Learning to understand the motivations and emotions of someone who has committed violent criminal acts can be a daunting experience for anyone, even those who have professionally trained to study the full spectrum of the human condition. That’s certainly true for Special Agent Bill Hagmaier, who was part of the FBI Behavior Analysis Unit that launched in the 1980s, while convicted serial killer Ted Bundy contested his execution at Florida State Prison. Their complex relationship is highlighted in the new thriller, ‘No Man of God,’ which chronicles how the duo formed an unexpected intimate bond while Hagmaier set out to try to understand what inspired Bundy to resort to violence.
‘No Man of God’ distinguishes itself from other films about Bundy, as it doesn’t glorify him or his crimes. Instead, its story largely focuses on the Special Agent’s struggle to comprehend what made him different from the convicted murderer. The drama also focuses on the former’s dawning realization that he’s actually not that different from the latter, who’s portrayed as an insecure narcissist in the feature. As their relationship evolves, Hagmaier forms an unexpected connection with the man he’s studying, in an effort to better fathom the motivations of a serial killer. While he initially tries to fight it, the Special Agent eventually comes to realize that he has more in common with the convict than he initially wanted to believe.
Their unlikely connection leaves Hagmaier with the ethical dilemma of whether the prisoner he has come to know intimately should live or die. Like the Special Agent, ‘No Man of God’s viewers will likely be be left with a lingering feeling of unease as they also ponder the moral ramifications of deciding whether or not Bundy should be allowed to live, especially when in regards to honoring his victims.
‘No Man of God’ was written by Kit Lesser, and directed by Amber Sealey. The helmer felt it was vital to have a woman direct a movie about the moral ramifications of two men discussing the motivations of a male serial killer who targeted female victims.
The innovative thriller will have its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow night, June 11 at Pier 76 at Hudson River Park in New York City. ‘No Man of God’ will then stream through the Tribeca at Home platform, beginning this Saturday night, June 12 at 6:00pm, through Monday, June 14. Following its premiere at the festival, the feature will then be released in theaters and On Demand and Digital on Friday, August 27, courtesy of RLJE Films.
Set in the mid-1980s, ‘No Man of God’ follows the relationship that forms between convicted serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) and FBI agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood, who also served as a producer), after the former was sentenced to death by electrocution at Florida State Prison. In the years that followed their first meeting, Bundy agreed to disclose the details of his crimes, but only to Hagmaier, who he came to consider to be a close friend. The duo developed a complicated relationship while the convict was incarcerated, and tried to overturn his execution.
Sealey generously took the time to recently talk about directing ‘No Man of God’ during an exclusive interview over the phone during the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that she became interested in helming the feature after she read the script, which she felt includes unique creative choices about Bundy’s story that need to be shared. She also shared that she’s honored that the drama is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, which she feels is a vital event in sharing important social messages.
The conversation began with Sealey explaining how she became involved in directing ‘No Man of God.’ “Well, it was one of those projects that came through the normal channels. It came through my manager, who had been in touch with the production, who had asked me to consider directing the film. So I read the script, and thought it was an interesting story, and that there were some interesting creative choices that would be included in the film,” she shared.
“But I said, ‘If we’re going to make another Bundy movie, it has to really stand out from the crowd.’ I also thought that with the climate we’re living in now, the story couldn’t focus on his crimes,” the filmmaker revealed.
“So I gave the production my take, and they said they were on board with that, and loved my vision. So things happened very quickly after that,” Sealey also divulged. “But just as we were getting started on the production, the pandemic started in April. We luckily found a way to safely shoot the movie later in the year.”
Once she joined and started working on the movie, the helmer cherished having the opportunity to cast and work with the actors, particularly Wood and Kirby in the lead roles. She described the process as being “wonderful. Elijah was already attached to play Bill, and I was thrilled because I’ve been a fan of his work forever,” She gushed. “I also knew that I wanted Luke to play Bundy because I’ve also been a fan of his work for awhile. So I wrangled him and got him on board.”
Once the actors were cast, Sealey embraced the process of collaborating with them, particularly Wood and Kirby, to create the relationship between the two lead characters. “Working with them was great; I love them, and they were so much fun to work with on this movie. But we had to have all of our rehearsals over Zoom because we were all being extra COVID safe,” she shared.
“We had hours of rehearsal time like that, and talked about the subtexts of all of Bundy and Hagmaier’s conversations. Both Elijah and Luke are so smart; kind and giving; I couldn’t ask for a better pair,” the filmmaker gushed about her two lead actors.
“It was so much fun working with them, and they’ve become such great friends. I really admire their approach, and they’re consummate professionals. They’re so good, I can watch them do anything,” Sealey added.
“I felt very blessed to be able to work with them, particularly under the circumstances we were shooting in. We were filming during the pandemic, and there were also those horrible fires in Los Angeles. There was also an earthquake on our first day of filming,” the director revealed.
“So there was a lot of stress going on, but the whole cast and crew were so professional and kind. Everyone was on the top of their game. They all not only loved the project and were passionate about it, but we were also so happy to be working and making art again. Our industry had shut down for eight months before we began shooting,” Sealey pointed out. “So I think there was a special bond that formed between us.”
With the movie having its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow night, the filmmaker has embraced the experience of being able to share ‘No Man of God’ with audiences, especially in person. “I think Tribeca‘s such an important festival, for not only New York, but also the whole country, right now. It’s the first festival back in person since the pandemic started, so I think it really means something to people,” she shared.
“It’s really powerful that those of us who are vaccinated are going to be able to hug, and feel safe with, each other. I’m also excited to be able to wear a fancy outfit and wear high heels and make-up,” Sealey admitted with a laugh.
“I’ve been in my pajamas for a year-and-a-half, so it’s pretty cool that I can put on a fancy dress and go out in public and get photos taken. It’s nice to be able to go out and celebrate a piece of art, the helmer concluded.