Although you might not expect it, there’s a little bit of David Hayter’s life story living inside of his action-horror film, Wolves, and it’s right on the surface of the main character’s story.
David Hayter took to the director’s chair for Wolves, his first feature-length film that he also wrote, to tell the story about a teenager who discovers that his nightmares are part of something unpredictable and wild inside of him, and he needs to discover the truth about that animal inside of him before it forces him down an even darker road than he’s already on.
Best known for his work as a writer behind the screenplays for X-Men, X-Men 2, and Watchmen, Hayter chatted with me last week about the autobiographical elements of the film and how much he tried to make the story different from what audiences would expect. He also talked about the creature effects, the furry troubles of one wolf-on-wolf sex scene, and one sequence in the film that cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to film and leaves a very big impression. Read the full story below.
Wolves is out now in theatres in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Winnipeg, and opens this Friday, November 22 in Calgary. The film stars Lucas Till, Stephen McHattie, Joh Pyper-Ferguson, Merritt Patterson and Jason Momoa.
Question: The first thing that jumped out at me was that I understand Wolves is somewhat autobiographical. What can you tell me about that?
David Hayter: “Yes, very much so. I was trying to come up with a proper metaphor for the film–something that I hadn’t seen done before with this particular creature. I didn’t want it just be a film about madness or insanity or whatever, because that only appeals to serial killers, and they’re too small a portion of the audience to rely on. But I thought back to the time that I was 16, 17, and I had moved around a lot, and I used to get picked on a lot, and then when I was 16 or 17 I started fighting back, and it turned out that I was pretty good at it. So, I got in a bunch of fights between 17 and 22, which was very satisfying, but really kind of shook up the people around me and certainly the educational facilities I was attending [laughs].”
“So there were times where I would be called into the office or whatever, and they’d tell me, ‘stand right there’ and ‘stay back from the desk’–you know, all this stuff that kind of makes you feel like a monster–and I thought, what if I could apply that experience to this film? And also, the other side of the experience, learning to control that rage and anger, and learning to focus it in positive ways, that might be a pretty interesting take on an old creature.”
Q: It’s interesting to me that you decided to put yourself out there like this. For a film like Wolves, it’s not the first thing many people would think of doing.
Hayter: “I think you always have to go from some inward, personal experience, and I think it makes it richer for the audience if they have some understanding of where the film came from.”
Q: Did you have any reservations though about pulling from something so personal?
Hayter: “No, not at all. It was a great way to kind of go through therapy almost. Turn some fairly dark times into potential success. So, no, it’s no harder than any other film. You know, you’re always putting 100% of yourself into it, and opening yourself up to the audience, although this was very personal to me.”
Q: One of the other things that I appreciated was that you wanted to make it clear that this was a film about wolves, as opposed to werewolves.
Hayter: “Yeah, well we never use the phrase ‘werewolf’ in the film, and what I’m trying to do was present this creature in the same way that we presented the mutants in the X-Men movies. So, it’s really a matter of a person–they’re not magical creatures, it’s just a person–who has intertwined wolf DNA inside them.”
“And then the other side of it is, instead of the wolf being the dangerous, insane, monstrous part of you, the film goes to great pains to illustrate that, no, it’s the human side that does the really ugly things. The wolf side, if left alone, is a very noble, pack-oriented creature. So, an effort to take a different angle on these things.”
Q: Was there anything you had to cut from the film, because of time or other reasons? Or did you get to fit everything you wanted in to Wolves?
Hayter: “There was a much more extended lovemaking scene between the wolves, which I paired back because it was very hard to–even though Merritt Patterson, our lead actress, is very beautiful–it’s tough when you cover a woman with hair to retain the appropriate level of attraction. So that sequence certainly went through a bunch of different versions.”
“Apart from that, I was really very lucky and they let me make the film I wanted to make.”
Q: It’s funny, because my next question was going to be about that scene. To my memory, although I am sure there are films out there that have done this, but you have a very unique approach to these wolves having sex in the midst of the transformation. I thought that was actually very brave. Did you have reservations about making that scene?
Hayter: “No. Apart from the hairiness, umm, no. We watched the movie Cat People with Nastassja Kinski, which had a big impact on me when I was a kid–she was so beautiful and so sexy–and they have a lovemaking scene, and then she turns into a cat afterwards because I don’t think they had the budget to do full prosthetic effects.”
“So, I was inspired by that sequence and I thought, ‘Now, with the creature-making team that I’ve got on my side here, we can do that sequence in a way that hasn’t been done before.’ I was very excited about that. I thought it would be very cool.”
Q: I was amazed by the amount of prosthetics that you used in the film. Were there other things or moments that you were the most proud of otherwise?
Hayter: “I really wanted to make something that was an independent film but at the same time felt as big as a studio picture, and because my crew and my support team of artists was so great, I think we accomplished that to a certain extent.”
“I’m very proud of the jump off the cliff because that is an in-camera 400-foot-high fall off of the Devil’s Punchbowl in Hamilton, and we knew that that one 15-second sequence would probably cost a quarter of a million dollars, but my producers were behind it and we got it, and that was amazing. And in the end I think we created some unique wolf creatures whose like we haven’t seen before.”
Q: I have to admit that the jump off that cliff really impressed me. It was such a big moment.
Hayter: “Yeah, it’s enormous. And it’s interesting because I cut it specifically this way, so, he looks over the edge and you get a sense that it’s a long way down, and he jumps, but then we cut wide and people really understand how small he is in comparison to the size of that cliff. It’s a gut-wrenching drop, so thanks. I was very happy with how that turned out.”
Q: So what comes next?
Hayter: “Well, a bunch of things. I’ve got a miniseries over at Fox called World War III, which I’m very exicted about, and I’m closing a deal for a movie that I can’t talk about as of now, and then I’ve got another film setup to direct with Copperheart, who made Wolves, so I’m hoping to do that very soon. It’s a thriller called Winter, it’s another Toronto production.”
Q: Well, we love Toronto productions.
Hayter: “Indeed. So do I.”
Q: Maybe I missed something on this, but was there any news on the Black Widow movie?
Hayter: “I was attached to write and direct Black Widow ten years ago, but the deal fell apart after a few female-led action movies came out and didn’t do so well. So, the script is still out there and it’s still on my IMDb page, that I’m attached as director… and while I’d love to do it, I have had no further conversations with Marvel, so it’s really up to them.”
Q: I’m just wondering. It seems like there are so many projects you could jump on, but do you still have an interest to do more superhero films, or would you like to move on?
Hayter: “No, I love superhero films. That’s obviously where I got my big break, and I don’t ever feel pigeonholed by that genre. I really love it.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to work on some of the top titles that exist, so I try to be picky about the comic book characters I take on, but no, I love doing films like that. I’d be happy to do that for the rest of my life.”