Ohio Author Knocks ’em Stiff at NetflixSeptember 23, 2020 2:13 pm Hope Madden
Donald Ray Pollock, writer of the 2011 novel The Devil All the Time and narrator of Antonio Campos’s film adaptation, was as surprised as anyone to see Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson and Sebastian Stan knocking around Knockemstiff, Ohio.
OK, so the movie itself was filmed in Alabama, which is where those actors and more—Riley Keough, Haley Bennett, Bill Skarsgard, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, Eliza Scanlon, among others—brought Pollock’s characters to life. But much of the fictional story takes place in the author’s hometown, less than 60 miles south of Columbus.
The book—Pollock’s second, following his 2008 collection of shorts titled after his hometown of Knockemstiff—interweaves the sometimes horrific stories of a dozen or so ne’er do wells spanning 20 years in Southern Ohio and West Virginia.
“Knockemstiff was a fairly rough place to live in, but there weren’t any murderers or anything like that around there,” he says in an interview coordinated by Gateway Film Center for their Conversations program. “A lot of fistfights and drunken brawls, that kind of thing. To be honest with you I don’t know where the subject matter comes from. I just keep typing until something happens.”
How did Pollock like the movie?
“I thought they did a fantastic job,” he says. “I was very happy with the end result.”
He says it wasn’t too tough to hand over his book to the creative vision of the director, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Paulo. He did, however, question the casting for the part of the film’s narrator.
“They couldn’t get Donald Duck so they ended up with me,” Pollock jokes.
Though he didn’t really enjoy the work itself, which took place across several months, he was glad to do it.
“I figured this was probably going to be the closest I ever get to being in a movie,” he says.
Pollock believes that perhaps his voice can work as a calming influence in the film.
“I’m not really sure that I was the right voice, but the idea of having a narrator definitely helped sort of explain the story and maybe calm people down a little bit,” he says. “It is a very dark movie. And my voice is probably the most boring thing in it, so maybe we counterbalanced some of the other things in it.”
The rest of the cast, though, Pollock is more pleased with.
“I was in communication with Antonio the whole time and he’d say, ‘Hey I think I’ve got Tom Holland,’” Pollock remembers. “And then they started coming really fast. I couldn’t figure out how that happened because I knew pretty much what the budget was, I mean roughly. But he was able to pull it off. I still don’t know how he did it. I’m really thankful that he did.”
Still, Pollock was a bit nervous.
“I was a little afraid because there were so many stars and I thought, oh boy, people are really going to be expecting a lot. Fortunately, I think Antonio pulled it off,” he says. “I watched the movie the other night. I had seen a couple of other versions, rougher versions earlier. I still can’t get over the acting. Everybody does a great job. We got lucky.”
And though the unflappable author may not seem too exuberant about the whole thing, he promises he is.
“I am excited,” he says. “I know I probably don’t show that too much. Before I kick the bucket and I look back on my top 10 experiences in my lifetime, this will definitely be one of them.”
The Southern gothic thriller dropped on Netflix September 16 and is screening theatrically at Gateway Film Center—the only big screen in Ohio to carry it.
Watch the full interview on Gateway Film Center’s Conversations from the Center.