Thomas Haden Church’s assignment in “Killer Joe” is being the only passive person in a maelstrom of human cruelty.
Not that Church’s character isn’t despicable, too.
“This predator has taken up residence … in the room next door and you don’t do jack shit,” Church says of how Ansel Smith allows a murderer into his home to have his way with his teen daughter.
Yes, “Killer Joe” is a far cry from “Sideways,” the film that proved Church wasn’t simply a reliable sitcom actor. Director William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’ black comedy shows a family trying to squeeze an insurance check from a not so beloved family member. Church’s Ansel is the patriarch of the clan, and his son Chris (Emile Hirsch) hires a killer (Matthew McConaughey) to off said family member to collect the legal reward.
“Everything is dealt with in this creepy white trash insouciance,” Church tells Big Hollywood. “There’s a resistance to any sort of strain, to even the slightest sort of gesture or action on his part to prevent or promote anything around him that doesn’t directly serve his best interests.”
Church and crew went to actual trailer parks to research the NC-17 film
“It’s a very vivid representation of what things could be like,” he says of the living conditions, if not the story itself. It’s hard to fathom any family, no matter how cruel, running through a saga like the one depicted in “Killer Joe.”
Friedkin previously teamed with Letts on the unsettling drama “Bug,” so the two “had a shorthand” as they collaborated on “Joe,” Church says.
“They knew precisely what the tone had to be,” he says. “No one ever challenged it.”
It’s one reason why Friedkin, best known for iconic films like “The Excorcist” and “The French Connection,” stands out to an actor who has already worked with the likes of Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man 3”).
“[Friedkin] wants you to collaborate, but if he sees you second guessing yourself at all through the process he doesn’t need to collaborate with you anymore,” he says of the director’s bold style. “He does not suffer fools. If he thinks you’re selflessly second guessing something, or drawing more attention to what you’re doing, he cuts right through it.”
Church’s current fame can be pinned to his success on the ensemble comedy “Wings,” but he isn’t keen on returning to television at this point.
“It laid the foundation for everything else in my life,” he says of the show’s run. He’d just rather not live in California. He calls Texas home, and it would take one heck of a project to lure him away from the Lone Star State.
“My whole existence is in Texas,” he says.