Alarmingly, in the United States "more than 130 people a day die from opioid-related drug overdoses" and in 2017, opioids were the cause of 47,600 overdose deaths (United States Department of Health and Human Services).
Anthony Jerjen explores a side of America's unprecedented opioid epidemic in his directorial feature film, Inherit the Viper. The crime/drama movie follows local opioid-dealers/siblings (Josh Hartnett, Margarita Levieva, Owen Teague) in Appalachia, West Virginia* [West Virginia is among one of the states shown to have a statistically significant increase in drug overdose death rates from 2016 to 2017, CDS data]
Inherit the Viper is now showing in select theaters, on-demand and digital.
What was the casting process like for Inherit the Viper?
We went in with high hopes but I’d have never thought we’d get such an amazing cast! We had an incredible casting director, Orly Sitowitz. She was able to put the script in front of actors I could only have dreamed of. Bruce Dern was the first to come onboard and Josh Hartnett followed shortly after. And then we built the rest of the cast around them.
Inherit the Viper is such an apt title for the film, as the reference to "beheading the snake in the hopes that the rest of the body will survive" is remarkably relevant to the film's events, in both a metaphorical and literal sense. During filming, what directions did you give the main cast to help them hit the right emotional notes, especially during the critical scenes?
They are talented actors and they were always highly prepared for those scenes. As a director, you have to be aware that they drain a lot of emotional energy from the actors and be mindful of your directions. It’s about giving them a safe space, a place where they can perform and feel confident about their work. You’re really just nudging them a bit left and right.
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
How was the experience working with cinematographer Nicholas Wiesnet to create the visual aesthetic of the film?
Nicholas is an insanely gifted storyteller. We share a very common taste for moody, contrasty visuals and traditional camera work. We were looking to give the movie texture, imperfection, patina and so we looked at a lot of films from the seventies like The Taking of Pelham 123, The French Connection and Dirty Harry that shares those characteristics. Nicholas was able to craft a visual identity for the movie that stands out, which is very different from a lot of indie movies. I’m very proud of it.
What were your favorite scenes to direct for Inherit the Viper?
My favorite scene by far was the dialogue scene between Kip and Josie on the porch of the house. It’s a very quiet scene, a very simple scene but it tells you everything you have to know about those two characters. In the middle of this hectic shooting schedule, we were sitting there, in this silent neighborhood with a very small crew. It was a bit surreal, almost like shooting a documentary. Margarita and Josh gave us beautiful performances and I knew we couldn’t have had better actors!
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
What films/directors have had the biggest impact on your life and why?
I think I have a bit of a split personality. On one hand, I grew up watching a lot of contemporary American movies made by Spielberg, Scorsese and the likes. Those had probably the most impact on my artistic sensibility. They are beautifully crafted and use a cinematic vocabulary that I find very appealing. On the other hand, I’m really moved by the work of Tarkovsky. It’s difficult to surpass The Mirror or Stalker in “scope”. I keep coming back to those very often. They are pure visual poetry, something I'm mesmerized by.
What's next for you?
I’m working on a few projects in different mediums but It’s a bit too soon to talk about those! Right now, I’m very excited about the release of Inherit the Viper and I hope it’ll get people talking more about the Opioid Crisis.