David Michôd has always been drawn to the stories that frighten him the most. As a kid, it was your standard horror stuff—evil men with masks and chainsaws, gruesome creatures, the awful surprise lurking in the dark. Now, as an adult... well, you can figure out what frightens the director by watching his movies. Each is set in a completely different world—modern Australia (Animal Kingdom), a future dystopia (The Rover), a top American military outfit in Afghanistan (War Machine), Middle Ages England (The King)—but they’re all, more or less, about the same thing: delusional men in positions of great power—sound familiar?
Take The King, which hits theaters on Friday (and Netflix early next month). It’s lightly inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry V. Timothée Chalamet, with a truly historic bowl cut, plays the idealistic King Henry V at the beginning of his reign. As he takes the throne, he vows to be a different sort of leader than his father—more tolerant and fair, more committed to peace. But it’s all easier as a goal than in practice. Convention, the people around him, and the burdens of power draw him into the same trappings; he’s destined to repeat his father’s mistakes, even as he’s determined not to.
Michôd says he didn’t set out to make another installation in his Delusional Man canon. Though he’s become aware of his preoccupation with the subject, that he keeps on returning there, he says, has just sort of happened. “It either suggests to me that I am one of these delusional men or I am afraid of these delusional men.”
GQ: Do you enjoy giving really handsome actors terrible haircuts?
David Michod: [Laughs.] Yes, I do. It brings me great pleasure. But Rob [Pattinson]’s haircut in The Rover was entirely his creation. And justifiably, with Timmy and The King, everyone was a bit nervous about what we were going to do with his head. But I had faith always that we weren't going to give him a truly horrific Medieval bowl cut. And even if we had, somehow that Timmy Chalamet kid would find a way of making it hot.
Guy Pierce's haircut in The Rover might be the worst.
And Guy did it himself. He took a pair of scissors home two nights before we started shooting and just chopped his own hair off. That one was his fault too.
Do you have a favorite?
Rob's in The Rover was one I actually started seeing on everybody. That was way ahead of its time. That's how plugged in Rob Pattinson is. But I think Timmy's in The King is kind of cool. I'm almost half-tempted to get one myself.
Let's talk Chalamet! What about him made him a fit for King Henry V?
When Joel [Edgerton] and I first started writing this thing, Timmy didn't even exist in my mind. It wasn't until right around the time that we were trying to put the movie together that he entered my orbit. Prior to that, I had been picturing something with a young, strong, strapping man doing young, tough, strong, strapping stuff. Seeing Call Me By Your Name showed me a version of The King that suddenly excited me so much more, which was the story of a true kind of boy king.
There's something so joyfully present and playful about Timmy that made the character exciting for me: The idea of taking that kid [from Call Me By Your Name]—the idealism and the playfulness—and then dumping this world of responsibility on his shoulders, and then watching it harden him from the inside.
Was there anything he did in the role that surprised you?
I mean this as an incredible compliment: No. He never really surprised me, because I had this unwavering faith from the very beginning that he was going to be amazing. I never would've thought I'd be casting a 22-year-old New Yorker to play Henry V.
We had a lot of conversations about what that transformation from boy to king should look like. When does it happen? Does it happen when your father dies? When you're in a cathedral and a crown is being put on your head? At your first big banquet? Does it happen sitting in the equivalent of the Oval Office for the first time? Or does it really happen when certain aspects of your personality start to harden and darken?
What informed your decision of where Henry would actually change? Were you drawing from your own life at all?
On certain levels, you can draw parallels between being a monarch and directing a movie. I remember there being one day on The King where someone from production said to me, "Just so you know, on this day in particular we have a thousand people on the payroll." I remember feeling like I wished they hadn't told me that.
These things happen so incrementally. My movement from film school to a short film to writing a screenplay to making a first film means that, like a lobster in a pot of boiling water, I can find myself on a field in Hungary with all these extras and horses. Thankfully, there's no part of me that thinks about the machine that's underneath me. For Timmy's character in the movie though, it's just thrust upon you instantly. That would be like me being plucked out of film school and dropped onto the set of a $70 million movie. I would fall apart.
As a director, there are a few themes that you tend to return to. Are you conscious of doing so?
I'm my own worst enemy in that it always feels important to me that whatever I do not feel exactly like the last thing I did. But I am aware of there being certain thematic concerns that seem to be recurring. Things to do with toxically male worlds, or delusional men coming to realize they're wrong, or naive men coming to realize that the world isn't as they thought it was. That either suggests to me that I am one of these delusional men or I am afraid of these delusional men.
As a kid, I was drawn to the stories that most frightened me. I remember how powerful those early horror movie experiences were for me, how earth-shattering it felt that a movie could make me feel abject terror. As a kid mischievously watching a horror movie I wasn't supposed to watch when my parents were out, I would be practically in tears wanting them to come home because I was so afraid. And then when you grow up, it's not bogey men in hockey masks with chainsaws that frighten me anymore. It's hubristic, delusional sociopaths in positions of great power.
Your last three movies have starred Robert Pattinson, Brad Pitt, and Timothée Chalamet. What qualities do the three of them share that drew you to them?
They are incredibly respectful of me. They're actors who love directors and who love being directed. And they understand that any performance comes as a result of a rigorous collaboration between an actor and a director. My experiences of working with them at various stages of their careers was kind of the same. Timmy—I've got to stop calling him a kid, but he was basically a kid. Rob had come out the back end of a franchise that he was desperately trying to shake off. Brad had nothing to prove, but he wants to make good movies and take risks. But in all three cases, the experience for me was one of working with actors who wanted to work, and who understood that part of that work was surrendering themselves.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Originally Appeared on GQ