«The rural American Spirit, it's quite beautiful.» - An interview with Anthony Jerjen

09. January 2020

The debut film INHERIT THE VIPER by Geneva-based Anthony Jerjen celebrated its World Premiere at last year's ZFF. The Swiss production with Josh Hartnett in the leading role is now being released in cinemas in the US. In this interview, Jerjen reveals what prompted him to making this film and how he managed to get big American names for his project.

Anthony Jerjen

Geneva director Anthony Jerjen (*1988)

What inspired you to shoot INHERIT THE VIPER?

I was mesmerized by the complexity and scale of the Opioid Crisis. Andrew's script was approaching the topic on such a human level that I really connected with those characters, all in a way victims of this situation. It was an intricate character study wrapped in a genre movie. 

Where exactly does the story take place and why there?

The Story is set in rural Ohio. It's part of Appalachia, a region that is particularly affected by the Opioid Crisis. 

How much research did you do on the opioid crisis?

I didn't know much before reading the script. I researched as much as I could during the development process and all the way throughout production. I also met with addiction specialists, addicts, and their families. It is a complex topic, for sure.  

Can the crisis be solved?

The short answer is: it's complicated. Right now, federal grants come tagged for combating opioids and cannot be repurposed to deal with the rising incidence of methamphetamine misuse. The narrow focus on opioids means they cannot keep up with the drug du jour cycle: they just keep playing whack-a-mole. 

Without an effort to rebuild the social and economic fabric of rural communities, addiction will persist. That’s where the real problem lies, and as yet there are no serious attempts to address it. 

The film has a kind of retro-look - what is the idea behind your vibrating visual style?

This part of the USA has a timeless vibe to it. The rural American Spirit, it's quite beautiful. I wanted to embrace this aspect and deliver a movie that felt almost like a period piece. Those small towns were built during the industrial Golden age and have never really grown past those rural industries. It's almost like walking through a museum.

INHERIT THE VIPER

Writer Andrew Crabtree, Anthony Jerjen, Benito Müller and Wolfgang Müller at ZFF 2019

Do you have any cinematic references for the film?

We looked at quite a few 70's American movies like THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. I like the deliberate approach of filmmaking that was used at the time. The camera move with purpose, the cinematography is daring, the staging ever evolving. This style is very close to the way my brain conceptualizes images. 

What were the biggest challenges while shooting?

We had a very tight schedule! Some scenes, like action scenes, are quite complex and require a lot of time to shoot. On a budget like ours, you don't have time to experiment or second guess your choices. It's just an execution of the plan, hoping everything will work out in the edit!

One of the lead roles is played by Josh Hartnett - how come a first time Swiss time director can get him?

We had a fantastic casting director. She was able to get the script in front of him and I think he responded very well to the story and to what we were trying to achieve. It was a timely subject and there was a lot of great material in the script for the actors to sink their teeth into.  

I think Josh is at a point in his career where he's also looking for acting challenges, for more indie projects. All I can say is that he really immersed himself in the process and gave a fantastic performance. 

INHERIT THE VIPER

Josh Hartnett plays an Iraq war-veteran who wants to quit the opioid trade

And what about Bruce Dern - how did you get him involved?

Bruce was the first actor to get attached to the project. I remember that his agent read him the part on the phone and he said yes right after! It was amazing. In a way, I think he was paramount in attracting the other actors to the project. 

The film premiered at the Zurich Film Festival and opens now in the US - where else is it going to be shown?

There will be a wider digital release at some point, but I don't know much more at the moment. Hopefully, we'll be able to do a Swiss release as well!

The film is produced by Barry films - how did you know Benito und Wolfgang Müller?

I met Benito on a project that I shot in Los Angeles. It was a great experience and I was able to meet Wolfgang a few months later at the Cannes Film Festival. They had already produced some first movies and their experience was invaluable for me. They were instrumental in the success of this project. 

What was the role of Michel Merkt in this production?

Michel and I have known each other since 2010. He was the first person who put is faith in me as a director. He pushed me to take risks, to follow my instincts. He has always been incredibly supportive and so he was the first person I went to when I found this script. He saw potential in the project and agreed to produce it. He was the driving force that made it happen. If you can watch INHERIT THE VIPER today, it's thanks to him!

You are from Geneva, do you want to stay in Switzerland or do you see your future as a filmmaker in the US?

I'd love to continue working in the US if given the chance but there is also a lot of opportunities here, in Europe. I think it's too early to tell!

Interview: Christian Jungen

INHERIT THE VIPER opens in US cinemas January 10. A Swiss release date is pending.


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