Embarking on a potentially dangerous journey in order to achieve a seemingly well-intentioned goal can ultimately create a life-altering situation to everyone involved. What can begin as an admirable objective can become dangerous when adversaries develop conflicting plans that solely benefit their ambitions. Opposing intentions grippingly arise in the new neo-noir thriller, ‘Detour,’ which was written and directed by genre expert, Christopher Smith.
The drama stars Tye Sheridan, Bel Powley, Emory Cohen and Stephen Moyer as distressed characters who all appear antagonistic to each other at certain points in the story, as they all set out to only achieve their own respective motives. Magnet Releasing is distributing the high-stakes, emotionally intriguing and visually riveting ‘Detour’ today in select theaters, as well as On Demand, on Amazon Video and iTunes.
Employing a split-narrative structure, ‘Detour’ follows Harper (Sheridan), a seemingly naive law student, who obsesses over the idea that his shifty stepfather, Vincent (Moyer), was involved in the devastating car crash that left his mother hospitalized and comatose. Harper drowns his suspicions in whiskey until he finds himself suddenly engrossed in a conversation with a volatile grifter, Johnny (Emory Cohen), and his stripper companion, Cherry (Bel Powley). As daylight breaks and the haziness of promises made becomes clearer, Harper must figure how to handle the repercussions of making a potentially lethal deal with the violent duo.
Sheridan and Smith generously took the time earlier this week to talk about making ‘Detour’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone from the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles. Among other things, the actor and writer-director discussed how they both enjoy shooting their projects on location, like they did with ‘Detour,’ which they filmed in South Africa, as it helps them completely immerse themselves into their work. The two also mentioned how they both enjoyed working with not only each other, but also the rest of the cast, particularly Cohen and Powley, on the characters’ emotional arcs, physicality and looks.
Smith began his conversation by explaining how he created the story for the film, and what the writing process was like for him. He shared that he initially came up with the idea for ‘Detour’ in 2007, when he had just finished writing his mystery thriller, ‘Triangle,’ which was later released in 2009. The filmmaker was partly inspired to to pen another thriller that year by director D.J. Caruso’s hit movie, ‘Disturbia,’ which falls in the same genre as ‘Triangle.’
“I was in L.A., and just as all of the executives and I were talking about how I wanted to make another thriller, we started coming up with ideas,” Smith divulged. “We were thinking about doing something like ‘Strangers on a Train,’ where two people meet up and decide to kill another person. I think that for some reason, because my brain was still so wired with my film, ‘Triangle,’ I said, ‘What if we base this movie on a moral decision?'”
It was at that time that Smith came up with the plan for the structure for ‘Detour,’ even though he hadn’t yet created the exact details of the story yet. “So I thought, Okay, who should be killed, and who’s the person who wants to kill? So I had to work backwards from the structural idea to the film’s story,” the filmmaker added as he further described his writing process.
Once the script was completed and sent to the actors, Sheridan was immediately drawn to the character of Harper, as well as the drama’s overall story, which convinced him to become involved in the movie. “At the time, it gave me the opportunity to play a character who was a bit more mature in a really clever way. I was really blown away by the script, as well as Chris’ previous work. So for me, it was a no-brainer. I read the script and said, ‘Count me in.’ I got on the phone with Chris, and discovered that we have some of the same favorite movies. So at that point, we said we should make this film together,” the actor revealed.
“I knew straight away that I wanted to get the lovely Tye” to play Harper, Smith shared when he began discussing the casting process for the thriller. “Then the financiers suggested Bel. This was before her movie, ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl,’ premiered at (the 2015) Sundance (Film Festival). They, along with the casting director (Colin Jones), said I had to meet her. They said I would love her straight away, because she’s hilarious and very smart. So before we knew it, we cast Tye and Bel,” the director divulged.
After Sheridan and Powley were cast, “we started getting pressure from the financiers, who said we had to get a big name (actor) for Emory’s part. We looked through people, but I couldn’t get excited (about anyone),” Smith admitted.
“I had really loved (Emory) in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines.’ I said, ‘I want to get a kid like the one in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines,’ who has a sleazy, degenerate nature, but he’s a sweetheart, as well.’ Not many actors can embody that,” the helmer revealed.
