How The Director Of 'Beckett' Upends His Netflix Thriller With A Personal Touch [Interview]

Beckett, the latest thriller to premiere on Netflix, is different from the typical man-on-the-run film. The lead character, Beckett (John David Washington), is truly an average guy. At the beginning of the movie, Beckett faces personal tragedy, and the tone is more drama than a thriller. Things take a turn, however, and he soon finds himself alone in the mountains of Greece fleeing people trying to kill him.

Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino talked with /Film about his vision for Beckett, including what it was like to shoot entirely on location. Read on to learn more about Beckett and how Filomarino approached intertwining the movie's thriller and intimate dramatic aspects.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

One of the things that makes Beckett different than other thrillers out there is that there's a blend between the manhunt thriller — the larger-than-life adventures that you usually see in those types of movies — and a very personal loss that's more down-to-earth and relatable. Those are very different tones. How did you approach blending the two and how did you decide where to focus on one versus the other throughout the course of the film?

This recipe was in fact the premise of the movie for me. I wanted to make it with a dramatic character who is going through a crisis of sorts, and then finds himself in this genre, and has to deal with extraordinary circumstances while dealing with his own personal human tragedy.

I think the key word you mentioned is relatable. One way I highlighted the importance of the dramatic character in the context of this thriller was to begin the movie, basically, in a drama. The movie is like a relationship piece in the beginning, right? You see this couple on vacation and they talk about mundane, relatable things, and they are different. They love each other with their differences. She's more kind of the dominant in the relationship. That, to me, very importantly, set the tone.

And then after what happens later and you see this man having to deal with people trying to kill him, you do so with the baggage of what you know about his character. And that, through the amazing performance of John David, we could keep track of any time the chase slows down or any time he has to wait for something to happen. That inevitably popped up and kicked him in the face — that was the point of the movie, to dance between these two themes, these two trains that were running alongside.

You mentioned John David's performance, which, obviously he's a very talented actor and that carries through this film as well. But he used to be a professional football player. He's a major star. He's not exactly an everyman. But he does come across in the movie as being an average person. How did you work with him to create that performance?

First of all, that speaks to the amazing qualities of John David. It comes from him — he works on instinct. He reacted to the material — something spoke to him about this script, and it probably had something to do with how this character was unusual for this type of movie.

In terms of how to create that in a movie where he's also being chased, we spoke at length about everything that had to do with the type of personality that Beckett has. Which again, is a personality, very inappropriate for being chased. He tends to the passive, he tends to kind of let life happen to him.

And so on this premise, we discussed many aspects of his life before the movie, during the movie in the various scenes, and in many different contexts. What does this mean for him, and how does he react to it? What is the difference between how he feels it, what he thinks about it, and how he acts upon it.

I think it mentioned in the notes that he had to gain weight for this, which is just funny. Because he's not overweight in the film.

He's absolutely not overweight in the movie. The point that was important to him and to me was, again, for that relatability, sometimes you see actors who are fit and beautiful and everything, they're supposed to play an everyman or an office person. And they're like sculpted, you know? Like, "Well, I mean, I guess it's possible that random office guy has an amazing ancient Greek sculpture body, but I don't know." And in this case, we wanted to be real. That's the kind of body he has. And running is just that little harder for him, and he sweats like a normal person.

The other thing that really struck me about the movie is the role of Greece. It's really almost a character in itself. I know you shot at a lot of locations, and the landscapes — especially in the beginning when he's in the more remote part of Greece — are impressive. How did you approach deciding where you wanted to film within Greece to set up each of those sequences in the movie?

Well, the first idea was to stay away from islands. And the concept of Greece that is internationally known as the beautiful seaside summer sort of idyllic place, keeping the idyllic place. In terms of landscape, I wanted to make sure that we conveyed the sheer amount of travel that happens in the movie by having a variety of locations, of different locations. And second, off of the idea of staying away from islands, inevitably, it was like, "Okay, let's explore the mainland, which is internationally much less known. What does it have to offer?" And in fact, it has to offer us so much.

In terms of types of landscapes, there's such a rich variety in a country of its size. If you drive three hours from the mountains, you find yourself in an almost desert-like place. Or lush rivers full of vegetation. And again, the idea was to find places that could come as interesting obstacles for what the character has to endure.

I think one scene that really struck me at the beginning of the movie where he just started being on the run. And he's looking over a cliff, and there's this camera shot that is just dizzying. Can you talk about how you filmed that scene?

Well, first of all, the key element of that scene is that part of the scene that you referenced, it was really John David hanging on the cliff. So when you have that already, a lot of the job is done in terms of relatability because you see him hanging off of that.

Of course we had the safety in place and everything. But just the physical presence of being there. And then it's about finding the right angle and the right feeling, which in that case is this sort of sucking of gravity. And I just tried to find the best way to deliver that sucking, if you know what I mean. Because when people are afraid of heights, actually there is this weird magnet that pulls you to the edge. And that's what I wanted to convey a little bit. And as hard as it was to get to that place and to bring equipment, we did have a small arm, a small crane, that we shot it with. There was no studio in the movie. We shot everything on location. Not a single green screen or anything. But that's what I mean when he was literally hanging off the cliff. And it's the cliff you see, it's not a different cliff.

From Beckett's perspective, being in a country where you don't speak the language and having someone chasing you, I think that really put in a lot of additional tension in terms of it. But then the other thing that's really struck me is the kindness of strangers. Because here's Beckett running around. He's beat up, he's shot, he's got a broken arm. And people are still helping him. Can you talk about how you approached playing up the alienness of the world from Beckett's perspective and also the flipside of that, how the kindness of strangers really helped him along?

That element of feeling like an alien is an interesting theme in this genre that I've always loved. Which of course makes it that much more, to me, dangerous in a way. If you have no way of properly communicating and conveying urgency and danger to people around you, that makes it that much more tense when you are trying to get away from danger.

That said, when I was driving around Greece, I found it to be one of the most hospitable places I've ever been. If a guy was in that situation in Greece, that's how I presume strangers would act towards him. But there was also the added element of a little bit paranoia, if you will. Because as the plot becomes more and more readable from the main character and us, it becomes a bit more complicated who is actually truthful or who even thinks they know the truth and actually does not. There is an added element of innuendo surrounding that kindness.

Beckett goes through a lot, with the personal tragedy, and then the being part of this larger issue. At the end, things more or less get resolved, but there's a lot unresolved for him. What do you hope for Beckett at the end of this movie, after the credits rolled?

Well, I feel like the last moment of the movie kind of evokes what we can expect of him after. He engages in a type of behavior in the last part of the movie that he probably has never before in his life. And I guess, to answer your question, what I would hope is that. But I think when you see it in the last scene, he realizes that that's the right way. That is his new way of living with himself.

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Beckett is now streaming on Netflix.