Elliott Lester Q&A: ‘Nightingale’ director
"I read [the screenplay], and I wasn't sure what I read was real, so I re-read it and I made a decision: I have to make that film, I have to tell that story," says director Elliott Lester about his decision to make "Nightingale," which premieres on HBO on May 29. "We literally went from 'Okay I'm doing it' to the following day, met in the office and actively started to put the film together. It was super-fast."
The film stars David Oyelowo as Peter Snowden, an unbalanced military vet who has committed a heinous crime and spends the rest of the story trying to cover it up. Oyelowo is the only actor on-screen for the duration of the 83-minute running time.
"David we met a little later in the game actually. I was very aware of his work, I'd been a huge fan," Lester explains about casting the actor in the role. "He was very honest. He was like, 'I don't know what this is. I don't know who Peter Snowden is, but I know that if we get this right, this could be something special.' He was frightened. We were frightened. We were terrified of what the film could be. I liked him for that. I liked him for being honest."
Despite Snowden's disturbing actions and deteriorating mental state, Lester sees his protagonist as "just a human being like you and I. We're complex people, and things aren't black and white. What informs our choices is not simple. He does a terrible thing, and he does it early on, but you still root for him."
"Nightingale" was shot in sequence in 16 days and co-produced by Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner's company Plan B Entertainment, which also produced the Oscar-winning "12 Years a Slave" and the Emmy-winning "The Normal Heart," as well as Oyelowo's breakthrough film "Selma." "In my conversations with Brad, it's an understanding that films like this kind of need to be seen, and because he and Plan B have the clout to do it, they can curate what gets seen," Lester says of Pitt's contribution to the film. "They're fantastic. There's a reason why they get the nominations and wins that they get."