“I think my producer suggested Emory. But if I had seen ‘Brooklyn’ at the time, I wouldn’t have cast him, because he’s so sweet in that one,” Smith also admitted with a laugh. “I was thinking he was like his character in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines.’ I later watched ‘Brooklyn,’ and said, ‘You’re really sweet, Emory!’
Smith also discussed how, like with several of his previous projects, including ‘Triangle,’ ‘Get Santa’ and ‘Creep,’ he both penned the screenplay for, and helmed, ‘Detour.’ He added how he feels working on the scripts influences his directorial approach. “I don’t separate any of the phases; they’re all one phase to me. When you write a movie, you come up with the images so many times in your head. But often times when you get to the set, you’ll find something better than what you imagined.
“I think the hardest movies to make, and the ones that deserve the most accolades, are the ones that are shot entirely in studios, or are animated,” the filmmaker admitted. “They’re entirely thought up in advance, and you can’t find anything” new once you get to the set, Smith pointed out.
“The pleasure of making independent movies is that you have all the ideas of what the world should look like, but you also get these lucky accidents. You might find that a scene might play better in daylight, when yo originally thought it would work better at night. Or you’ll find new amazing locations, and you decide to change everything,” Smith added.
“So I think writing and directing is all one process. From an early stage, this movie was going to have a wide angle feel, and be reminiscent of film noir thrillers,” the filmmaker also revealed. He envisioned ‘Detour’ as being similar in scope to David Lynch’s style, as it would have “a slightly off realism.”
Smith then further discussed the experience of shooting the thriller independently, and how that process influenced the creativity on the set. “I have never made a studio film, but I would love to make one. This movie probably wasn’t it, and became that way the minute it incorporated the structural split. Originally, it was set up at a studio a long time ago.”
Also speaking of filming movies independently, and whether or not he feels that process influences the creativity on the set, Sheridan noted that “It depends on the studio you’re working with, and who’s your boss. Sometimes it can allow for more creativity, and in this case, that’s what I think we had.
“It was really the Chris and Chris show, because we also had a Chris as our DP (Director of Photography, Christopher Ross). It was really about the two of them, as well as the rest of the crew and the cast, figuring out how to make this movie. It really was a team effort, which is what I love,” the performer divulged. “When a filmmaker keeps everyone involved, it doesn’t feel as though it’s just this one mastermind, and you’re just a pawn in their project. This film was great, in that it felt like a real team effort.”
“When you’re on the road and looking for a location, and you’re not in the confines of a studio, you have to be more imaginative in some ways. But you also have to be less imaginative in other ways,” Smith also revealed when he began discussing the process of shooting ‘Detour’ on location, which was a part of its independent nature.
“The house where Harper lives is enormous, but that element comes from me watching films like ‘Gone Girl,'” the British film director and screenwriter revealed. “This is supposed to be a middle-class, or a slightly above middle-class, woman, but she has this enormous house. We don’t live in a space like that in England, especially London; we live in smaller spaces. But in American movies, everyone lives in these massive houses.
“I think what we had to do, especially on wide-angle lenses, was find a way to make this film seem as though it had this bigger feel. But in its heart, it’s an independent film noir. So it was a mixture of the two, and that’s why I think it’s this beautiful looking film,” Smith explained.
The filmmaker also discussed how he feels it was beneficial that the drama was shot on location in both South Africa and Los Angeles. “I love walking into a space and finding things, just like I love seeing the actors act for the first time. Even during the performances (on set), I will change things. I’m not someone who believes that everything has to be completely designed in advance. I love leaving things for the shoot, and for me, that’s the best part.
But initially “Finding the house and the desert was tricky,” Smith also admitted. He explained that “we had to balance the aesthetic look with a credibility. This kids is living in this house in L.A., so his mother must have worked in jewels or something, and be very rich,” the filmmaker said with a laugh. “So we had to make sure (Harper) didn’t just feel like a little rich kid.”
The filmmaker added that he looked at a number of houses in South Africa, which is where the scenes where Harper is in his home were shot. “There are houses in South Africa that very much look like the ones in the (Hollywood) Hills. I thought, if we stick him in the Hills, it would be like ‘Beverly Hills, 90210,’ and we didn’t want to do that,” Smith said with a laugh. “So that process (of finding the right house) was tricky, but very rewarding.
