Exclusive Interview: Director Ted Geoghegan Talks Mohawk

It seems to me that you’re also a bit of a historical buff. Even with We Are Still Here there was a bit of history within the house and the inhabitants thereof. Were you always fascinated with history?

Ted: I would say so. Yeah. My father was a professor of American history. I always grew up around someone who loved to learn about the birth of our country. I grew up in rural Montana, and my life was always rooted in the history of small towns. When I had moved to New York I had a lot of interest in small New England communities, or for lack of a better term Lovecraft Country.

I had interest in these sleepy little towns that were darker than what they let on. I think it speaks of America as a whole, that it is beautiful, but when you dig deep it’s really ugly. We Are Still Here and Mohawk deal with those concepts, those of our fathers in a way.

We Are Still Here involved a story where something had happened hundreds of years before and people still paid the price. People are almost forced to face and become evil to combat something created by our forefathers, where Mohawk is about those forefathers in a way. I’m not saying it’s in the same universe, but they go hand in hand in a way. I could easily make a story where a darkness is awoken and have it be the same.

How much of your own research was placed into the film when it comes to the history and the narrative?

Ted: Oh yeah, there was a lot. I felt that I owed so much to the people that I am telling the stories of, that I am faithful to them. I had the pleasure of working with a brilliant writer on the screenplay whose name is Grady Hendrix. Grady and I had been friends and worked together for decades, but he’s a huge War of 1812 buff, and when I told him I was writing a film based on that period he was ecstatic and at first I didn’t believe that he loved the period as much as he said he did. But when I went to a meeting at his house he had a large number of books based on that piece of history and I knew he wasn’t pulling my leg.

He was so integral in kicking off the project and making sure that we were writing something as historically accurate as possible. When we were comfortable with the script and began casting we went straight to an actor named Kaniehtiio Horn. We reached out to her and said she was perfect, and she told us that if you hire someone else for this I will kill you (Laughs). She brought so much to the project in the sense that she grew up on a Mohawk reservation and her family spoke the language. We were able to insert that into the film.

These were things we never thought we could do, but in terms of the little things she could add to the film it was so powerful to have her be part of the cast. She told us what we should do and what we shouldn’t do, and she went to her family and got their feedback and came back with so much to make the movie as loving and authentic to the Mohawk people as possible. It was incredible. We wanted the Mohawk people to be proud of the pic and to show their strengths.

When you shot the movie, even though it’s not particularly in the same period, did you take any cues from any historical projects, possibly even Westerns?

Ted: No, I don’t think I took any cues from any Westerns, but if I did it would be from the Italian Spaghetti Westerns like Django. There could be a little bit of that somewhere.

When you had come up with the concept of Mohawk, was it your mission to maybe add a few horror elements or did the history stand up for itself in regard to the terror of what life once was?

Ted: It’s a horrifying time in history where the film is set, and the moments within that period were very dark and extremely bleak. With that said, we did go out of our way to make sure there were a few genre elements or horror beats. This isn’t just a film about man’s inhumanity to man, there are some horror moments that will hopefully satisfy fans. It’s bloody, but I would never call Mohawk a horror film. I’m extremely proud to call it a historic drama.

Well, I am really happy to finally talk to you. I absolutely loved We Are Still Here and Mohawk, and I’m so happy to see you taking all the different corners that you want to take in your career. I think it’s excellent that you’re not painting yourself in one spot. So thank you for speaking with me.

Ted: Thank you. I am always happy to speak with someone who gets or has been touched by my work. It really keeps me going and wakes me up in the morning, so this means a lot for me, you have no idea.