‘Desperation Road’ Interview: Director Nadine Crocker

Opening in theaters and On Demand beginning October 6th is the new thriller ‘Desperation Road,’ which was directed by Nadine Crocker (‘Continue’).

“The road to redemption is twisted.”

R1 hr 52 minOct 6th, 2023

After 11 years in a Mississippi state prison, Russell Gaines struggles to leave his past sins behind him as he returns home to his stoic father, Mitchell. One fateful… Read the Plot

What is the plot of ‘Desperation Road’?

‘Desperation Road’ is a Southern Noir thriller, set in a tough-and-tumble Mississippi town where a woman (Willa Fitzgerald) and her young daughter are caught in the crossfire when whiskey, guns, and the desire for revenge violently intersect.

Mel Gibson and director Nadine Crocker on the set of'Desperation Road.'

(L to R) Mel Gibson and director Nadine Crocker on the set of ‘Desperation Road.’ Photo Credit: Steven Squall.

Who is in the cast of ‘Desperation Road’?

Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with director Nadine Crocker about her work on ‘Desperation Road,’ her first reaction to the screenplay, Willa Fitzgerald’s brave performance, directing Oscar-winning filmmaker Mel Gibson, Garrett Hedlund’s process, working with Ryan Hurst, navigating the movie’s different storylines, and the film’s themes of family.

Director Nadine Crocker on the set of'Desperation Road.'

Director Nadine Crocker on the set of ‘Desperation Road.’ Photo Credit: Steven Squall.

You can read the full interview below or click on the video player above to watch our interview.

Moviefone: To begin with, can you talk about your first reaction to the screenplay and the themes that you were excited to explore with this movie?

Nadine Crocker: My first reaction to the screenplay was love. Honestly, it was such a beautiful story and it took several times reading to understand the balance of what is important to me and what I wanted to really dive into with (screenwriter) Michael Ferris Smith, and he was extremely collaborative. Honestly, from the first time we met, it was just such a beautiful experience and he really honored everything that was important to me. He really gave me freedom to collaborate and to adapt the things that were important. To answer the rest of your question, this is a story of a mother who’s desperately trying to provide for her child and who has no means to. For me, I am a mother, so that was extremely important to me. But also when me and my husband first found out we were pregnant, we were servers and bartenders, we were desperate to just get it right. I could relate on such a deep level with this woman who just wanted to get it right, just wanted to find her child a home, and it just felt like everything went wrong that could possibly go wrong. I was just like, I want to protect this woman and child. I want to be with them and I want to go on this journey with them. So that’s what thrust me into this story. Also the overall message was really important to me. You’re not expecting it because it’s a thriller and we have so much fun action, but it’s really a beautiful drama at its heart, and these performances and these characters are just heartbreaking. It’s this overall message of forgiveness and redemption, and how we’re all connected. So for me it was like, yes, I’m in. It’s just all of those things. I tend to try and attach myself to films that have a message that I can really get behind, and a message that is very easy to get excited about. I do think we’re all connected and that we all deserve forgiveness, so it was a really easy film to fall in love with.

Related Article: ‘Reacher’ Actress Willa Fitzgerald Talks Watergate Comedy ’18 ½’

Willa Fitzgerald in'Desperation Road.'

Willa Fitzgerald in ‘Desperation Road.’

MF: Can you talk about Willa Fitzgerald’s extremely brave performance and was she ready to go to all the dark places she needed to go to emotionally for this role when she arrived on set?

NC: Willa is a beast. She does not need help to get there emotionally, I’ll say. But she’s so open and trusting of collaboration, and I think because I’ve had a journey in my life. I’ve come from hardship, I have been through a lot of things, and I’m also a mother. So I think it helped us to bond even further and we were able to dive to really deep places because we talked about those things. For me, I’m an open book. There’s not anything that I hide. If they have questions, I’m like, here’s the truth, this is what it was like. So we dive in and it was just such a beautiful experience getting to work with her. She is such a powerful woman and creator, and having her be so collaborative, open and just take everything that you have to give, it’s just such a giving experience. It was magical. It really was. Her performance is just so grounded and strong, and you would never know that she doesn’t have a child. Honestly, I was just so proud of her and her work.

Mel Gibson and director Nadine Crocker on the set of'Desperation Road.'

