When American Animals starts up, you’re hit with a title screen that shows the line “This is not a true story.” The the “not” is scratched out, and we realize the things we’re about to witness actually did happen. However, this isn’t a documentary — not really, anyway. We have actors playing the parts, but almost like a documentary, occasionally the real people will jump in and talk about what we’re seeing play out in front of us. In an exclusive interview on the carpet at South by Southwest, director and writer Bart Layton explains why he decided to include footage of the real culprits in the movie.
Yeah, I’ve always loved the story. I sort of fell in love with it the moment I started to get to know the real guys, and, at that time, they were quite a long ways into a 10-year prison sentence. And a lot of what they said in their letters and in their emails, to me and my productions, was really about the why. The motivation for it and this need to feel special and to live a life less ordinary and those kind of ideas. I felt like that was really important to include in the film because they were such interesting people, despite the fact that they’d done something deeply ill advised and paid the price for it. I think because of the honesty they brought to the “why” they did it was worth trying to incorporate into the movie. It stops you from going off into movie world where consequences don’t really affect you — where you suspend disbelief. I think having them in there does something that a documentary does — your emotional engagement is lifted.
For more from Layton about how he achieved the tonal shift he wanted in the movie and which genre he would pick to direct, watch the rest of the interview below.
Summary: Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.
American Animals, directed by Bart Layton, stars Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Udo Kier, and Ann Dowd. It will be released on June 1st.