The Devil All the Time—which premiered on Netflix today—stars several names you’ll recognize from blockbuster superhero films. But you’d be hard-pressed to label any of the characters in this bleak drama “heroic.”
Directed by Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer) who also adapted the script with his co-writer and brother Paulo Campos, the Netflix film centers on a young man named Arvin (played by Michael Banks Repeta as a boy, and Spider-Man‘s Tom Holland as an adult), who grows up in the backwater town of Knockemstiff, Ohio in the ’50s and ’60s. Arvin is surrounded by acts of deranged violence committed in the name of the lord, starting first and foremost with his own father (Bill Skarsgård) in childhood. As an adult, Arvin’s luck only gets worse when a corrupt preacher, Reverend Preston Teagardin, (Robert Pattinson) comes to town and takes an interest in Arvin’s sort-of sister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). Then there are characters played by Riley Keough and Jason Clarke, a husband-and-wife con artist duo whose deadly and perverted scams are causing problems for the smarmy local sheriff (Sebastian Stan).
All of these troubled characters in The Devil All the Time come from the brain of author Donald Ray Pollock, whose 2011 novel of the same name was met with critical acclaim. Pollock’s previous collection of short stories, Knockemstiff, and his follow-up novel, The Heavenly Table, also take place in southern Ohio, where Pollack himself grew up. Campos, who spoke to Decider in a phone call earlier this month, would happily continue to adapt what he calls “the Knockemstiff extended universe.” Decider chatted with Campos about finding his perfect cast, working with Pattinson and Holland, and his hopes for a The Devil All the Time sequel.
Decider: It goes without saying that The Devil All the Time cast is stacked. Walk me through the casting process on your end.
Antonio Campos: It was a very organic, natural process. It wasn’t like, “Oh shit, we have two weeks. Let’s get everybody in the movie.” We had early drafts of the script in 2016. I gave that to Rob [Pattinson], who I had become friends with through some mutual friends. He responded well to the script, and was really interested in playing Teagardin. Mia [Wasikowska] was in a film that I produced called Piercing, and we got to know each other. I offered her Helen. Tom [Holland] I had gotten to know through James Farrell, who’s his agent. He had been cast as Spider-Man, but the movie hadn’t come out yet. So I got to know Tom at that point, and I just thought he was so thoughtful. I had seen him in The Impossible and thought he was such a talented actor. I really had a great feeling about him. Those were the three key pieces of casting that came together very early on: they were attached to the movie for a while before we even went out to market with it.
Along the way, over the years, you have general meetings with actors—they like your movies and ask to meet you, or you like an actor and you ask to meet them. With Jason Clarke—I just really loved the idea of Jason playing this character. I wrote him a letter, told him how much I admired him, told him why I thought he’d be great in the role. And he responded. There’s no one way to put together a cast. There are people you know, people you meet, people you really admire and hope you respond to the material. And then people you audition.
Just before we got on this call, I heard the news that Robert Pattinson has tested positive for COVID. So I hope he’s okay, first of all!
I heard like you guys. I texted him right away to check-in, and I haven’t heard anything. I hope he’s okay. I hope he’s alright. It’s good that they shut down production.
He’s such an interesting actor, because every role he plays is so different from the one before it, and that’s certainly true in this film. How did you work with him on this character?
We talked a lot about Teagardin’s relationship with religion. And we talked a lot about the preachers of the time on TV and on the radio that Teagardin might be modeling himself after. We talked about the wardrobe, the feel, his belly.
Was there padding involved for that belly?
That was a little bit of padding and a little bit of weight that he gained. So, we had these conversations about the character, but Rob likes to keep everything with his process close to the vest. He doesn’t want to audition some voice, he wants to find the voice. The first time I heard Teagardin was the day we shot the scene between him and Eliza Scanlen in the car. That was the first time I heard him. I mean, I saw him in wardrobe, and in the tests and everything. But the first time I saw him in character was there. It was so exciting. Once he revealed it, then he was all open. It was like, once he got over that—he’s been keeping it close to the vest and playing with it and figuring it out—then he shared it. Then it was playtime. It was really like we could work together and figure it out. My number one direction to him was: Just go for it. Don’t be scared about going too far. Go to an extreme. I’ll always be here to rein it in if I need to.
Does that mean that there are even more extreme versions of Teagardin’s sermon on file somewhere?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There are amazing takes where Rob goes so far that he makes himself laugh. It was about finding that sweet spot. I think the best performances, to be honest, are the ones where they go that far; where it’s just barely crossing the line. But they go to that point. You have to choose the right takes. You’ve gotta really make sure that you give them the love and care they deserve, because those are the really inspired performances. You want to capture all the lightning in a bottle that you have at your fingertips.
Let’s talk about Tom Holland as Arvin—a very different role from Peter Parker. How did you work with him on that character?
Tom was methodical. He really wanted to change his physical appearance. He wanted to get a little skinnier, a little scrappier. He wanted to nail the accent, and diligently studied the details of it. He got it into his bones. And he wanted to go to the dark places he had to go. He wanted to understand the trauma that this kid had gone through as a child; what his father was like. He always absorbed that. Tom is just a very soulful, good person. I think that the combination with that inherent goodness in him, and his ability as an actor to embody another person’s experience led to this wonderful performance. On the physical side, on the stunts and stuff—Tom is obviously an expert on that stuff. That dude does that day-in and day-out when he makes those Spider-Man films. What we were doing in the movie was sort of a sloppy, street fighting style. He was really adept at all of it. We really worked to try and capture the sense of what a real fight would be like. Getting winded. Take a breath. Sloppy misses. Things like that.
I’m being told to wrap up, so I’ll just ask one more question: Would you ever consider doing a The Devil of All Time sequel? What might that look like?
Yeah! I would love to do the Knockemstiff extended universe. I’d love to. Don Pollock has written all those books set in that area [Knockemstiff, Ohio] at different points in history. The town changes so much in every story. There are random links between characters from one story to the next. I love the idea of visiting Knockemstiff again. So I hope I get to.