(L to R) Mel Gibson and director Nadine Crocker on the set of ‘Desperation Road.’ Photo Credit: Steven Squall.

MF: Can you also talk about directing Mel Gibson? Obviously, he is an Oscar-winning filmmaker in his own right, what was the collaboration like between the two of you on set?

NC: Honestly, that was one of the hardest things. You grow up watching him and then also you revere him as a filmmaker. He has so many Oscars and he has so many incredible films. ‘Braveheart,’ ‘Apocalypto,’ ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ all of them. So it was intimidating at first, but from our first meeting, he was so kind and supportive, and asked so many great questions. He just was so collaborative and open, and so it was such a beautiful experience. But also then you get to set, and we only had 16 days to make this film, so you’re like, okay, I want to be extremely collaborative and I want to do all of these things. But we also were on such a time crunch, and I only had him for so many days, so how do we do it all in such a short time? He was just so understanding and collaborative. I think that’s where that directing side came in, because it’s like every day, any filmmaker knows the last scene before lunch, you want to just cry. You’re like, if I come back to this scene after lunch, I’m in trouble. I’d look at him and he’d be like, “We got this. We can get it before lunch.” It’s just those little moments where I’m like, “Oh my God, Mel Gibson just gave me a thumbs up and said, we got this. We’re going to do it.” It was such an incredible experience, and he was so giving and kind to work with, and he did. It was never a fight. Because I’m sure he has his opinions, and he’d ask me questions and just listen to my answers so fully and be like, “Okay.” It was just so exciting. For me it was the energy that kept all of us going and moving, just having such open collaborators with us in this process.

Garrett Hedlund in'Desperation Road.'

Garrett Hedlund in ‘Desperation Road.’

MF: Did Garrett Hedlund come to set with his character fully formed, or did he find the character’s voice and movement on set while shooting?

NC: Well, no. So truthfully, Garrett was the first person attached, so I think he had a long time to wrap his head around things that were important to him and to start building. But he also came out for all of prep. So he was there for all of pre-production. For me, that’s when I saw this character for real. Anytime when I was done working at the end of the day, we’d go and sit at this outdoor area that was in our hotel we were all staying at, and we’d just talk about the movie, the characters and everything for hours. He just takes his craft so seriously and he’s so impressive. But it was during that time of prep that I started to watch him change from Garrett ,who had become my really good friend and we had become close over the last year of getting this film to fruition. Then you just watch him start to morph. It was really important to him that he had a limp and that he had these old signs of the car accident he had been in, and wardrobe is really important to him, that it feels worn. He distressed all his own clothes and he wore them and he wore them every day, and he wore these boots in so that they felt like his worn boots he was returning to. So then you start to see this craft start to come to life, and it’s so impressive, fun and inspiring. But above him coming up with all of this beauty and watching this character grow, he’s still so open to discovering new things about him through what I would add or what I would give him. There might be people who’d be like, “No, I know him.” He was never that way. He’s always like, “Okay, so I do that.” Then you’re just watching him take it, breathe it and turn what you said into reality. It was so inspiring and exciting to watch as a director. That’s one of the things too, I try to stay out of their way when they start to fly. That’s some of the magic. You bring these little things and then they start to bring their own, and it’s like, “Don’t touch it. Don’t touch the magic. Let it just keep flowing because it’s such a beautiful thing to witness.”

Mel Gibson and Paulina Gálvez in'Desperation Road.'

(L to R) Mel Gibson and Paulina Gálvez in ‘Desperation Road.’

MF: The movie has several different storylines that eventually come together in a very organic way. Was that difficult to execute?

NC: That is one of the difficult aspects of this film too, because for me, no one’s not important and everyone matters to me. One of the things that is the most important to me as a filmmaker when I come onto any project is, I think we fail the characters in a way if they’re not likable. We should be able to resonate with every person that’s in this film, even if it’s not our way of thinking. I want you to connect with them and with their struggles so that we can maybe understand why it is that they are that way. So that maybe, if we can identify with these characters, even though flawed and human, maybe we could identify with people in our own life in that way. So I try and keep them as grounded as humanly possible and make people empathize. In that, I think that their storylines come alive already. So for me, it was actually hard because I didn’t want to cut anything down. You want to honor each storyline so much. For me, one of the characters in the storylines is, Larry, by all accounts, you should not like (actor) Ryan Hurst or Larry, and I love him. I felt for him. Ryan is such an incredible actor, and honestly, I’d be in tears and it was just so beautiful to witness. I feel that way about all the characters and all of their struggles. By the end of it, I loved every single one of them so much, and I just wanted to honor their stories.

