In Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, a once world-renown painter - who seems to have lost his muse - comes to a small art school to teach. There he is introduced to Eddie, a mute man-child who hangs around the school because his family donates a lot of money to the school. Eddie has a peculiar problem: when he is stressed out, he tends to sleepwalk, kill, and eat small animals. We spoke with director and co-writer Boris Rodriguez, who spoke about the catchy title and being a tortured artist.
Where did the idea for Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal come from?
It came from my friend and co-writer John Rannells, who pitched it to me originally. It wasn’t a sleepwalking cannibal; it was a retarded werewolf and a novelist, and it was on the outer banks of North Carolina. Gradually, as we kept reworking the story, he went to Los Angeles and I went back up to Canada, and the retarded werewolf became a sleepwalking cannibal; the novelist became a painter; and the sand dunes became the snowy landscapes of Canada.
I love the title, The Sleepwalking Cannibal. I don’t know if The Retarded Werewolf would have had the same ring.
Originally, the title was supposed to be Eddie, not Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal. The distributors came up with that, and initially I was reluctant because I feel that gives it a slightly more exploitative feel. The film does satirize exploitation films, but it isn’t so much one itself. But I have to say the [new] title really helped get the film noticed, so I am glad they convinced me to change my mind.
To me, it’s not so much exploitative, it’s more...
Yes, campy. I find it funny and quirky and more descriptive than just Eddie. How did you go about casting Eddie?
I was lucky with Dylan Smith. The first person we cast was Lars - Thure Lindhardt. We wanted a star, someone who could carry a whole movie, who could do both drama and comedy. As you can imagine, Canadian stars get a lot of work in the US and become prohibitively expensive. So we turned to Europe, and I didn’t care what accent he had, I just wanted him to be a star and carry the movie. Our London casting guy suggested two Spaniards and this Danish guy, Thure Lindhardt. I was immediately blown away by him. Once he came on board, we got the Danish producers on board, the German sales agent came on board... and then we came to cast Eddie. I thought we had a monumental task ahead of us: to cast someone who was physically large and imposing, but who could also convey subtle emotions with facial expressions. Luckily, the second person who walked into the room was Dylan Smith. I didn’t tell him at the time, but I knew he was the guy, and I felt so lucky.
In the film, art and tortured artists are inextricably linked. Can you talk a little bit about that? Do you consider yourself a tortured artist?
Not nearly as tortured as Lars, thank god. There are many different ideas that feed into that, that inform the role of Lars. One of them is the idea, “Can you create great art without suffering?” There is an ongoing debate about that - some would argue that it is as old as art itself. If you are a professional artist or have sacrificed everything for your art, you will likely face dire poverty or enormous rejection. The only out of that dire situation is to create amazing art. That kind of pressure creates great art. The other aspect of that idea is that, to create really good art, you need to delve deep into who you are; explore emotional scars and difficult memories to create an honest work. You need to be tapped into your own vulnerabilities. So in that sense, I think suffering is part of the creative process. Does it have to be forcibly? I think that is part of the debate. I certainly had a myopic intensity in getting my first film made - I think anyone will tell you how hard it is to get that first one made - so in that sense, as often happens, your art and your life start to resemble each other. But only to that extent - no cannibalism or murder whatsoever!
Other than Eddie’s paintings, you didn’t show anyone else’s art in the film. Why was that?
If you show art, you create a debate about whether the art is actually good or not, and it distracts from the story. Or you hire an artist or take art that has success, and you are preaching down to the audience - especially if the audience is not part of the art world. You can’t create art greater than what you can imagine yourself. Everyone really wanted Eddie’s paintings - those went really fast.