In Ant Timpson’s new film Come to Daddy, Elijah Wood’s Norval is a rather ridiculous character from the beginning. Just look at his clothes, his prissy and rather smug name-dropping. Look at his haircut, for God’s sake. But even he doesn’t quite deserve all that’s in store for him when he goes to visit his estranged father in a strange house in a remote location. It sounds like a horror setup, and it is a horror film of sorts, but there’s a lot more going on than just that. Timpson and Wood joined us to talk about the film, which opens Friday in theaters and on demand.
: I really enjoyed this movie. Horror is not my thing, but man, what a fun ride this was.
Ant Timpson: Do you think it’s a horror film?
Paste: Well, that’s the way it was presented to me, and certainly it has some of those elements, but I also found it to be a really compelling human drama. Fathers and sons—that’s always a really rich mine to tap into, right? Was that what you were looking at when you were first thinking of it?
Timpson: Yeah—this was a father-son story. It was me and my dad, basically; that was the inspiration for the film. That rich territory has been mined by cinematic gods. Some of my favorite films are like The Great Santini. I love that dynamic of a son who’s kind of in awe of his father, but also in fear of his father. I was the same way with my father. All of that was playing into it. For all the craziness that occurs [in the film,] I’m hoping the personal stuff resonates throughout the whole thing.
Elijah Wood: When you imagine the scenario of not having seen your father in 30 years and then visiting for the first time and having no idea who he is, and also being kind of a fish out of water in a place that is unfamiliar in a sort of strange house on this cliff edge, and with this person who is not really going out of his way to connect—that puts Norval very much on his heels. There’s also the child in him wanting love from his dad that he never felt he got and wanting that resolution, and yearning for it and not really able to get it.
Paste: I especially loved the—I don’t want to spoil it for anyone—but I’ll just say the Elton John moment. I thought that was really inspired. Ant, was that part of your writing?
Timpson: No, that was purely Toby [Harvard]. In fact, it was the first sort of thing, when I was reading the script, where I suddenly felt like I could see it as this amazing sort of cat-and-mouse game, this sort of fireside grilling going on between father and son. That’s when I saw the huge potential here for something really, really fun. Especially for a two hander. Toby and I kept going back to films that inspired us like Friedkin’s The Birthday Party, based on the Pinter play. That interrogation of paranoia is the energy we were aiming for in these dialogue exchanges.
Paste: It’s so hard to talk about this movie without spoilers, but without giving too much away, this movie could be described as two successive two handers in a way. Without getting too specific here, did you shoot in sequence and if so, was it difficult to go back and forth between sort of my world with person A and my world with person B?
Wood: We had the luxury of pretty much shooting entirely in this house for a majority of the first part of our shoot. So in that sense we were actually to one degree or another shooting relatively in sequence. The ratcheting up of tension and the twists and turns that occur in the second and third acts happened after we’d really established the groundwork of that initial relationship. When the movie takes a turn, we had already been at a certain place for the character to kind of match. It was a real luxury. It doesn’t often work that way; you’re often shooting wildly out of sequence. There were days that it felt like a one-man play, in a way, because there’s a lot of stuff with Norval on his own, as well. Obviously there was a lot of two-handed stuff with Stephen McHattie [who plays Norval’s father] that was a joy to play. He’s incredible. And intimidating. And frightening. And also just a lovely human. So that was a great deal of fun. Honestly, the entire cast was a true joy, and everybody brought something so interesting to each of those characters. It was just delicious to go to work with all these people every day.
Paste: The film is so well cast. Tell me about about bringing Elijah on, and bringing on the rest of the cast.
Timpson: The film was written for Elijah. It would have been horrifying not getting him. I don’t know what would have happened because Toby and I were talking about him as we started writing the whole thing. When it was all finished, it was in our heads that there was no one else to be in it. I don’t know if I told Elijah at that stage because I thought that was probably way too much pressure.
Wood: I don’t think you did.
Timpson: I don’t think I did; I had my producer hat on at that stage. So yeah, it was written for Elijah, and it was just great that he responded to the material really well, and put up with my bad jokes of sending photos of Skrillex to him while he was reading the script. [Wood howls with laughter] For the others, because it was a coproduction, the nature of these films where you have to have different funding from different countries is to have certain cast being from certain countries. Sometimes that just stands out on the film—like, what the hell is that guy doing in this scenario? We were just very lucky; who we ended up with were just kind of perfect for the roles.
Paste: One last question. Elijah, please tell me that they put a piece on top of your head, and you didn’t have to have that actual haircut for however long you were shooting?
Wood: Oh, no, that was my haircut. Um, yeah. There, there were a lot of more severe ideas. Actually, it was pretty close to a couple of reference images I found. But there’s something so delicious about an opportunity to kind of jump in head first and go for something bold. The hair and makeup team were from New Zealand, and they were so wonderful. We kind of all found it together, based on some of these images. Once we committed to it, and there the haircut was, well, there’s Norval. It was such a transformation. And a ridiculous haircut to have for two months. [all laugh]
Paste: The sacrifices we make for art. I really appreciate y’all talking to me about the movie. I think you’re gonna find a great audience for it.
Michael Dunaway is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, photographer, and general troublemaker. He is Paste’s Editor at Large and the host of the Paste podcast The Work. You can follow him on Patreon.