Interview with Richard Bates Jr. of King Knight
Known for telling sarcastic slice-of-life stories with a bloody supernatural bent, Richard Bates Jr. is no stranger to horror comedy. However, the latest film by the writer and director, King Knight, departs from this trend and instead tells a story about the healing powers of an inclusive community. This community just happens to be a SoCal group of Wiccans, a fact Bates revel in throughout the film while guaranteeing no disrespect to his eclectic pagans. Centered around Clan Priest Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Priestess Willow (Angela Sarafyan), the film follows what happens when the clan uncovers Thorn’s secret past.
Ahead of his Fantasia International Film Festival debut, Bates spoke with CBR to discuss the amorous portrayal of the Wiccans in the film, its themes of authenticity and acceptance, and what it was like to be. bring legends of the genre like Ray Wise and Barbara Crampton to the cast.
CBR: It’s certainly not the first time Matthew Gray Gubler has starred in your films. What brings you back to working with him?
Richard Bates Jr.: The point is, he’s one of my best friends. It’s a lot of work to make a movie and when you work with people you’re friends with it’s so much more fun. When I set that up, I sort of had a feeling he would make a really good Thorn. I called him to ask him if he would, and he said “Sure” and I walked from there.
It was the fun part of making a movie like this. When you’re a director, you usually don’t have a say in everything, you have your say but not the last word. With something like that, I was the casting director. I negotiated the actors’ contracts with their agents and everything, so I have to make sure everyone in the movie is who I wanted to be in the movie. So very, very fun.
I really like that the structure of it looks so much like a storybook. There is of course the physical opening of the storybook at the start of the film, and that vibe continues throughout the film.
Yeah, it’s kind of a modern day Faust tale. Everything takes place in an augmented version of reality, which is what all of my movies do, I guess. But with this one I did it to make myself happy and remind myself why I love making movies and what it was like to make movies with friends in my parents’ backyard when I was a kid. . Usually I take a much more cynical approach to the characters. Sometimes the characters are even more representations of ideas than people. But with this movie, I tried to erase all my cynicism and approach each character with nothing but love.
I thought of films that make me happy. My sweet spot would be John Waters from the 90s. He made this movie called Cock. Whenever I’m sad, I watch this movie. It’s silly and provocative and all that, but there’s this underlying sweetness, and it’s because he loves these people. I knew if we were talking about witches, I love witches. The idea was to show and treat witches like any other character in a comedy rather than evil. the people [in this film] I really liked it. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that we are all looking for the same thing. We are not that different.
I really liked how the Wiccans in this movie are super loving and inclusive and always trying to be better people. What kind of research did you do for this movie? Sometimes you feel like you’re making a little fun of Wiccan practices, but never like you’re mean about it.
Yeah, absolutely. One of the first documentaries I made in college was about this Wiccan store in New York and it was my first introduction to the Wiccan religion. Yet half of my library has books on the subject. Much of my family is Southern Baptist, which I never really liked. So I have always been interested in kinds of alternative religions. To be completely honest, of all religions, wiccan speaks to me the most on all levels.
The idea is that I’m not going to try to change anyone’s mind. I’m not going to preach to them about the Wiccans. I’m not going to take a reverential approach, in the sense that like, that’s who you should be, that’s the only way to treat them … Nobody likes it when you tell them how to feel. Instead, they are just shown these lovely and caring people. So they’re more open to thinking about it that way.
Granted, before I did, I had several witch friends read it, to make sure it was funny, and not at their expense. There were some small tweaks I made to the script, just to be sure. I would be mortified if I hurt someone, which is funny because sometimes I make movies and I’m there to hurt someone. Not in this case.
Look, they’re traditionalists in all religions, even in Wicca. King KnightWiccans are sort of eclectic Wiccans, which means they draw inspiration from and combine a variety of spiritual practices, unlike traditional Wiccans. It was really important for me, and for everyone involved, to make sure that everything was done in the spirit of fun.
There is also, I would say, a queer reading in there. As well as having fully fleshed out characters not defined by just being gay, there is also that “coming out of the broom closet” metaphor throughout the film. Did you intend or hope queer audiences would connect with this?
I was watching various witchcraft documentaries and in all of it I heard this term used by witches time and time again. So it’s actually a term that I pulled from real witches and found really beautiful. Like, “Okay, that’s great. We can use and hopefully add this to the post to make everyone feel included and better.”
The whole joy of making a movie like this is doing it for everyone – gay, straight bi, whatever. It’s for people who don’t feel like they have a lot of movies made for them. It’s like the sweet spot. This is what makes my career worth building for me. There is no more joy than that. I’ve heard people tell me recently that my films really have an impact, and I don’t take that lightly. I really want to make a movie that makes some kids happy and makes them feel better about themselves. It makes me feel better.
Without spoiling it, there is a truly trippy scene with Ray Wise in the movie. What was your favorite part about having him on set and as Merlin?
I think this is the fourth movie I’m making with Ray? He’s like my hero. I grew up watching Twin peaks and I loved the movie. But, Ray’s enthusiasm … When someone you admire and respect says you’re okay, it really feels good. And Ray, he’s just the man. Merlin is kind of inspired by this combination of my dad, my favorite film school teacher Ezra Sacks, and Ray himself. So when I got the idea for the role, I called Ray and I was like, “Hey, who wouldn’t want to see you play Merlin in a movie?” And then Ray, dead serious, replied, “Do you know something? I’d like to see this for myself.” And then he did.
Directed and written by Richard Bates Jr., King Knight premiered on August 8 at the 25th Fantasia Film Festival. The film will be available to stream on Fantasia from August 8 to 25.
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