Review of Interview: No Man of God Director Amber Sealey Discusses Ted Bundy Drama

Daljit Kalsi

The Ted Bundy drama No Man of God is out on August 27 in theaters and VOD. Directed by Amber Sealey, the film stars Elijah Wood as FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and Luke Kirby as the notorious serial killer.

“In 1980, Ted Bundy was sentenced to death by electrocution. In the years that followed, he agreed to disclose the details of his crimes, but only to one man,” says the official synopsis. “During the early days of the agency’s criminal profiling unit, FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier met with the incarcerated Ted Bundy in the hopes of understanding the psychology of the serial killer and providing closure for the victim’s families. As Hagmaier delves into Bundy’s dark and twisted mind, a strange and complicated relationship develops that neither man expected.”

RELATED: Elijah Wood Interrogates Ted Bundy in No Man of God Trailer 

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with No Man of God director Amber Sealey about her captivating drama, working with Elijah Wood, and how she views Ted Bundy.

Tyler Treese: No Man of God is such an interesting take on Ted Bundy. We’ve seen so many films centered around him, but this takes a very different angle as it’s all post-arrest and focuses on his final days near the end. What really drew you to the script and the project?

Amber Sealey: I felt like there was such an honest take on Bundy that it wasn’t based on the kind of mythologizing of him. It was really looking at him as the kind of insecure narcissistic guy that he was. That drew me in as well as working with Elijah Wood. I also got really pulled in by just the character of Bill. I was like, how does this guy go to sleep at night? After hearing all these stories in his day job, like that’s quite intense. So that pulled me in and I was really interested in how do you stay a good person when you’re sitting so close to evil so much?

The performances of Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby are so essential to the film. How was it working with them creatively and giving them direction?

Oh, so great. I mean, they’re just like putty. You can ask them to do anything and they can do it. So as a director, you’re like, oh, you can just say do this and they do it. They can do anything, those guys. So it was wonderful.

Kirby is able to give such a disturbing performance, especially later in the film. The confession scenes really stand out as I was uncomfortable watching it. They’re kind of disturbing scenes. How did you shoot it so that the emotion gets through?

I used to be an actor, so I just really know that process really well. I love actors. That part of my job is probably like my favorite part of it. So it’s really just a process of getting to know the actor intimately and what works for them. You figure that out minute by minute as you go. We knew that we wanted that moment, that what we call the under the water monologue moment, I knew that I wanted it to not just be a straight have him staring at the camera, the camera doesn’t move. Just really putting all of our efforts onto like the gore. I knew that I wanted the stronger thing to be a kind of meta acknowledgment of what it is like for those of us in the audience to hear those details.

Does that make sense that I wanted that to be the focus rather than the details itself? So I had the idea of what if Bill’s character starts delivering some of the monologue as almost like a surrogate for the women in the audience. Like he gets to express the emotion and the sheer terror that we all are feeling hearing it. So that was just a really fun part of it. When we were filming it and we got to film both of them delivering the whole monologue and just very differently, obviously Luke delivering it as Bundy. Very kind of removed and performative, and then Elijah getting to perform it as Bill’s kind of inner child, just deeply, deeply connected to the sadness of it and the pain of it and the fear that the victims themselves had to go through.

Amber Sealey interview No Man of God

That makes perfect sense. I was so impressed because so much of the film is just conversations in a prison, but it’s gripping and it kept my attention all the way through and we get these great performances. Obviously, the actors did such a great job, but just from a shooting standpoint and as a director, how difficult was it to make sure it was interesting on-screen and wasn’t just a bunch of monologues?

Well, obviously that’s always a concern, but to me, it was about connecting to emotionally what’s going on in the scene and visually manifesting that with the camera and the lighting. I just had to trust that that was enough to make it interesting. I think that dialogue is interesting. The mental swordplay that they’re engaging in together, they’re constantly performing for each other. They both want something from the other person and then pretending like they don’t. That was interesting to me and that it’s just about, okay, how do we create visuals that represent what’s going on internally? So we came up with just this series of like this is how the camera’s going to move in this scene, and then this scene, and this scene, and then they connect to each other. I don’t know if you noticed, there’s different camera work for each time they’re together because their relationship has shifted each time they’re together and what’s going on outside the room is shifted each time they’re together. So the visual language of the camera shifts, the lighting shifts, how close we get to them shifts.

I love that it’s based on these real-life transcripts with Ted Bundy. It’s hard to take a lot of what he says at face value. After doing all this research, do you feel like you have a full understanding of who Ted Bundy was, or is it still kind of a mystery?

To me, he’s not a mystery at all. To me, he was just a psychopath, a narcissist and deeply insecure. It was someone who thought that his life had more value than other people’s lives and was like, he literally thought that his experience of kind of owning these women was more important than their lives were. He’s been dissected mentally so well by so many people, and there’s so many documentaries out there and articles out there about him that I think can more conclusively or more thoroughly talk about his [issues]. His was really just true narcissism and self-centeredness. It was just about portraying what I saw. That’s what I saw when I listened to his interview. We got to listen to all of those interviews. The real Bill gave them to us. So we had hours and hours and hours of listening to them talk, and , obviously, I watched every bit of film on him that I could find and that’s who I saw. So it was just about portraying what, what was true for me.

How was it getting to meet with Bill and getting his insight on all of this process?

Oh, so great. Bill’s become a buddy. We email all the time. I talk to him all the time. He was just so available and generous with his time and thoughts and he’s a really, really helpful resource.

You touched on this earlier about, you know, how your time as an actor has helped you know how to shoot certain scenes and connect with your actors on the film. Can you tell us a little bit more about just how that experience comes in handy while on the set?

I mean, it’s sort of hard to describe, right? Because it’s something that just comes really naturally to me. I mean, I’ve always been an actor. I started acting when I was like five, you know, so it’s just something that is in my bones. Like I know actors, and I love them deeply and I know that process intimately. It’s just fun for me. There’s so much that you have to figure out in the moment when you’re working with actors. You can have a plan for how you think the scene should go or how you think the character should be or feel, you can talk about it in rehearsal, and then you can get there and suddenly everything is different. So you have to be really active on your feet. You have to be really agile at coming up with new stuff in the moment because sometimes you can have everything lined up exactly as you shot listed it, and exactly as you talked about in rehearsal and then it’s just coming flat. It’s not anybody’s fault. It just is flat in the moment, and you have to be able to be flexible and come up with something new.

There’s so many Ted Bundy films, and I think this is such a unique one. For somebody that has watched all the documentaries, can you just quickly sum up why this is worth checking out?

I think this one is worth checking out because I think first of all, Luke and Elijah are brilliant. Second of all, I think it does something different. I think it has a slightly different perspective than the other ones. That’s not to say the other ones are not worth checking out also. I think everyone, everyone can find their favorite Bundy movie, there’s a whole library of them, and this is just one.

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