Paul Schrader came to Toronto just last year with the barking-mad crime movie Dog Eat Dog, starring Willem Dafoe and Nicolas Cage in a violent portrait of ageing gangsters, but his follow up couldn’t be more different: with its hard-hitting talk of religion, raising questions of conscience and faith, First Reformed is, as the director happily described it, “a serious film for serious times.”
Schrader came to the Deadline studio with one of his two main stars, the larger-than-life Cedric the Entertainer, acting in a rare straight role. Schrader recalled that he’d been interested in religion for a long time, but was inspired to make the film about the subject after seeing Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2013 Polish nun drama Ida. “It’s the story of a reverend—a pastor, not a priest—played by Ethan Hawke,” explained Shrader, “who has a small little historical church that nobody goes to, which is underwritten by a megachurch, which Cedric’s character runs. And Ethan’s character is sick. But he has a sickness of the soul. He’s a person in crisis.”
Cedric was most articulate on his reasons for wanting to make the film, recalling that its religious themes reminded him of growing up in the Midwest. “It was something that resonated with me,” he said. “I remember having this kind of discussion with my mom when I was about 15.” Later he noted, “While I was shooting it, I’d think, Wow, man, I haven’t been to church in a long time—why is that? …This movie just opens you up in so many different ways.”
Find out more by watching the video above.
Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii Love, Watford Group, Philosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.