Daniel Roby, director of Most Wanted, divulges the highs and lows of making his fifth feature. His testimony of perseverance, resilience and positivity allowed him to bring this harrowing true story to life. He speaks passionately and with conviction, carrying an attitude that undoubtedly brought his decade long dream to fruition.
As a Canadian, how close were you to this story?
Very close, it was almost personal. It felt like a natural story for me to tell.
How did you approach your vision for this film?
This movie was very hard to make. I spent over 10 years putting it together. I finished working on it in 2018 after I had read the story in 2006. It took quite a while to gather the funding and the cast; I thought this would be my second feature, but it is actually my fifth. This was my first movie in English, and people liked the script. It was a good thriller and I was confident with what was on the page. The big challenge was having enough days to shoot everything in the script. We shot for 43 days on a $5 million American dollar budget. I didn’t want to cut in the content, I wanted to spend all the time following the three main characters. There were so many meetings to make this happen so we could shoot at all these locations. I wanted to do hand-held on this movie and we shot without any movie lights. It was all natural lights, so I could reduce the amount of crew on the film. Since I could cut the crew in half, I was able to add days to shoot. The amount of days is based on how many people I could pay to be there. I needed to make the movie as simple as possible. But because there are stunts, a bunch of extras and the prison, it was a very hard movie to make [ laughs ]. I did it with my usual crew that I have done my other films with. They know me well and we were well prepared. I was happy we didn’t have to cut the script and were able to shoot everything.
What was the dynamic with working with Jim Gaffigan?
I showed the film in LA and everyone was like Jim Gaffigan is so great in this! The way it happened was I was working with some agencies to finish casting. I had to admit I didn’t know Jim beforehand. I investigated him. I watched some of his specials on Youtube and I thought he was so funny. I couldn’t stop laughing. He was so good. I thought ‘oh my God’ he would be perfect to play Glen. I had always thought Glen should be played by a comedian. His character is really hard to play, to be so charming and to win people over as a likeable guy. You need someone who is funny and has that characteristic to their personality. But also, to flip that character on its back and for him to be so unpredictable and so scary, you really need a comedian to do that. Some of the greatest actors of drama in history are comedians. Jim liked the idea and I was very happy. He was so professional and prepared. He brought this character to life. A lot of good lines were improvised by Jim. Since I wasn’t using any movie lights, it gave me a lot of freedom. We could try different things and different angles. The challenge was to have the crew to not laugh during the takes [laughs]. We obviously couldn’t use everything. It was too much. But here and there, some of these great little nuggets of comedy came directly from Jim’s instinct. I was very lucky.
Josh Hartnett was brilliant, how much of his performance was organic?
I agree with you, I liked what he had done before but it was such a different vibe this time. What I remembered from Josh’s previous work was he was always more like a 25-year-old, good looking, sometimes naive character. So this character here, I felt it was something so different. It was this rebel, he would know when things are bullshit and when things are true. He is so confident. When I saw Josh do it, I realized he was creating something different from anything that we’ve seen from him before. Every time I saw him on screen, on set, on the monitor, I saw the magic. He's such a movie star. He observed the real Victor. I put Victor on the page. But Josh spent the day with Victor and really got his energy and his motivations. I was very impressed. This is a different Josh Hartnett. You root for him. You believe him. You want him to succeed. He is the hero of the story. I like how it came out. I hope people rediscover Josh through this performance.
How did this experience improve you as a storyteller?
It was a big challenge, because this movie was very complex. Most of my movies play well with emotions. I fortunately make people cry in the room [laughs]. This one was different. It was more working with your intellect trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It was more trying to understand what is happening and see the point of view of these three characters. In order to understand why this happened we have to experience what they experience. We’re playing a different string on the guitar here. I try to make it gripping, suspenseful and fun to watch as a thriller. You can be shocked, you can be outraged. It plays in your head. It was a challenge to keep emotions for the audience, but it was not the same emotions I have played with before.
I’ve reviewed this film and I have been recommending it to everyone I talk to about it. What is your proudest part of this film?
My proudest part is that I didn’t give up wanting to do it. Doing an independent movie like this is hard if we don’t have an “international sales agent” that will give an advance on the sales internationally. We had one, and the week before we started prep, they pulled away. Everything was falling apart. I was losing the actors. There were so many times over the years that this project was falling apart. Everybody wanted to give up. I just kept on going. I had time to shoot three other films before I got to do this one. The proudest part was it came in at the right time. We managed to do it with a smaller budget. In the end, I am happy I managed to keep convincing people we had to make the movie over and over and over again until we actually made it. So that’s what I’m proud of.