The passing of a parent is life-changing for anyone, under any circumstances. But for a filmmaker, the epiphany that life is short, which often results from that harrowing and devastating journey, can ultimately be used for another transformative experience: making a cathartic, therapeutic movie. That’s certainly what acclaimed producer, Ant Timpson did with his feature film directorial debut, the relatable thriller, ‘Come To Daddy.’
The powerfully emotional horror comedy sprung from a deeply personal place in Timpson’s life, after the death of his father. After processed the fact that unfamiliar people were telling him stories about a side of his father he never knew, Timpson joined forces with his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Toby Harvard. The duo effortlessly turned the sad time in the helmer-producer’s life into the stunningly endearing story that’s featured in the compelling ‘Come To Daddy,’ which Saban Films is set to release in select theaters and on Digital and VOD this Friday, February 7.
‘Come to Daddy’ follows privileged man-child, Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood), as he arrives at the beautiful and remote coastal cabin of his estranged father, Gordon (Stephen McHattie), who he hasn’t seen in 30 years. After they reunite, Norval quickly discovers that not only is his dad a disapproving jerk, but he also has a shady past that is rushing to catch up with him. Now, hundreds of miles from his cushy comfort zone, Norval must battle with demons-both real and perceived-in order to reconnect with a father he barely knows.
Wood, McHattie and Timpson generously took the time to sit down at New York City’s Roxy Hotel for an exclusive interview during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, the day after the horror comedy had its World Premiere in the Midnight Section, to talk about writing, directing, producing and starring in ‘Come to Daddy.’ Among other things, the filmmaker and actors discussed how the helmer’s surreal experience when his father died led to him having a cathartic journey working on the script with Harvard. The filmmaker and actors also expressed their appreciation that the movie had its World Premiere in New York during the Tribeca Film Festival.
The conversation began with Timpson explaining what the process of developing the idea for ‘Come to Daddy’ with Harvard was like during the writing stage of production. “I had a horrible, but also beautiful, experience when my father passed. I had this surreal week where he came back to the house as an embalmed corpse, and I spent a lot of time with him alone at night,” the filmmaker revealed.
“It was a grieving process that was very cathartic, but I still had unresolved questions that I had about my dad. I had things that I wanted to talk to him about when he was alive, but I didn’t,” Timpson also disclosed.
“During the week he was at the house, people came by to pay their respects to the body. I knew most of them, as many of them were family members. But there were some strangers who turned up, and I heard stories that I hadn’t heard before,” the filmmaker further divulged.
“So I became curious about the alternative history of my father, and it made me wonder if we know our parents fully. He was such a quiet guy in life; he didn’t really talk about his childhood; he only did if you pushed him. He had a really interesting, rugged childhood,” Timpson added.
Then weeks after his father’s death, the filmmaker felt like he “needed to create something. I suddenly had this rush to make a film, which I started doing when I was young. But then I went in a different direction, in terms of production. But at this point, I felt like creating this type of film was something that my dad and I would have loved watching together when I was younger,” he shared.
“So I wrote to a writer, Toby Harvard, who I’ve worked with before, and who Elijah had also worked with on a film. I gave him a skeleton structure of what I had gone through, and thought could make the basis for a really fun thriller with a lot of twists,” Timpson revealed.
“It felt like during that week I was in the house, I went through a whole wave of emotions. I had feelings of comedy; I remember doing things like tapping his forehead. It felt like wood, and made a hollow sound,” the filmmaker confessed.
“Wow!,” Wood interjected with a laugh. “That’s so surreal.”
“It was freaky, but in a funny kind of way,” Timpson admitted. “So there were a lot of moments like that. I also wore his clothes at night.”
“You also met all of these people from his past,” Wood pointed out.
“There were so many strangers at the funeral, and they told crazy stories about him. One story involved him receiving money from an anonymous donor so that he could go to school, and he became a self-made businessman after that,” Timpson also shared.
After Harvard completed the script for ‘Come to Daddy,’ Timpson sent it to Wood. “We previously worked together as producers on ‘The Greasy Strangler,’ and have known each other for years. I had some understanding of what had happened to him and his father, and the story for this film was based on some nugget of their experience.
“I read it immediately, because it was something that he was going to direct, which was really exciting. I immediately fell in love with it, and was constantly surprised and shocked,” the actor admitted. “Every few pages, my expectations were subverted by the twists and turns, which I did not expect. I found it very funny, but also very heartfelt, and at times, shocking. All the elements of films I love were compacted into this really taut comedic thriller.
“So I was on board immediately. I think I wrote you (turns to Timpson) in an hour. I was like, this is incredible! Let’s do this!,” Wood added with a laugh.