“We had a palatte of colors that we wanted to use, including yellow and blue. Even though we found a beautiful house, we had to take out a lot of the stuff that was in there. We also had to build a fake door. So there were a lot of things that we did to the house,” Smith revealed.
The filmmaker added that the entire sequence that showcased Harper in his home was filmed during the first week they were filming. “The very first thing we shot was him walking through the door, which is the beginning of the split. So by the first weekend, we shot everything the Harper character was going to do in the house,” Smith revealed.
“The very last day, he opened the door, and Emory and Bel were outside. So it was great to shoot that sequence in order. That came from finding, and then having to return, the house all in one week,” the filmmaker added.
The experience of shooting on location is also something that Sheridan embraces as an actor. The process “allows me to truly think about the story, and be isolated with it. Sometimes that isolation is great, and sometimes it’s bad. But in this case, I really loved being in South Africa. I was 18 when we shot the movie, and it was the first time I had ever spent” that amount of time away from home.
“It was the furthest possible place that I could have been from my home in Texas,” the actor noted with a laugh. “Can you imagine being 18, and being sent off to this foreign country, where you’re in Cape Town, of all places, and you’re shooting this movie that you’re really passionate about? But it was a great, fun experience, and everyone became family.”
Once Sheridan, Powley, Cohen and the rest of the actors were cast in the film, Smith took the time to talk with them, in order to discuss the characters and their arcs and relationships. “We sat around for about three hours and had a couple of beers and a nice chat. I think it’s important to the characters that (the actors) meet each other” before shooting begins, the director explained. “Bel and Emory met each other, and spent the day together, and developed a friendship.”
The bonding experience between the actors was also important for Sheridan, who mentioned how he became close to Powley and Cohen while they were making the thriller. He noted with a laugh that they had to bond, as the three of them filmed several scenes together in Harper’s car, which was shot over several days. “So it was just us three cracking jokes, telling stories and having a good time together,” the actor revealed.
Sheridan also embraced the experience of working with Smith on ‘Detour,’ and called the director “great. He’s always super confident, and keeps everyone super involved, and not everyone can do that. He was great through it all, and we became really close.”
Smith also discussed the process of working with the actors on their physicality and stunts for their roles in ‘Detour.’ “I think when you’re dealing with actors that are this good, you don’t really need rehearsals, unless it’s for a fight sequence…There aren’t too many fights in the film.
“There is one sequence where Emory’s flung to the ground by a cop. Emory very much wanted to be flung to the ground,” the filmmakers revealed with a laugh. “He’s very much one of those actors who wants to feel the pain, and he got some scuffs on his hands. So we had to protect him from that. But there wasn’t a great deal of stunts to do in this film.”
Sheridan also spoke about the process of creating the physicality for his role of Harper while shooting ‘Detour.’ He explained that he had some previous experience in performing his own stunts before filming the drama. “The only real physicality that I can remember doing for this film is the scene with Stephen, who plays my (character’s) father. They stumble onto the back patio, which leads up to the pool. That was all choreographed. Chris wanted to film most of that sequence in one shot, and it’s played out in slow-mo. So we had to nail down the moves, and get them in one take,” the performer explained.
The characters in the thriller, particularly Harper, Johnny and Cherry, have distinctive looks that become dingier throughout the narrative, in order to reflect the troubling emotional and physical experiences that they have gone through together in such a short amount of time. Smith discussed the process of creating the looks for the characters.
“I had the idea, just for narrative reasons, that when the split happens at the door, and Harper goes outside, he has to be in a jacket that covers his body, because he just got out of the shower,” the filmmaker divulged. “So I said, ‘Why don’t we just get him a yellow jacket? We have a blue car that goes through the desert, so we have things on the opposite sides of the color reel.”
Smith noted with a laugh that he thinks Sheridan “could pull off the yellow jacket, but not many skin types can. I think he looked great in that jacket. So we built the character around him having this slightly preppy jacket, but it still looks cool. It was about having a good costume design with clothes that look lived in.
“Bel looks amazing in the movie, but she has since dyed her hair back to its normal color. I told her, ‘You should stay looking like Cherry,’ but she said, ‘I’m not going to walk around looking like that!’…But I love the way Cherry looks,” the director also shared.
