'John and the Hole': How Charlie Shotwell Invented a Motive for a Psychopathic Boy (Video)

Sundance 2021: Thriller follows a 13-year-old who traps his well-off family in a hole

“John and the Hole” makes no attempt to explain John’s motive for keeping his entire family prisoner inside a hole in the ground, which you have to admit, there has to be a reason why for such a deranged move. But when you’re tasked with portraying John, how do you inhabit that character when the script gives you no clue of his inner thoughts? The answer: you make it up.

Charlie Shotwell, the young actor playing the psychopathic lead role in this new thriller screening at Sundance, decided to make up the answers himself. Shotwell spoke with TheWrap at its Virtual Sundance Studio — alongside director Pascual Sisto and co-stars Michael C. Hall, Taissa Farmiga and Jennifer Ehle — and said that when dealing with an ambiguous role, he just approached it the same way any other viewer would and applied his own interpretation.

“My interpretation, which came natural to me, was that he was doing this because…he wanted to have control,” Shotwell said. “He felt that he wasn’t in control and he was missing something in his life.”

Sisto noted that the script, written by Oscar-winning “Birdman” co-writer and longtime Alejandro Inarritu collaborator Nicolas Giacobone, is a bare-bones screenplay that’s only about nine pages long. As such, there’s not only little background for John but also little for his imprisoned family. But for the actors, that wasn’t a problem at all. Farmiga said that the scenes they shot in the hole “opened right in front of us,” as it started without any prep work.

“I think that the family…there’s a lot of space between them. They’re all sort of wrapped and a bit numb, and I think that’s part of the film as you’re watching that space shrink,” Ehle said. “I think they gain a lot through the experience, like some families might be finding now during this COVID quarantine that the intimacy can be enriching.”

“I think it was useful for us to not get on the same page about what a collective family was because we’re dealing with a bunch of people who are in their own worlds,” Hall added. “The fact that we didn’t feel obliged to compare notes at all ended up being a good thing.”

Watch the full interview with the director and cast of “John and the Hole” in the clip above.

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