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Interview: Assassination Nation’s Abra and Sam Levinson

by Charles Trapunski

Abra is best known as a singer but she is a super important member of the ensemble of Assassination Nation and blows away the competition when you consider that this is her very first film. She’s a natural! Spearheading the project is Sam Levinson who did an incredible job of putting Abra, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef and Odessa Young together, as the core four are a formidable force in the film.

Here is a condensed and edited version of our TIFF interview with Sam Levinson and Abra.

Brief Take: Congratulations on the film! Coming into the festival this was one of my most anticipated movies because I’d heard how good it was from audience members that saw it at Sundance. What was your experience with that first Sundance screening? 

Sam Levinson: Yeah, it went way better than I had anticipated, in all honesty. I had shown it to maybe 10 people before Sundance, so I had no idea how it was going to go. It was really interesting to see how much people reacted to it on an emotional level. We had people standing up in the theatre cheering at the screen, just screaming at it. As a filmmaker, it was everything I could have ever hoped and wished for. We made this movie for 6 million dollars and it was a tough shoot. So to see a reaction like that was just incredible.

Abra: Yeah! That was my first Sundance screening because I’d never been in a film before. But that’s when I realized that this is very important, you know? This is more than me, this is more than my character. It was so exciting being in that theatre on that night and everyone was just cheering when it was over. I thought at the time, “this is exactly what Sam sought out to do – he got people riled up at this movie!”. It was a lot of fun.

BT: This movie really speaks to the culture right now. We’re in very difficult times and this movie confronts that reality head on. Sam, you had said previously that you started working on this in 2016 and yet, with this timely script, you anticipated the realities of today. 

SL: It was over two years ago that I started this and what I wanted to deal with in some way is how fractured our reality has become and how many different worlds people are living in and the lack of empathy in which we communicate. The righteousness seems to be existing and cropping up across the board; it really frightens me. A lot of the time people say “the media is the real villain in this”, and I go “I don’t know about that…human beings are. People who believe with absolute certainty that they are right and their actions are just because of that – that’s a horror movie, that’s what scares me.” And that’s what this movie is about.

BT: By being a part of this movie and having promoted it for a few months now. What are your feelings towards its subject matter now? 

A: Just by being in this movie, just saying the things out loud that we were going through…we just had never said those things out loud. There was a lot going on. I feel like on a micro level and on a macro level, I’ve healed as a person since coming out of filming this. I can’t really explain why but this film deals with so many things that just haven’t been talked about ever before.

SL: And it was just an intense shoot, emotionally, for all of us. We also had a lot of fun and we were cracking up, but it was emotionally draining. It was straight nights and we were all sleep deprived and kind of crazy and shooting these hardcore action scenes at times. Having distance from it now and looking back, I just watched the DCP a few weeks ago, it was just myself and Marcel (Rév) and I went “Oh okay, I feel pretty good about this.” It’s raw and it’s real and it’s also a lot of fun!

BT: What’s one thing you want people to know about the film before they see it? 

SL: I want them to know that this film takes no prisoners and it’s a fuckin’ blast! It’s a fun movie! People either are going to love it or they’re going to hate it, but we’re good with that. We want that conversation. We want that discourse. That’s what this movie is about – it’s about that conversation. It takes a lot of shots, but I think we were courageous in how we approached it. I hope they enjoy it!

A: I know they will!


Assassination Nation is available on Blu-ray and DVD on December 18

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Brief Take