Growing up in a family full of actors can’t be easy, but it does have its perks. For his directorial debut, Bill Skarsgård, the third in line to the Swedish acting dynasty that includes his father Stellan and brother Alexander, had his pick of top rate actors. Co-written and directed with fellow actor Landon Liboiron, “The Soul of a Man” is adapted from the Edgar Allan Poe short story “Bon-Bon,” in which a self-important lush conducts wine-soaked philosophical arguments with the devil. Stellan is equal parts jovial and sharp as the stubborn Bon-Bon, and Skarsgård’s brother Gustaf plays the devil with stylish aplomb. Though Poe was American, the short story is set in Paris, while the film’s gothic style and dark humor make the whole endeavor feel very Swedish.
IndieWire is premiering “Soul of a Man” exclusively below.
“Poe feels very, maybe not Scandinavian, but very European, in a strange way. Even though he was American. There’s something about that sort of Gothic narrative, and the way he spoke and wrote has sort of an ancient European feel to it,” Skarsgård said. “Poe’s version is satirical. And we wanted to kind of make it our own. A man that’s high on his own ideas meeting the devil and just refusing to listen to a word the devil says. That was the setup. And then we made it into our version of what this philosophical conversation could have looked like.”
Skarsgård and Liboiron met while starring the Netflix horror series “Hemlock Grove,” immediately bonding over their unconventional senses of humor.
“He and I would be laughing hysterically in the movie theater, when the whole theater’s silent,” said Skarsgård. “In moments that are just funny to us. And we’re like, ‘Oh, I guess you and I have something in common here.’ We see funny in things that are maybe not traditionally seen as funny. And that’s very much the tone of the short film.”
Though some might balk at directing the great Stellan Skarsgård for their first film, or even working with their parents in any artistic endeavor, the collaboration went smoothly for all.
“Directing, to me, I think is more of a conversation than anything else. It’s not like, ‘You have to do this. You have to do that.’ You just go, ‘Oh, here’s what I think it is.’ And then they have opinions and you kind of explore it together,” said Skarsgård. “So the process never felt weird to me because directing them was basically like having dinner with them. You just talk about things. Sometimes you don’t agree on things, but it’s always fun and you learn from it. So it did feel very natural doing it.”
Though the performances stand out, the film is also visually appealing. Darkly lit as if by candlelight and shot in one of the oldest bars in Europe, the film looks and feels timeless. It’s both cold and warm, like curling up with a Poe story on a rainy night.
“We took certain visual cues from Poe,” said Liboiron. “The Devil is basically dressed as he’s described in the story, with his suit being this old thing that seems to have been taken from a grave… someone else’s grave. And he just put the suit on, so it’s ill-fitting. And the glasses, and even his sideburns. The Devil was very taken from the page. So there were little gems from Poe that we stole.”
Though it’s easy to call “Soul of a Man” a two-hander, there is a vital third character in the film, Sigmund the cat. He opens and closes the film, providing poetic symmetry to the structure.
“The cat was one of the things that we were most stressed out about during shooting,” said Skarsgård. “And we were like, ‘If the cat does not want to do this, we don’t have the ending we want.'”
Casting his father and brother may have been easy, but Sigmund proved the most difficult role to fill.
“We had two cats, and the first cat did not work. And we’re like, ‘Okay, switch out. Let’s take the other cat.’ And basically, the cat just did one takes. I mean, it was just every time, it was just giving perfect deliverance on everything it did,” said Skarsgård. “We were like, ‘Oh my God, this is, literally, exactly what we had in mind.’ So huge, huge, grateful and thankful for that cat, man.”
“Soul of a Man” was written and directed by Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron, and produced by Jason Berman and Matthew Lindner. Watch the short film exclusively on IndieWire below.
And here’s a video interview with the team, including Liboiron and all the involved Skarsgårds, discussing the film.