Writer-Director-Star Juliet Landau On Narcissism and 'A Place Among the Dead'
November 4, 2020
Juliet Landau’s directorial debut, A Place Among the Dead, isn’t your typical vampire movie. Dubbed a “revealing and terrifying meld of fact, fiction and the fantastical,” the film stars Landau as Jules, a woman who embarks on a journey at the potential cost of everything she knows and loves driven by the demons of her past.
The movie is a different and in depth twist on a genre that has intrigued Hollywood for decades. Co-written with her husband, Deverill Weekes, the movie explores the repercussions of unearthing narcissism and evil.
“My husband and I both come from this background, so we wanted to create a movie that we hadn’t seen before and to talk about a subject that hasn’t been covered in film as a whole.”
As for why she chose to explore the diabolical effects of narcissism in a vampire movie, Landau says, “I thought the vampire is the perfect metaphor for the ultimate narcissist. It drains you full and leaves you as a shell. I wanted to make an entertaining movie, but also wanted to lull the audience into a sense of safety to experience unsafe and radical ideas. I also wanted to bring my history with the genre and the other actors’ history with it.”
Landau, who is best known for her role as Drusilla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, stars alongside other vampire veterans, including Gary Oldman, Ron Perlman, Robert Patrick, Lance Henriksen, Joss Whedon and author Anne Rice. While the movie is entirely scripted, the actors, including Landau, all play alter-ego versions of themselves in the film.
“We really wanted to pull factual elements from our own lives. We worked with the ‘interviewees’ of the films on their interviews so that we would be able to express and use and capture their voices and perspective.”
Landau thinks vampires are appealing in Hollywood because “they don’t age. I think it's also a way to look at the human condition and reflect back many different aspects of it. When I was on Buffy, the metaphor was ‘high school is a nightmare’ and used the genre as being the ultimate narcissist. It can be fleshed out in many different ways.”
Landau says she and Weekes based a lot of the script on the books “The Fantasy Bond” and “People of the Lie”, which features case studies on the nature of evil and narcissism.
“The main theme of the movie is the main agreement we make with our parents and how that continuously runs through our minds and informs our choices and destruction,” Landau explains.
The script went through seven drafts, evolving and growing over time, including shifting the POV continuously from the first and third person.
“It was important to get inside Jules’ head. We wanted the audience to have an experiential and visceral experience and tap into the self-conscious. I wanted to have the viewer see how destabilizing it is when you come from a narcissistic orbit. I wanted to provoke a dialogue and use it as a device to have an expansive conversation,” she says about why the film landed where it did.
When it comes to giving advice to other filmmakers, Landau, who learned everything from directing to editing to securing financing for the project, said it’s important to be passionate about the subject matter. “That’s going to carry you, and the rest of your team. I think you learn from the masters and stay true to your vision. There’s a lot to learn from every aspect. Be open to collaboration. Don’t hold on tightly, remember that all great creative processes grow and evolve. What serves the vision is key.”
Written by: Brianne HoganBrianne Hogan is a freelance writer currently based in Prince Edward Island. A film studies graduate from NYU, her byline's been featured in Creative Screenwriting, ScreenCraft, The Huffington Post, among others. "Jurassic Park" is unashamedly her favorite movie (at this moment). You can follow Brianne on Twitter via @briannehogan