The stars and the writer/director of ‘The Kill Team’ discuss the film and its politics at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere
Premiering April 27th at the Tribeca Film Festival, the new film The Kill Team from writer/director Dan Krauss tells the true story of the Maywand District murders, a massacre of Afghani people committed by a number of soldiers in 2009. Krauss adapts the story from his 2013 Tribeca Award-winning documentary of the same name, fictionalizing it and bringing the story to a new audience.
Stars Skarsgård, Wolff and Brain Mack along with Krauss spoke to us at the Knockturnal about making the film and what went into taking the true story of the Maywand District killings and turns them into an at-times harrowing story of obligation and what it means to be a member of the military in this day and age.
The Knockturnal: This is not your first time here at Tribeca. Last time you were here, you were with the documentary version of The Kill Team. What is it like coming back and bringing the story back here?
Dan Krauss (Writer/Director): You know, it’s more than a little surreal. But I also feel an amazing sense of history. This is a moment of full-circle closure in a way I’m experiencing. First I told it first as an objective, journalistic work and now I’m here telling it as a very different, more subjective and emotional work. To get to do both of those things here at Tribeca is a real privilege. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. The documentary had a wonderful launch here at this festival six years ago, so to be back here again with the same-titled film but with Alexander Skarsgård and Nat Wolff and Brian Marc and all these wonderful actors depicting fictionalized versions of real people… it’s a trip! But it’s a wonderful collaborative experience we all had together that allowed us to take what was a really difficult true story and interpret it and regurgitate it as an emotional experience for audiences.
The Knockturnal: You’re taking a non-fictional story and fictionalizing it. What was the biggest challenge in making sure that it held onto the truth even through changing the details of the actual events?
Dan Krauss: What I decided in writing it was that I had an allegiance to the big facts of what happened. In other words, the conspiracy to kill people and that there was this cult of personality leading them all. Those were sort of the facts that I believed I couldn’t change. But within that kind of broader umbrella of factual principle, I had a lot of interpretive space to take those characters and those ideas and make them my own. And I think that is important to own your characters and own your story and to not be slavishly adherent to a kind of Wikipedia version of a story.
The Knockturnal: You’ve played a lot of characters with some… for lack of a better term “complicated” moral backgrounds. What is it like to get into that mind space, where you play someone who thinks they are doing the right thing, whether that is the right thing or not.
Alexander Skarsgård (“Sergeant Deeks”): Well, it’s the best thing about my job. That’s what’s so incredible when you start working on a project and a character when it’s, like in this case, someone who is repulsive and trying to understand where he is coming from and how he ended up in this position. Because I had to justify it, I had to understand like “well, this makes perfect sense to him.” In his world, [his actions] make perfect sense to him, it’s just fascinating to go into that headspace and explore that. Not to justify what he is doing, but in order to play something, you almost have to believe that he believed it.
The Knockturnal: What was it like bringing a real person’s life to this semi-fictionalized version of the story?
Nat Wolff (“Andrew Briggman”): Well I think I was lucky enough to meet with Adam [Winfield], the real man who my character was based off of. And I got to spend the night at his house, and then he was nice enough to take me around Seattle a bit, and I got a lot out of that. But at the end of the day, we were making a film exploring difficult choices and morality, and so it was very very helpful but also at a certain point we had to honor the story Dan [Krauss] wrote.
The Knockturnal: How was shooting on location, and the training regiment?
Nat Wolff: It was weeks of really intense military training. Nothing compared to what those guys really go through. Actors like to pretend that they have what the people in real life do, but it’s just getting a taste of what they go through gave me newfound respect.
The Knockturnal: What is next for you after this film?
Nat Wolff: I’m about to do a movie called Mainstream with Andrew Garfield, and I have a couple of movies coming out. And I just had music come out with my brother [Alex Wolff], we had two songs called “Cool Kids” and “Note” come out.
The Knockturnal: How did you learn to work with the people in your “team” in the movie? How did you build a brotherhood with the other actors?
Brian Marc (“Marquez”): They housed us together in the same place, but we also kind of went through a boot camp, a basic training together before filming so we did that together within our ranks. So the leader was our leader, you know? So we would go to set together, go to rehearsals together as usual. But at night we would still be together, and we would wake up and be together. So spending all of that time in another country and all of that together… it kind of comes naturally. You have your own quirks, you know? “Oh this is the funny one, this is the serious one…” and so it comes natural[ly] by the time they say action.
The Kill Team premiered April 27th at the Tribeca Film Festival.