McHattie agreed with his co-star about immediately being drawn to the screenplay. “I loved everything about it. It felt like, your dad dies, but he doesn’t go away. So it felt like life, but a little exaggerated,” which garnered laughs from Wood and Timpson.
Further speaking of the exaggerated comedy and sense of real life that appears throughout ‘Come to Daddy,’ the cast and crew embraced the jokes that are interwove into the darker elements of the story. “The humor is very much a part of the fabric of the piece, rather than there being jokes,” Wood shared.
“The humor is very much circumstantial and scenarios. Between Stephen and I, it’s about our difficulty connecting, and there’s humor in that. Norval is very much trying to connect with his dad, and is failing. It’s funny, because he’s vulnerable and trying, but also lying to his dad about who he is. So a lot of the humor wasn’t stuff that we had to play; it was in the structure,” the actor further explained.
In addition to the humor that’s interwoven into the fabric of the plot, the isolated location where Norval and his father spend time together is also an important element of ‘Come to Daddy.’ “We had a really fun journey trying to find the home,” Wood admitted.
“Yes, we spent a couple of trips going and looking around Canada,” particularly Vancouver and British Columbia, Timpson revealed. “When I came across the house we ended up using, it was a no-brainer; it had to be that place. Even though the production got bumped, we were lucky enough to retain the main location.
“I felt like that if we didn’t have that house, it would take a lot of work to recreate it. We wouldn’t be able to build a set as good as that location,” the director added. “It fit the needs of the character perfectly. When you see how it’s designed and shaped, you feel like you’re at the end of the earth. We wanted to put this L.A. creature as far away from his comfort zone as possible. So the whole beginning of the film really breaks down the barriers of his journey, to the final place where’s he going to change from a man-child to a man.”
“The thing that I found about being at that spectacular location was that it had a hellish 1960s feeling to it,” McHattie also divulged, which garnered laughs from Wood and Timpson. “It had a shag rug and big windows that allowed the sun to beat in on you. It was surprising how awful it felt,” which garnered more laughs from his co-star and director.
“I liked when the fire was going at night. It felt like the pieces I grew up with, where you feel like you’re now in a cat-and-mouse scenario, and they’re stalking their prey, in a way,” Timpson admitted. “But you can’t go anywhere. You hear the sea, and when you look around, you feel trapped. But it’s a beautiful set-up.
“We felt like that during the shoot. We would spend the night there before we would shoot, and we knew that if we could capture this, it would work out really well,” the helmer added.
Timpson also revealed that he liked that there wasn’t a lot of time for Wood and McHattie to build their on-screen bond before filming on ‘Come to Daddy’ began. “That’s the nature of these types of indie films; people’s schedules don’t always line up, so we didn’t have much time to truly rehearse. But that worked in our favor, because these guys couldn’t hang out and become buddies. So it was awesome that Stephen came in as this awesome, quiet, intimidating presence, in character; at least, that’s how I felt,” the filmmaker revealed. “So the set-up was there really naturally.”
“Yes, the whole situation was really supportive, in every aspect,” McHattie disclosed. “So it was really easy to get into it. We didn’t have to talk much.”
Wood also chimed in, and agreed with his co-star and director. “So much of the dynamic between the characters is that they’re two people with different ideas about what’s going on. So we’re not revealing the truth of each other, and that’s the dynamic between us. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Norval’s trying to guess what’s going on in his (father’s) brain, and (Gordon’s) trying to take cues from Norval. It was a fun thing to play, because the information is actually independent, and what’s happening between them is a reaction to that.”
Timpson ended up shooting many of the scenes quickly, “and people would ask, ‘Are you sure you’ve got it?’ When I was watching them on set, I was like, ‘They’re good, so let’s just get going,'” he noted with a laugh. “We would shoot one or two takes, and then move on. I just felt like something good was happening. We had good actors, so I didn’t want to tell them what to do in the moment.”
Wood agreed with his director, saying, “We didn’t have the time, necessarily, to do more than a couple of takes. But it didn’t feel like we didn’t have the time, because we had uninterrupted space. On some films, everyone moves halfway through the day, and you’re darting from place to place. But on this movie, we were really camped out in this one location. Despite the fact that we were moving quickly, it felt like the freedom of a play, in the sense that we had the space to work.”
After the horror comedy wrapped production, the experience of being able to premiere ‘Come to Daddy’ at the Tribeca Film Festival was an exciting one for the cast and crew. “Well, he’s done it before,” Timpson revealed about Wood. “But the premiere was a trip for me. I’ve never actually been here at Tribeca; it’s the first time for me. So being a kid from New Zealand, and having my movie premiere here in New York, is the dream. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was an honor.”