Sympathy for the Devil – Interview with Film Director Yuval Adler

Sympathy for the Devil - Film Director Interview
RLJE Films
Sympathy for the Devil is a 2023 neo-noir mystery thriller film by director Yuval Adler. The film stars Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman as two strangers playing a cat-and-mouse game that begins to reveal more than what we expect. Director Yuval Adler sat down with Borrowing Tape to discuss the making of the film, how long it took, the idea of using Las Vegas as the setting, and, of course, directing Nicolas Cage.
Sympathy for the Devil is in theaters, on-demand, and digital on July 28th.

Watch, listen, or read the interview transcript below — edited and condensed for clarity:

Well, let me just start by saying congratulations on everything going on with Sympathy for the Devil. Very great atmospheric entertaining film you have created.

Cool, thank you.

You're welcome, you're welcome. So just for starters to kick things off, how did this film, how did this script land on your lap?

That's actually an interesting story. I hope you have the... I'll try to make it very fast. Cause there's actually the most interesting stuff about this film for me. It's like, I did a film, Bethlehem that was kind of an international success in 2013. It was like 10 years ago, right? Then there was a period when you do a film that the agency sends you a script, right? And of course, most of them are horrible. Like you read it to you like, what? You know, they're horrible, horrible. And then I read two that were good. Some horror film that I didn't get because it's not like, and this one that I also didn't get. Like the producer was like, yeah, your take is great, but your last film is not like that film. So, you know, and also like whatever, I didn't get it, right? That was 2014. And then every two years, for some reason, I would look up and I would look up, where is Sympathy? Oh, they didn't make it yet. I would email the producer, "What about Sympathy?" "Oh, it's here, it's there, we're waiting." And in 2021, it turned out, they emailed me back, we lost the option, [and] it went back to the writer. So I was like, really? How interesting.

So, I got in touch with the writer and I convinced him and his agents to sell it to me. I said, "Look, I'm a director, I'm passionate, I wanna do it." I did the whole speech. I don't have a lot of money to give you, but I want that, I'll make that film, you know? And of course, you know, it's like, you fake it till you make it. Of course, I had no idea how I was gonna make this film. And then it happened much faster than like...very lucky, something about Joel Kinnaman, I worked with another film in 2019 and he suddenly had an opening and he wanted to, so certainly like three months it happens. It could have taken 10 years, but you know, usually does. So that's...

Way to hang in there!

Right! I just like every two years, like let's see what happens with Sympathy, right? Yeah.

Okay, cool. Cool. Well, so a chunk of this movie takes place inside a car.


Well, actually, before I ask you that real quick, was it always supposed to take place in Las Vegas, or was there?


Oh, so elsewhere.

Oh, it was New York in the winter. The script is full of snow was falling. And then you try to move it to a state that has, what do you call it? Like an incentive, like Georgia or whatever. And then you move it to a state that has a Nic Cage in it. And that's basically what we got in Vegas. And for me, it wasn't a big deal where it's gonna be. It was like, I just didn't want to pretend I'm somewhere else... I did this too much in my, you know, I wanted to shoot and say I'm here.

Yeah. It definitely lines up really well with the tone of the movie, I thought. Even though, you know, there's like scenes on the outskirts of Vegas, which I always thought, which I think is cool, because everything's always the strip and whatnot, so it's cool to see that side of Vegas.

So what I was initially going to say, directing these two predominantly inside of a car for most of the film, was there any challenges on that front? How did you keep them motivated?

Well, actually actors love it and everybody loves to be in the studio. It's much easier than directing and driving scenes outside, which is nasty. You're in the studio, you can shoot a lot, you can control it.

The hard stuff was getting this LED volume technology to work with projecting the rides [and] interfacing between the inside car in the studio to the outside shots where you actually see the car. But the technical challenge, with actors, it was actually very easy. I mean, they had great chemistry in the studio. Everybody's calmed down. We're not shooting at night. Before the studio, we started all at night. You shoot at 4 AM. People live in a certain mood. Here you shoot in the middle of the normal hours, air condition, so it's nice. It's a technical challenge. In the desert, yeah.


