Best know as one half of the paranormal investigators in the Insidious series Australia’s Angus Sampson just pulled in triple duty as co-writer/co-director and star of the new black comedy The Mule. Based on true events, Sampson plays sad sack Ray Jenkins, a man coerced into carrying a kilo of heroin into Australia by holding it in through his outdoor. When customs picks him up and holds him on suspicion, Jenkins has to withhold the evidence for a week by, well, holding in his poop. The film is riveting and wildly funny while also containing some pure gross out moments.
Ahead of The Mule’s release on VOD on November 21st, we had the chance to interview Angus about how he prepared for the role and about the writing process and class tensions that inform the film.
So when you’re preparing for this role where your character has a kilo of heroin shoved into their keester for the bulk of the film, what kind of objects do you put up your butt in rehearsal to get a feel for what it’s like to have something up there so long?
Knotted hummels (ed. Note. I’ve listened to this a dozen times and that’s the closest translation I can come up with) are good. They’re lightweight and you can twist them. That is probably the best place to start for an authentic experience. The only thing I had to do that I didn’t mean to do was on day one of filming I decided during the scene in the shower to hurl myself on the ground without telling the stun coordinator or the cameraman or anyone. I did it and on the porcelain floor I cut my bum with three large lacerations, one you can see in the film. It’s about three inches long. I also threw one of my discs out. About 19 millimeters extruded out. I couldn’t actually stand up straight after that and had to do the rest of the shoot in a back brace. Fortunately I was in bed for most of it. Even still to this day I have back pain. When you look at it in the film though, it plays out well and adds to the performance.
Have you ever swallowed anything whole?
Eh, not since I was a kid with Legos and was rushed to the hospital.
So The Mule is great. My wife stayed up to watch it with me well past her bedtime last night and that’s always the mark of whether or not a film is good. If she’ll forgo sleep to keep watching, it’s a winner.
That makes me so happy. We did some test screenings, let me be clear on this, we didn’t do them to see what we needed to change: “What should we do? Where should we have them go to?” We did them because we couldn’t be sure if people wouldn’t just walk out of the cinema because there’s poo in the film. Honestly, we had no idea how it would go.
During THAT scene, the one where you’re forced to swallow shit covered condoms, I mean we obviously watch a lot of horror movies, and that moment gave me the willies more than just about any horror movie I’ve seen this year. It’s intense and yet it is all for nothing because the officers were hip to his plan.
You just gave me a tingle because it is horrific. It really is. It’s not meant focus on what comes out of your backside. We’re doing it to make you think about what would you do-we all have to go to the bathroom and we all have to move our bowels. The thing is, I think everybody would fundamentally if the decision was going to jail for years or just swallow that, I think if you were at that point you would do it. At the very least you would seriously contemplate it.
Right. If you already have that much invested in it, why would you not give it a go? One of the fascinating things about the film is you have this very blue color story unfolding while the hole country is captivated by the America’s Cup boating race. You have these very down on their luck families beholden to a low rent mob and the one percent of the one percenters taking all the headlines. Was that a conscious theme in the writing process or just something used to convey the setting?
That was exactly what we wanted to do. You’re the first person today to ask that of us. That was huge thing for us. I can tell you that Leigh (Whannel-the film’s co-writer) said to me when you’re write something it’s very helpful to have a theme that can inform everything you do, everything you say and everything that you show. He said when he wrote Saw he had heard a person on the radio talking abut how they had two weeks to live. Well those two weeks went by and he was still alive, a month later he was still alive and the month after that he was still alive. They ran the tests again and arrived at a clean bill of health. He swore there and then he would live a better life after that. Sure enough that informed Leigh’s theme of making a choice. For me, I had to think “What do I know about?” and had to realize I didn’t know anything. I don’t know anything about tires or dinosaurs or being an FBI agent. I do know what it’s like to be me, and I’m pretty astute on what it’s like to be a man so I started to write about the male ego which is an endlessly boring topic for some but fascinating for others.
The America’s Cup is the most egotistical sport in the world. You find these many times over multi millionaires that spend millions of dollars on cutting edge supplies for their boats, engineers and technology. It’s a similar theme to Formula One racing, except racing has a massive audience. Who watches Yacht racing? No one. These guys spend so much money on their boats and they don’t even race them themselves. They sit on their cruiser liners and pay someone else to race their boats for them.
If you know anything about 1983 Australia it was the biggest event of its day. It somehow turned the folly of billionaires into this underdog. They convinced everyone that Australia had finally arrived at the world stage. They tried to convince the country that 300 million Americans were in mourning that they had lost this yacht raise that, for 132 years, the longest winning streak in sporting history, had been the Americans. They were so dominant that they changed it from the Admiral’s Cup to the America’s Cup. The one thing is, in order to win that race the Australians hid the design of their keel from everyone. They would move the boat around and hire scuba divers to stay underwater and guard it so no one could find out about it. As I read about it I kept returning to this idea that in order to get ahead in life you have to hide things from people. This whole thing with Wikileaks-people don’t want others to know their poor choices and they actively work to withhold information. So we set out to write a film in the vein of the Coen brothers where everyone has something to hide whether it’s Ray with his drugs or the cops or Ray’s stepfather and they’re all lying to each other and looking out for themselves. The perverse pleasure in that. We also were exploring that line between nationalism and patriotism and someone that is full of shit.