No Man of God is based on the book written by Bill Hagmaier, an FBI agent who struck up a relationship with serial killer Ted Bundy while the latter was on death row. Actor Luke Kirby plays the notorious murderer opposite Elijah Wood. We caught up with him to discuss the role…
STARBURST: What was it that attracted you to the role?
Luke Kirby: Honestly not much. More than anything I felt a sort of repulsion, because of the nature it. One does wonder about the potential for things like this to be made overly salacious or sensationalised. There's clearly a market for this kind of stuff that can exist in the realm of the ghoulish, but given that this is about a real history, there's a delicacy that I feel needs to be dealt with. And so when I read the script, it read very smoothly and had a swiftness to it that was appealing, but I still felt a reluctance to get involved. Then after meeting Amber Seeley, our director, she and I were able to have a great meeting. It was a day before New York went into lockdown, I happened to be in Los Angeles, so we were able to meet. I got to shed all of my hesitations and fears with her and it turned out that she shared some of them and had a really fantastic take on how to deal with this material in a way that was clearly driven by intrigue to the story, but also felt like she was going to address some of the other feelings that we had alongside it, and try to figure out how to parallel those forces together. So it was just a matter of adopting her as an authority and following her wherever she demanded we go.
What sort of preparation did you do for the role?
There's obviously a lot of footage of this guy. You know he was clearly somebody who had an appetite for the camera and was an early arbiter of self-promotion and seems to fancy himself a bit of a strange celebrity and clearly loved the malleability of optics. He’d love to try to manipulate them as much as he could so that was the best research that I could do in terms of any mannerisms or the physicality of those things that can inform the early stages of things. Then there were numerous documentaries, and Bill’s book has some appeal because of their relationship. But it was a matter of how much I could consume or stomach in a day's work. We were in lockdown and I came out to Los Angeles to shoot the film was put into a two-week quarantine, so I really didn't have much else to do so I just went into a dark room every day and came back out dismayed lacking in appetite, and went on to the next day.
Was it hard to shake the character after the day's filming?
These things do loom for the duration of the work. But I feel like if you're doing things safely and responsibly, they don't loom in a way that's detrimental or damaging. Thankfully, I had my wife alongside me and she has a wonderful sense of humour and we were able to observe the absurdity of the whole thing. While we were there, there were wildfires around the corner from us, so Los Angeles was filled with smoke and with Covid, everywhere we looked seemed to ring ‘End of Days’. That kind of alarm and we couldn't help but laugh that this was how we were choosing to spend the time: invested in this kind of this person who reaped so much havoc and was so monstrous towards other people. So yeah, little degrees of humour helped and then when we finished it, in some ways it really confirmed that this man was gone and any sort of shadow that that lurked at the bedroom door for the duration of the shoot was gone.
What was Elijah like to work with?
Awesome. He's also a tremendous actor and a great dance partner. He also carries a great sense of humour. When you're doing something like this, looking into something that has so many opportunities for repulsion, you want to balance it out, he was just a great, fun person to be around.
What was it like working under the Covid restrictions?
In some ways, I think we were granted a bit of a gift because of the size of the show. It was a small crew and small cast. All of my stuff was shot in one room. So it made a lot of the protocols easy to follow. And because we're such a small group of people, it made it easier in terms of testing and stuff. It was one of the first things that were shot in LA, so it really felt like an experiment. For us, I think more than anything, it just satisfied an itch that had been present and increasing over the four months prior, because we'd all been living much more restrictively under the mandates of the lockdown and so it was the first time we got to be around people aside from our family in months. It was just a joy to be around new people and get to get to know them and ask them questions about what they liked and what is life like where you live, like that kind of thing. It was very fun and I think in some ways informed the story, certainly from my perspective, of a man living in isolation, just delighting in the opportunity to be with someone who felt like they were going to listen to them.
Did you read Bill's book before going into the role?
No, I didn't read anything Bill has written but I spoke with him over the phone a couple of times and he was a great resource. A very kind and generous man. It informed a couple of things: just being able to hear the voice of somebody who was present for the life that we're trying to make real just affirmed a humanity that I wouldn't have otherwise been sure was there. It also was great to have him as a resource for making sure everything that we were doing was authentic. There were aspects of the script I think that on the page felt sort of overzealous, but Bill was there to kind of say that was what happened.
Why do you think that serial killers have a cult following and some people idolise these idiots?
I don't know what that's about. I sometimes wonder about its relationship to the doldrums of reality. I wonder about the yearning that we may have to feel more excited when more endangered in life. I know that whenever I absorb that kind of story or material, like if I'm watching a true-crime TV show or something, taking the dog out for a walk always feels a little more precarious than it would have otherwise. I think it awakens something kind of old, an old sensation of what it is to be awake to the danger. But in terms of the personality stuff and the celebrity aspect of it, that's a real peculiarity. I just don't know, I find it a little odd but you know, hero-worship of any kind is odd; celebrity of any kind is really peculiar.
You played Lenny Bruce recently as well [in the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs Maisel]. Was there a difference in your approach with the two characters?
While they're obviously very different, they share a thing that there were real men with books written about them and all that sort of stuff. The biggest difference for me is where I felt if I had any responsibility at all, which was with Lenny. My biggest concern was that we would do anything that would hurt his daughter, and she came on as a support. She has been been very supportive about the work that we've done and with this movie, I didn't really feel that kind of responsibility to any legacy, because it's not really a legacy, It's a wake of destruction. I didn't have that concern; I had other concerns, obviously because there are people who are still reeling from loss as a result of this person, and that's a conflict that I still live with.