Genre Daddies

We sat down with director Ant Timpson and star Elijah Wood to talk about pushing boundaries, living with dead bodies, and “de-greasing” the script of their new film Come To Daddy.

I had zero arrogance because I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.” —⁠Ant Timpson

In the general flow of the movie industry, not a lot of producers make the shift to directing. But for New Zealander Ant Timpson, it seems like a natural move.

His unique genre predilections have long shone through in his producing credits, which include titles such as Housebound, The ABCs of Death (and its sequel), Turbo Kid, Deathgasm, The Field Guide to Evil, and the instantly iconic cult oddity The Greasy Strangler. Those predilections extend somewhat into his directorial debut, the darkly comedic new thriller Come To Daddy.

Scripted by The Greasy Strangler co-writer Toby Harvard, Come To Daddy is based on an idea from Timpson, who was “inspired” by his reaction to the death of his own father. As he articulates in this captivating blog post, the week Timpson spent in a house with his father’s body learning things he never knew about his dad not only sparked the plot of Come To Daddy, but also prompted Timpson to re-engage his long-held desire to direct movies.

In the resulting film, Elijah Wood (who worked alongside Timpson as a producer on The Greasy Strangler, and has put in his fair share of work hours in New Zealand) stars as Norval, a 30-ish hipster layabout who travels to a remote seaside home to meet with with the father he hasn’t seen since he was a child.

Norval’s reunion with pop (played by Canadian great Stephen McHattie) starts awkwardly, then gets increasingly weird, and soon mortal peril is in play.

Following the film’s well-received world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Timpson and Wood sat down with Letterboxd for a two-on-one to talk about Come To Daddy.

Come To Daddy director Ant Timpson.
Come To Daddy director Ant Timpson.

This film ends with the credit ‘Based on an idea by Ant Timpson’. What did you convey to Toby Harvard when you first approached him about this idea?
Ant Timpson: I gave him the skeleton structure of: staying alone in a house with a dead body, trying to process that. Maybe thinking about: you didn’t know everything about your dad, the unresolved issues, not getting answers that you wanted, wanting to say stuff to him that you didn’t. All that stuff sons have with their dads. And mothers and daughters. So during the rest of the week [when Timpson Sr’s body was on display], people came to the house who I didn’t know had this alternate history [of my dad]. And learning that information, my brain took it to crazy extremes, as I do, as a movie guy. I took it in to weird areas. And I started formulating it and thinking. But also, a big part of it was like: watching someone die in front of you—what am I doing with my life? I used to dream about directing, and I’ve just been servicing everyone else’s dreams.

So your father’s death also served as an impetus to pursue your directorial dreams?
AT: Get tryin’ or get dyin’, man. It was kind of like that. And I didn’t feel like I could just grab a script as a producer, because I come across scripts all the time, and nothing was like “Ooh, I need to direct that”.

Elijah Wood: I get that. I get that the impulse isn’t to just simply find a piece that somebody else wrote. It had to be personal, a fire within you that needed to be told.

AT: So it was the impetus, but it needed to have that emotional connection to make it actually happen. I was just lucky enough that Toby was game, and Toby brought everything to the party. He took that [idea] away and then came back with a draft that was really funny. It was kind of different from the final film. And so we bounced back and forth.

He got pissed off with me because I was quite rude, I think, with the first feedback I gave. We’ve got this dynamic relationship about the whole film. I think I was like: “This is really Greasy, we need to de-Grease it”. And so he did. And we always thought about Elijah. Toby was like, “It would be amazing for Elijah to be in it,” and we talked about that and what he could bring to it and ground the whole thing. Eventually it was in good enough shape to send out and so [producer] Mette-Marie [Kongsved] and Elijah read it. He was the first to read it really out of the gate.

Elijah, you’ve had a professional relationship with Ant for years prior to this. Were you surprised or excited to hear that he was making his first film as a director?
EW: Not surprised. Excited. It all really just fell into place. Because it was Toby too, we had all worked together on The Greasy Strangler. There was a lot of connective tissue that made sense. And it was not a surprise. I mean, he’s a filmmaker. As a producer, part of the job is understanding the process and guiding that process, so it’s not a huge leap. Then reading that script, it was just instant. It’s one of the better scripts I’ve read in years. It leaped off the page and it constantly surprised me in terms of where it was going. It starts off as one thing, and every step of the way your expectations are subverted. It’s shocking and funny and fucking crazy. And a blast. I immediately fell in love with it. And was intimidated by it.

I think from an emotional standpoint, what Norval has to go through… it’s a lot on Norval’s shoulders. And so I wanted to make sure that I delivered for that. I was honored that [Timpson] wanted me to be a part of it but I was also anxious about making sure that I honored that and serviced that in the right way. Particularly because it was based on a personal experience of Ant’s.

Was the Ant that you worked with on set as a director the same Ant you’d worked with in the previous years as a producer?
EW: (high pitched) Yeah. Yeah.

AT: I feel like that’s part of my background of organizing events-based stuff: getting teams of people enthusiastic about things [Ant’s cinema-centric events are the stuff of legend in New Zealand]. And I think that really helps when you get a team around you. Plus, I had zero arrogance because I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Kind of. I knew what I wanted but also had a lot of pressure I put on myself. So I felt like I had a really great support team that were there for me and once I knew that, my confidence just went straight up.

It’s clear from the films you’ve produced that you love movies that push the boundaries. Have you drawn any conclusions about how far you can push that kind of stuff?
AT: I wanted a film that was pretty accessible at the end of the day. And I also knew that this had a decent budget for the type of film, more than I had been used to for some other things, so there was a responsibility that we’ve got to reach an audience. And it’s hard. But I also didn’t want to alienate the audience that I think would really like it. So it’s right on that fine line.

I don’t feel like it fits totally within [my produced works], like there’s elements of it in the previous producer stuff but I honestly feel like when I was watching it that there’s not… it takes a while. This is slow burn, man. I think it rolls out at just the right pace for when things happen. Like it’s building and building and then when things snap it starts to unravel quickly.

Saban has acquired ‘Come To Daddy’ for distribution; the film will have a US cinema release. Upcoming festival screenings include: Sydney Film Festival, Australia, June; Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, Korea, June–July; Fantasia Film Festival, Quebec, July–August. Comments have been edited for clarity and length.

Further Reading

  • Ant has created a list of films that inspired him in the making of his movie, which you can see here. Stay tuned for another, more personal list coming soon.


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