Exclusive interview: Director Robert Budreau talks ‘Delia’s Gone’

delia's gone
via Vertical Entertainment

Throughout his career as a writer, director, and producer, Robert Budreau has tackled many different genres and time periods, with his latest feature Delia’s Gone offering a slow-burning contemporary crime story that’s set in the modern day, but comes bearing a timeless quality.

The story follows Stephan James’ Louis, a man who was left with learning difficulties after a childhood accident, who seeks to find out the truth behind the murder of his sister Delia following his release from prison after being wrongly accused of the killing and serving his sentence. Along the way, he discovers a cover-up designed to culminate in his false incarceration, with the supporting cast including Travis Fimmel as the shady Stacker, along with local law enforcement officers played by Marisa Tomei and Paul Walter Hauser.

Delia’s Gone is now playing in theaters before coming to VOD on September 9, with writer and Budreau taking the time out of his schedule to chat to We Got This Covered, which included a production tent on the set of his latest movie being blown away mid-conversation. In our interview, Burdreau discusses how the film puts a fresh spin on familiar tropes, the subtlety that was required to bring the complex character of Louis to life, his dream projects, and much more that you can check out below.

Delia's Gone
via Vertical Entertainment

How does it feel to finally be on the verge of Delia’s Gone being released, with shooting kicking off a while back in late 2020?

Yeah, no, it feels good. I mean, it’s often the case that these things kind of reach audiences later than one expects. And it’s weird, because mentally you move on, but it’s exciting. I’m really excited for people to finally see it, and kind of even for myself to go back and re-explore some of the themes in the story. So I’m excited.

How would you describe the film in your own words? Because there’s a lot of different elements in play, from crime thriller to revenge story, via character study and family drama.

For me, it, it was two things. I was born and raised in a small town. So, I’ve always been really interested in kind of rural noir, rural thrillers. And so, totally, I was very attracted to the project. And then ultimately, you know, it’s the story of Louis, who I think is this flawed-but-empathetic hero, who has to overcome some of his own limitations. But then, it’s ultimately about family and what people do to protect family in different ways.

And that’s always been something that I’ve just found very fascinating; the lengths that we’ll go to to protect family, right or wrong. I mean, it’s often about people making the wrong decisions to do that. But yeah, at the end of the day, Louis is obviously that the heart of the film. And so I think tonally and character-wise, that’s what originally attracted me to the story.

Audiences might think they know where the story is heading, but it takes several turns along the way. Were you always conscious during the writing process of ensuring that viewers were kept guessing, because the story keeps pivoting in new directions just when you might think you’ve got it figured out?

That’s the hope. I mean, I think these rural crime dramas, there have been a lot of them done well. And so, part of the challenge with doing them is to try to find ways to subvert expectation, reinvent some of the elements, whether it’s with casting, whether it’s with certain narrative storytelling devices. And so hopefully, there’s some surprises along the way here.

Delia's Gone
via Vertical Entertainment

Were you and Stephan always on the same page about how to play Louis and build that character? Because the role requires sensitivity and nuance, but it also needs a big performance to drive the entire movie?

Yeah, big time. I mean, it was always one of the scariest things about it, but also the most exciting thing about it. And I think Stephan was attracted to the project because of that challenge. I find most great actors want to be challenged, they want to be put outside the box. I, as a filmmaker, want to be challenged as well.

And so we certainly talked about it a fair amount in prepping and development. To a certain degree, I kind of like to turn my characters over to the actors, and let them make it their own. And so there was there was an element of just waiting to see what Stephan was gonna bring. And I’ve done that in the past with other actors, like, I’ve worked with Ethan [Hawke] a few times.

And you know, I trust in them to bring some surprises to me, and then we can fine-tune it. But with Stephan, he brought something in the early days and we were, you know, you always have a few days to kind of refine what you want, but I was very excited by what he was able to bring.

You’ve always surrounded yourself with great actors on your projects, does it make your job easier to have people like Stephan, Marisa, Paul, and Travis knocking it out of the park on an emotionally-charged project like Delia’s Gone?

Well, I mean it’s, literally one of my… probably my most important job as a filmmaker is to pick good cast, because I was telling somebody this the other day. I think if you pick great cast, you have a good script, you find some great locations and a great crew, you’re basically setting the stage to make something special, and make yourself look good. And so, yeah, so much of it is just finding the great cast. And then I try to create an environment that allows them to do their best work, and kind of get out of their way. And let them shine is kind of, you know, my motto.

