bigfoot fight scene alone is worth the price of admission. I'm sure there were stunt people involved, but how much of that was you, Sam?

Sam: Most of it. There was a double around, and we used him when Bigfoot jumped on me off of a rock, and the stunt guy sprained his ankle in that moment. We'd done a lot of the fight scene up to that point, and the second he stepped in for that stunt, he sprained his ankle. Mind you, I haven't seen the film, but maybe there's a shot of me going into a rock...

Robert: Yeah, there's a throw with the stuntman where he flies into a rock. Everything else was Sam. And then the street fight earlier on, with the guys that try to mug Sam, for the most part, Sam did everything. He bounced his head off the roof of the car; the whole town was watching from the wings, and Sam is taking his licks for hours, and it's only a 45-second fight scene.

Sam Elliott - The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot

You mentioned all of these great filmmakers who are producers on the film, and I know that you worked with Lucky before [Krzykowski was co-producdr of McKee's The Woman], but how the hell did you get these names involved in your first feature?

Robert: John Sayles and I were interested in doing a project about the Rosenberg's kids, the children of the convicted spies. I had done a mountain of research on it, and he knew the family and wanted to tell that story. So we bonded over that, and at some point, I shared the script with him and he said "You're going to need help seeing this through so that it becomes the thing you're trying to do." So at every turn, John was there to steer us away from a bad course or toward a good one. He is one of the best, kindest people I will every know, and he's been so generous and good to me. I don't know if I could fully explain how it happened. Doug lives in Massachusetts where I live, and when this was getting put together, Doug and I had been in friendly contact, but when I brought the storyboards to him, he could see what it was and see the size and shape of it and that it was doable. The special effects aren't meant to be big, splashy special effects; they're supposed to be invisible, and they are all over that movie.

I was looking hard to see if I could spot them.

Robert: They are all over, but they're little, seamless things to make it feel like World War II or 1987. There are matte paintings, miniatures, but they are hidden. And a lot of that is Richard Yuricich. Doug brought him on to supervise the visual effects, and Richard brought on one of the best matte painters of all time, Rocco Gioffre, who helped supervise visual effects on set every single day. We had the best people, but the trick was the make the effects invisible.

The search for young Calvin—talk about landing on Aidan Turner. What did you need him to embody that was also in Sam?

Robert: My earliest conversations with Aidan, he said he loved Sam and admired him and wanted to do a very respectful performance as the counterpoint to him, at a more emotionally exposed moment in his life. Aidan didn't want to do a parody or SNL version of Sam's voice; it was very subtle. He'd be looking for little flourishes that would tie him to Sam, without trying for something that would be seen as parody. That was a hugely respectful thing, and I think he did it very elegantly in the film. You've seen it, so you know.

Sam, have you seen any of what he's done?

Sam: No. I'm very excited to see it. I brought my daughter with me to see it with me. I have seen a trailer, so I have seen a little of Aidan.

Have you had people play younger versions of you on screen before?

Sam: This is the first time, I think. And I really like Aidan; I'm a fan. We passed in the wings on this film; he was going out as I was coming in. We had a meal together, and I watched him shoot the first day, where he gets shaved. I was really happy that he was thtere.

What's the release plan for this?

Sam: This is step one.

Robert: It's Epic Pictures, our production company. From here, we see where it goes. This is just step one.

Sam, the last time we spoke, you were in the middle of shooting A Star Is Born.

Sam: That was just prior to my shooting this.

They'd done a couple of test screenings in Chicago, so I actually know people who have seen it, and they really seemed to like it. Talk about that experience.

Sam: I got a text last night that it was going to the Venice Film Festival. That I have seen. I have not seen the final version. I've actually seen it twice. I saw the first assemblage, and then I saw one six weeks later, and it wasn't even the same film. It's a great film. The kid [Bradley Cooper] can direct as well as act. And Lady Gaga is dumbfounding as a performer, and she's up to the acting too, and it's such a tale. I'm playing his manager/brother. There's a reveal at some point that his manager is also his brother. It's really a good version of a great tale.

Speaking of brothers, Larry Miller [who plays Sam's brother in The Man Who Killed Hitler] is amazing in his movie. I haven't seen his face in at least a decade.

Sam: I knew he'd be great in this. He's wonderful in it.

Robert: And he's the kindest, sweetest guy. He really did something special. Again, you'd expect Larry is going to be throwing jokes out—he's a great comedian—and he's just subtle and quiet, very in tune with what Sam is doing. And I loved watching what Larry did in this movie and cutting it together, because whenever Larry is on screen, there's this little twinkle. And I believed them as brothers. When I was casting the movie with the casting director, Kellie Roy, I had this idea in my head of how Pixar movies found a character's voice, and Sam was very much the Pixar character version of this person, and Larry would look like his character. They worked together visually as well as emotionally.

Best of luck with this, and have a blast tonight.

Robert: Thank you, seriously.

Sam: Great to see you again and to talk to you.