After seeing his work on 2018’s Terminal, this writer jumped at the opportunity to speak with filmmaker Vaughn Stein about his latest project, Inheritance, a dramatic thriller centered around the Monroe dynasty—a wealthy family whose influence in politics and legacy in New York is built upon a foundation of lies. Those lies begin to threaten their very existences after the patriarch of their clan (Patrick Warburton) passes away suddenly, leaving his daughter Lauren (Lily Collins) to clean up the mess before they lose everything they’ve all worked so hard for over the years.
Written by Matthew Kennedy, Inheritance also stars Connie Nielsen, Chace Crawford, and Simon Pegg (who turns in an exemplary performance here unlike anything we’ve ever seen from him before). Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Stein about his involvement with Inheritance and why this project immediately caught his attention. He also discussed putting together his stellar ensemble, collaborating with cinematographer Michael Merriman, and more.
Inheritance is currently available to view on DirecTV and is also headed to Digital and On Demand platforms today, courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.
Great job on Inheritance, Vaughn. I’d love to hear about how this came together. Was this something that you were approached for? Did you find this script and were, "Oh, this is something I really want to be a part of?" I'm just curious what the genesis was for this project.
Vaughn Stein: It came really from a pretty conventional route, actually. My friend and agent at UTA sent it through separately, along with a batch of other scripts and said, "Look, read this. I think it's really special." And he has good taste, so that usually means something's pretty good. And I was just blown away by it. It just had me gripped. It's one of those scripts that you look up after two hours and realize you've read the whole thing without really realizing time has passed. I just loved what Matt Kennedy, the writer did. He gorgeously blended this very classical, complex conspiracy thriller revolving around the family with this incredibly satirized and very prescient dark fairy tale about a monster in a basement, the skeleton in the closet of this rich family. And it spoke to me because it, putting it very elegantly, deals with some huge topics in society at the moment.
The idea of, behind every great crime and every great fortune is a crime, the nature of legacy, the nature of people thinking they were above the law because they come from wealth and privilege. And it told it in this great elegantly simple, dark story. And yeah, I was captivated immediately and from then on, I knew I wanted to make it. I was destined to do it.
Excellent. Can you talk about putting this cast together, because you have a murderer's row of talent in this film? I was really excited to see Lily [Collins] leading the charge here because I really fell in love with her after the Ted Bundy movie that was at Sundance last year. But then, beyond Lily, you've got Connie, and you've got Chase. Also, I have to admit, I had remembered going into this that Simon Pegg was in it, and then it wasn't until we really saw his face where I was, "Oh my God, that's Simon Pegg," because he really just disappears into that role so perfectly.
Vaughn Stein: I mean, I've been so blessed thus far, to have worked with these amazing ensembles. And Inheritance was just incredible for that. I mean, I know Simon really well. We're really good friends now after having worked with him on Terminal. So, when I was reading the script the first time I just thought I would love to see what he would do with this. I knew I wanted to work with him again and we spoke about it early on and he read it and loved it. And we wanted to make this gaunt, emaciated skeleton buried in the garden, feel like a real person. We talked a lot about physicality and creating this prison yard silhouette, and I mean, he's a very trimmed guy, but he shredded down about 14 kilos so he was 5 percent body fat, bristling with muscle. It was just amazing, his physical transformation.
And, as you said, Lily is someone who I've followed closely. She just blew me away in To the Bone a few years ago and I loved her in the Bundy movie, too. She's an amazing actor and part of it is because she's got that classic Hollywood-style presence—that poise, that grace, and an incredible look. But at the same time, she is such a deep-thinking actor. She's so emotionally intelligent and her instincts are incredible. This is such a tricky role, though, but the fact that she was able to make her role into such a rounded character, somebody who I think is intentionally, emotionally real and empathetic and someone who you can hang the plot around, I think it was just tailored for her. She did an amazing job.
Then, there’s Connie Nielsen, who's just a legend, like an absolute institution. I mean, to work with her was such a pleasure. Gladiator is in my top three films of all time, and she really created this incredible yet dynamic matriarch that controlled the family; her performance was so beautifully done. And Chace Crawford, who plays William, Lauren's brother, who's this slick, savvy, charismatic politician running for a second term in office, was just such a pleasure to work with, too. They were all such an incredibly talented ensemble and I think they blended so well and did an amazing job here.
Absolutely. I also have to mention Patrick Warburton in this, because he's always playing either comedic roles and he's known for a lot of his voice work, too, and he's got some pretty intense scenes in this. It was really cool to see him getting to play something that wasn't what you would expect from him, either.
Vaughn Stein: Yeah, you're so right. I think he is well-renowned as this incredible physical comedy actor and he has the most amazing comic timing, but he has such gravitas and presence and this imposing voice and physique and this wonderful charm about him. Of course, that's what allows them to play the big guy, the big man in the comedy world. And to see him do it in a straight role and to really embrace this role as this captain of industry, this patriarch who runs a huge hedge fund and was a bastion of New York society, we really wanted to have Patrick haunt the movie. We wanted the specter of answers to hang over it to haunt Lauren's memories and her imagination. And he just did the most astonishing job. I mean, his screen time is very minimal, but he is hugely impactful in the movie.
I know we're getting down to the last few minutes, but I would love to talk about the visual style of this movie. Most of the movie we're dealing with the world of the Monroes, where everything feels very polished, very slick, very clean lines, in terms of what we're seeing on screen. And then of course, there are the aspects of whenever we’re spending time with Mason's character, where everything is very dark and very grimy. And I'd love for you to discuss working with Michael [Merriman] on establishing the visual style of this world, because then you guys do it really well.
Vaughn Stein: Oh, well, he is a genius. Just don't tell him, because his head will get even bigger [laughs]. But Michael Merriman is just the most astonishing cinematographer to work with. We talked a lot about duality as a strong central theme in the film, the idea of juxtaposing different aesthetics from different environments directly against each other—above ground and below ground, the bunker versus mansions, and the forest versus Manhattan. But he has the most incredible eye. What we really wanted to do was give a very specific style to the bunker that felt very claustrophobic, very intense, that built around the stillness and around the intensity of the conversations going on, almost in this Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs sort of way. And then, upstairs where the story takes place at a faster pace, we wanted it to feel spacious and huge and to embrace the size of these gorgeous rings in this mansion and the forest and the fluidity.
We used a lot of Steadicam, and we used a lot of tracking dolly shots above ground and much more brooding, very tight frames below ground in the bunker. I think he did an amazing job of blending that all together. He’s an incredible guy.