Chariot Director on Recruiting Malkovich, Salazar to Dark Sci-Fi Film

Adam Sigal always had a morbid fascination with his work. In his latest film, Chariot, the story focuses on Dr. Karn, played by John Malkovich, an odd, eccentric specialist who guides unknowing patients through the reincarnation transition. When Harrison (Thomas Mann) experiences mysterious recurring dreams, he turns to Dr. Karn for help and reveals his encounter with a woman (Rosa Salazar) he loved in a previous life. Noticing a glitch in the system, the doctor must fix the issue before permanently derailing his patient's future. I spoke with the writer-director about the inspiration behind the film, the influential filmmakers that molded his style, bringing his cast together, and keeping his vision within scale as an indie project.

Chariot Director on Recruiting Malkovich, Salazar to Dark Sci-Fi Film
John Malkovich in Chariot (2022). Image courtesy of Saban Films

"The inspiration behind 'Chariot' is my ambition was to create a high concept science fiction told on a small scale," Sigal said. "In this case, it was about reincarnation and death. It was kind of my one subject that is always I've always been kind of obsessed with was the various things that humanity has solved throughout the centuries, like the ancient Greeks, the Sun moving across the sky and assuming that it was being pulled by a God because that was how they interpreted things they didn't have. They rode around in chariots, and so they assumed it must be being pulled by a chariot. The last frontier I would say today, or one of them of the big questions, is: what happens after you die? There's no real answer for it. There are a lot of conflicting ideas in religions and opinions, but nobody can look you in the eye and say with scientific certainty as they describe gravity or something like that to you, what's going to happen? I loved the idea of just kind of like trying to sort of impinging on the audience, the idea or the concept that: Who knows? Maybe it's something mundane. Maybe it's a corporation that runs it. You never know, and maybe we'll solve it, and then it will become less mysterious and frightening. That was my ambition with this was to tell that story, but on a small scale."

Chariot Director on Recruiting Malkovich, Salazar to Dark Sci-Fi Film
Thomas Mann and Rosa Salazar in Chariot (2022). Image courtesy of Saban Films

Growing up, Sigal adored the works of the Coen Brothers and David Lynch. "[David] is like kind of the artist that I respect the most in the way that he tells stories and the way that he depicts his themes in his stories without being as concerned honestly, even with the narrative itself," he explained. "He's just concerned about invoking an emotion in the audience, which I think is fascinating, and I love that approach. He's just kind of like, 'Look, this is what I want the audience to feel. I don't care what is actually on screen as long as it's making them feel that if that makes sense."

Chariot Director on Recruiting Malkovich, Salazar to Dark Sci-Fi Film
Saban Films

When it came to landing his principal cast, Sigal credited Malkovich, Salazar, and Thomas Mann for helping it come together. "John was just essentially like the actor I wanted to work with more than anyone and for that role. He was kind of the first domino, really," he said. "Rosa is an actress I really admired because I knew that she would take chances and she would do unique pieces and was not out there to try to do the same roles or roles that just make her look pretty. She's not doing role just to work with the biggest director like; she has a real indie spirit like I do. Thomas was just phenomenal. I really loved Thomas in 'Me and Earl and the Dying Young Girl', and I always remembered him from that performance and thought he was so great. When his name was brought up by the casting director, I was like, 'Yeah, that's the guy. Let's get him.' So he was perfect, and then the rest of the cast fell in the place after that."

Any time Sigal takes on an indie project, he's always mindful in maximizing his resources to "shoot things multiple times and just having enough days and enough takes." As far as challenges on set, the biggest one was filming during the pandemic, but he remained grateful they made it through filming without being shut down. "I always learned a ton of lessons on every film, and on this one, I think it was to simplify it because there were parts of this that were too complicated for me and to really accomplish in the way that I wanted," he said. "It's so hard to make a good indie film, but making it more complicated within the story, the production, and everything just makes it even harder. There are aspects on my next project that I was looking at, and I was like, 'Oh, wow, this is actually pretty complicated, too,' and I simplified them. I think that was the main lesson from 'Chariot' I took from it in particular." Saban Films' Chariot, which also stars Scout Taylor Compton, Vernon Davis, Chris Mullinax, and Shane West, comes to theaters, on-demand and digital on April 15th.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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