While creating the right look for Harper, Sheridan had to have several costume fittings. “For the longest time, we couldn’t find the right jacket. The jacket fits into the story in a pretty major way, especially for my character. So I just wanted to get something that felt like the jacket,” Sheridan revealed. “Chris and I thought that Chris needed a jacket that we’re all going to remember, and really reflects what’s going on in the story.”
Smith also further went into detail about the thriller using the split-narrative structure to tell its story, which makes it never quite clear what or who can be trusted, and who’s guilty of deception and murder. But he admitted that style also “has its negatives, because you’re always aware of the filmmaking process. As a result, you’re never fully submerged in either story.” But along the way, the helmer felt as though he, as well as the rest of the crew and cast, could reflect on the story.
“As I was writing the script, I made sure in each story, there’s a specific journey going on,” Smith noted. “In the home story, Harper’s entirely in the confines of the house, and he’s having this fight with his dad. But when he’s on the road, you basically have this indie road movie, so they both feel very different.” The filmmaker also revealed that having the split narrative “adds to the intrigue and idea that he’s walking side-by-side with his guilt. Through the split, you see that he’s going to carry the guilt for the rest of his life.”
Sheridan also spoke about the drama’s split narrative, and described the story as being “super unconventional. So figuring out how to execute it was quite a process, and really difficult at times. There were times when we almost forgot that this one thing was going on that we had to incorporate into the story, but Chris kept such good track of those elements.”
The actor added that “the idea is for someone to watch the film, and then at the end, understand what was going on the whole time. Then, if they go back and watch the film for a second time, they’ll pick up on the smaller details on what the characters are doing, which lead to the reveal.” Sheridan also noted that his favorite films are ones that when he watches them “for the third, fourth or fifth time, I’m still noticing things that I didn’t pick up on the first four times I watched them.”
Overall, while ‘Detour’ uses the split-narrative structure, overall the events are compacted into only a few days. “When something traumatic happens, especially in such a short time period, like it does in this story, sometimes you don’t know how to deal with it,” Sheridan pointed out. “Sometimes you do something that feels like a mistake in the moment, but when you look back on it, you realize it was the right decision.”
The actor explained that the decision of whether or not Harper made mistakes “is left up to the audience’s interpretation. There are several messages that we relay in the film, and I don’t think one is right and one is wrong. That was the intention from the very beginning.”
Before ‘Detour’ received its official theatrical and On Demand release this week, it premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Sheridan reflected on the thriller playing at the festival, and his experience promoting it there. “It’s funny-we attended Tribeca in April, and I haven’t spoken about the film again until now…I also haven’t seen the film in a year,” he admitted with a laugh. “But attending Tribeca was great, and it was great to show the film there.”
Sheridan followed up with his opinion on the drama being released simultaneously in theaters and On Demand. “I love going to the theater to see movies so much, and it’s one of my favorite things to do. I wish people would do that more often. But in this day and age, movies like this usually come out On Demand. It’s much easier for people to rent it at home for five bucks on a Wednesday night than it is for them to get to the theater,” the performer pointed out.
“With a film like this one, not everyone’s going to hear about it, and get to the theater to see it. So the VOD model offers a different way to view films, although I would love for everyone to see it in the theater. When you’re making a film, that’s what you hope will happen. Sometimes it’s not, and people will still see it in their own homes,” Sheridan admitted.
Smith also expressed his appreciation that Magnet Releasing is distributing ‘Detour’ in theaters, as well as On Demand. “It was my film, (the 2010 action adventure drama,) ‘Black Death,’ that was one of, if not, the first films that Magnolia (Pictures) released using that model…I think the future for films of this size is through this model.
“Before we had this VOD model, I made the (2006 horror comedy,) film ‘Severance,’ which was also released by Magnolia. Back then, we would release these types of films on about 20 screens near the bigger university cities. Then months later, you would have to pump up the publicity again to try to sell the movie on DVD,” the filmmaker explained.
“So I think with a film like (‘Detour’), the (VOD) release is perfect. Even while we were making this, I said, ‘This would be perfect for a simultaneous VOD and theatrical release.’ So for me, this distribution is great,” Smith added as he further expressed his appreciation for the distribution model Magnolia chose for his latest thriller.
Watch the official trailer for, and check out the poster and stills from, ‘Detour’ below.