Delia’s Gone has some familiar elements, like the revenge story, the bickering cops, and the cover-ups, but they’re presented in a different way to what people might be used to seeing. Were there any challenges in deliberately avoiding falling into formula or dodging the more well-known tropes when you were cracking the script?

I’m not that interested in like an American revenge story, and it has elements of it. But this, you know, you’ve got a guy with a gun trying to find out who killed his sister. So if you pitch it like that, it could be, “Oh, that’s just a revenge story”. But to me, it was never really a revenge story, even though it shares some elements.

It’s really, for Louis, a quest for the truth, and his own kind of coming-of-age. And he’s not really out to seek revenge, and he doesn’t really want to hurt or kill anybody. All he wants is a truth. And in the process, it turns violent. But I’m hoping that, and I think because the American revenge story is such a strong archetype in the consciousness of people going back to like Westerns, or the gangster film, it’s hard to not have people see that genre and see that archetype.

But to me, there’s something kind of thin about a revenge story that is less interesting and complex. And so just this kind of quest for the truth for him in this journey, that’s kind of this road trip coming-of-age is was the more important thing for me and for us to find, I think.

Delia's Gone
via Vertical Entertainment

There’s a Southern Gothic sort of vibe at points, but the movie was shot in Canada, and set in the Midwest which gives the film a really interesting and unique and timeless atmosphere. in that it could be made 15 years ago or 15 years from now and nobody would be any the wiser. Was that aesthetic always part of your creative process?

Yeah, I’m glad you picked up on that. It was like, on one hand, it’s a contemporary film, but it does feel a bit old-fashioned in the roots of the story. You know, it was originally written in a in a more Southern environment, we shot it in Canada for various funding reasons, as one often does. And I think the Midwest is a fine setting for it. we set it in Ohio, but there was always a little bit of a Southwestern vibe to the language in the story that I didn’t want to lose.

And so I think that’s what you’re picking up on. And Louis is an old soul, I think I as a filmmaker, my tastes tend to be a little older school in terms of the, you know, I’m working on another period film. The film I’m doing is a 30s film and the previous films I did 50s, 60s, 70s. And so I’m quite attracted to that. And I think in a lot of small towns, in America and in Canada, the reality is a lot of the architecture, and a lot of the places are just old anyways, anywhere from the 50s to the 70s.

And so I wanted to create an old school analog-feeling world, and hopefully, that does make it a bit more timeless and not make it too political, overtly political. I know it touches on some social impact issues. But it never, we don’t really dwell on those in terms of contemporizing it in a specific way. I don’t think.

The issues that are touched on in the film, they’ve been issues in society for a while, and they’ll be issues in society for a while. So you could dive back into Delia’s Gone at any time in the future, and it’ll still play the same way.

Exactly. I think some of the obvious potential social issues have been around for a lot longer than we’d like them to be, and they’re going to continue to be around, and that’s not a good thing. But that is just unfortunately the world that we’re living in, especially in America, which is pretty mixed-up place.

You’ve always been happy to move from genre to genre throughout your career, are there any avenues you haven’t been down yet that could be on the horizon?

I mean, I’m doing an early-30s film now, set in the Great Depression. I am still fascinated by the 40s. You know, I’ve done the 30s. Now the 50s, 60s, 70s. The 40s, that kind of early 40s to mid-40s that, but not necessarily like a World War II film, but off the front. I’ve always been attracted to that period, and so I’d love to do something in that world. And to be honest, I’m developing some sci-fi projects that are near-future. Not too far in the future, but beyond contemporary. That’s also exciting to me.

If you had the freedom to make any project you wanted without restrictions, then, what would it be and why?

Hmm, that’s a good question. I mean, I’ve always been a huge Bob Dylan fan. And I’ve certainly done one music biopic already; a Chet Baker film. But trying to somehow tackle a Bob Dylan-related project on a larger scale in the future would be a dream. It’s just also scary, because I don’t know how I would do it, and the bar would be set so high, but that could be a dream project, or a nightmare project, but hopefully a dream project.

The shackles are hypothetically off, so you could take as much time and money as you want and make it exactly how you want.

Yeah, well, I think that also shows where my interests lie. Like, it’s not necessarily doing like the next Marvel movie at $250 million, it’s really just doing something that’s really passionate for me, but then doing it at a level which would be nice. That kind of rarefied sweet spot where people are making $40-60 million films, like Paul Thomas Anderson and those kinds of people who have studio-level budgets and studio-level schedules, but can make risky indie film in that space. I think that’s the dream for all of us to try to get to that level, but also try to have those resources for that kind of a film.

Delia’s Gone opens in theaters today, before coming to VOD on September 9, and you can check out our review of the film here.