After ten years of indulging in some of the scariest scenarios Leigh Whannell (Saw) can conjure up, it took a poop joke to get me to cringe and cover my eyes.
Whannell teamed up with his Insidious co-star, Angus Sampson, to bring The Mule to SXSW. The film marks Sampson’s co-directorial debut and also features him as Ray Jenkins, a rather naïve, doofy guy who’s pressured into swallowing 20 condoms filled with narcotics and attempting to carry them into Australia. Ray gets oh-so close to walking out the airport door as an A+ drug muler, but loses his composure at the very last moment. When Ray refuses to come clean and explain himself, the Australian Federal Police have no choice but to wait him out by confining Ray to a hotel room until he’s got no choice, but to release the evidence.
There are quite a few moments in this movie when you can quite literally feel Ray’s pain, but what makes the experience even more disturbing is the thought that a real person put himself through a similar situation. Whannell explained:
“Our friend Jaime [Browne] was inspired by reading the newspaper one day. He just came across, you know, not on the front page, like page seven of the local newspaper there was a story about a guy in New Zealand who was caught muling drugs and refused to go to the toilet and just that little byline inspired him to write this script."
Even though both Whannell and Sampson were very interested in the material, initially, they never intended to come aboard as writers and, in Sampson’s case, a co-director and producer, too. It all began with the hope of working on something together and grew from there. Whannell broke down the evolution of their job descriptions:
“We started writing it in 2007. When we first started working on it, I was living in this apartment, you know, I was actually single at that time, [Angus] came over and now so much has changed in our lives both personally and professionally since then. It was seven years ago, so when we first started out, it was like, ‘Oh, maybe we’ll get our friend to write the script and we’ll act in it.’ And then as time went by, Angus started directing commercials in Australia. He’s actually directed quite a few TV commercials in Australia, so his confidence grew and then by the time it got to the filmmaking, it was a case of, ‘Who’s gonna produce this thing? [Looks around.] Well, I guess if no one else does it, I’ll do it.’ So Angus ended up producing.”
Not only did Sampson write, co-direct and produce this film, but he also took on what looks to be an incredibly demanding and rather uncomfortable role. A good deal of The Mule’s success comes directly from Sampson’s performance and particularly his ability to make the viewer both sympathize with and understand his character and, thanks to that powerful connection, it makes the film’s most nauseatingly memorable moment exponentially more gut-wrenching.
Having gone into this interview still reeling from the visual, Whannell and Sampson did put me at ease by revealing the ingredients required to make it look as though Ray just couldn’t hold it any longer:
“Whannell: I actually did eat some of the poo that they made, the props person, and it was very tasty. It was like some Snickers bars.Sampson: I thought there was lentils in it. And there was peanut butter, Nutella. Gosh, it was disgusting.”
Do yourself a favor and keep that formula in mind. It’ll make one particular scene in The Mule go down much easier.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.