Antonio Campos: ‘When I got into the New York Film Academy I lied about my age’

In 2008, Antonio Campos, an agreeable New Yorker of Latin descent, arrived at the Cannes film festival with his debut feature Afterschool. He was just 24 years old. How had he come so far so fast? Where would he go next? 

In fact Antonio was already something of a veteran.

“I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker around 10 or 11,” he says. “And I made my first short at the New York Film Academy when I was 13. It was called Puberty and it was about a boy going through puberty.”

Write what you know?

“Well, yeah,” he says with a knowing laugh. “When I got into the New York Film Academy I lied about my age. The guy said: ‘We don’t really have anyone here who is 13. Lie about your age. Tell them you’re 16.’ I had a little moustache because my father’s Brazilian and my mother’s Italian. Latin blood, I guess?”

I call it midwestern gothic. It’s haunted by something a little different

He scratches his beard and casts his eyes to heaven at the outrageousness of it all.

“When I turned in my script for Puberty, they said: ‘This is what you experienced three years ago. Why don’t you write about what you know now?’ Ha, ha!”

It all worked out. Campos, son of the acclaimed Brazilian journalist Lucas Mendes, went on to New York University, but, already busy in the real world, left without graduating. Simon Killer, a sinister drama starring Brady Corbet, got raves in 2012. Christine, his study of journalist Christine Chubbuck’s on-air suicide, was on many critics best-of-2016 lists.

Campos now takes a surge towards the mainstream. Based on a novel by Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil all the Time is an epic gesture in near-Southern Gothic.

Tom Holland, Riley Keough, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, Bill Skarsgård and Sebastian Stan star in a multistranded narrative that touches on murder, recreational crucifixion and demented religion over three heady decades. The Netflix release is hugely entertaining – if a little heavy on the chicken-fried melodrama.

“What I loved about the book was that it felt like a mixture of Southern Gothic and hardboiled fiction: Flannery O’Connor meets Jim Thompson, ” he says. “There is a haunted quality to the grotesquery of Southern Gothic that makes it fun to read.”

‘Christ-haunted’

Here’s the thing. It’s impossible to watch The Devil all the Time without thinking of Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner and Carson McCullers. Yet the film isn’t really set in the south.