After being delayed due to the pandemic, Scott Cooper’s Antlers is finally arriving in theaters this Friday courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. Produced by Oscar winner and monster enthusiast Guillermo del Toro and co-written by Cooper, Nick Antosca (who wrote the short story that Antlers was based upon), and Henry Chaisson, Antlers transports viewers to an isolated Oregon town being terrorized by the legendary Wendigo, and a small boy named Lucas (played by Jeremy T. Thomas) at the center of it all. Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons co-star.

During a recent press day for Antlers, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Cooper about his latest directorial effort. During the interview, he discussed how the project came about through a call from Guillermo del Toro and how he wanted to approach the theme of trauma in the script for Antlers. Cooper also chatted about how Jeremy T. Thomas became the heart of the story for the film, collaborating with Legacy Effects to create the monstrous Wendigo, and more.

Hi, Scott. Great to speak with you today. I wanted to say first and foremost, congratulations on Antlers. I think the way that you and your co-writers explored trauma, both in a personal nature, and at a community level, and at a global level as well, I thought was really fascinating, and it really hit me hard.

Scott Cooper: Oh, thank you so much. The film is about generational trauma and about abuse, and abuse of our land and our resources, of Native Americans, our own bodies. Look, this story is trying to, I think, hold up a dark mirror to America's fears and anxieties, and we have a lot of them in this country at the moment. My mantra is that if I can see myself in my work, then others should see themselves, too, and hopefully, people can see themselves in this story, or know people like these folks in Antlers.

I wanted to ask how this project initially came together. Was this something that was brought to you? Did you hear rumblings about the short story and were like, “I really want to get involved with this?”

Scott Cooper: Guillermo del Toro approached me and he said, "Your last three films have been horror films and nobody knows it. Would you ever consider directing a horror film?" And I said, ‘Yes,’ because horror is among my favorite genres. Some of my earliest film experiences with my older brother involved him taking his far-too-young younger brother to see films he shouldn't see. And I loved them. I think horror films are for people who are interested in the darkness inside themselves, who don't want to face or confront it directly, so they watch these stories instead. And this gave me an opportunity to do that, but also with a Wendigo, which deals with Native American themes and issues. That's something that's very close to me personally. So it was a real opportunity to make a horror film, which was yet another genre for me to explore. I think with every film that I do, I want to be on unfamiliar ground because I think taking artistic risks is one of the great pleasures in filmmaking.

I'd read in the production notes that you worked with several consultants from different Native American communities. How important was it to you to have that involvement from those involved in Native American communities for Antlers?

Scott Cooper: Well, the Native American involvement was critical. It was critical in my film Hostiles, and it's critical here. Grace Dillon, who's the foremost authority on the Wendigo, a professor at Portland State University, would read drafts of the screenplay and she was involved when Guillermo and I created the Wendigo. She came to the set. She saw an early cut. Native Americans for 400 years have been dealing with trauma at the hands of European settlers who came here, with a nation that's built on genocide and slavery, and we should never forget that. We should always try to remember those who are still dealing with it. So my way of dealing with that is to put it into film, and onto the screen, so that people can see it in a larger context.

I completely agree. I wanted to go ahead and talk about your cast for this. I really, really loved everyone, but I wanted to talk about Jeremy specifically. He has such a weight that he has to carry in this movie, and he's going up against the likes of Keri and Jesse, but he is so good. How was it working with him?

Scott Cooper: Jeremy Thomas is the heart and soul of the film. He's a young boy, Lucas, who's far too young to shoulder the responsibility he's dealt with. For young Lucas, it's about duty and self-preservation. Jeremy is not an actor, he's never really been on a film set, maybe in the far background in local productions. But he wasn't an actor. I read about 900 English-speaking young boys from around the world. And I wanted a kid who wasn't an actor. I wanted somebody who felt very realistic, who felt like even without any dialogue could convey the type of trauma that I need him to convey. I think his performance, as a 12-year-old or not, is one of the best I've ever recorded as a film director.

So often people say in award performances that are much more bombastic, that, and this is in quotations, "The best acting equals the most acting." Well, I subscribe to the complete opposite, whether it's Jeff Bridges as a recovering alcoholic, or Christian Bale and Casey Affleck in Out of the Furnace, or Christian, Ros Pike, and Wes Studi in Hostiles. I want these characters to have very rich, emotional lives. And Jeremy and Jesse and Keri all bring that type of truthfulness, and relatability, and vulnerability, which was the key to making this film a success.

I completely agree there. I'd love for you to talk about working with Florian [Hoffmeister], because I loved the way that this movie is shot. There's such texture to every single scene. You could pause this movie at any moment and it looks like something you could put on your wall. And I think he did an amazing job.

Scott Cooper: I'm so thankful that you felt that way. Florian is one of the great cinematographers working today. I told Florian that I was setting this film in coastal Oregon, even though we shot it in Vancouver, for a couple of reasons. It holds a certain gloomy mystery. This is a small town and I'm interested in places left behind. Towns and small cities that kind of owe their success to a particular industry, then the fabric of that town changes once that industry leaves, a mine or factory closes.

I said, "I never want to see the sun. When it's sunny, we go into what we call cover set inside. I want it to be very gloomy, leaden skies, mist, lots of fog, and low clouds.” I wanted to shoot on the Sony Venice camera, which is a large format camera, because this is a film about a young boy with big problems and I want to put him into the frame so that he feels overwhelmed at all times by the enormity of what he's dealing with. I wanted to be able to tell this story with the camera, without any dialogue. Some of my favorite films, horror or not, do that. Ridley Scott's Alien, or Kubrick's The Shining, or Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now. These are films that, you can turn off the sound and understand what's happening. And I wanted that same thing here. I can't say enough about Florian—he's a world class filmmaker.

I know we're already getting close on time, but I did want to discuss the Wendigo itself, because I'm a big supporter of effects in films. And I think this is probably one of the best creatures I've seen in years. How was it working with Legacy on this, because they did an incredible job?

Scott Cooper: Well, I wouldn't have made the film if it were not for Guillermo del Toro, who is an incredible monster creator, creature creator, and also the guys and gals at Legacy who come from the Stan Winston School. That's why they're called Legacy. So, they were able to take the original ideas from Guy Davis, me, and Guillermo about what the Wendigo should look like. We wanted it to look as though it were coming from the Earth's core, its mantle, as though it were made of iron and ore, and having embers that emanate from its exoskeleton, and make that feel like something we've never seen in a film before.

And we did that practically. Then in certain instances, we had to use some CGI. I try to keep that as minimal as possible, but the folks at Mr. X were great, and it was a real team effort to make this feel as realistic and as remarkable as we possibly could. I'm thrilled that you and everybody else who has commented on the film have really loved the effects. I think the film could stand alone as a film about generational trauma and abuse and all those sorts of things, but I think this creature really makes it hopefully a unique experience. And again, going back to my advisor, Grace Dillon, the Wendigo is first and foremost a spirit. The Wendigo can manifest itself in many ways, but it's a spirit, and I wanted it to be the spirit of lonely places in this small town. I wanted it to represent our worst fears and our worst anxieties, and something that folks don't want to confront directly.

[Photo Credit: Above photo by Kimberley French. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.]

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.