Exactly. Right, 110 outside.

Yeah, so this film, I thought, has a very diverse color palette throughout it, with the diner, with the truck stop and everything, or just a few other spots here and there. Was that always a vision you had in your head? Because like you said, now you've been at this for 10 years to try and make this movie. Did you always kind of see all these multiple colors in the movie?

What I liked about the film is that because it's one night and it all takes place at night, and because there's three main locations, type of locations. Basically, there's inside the car, which is like a third of the movie. It looks like more, but it's a third, or a little bit more than a third, and then outside at night in Vegas, and then the diner. So that's it. So you have three looks. The car has a lot of lights and reflection outside of Vegas is dark outside, and the diner is the diner, which we built with great production designer, Burns Burns. We built this thing. And with my DP, Steven Holleran, we just literally said, what look to give each one of the thirds, and then really dig into this look and it's so it's kind of black, red, also going with Nick's jacket and hair, black, red, a lot of lights into the camera, and that blueish thing that we did in the diner, this kayak, this color, and the fact that we don't have 10,000 locations, it gives the film this visual consistency. You know what I mean? And that's what I really liked about it.

Yeah, definitely. I just like colorful movies. So I had to ask you that. Even with a tone like this film. I mean, people probably will watch this — I hope not, because I think your film goes a lot more down a rabbit hole, I felt. But people might call comparisons to like Collateral by Michael Mann with two guys in a car and one guy in the back seat going crazy. But did you draw any inspiration from any other films that you brought to the table with making this?

Well, Collateral is like there's a superficial similarity as you said because of the car, but the story is really different. I mean, I think a more apt comparison might be — I don't know — A History of Violence.


You know what I mean? More, it's like I don't know, In Bruges. You know what I mean? Where you have two characters and that. So, yes. The fact that it's two guys and they kind of duke it out and you see that there's a past there that slowly unravels that that's kind of what makes the film; the car is incidental.

Well, I have to ask, because you're the first director I've ever interviewed that has directed Nicolas Cage. He had a rollercoaster of emotions in this movie. Point-blank, what's it like working with Nicolas Cage?

It's not always as easy as it sounds. Let's put it this way. Nah, I'm kidding, it's like what happened with me was, between me and him was that initially, I mean we bonded. The thing we bonded on initially was kind of some intellectual kind of directions, references for the film, like, we said, wait a minute, this guy is coming from another world, this guy, what about Milton, there's even lines from Milton in the trailer, but like we started with that.

But then it was about the looks and whatever. And at certain points, we didn't agree. And there was this thing. But then as we started shooting, like, the fact, the choices, what he did, my reaction to what he did, how much I enjoyed it, and how much he felt that I enjoyed it, and I'm kind of reinforcing it by laughing. Like he would do stuff and I would just laugh at the monitor. Like, he would do it and I would laugh. And that would add him to do more and he would go and do stuff, and he saw that I'm kind of really shooting it and trying to take everything he does and protect it and grab it. And the sense of humor, the wicked sense of humor that we kind of both felt there's in the script, that kind of made it work.

So if you ask, it was like the prep period was kind of more, there was more friction. And then as we started shooting, it just became a joy and just like very fertile. For me, as I said, it's like the fanaticism of the preparation is really something I haven't encountered before. How much like he's for weeks before the production, he's just on the film, like that's it. Like that's his life. I've never encountered that.

Interesting, interesting. No, that's awesome to hear.

You get texts, like all the time like "What about this?" "What about this line?" "Can we do this?" "What do you think about this?" It's like, dude. You have to answer like "I don't know, let's think about it." "Yeah but look at this video." It's like that, all the time. It's kind of genius, you know.

Yeah, no, he's definitely had a great renaissance in the last five, six years. A lot of his acting choices or performance choices he's done.

Well, look, I really enjoyed this dark Las Vegas thriller that really kind of goes down a wormhole of just a lot of different themes. And Sympathy for the Devil was just a lot of great. I hope a lot of people check it out. So I want to thank you for having a little chat with me about it.

Thanks, man.

Watch Sympathy for the Devil