Director Nadine Crocker on the set of'Desperation Road.'

Director Nadine Crocker on the set of ‘Desperation Road.’ Photo Credit: Steven Squall.

MF: I’m glad you mentioned Ryan Hurst’s performance, because he is excellent in the movie. Was his character written like that on the page, or did he naturally bring that intense energy to the role?

NC: Well, first of all, not to take anything away from Ryan. Ryan absolutely made that character. Everything I had ever dreamed that character would be, and from the first moment we sat down, he just gobbled it up and then made it his own. But Larry in particular for me was one of the people when I first came on, I was like, this character is really important to me. I felt as if, Michael Ferris Smith and I talked about this all the time. Larry was very unlikable for me because I’m so protective and this mom and her child are going through this experience. Larry’s just a bad man in that book. So for me, I felt it was a really beautiful experience or opportunity to show mental health struggles. It was clear that Larry struggled with alcoholism and it was clear that he was battling with these really dangerous tendencies of self-sabotage and self-harm, and it was like a mixture ready to explode. So that was something that was really important to me. As I worked on the script and rewrote closely with Michael Ferris Smith, that was one of the characters that was really important to me. So when I first sat down with Ryan, he was like, “All right, lay it on me.” Like they all do when you first sit down, they’re like, “Tell me what you think of him or what your interpretation is.” One of my favorite moments was sitting down with Ryan, because I had come up with this whole backstory, and I just had this story of Larry being a fighting dog, and essentially all he had ever known was violence. Then you put someone who’s only known violence in a domestic experience and then expect them to behave. It’s like you can’t have a dog that bites around children. So as his own way of self-sacrifice, we created all this stuff, and then Ryan made it reality. There’s a moment where he howls, and I just got the chills. He just embodies it in such an exciting way. As a filmmaker, I am really goofy on set, even as I’ll be crying, and then the scene will be over and I’ll karate kick off to the side. I tended to do that every time Ryan was done. They just made me so fueled because you’re watching someone just morph in front of your eyes. It’s so exciting.

Garrett Hedlund and director Nadine Crocker on the set of'Desperation Road.'

(L to R) Garrett Hedlund and director Nadine Crocker on the set of ‘Desperation Road.’ Photo Credit: Steven Squall.

MF: Finally, the movie deals with themes of family, including Russell and Mitchell’s father and son relationship, and the makeshift family that they create with Maben. Can you talk about those themes of family and how they unfold in this movie?

NC: Truthfully, one of my favorite parts about it is that Mel is one of the best dramatic actors out there. You look at ‘The Patriot,’ or ‘Signs,’ he has done such immense dramatic work, and he’s done so much amazing action as well. But it was really important to me to see him be that incredible father I knew he could be, and to see that relationship just come to life. I wanted Mitchell to be like the dad we all need and want sometimes, who just gives you some advice. Mel and Garrett were really hands-on with that father-son scene on the porch, and took it very seriously. They even took a moment where they wanted to talk about the writing and really dive deep on that scene, because there was so many things that were important to both of them and their characters point of view. Then the family dynamic of it all just really unfolded so beautifully because these characters were so grounded and beautiful, and their relationships were just blossoming. It was the thing that was most important to me going into it. There’s a line in the movie where Willa’s character Maben says to Russell, Garrett Hedlund, “Not everybody has somebody.” I’ve felt that so immensely at different times in my life, and I know other people have too. So I wanted to call to that fact that not all family is blood. Some of our closest family is actually not blood. It’s the people you choose and the people you find along the way. That was one of the things that was really important to me is that by the end of the film, this family that they’ve grown and this piece that they’ve found, that you just feel that hope in the end. That you realize through an act of kindness, we can change people’s lives. If Mitchell and Russell had never taken them in and done those things, all of it, it’s just sometimes these act of kindness can change people’s life. So it was an important theme that I wanted you to feel.


‘Desperation Road’ opens in theaters and On Demand beginning October 6th.

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Gary B. Graves

Gary B. Graves is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Gary B. Graves joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: GaryBGraves@worldtimetodays.com.

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