King: Michod Discusses his New Film, Starring Oscar Nominee Timothée Chalamet

Directed by David Michôd and co-written by Michôd and Edgerton, The King world premieres in competition at the 2019 Venice Film Fest.

The film stars Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn, Robert Pattinson, and Lily-Rose Depp.

Chalamet plays Hal, a wayward prince and reluctant heir to the English throne, who has turned his back on royal life and is living among the people. But when his tyrannical father dies, Hal is crowned King Henry V and is forced to embrace the life he had previously tried to escape.

Now the young king must navigate the palace politics, chaos and war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life,  including his relationship with his closest friend and mentor, the ageing alcoholic knight, John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton).

Contemporary Story

Hal has spent years rejecting his royal responsibilities as heir to the English throne, instead choosing to live in the debauched neighborhood Eastcheap alongside his mentor and best friend, the washed-up alcoholic knight John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). But when Hal’s father King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) dies, the wayward prince is forced to leave behind his life in Eastcheap and return to the palace to reluctantly take his place as King of England.

Having spent much of his young life witnessing his father’s feuds and the futility of the wars that followed, the newly crowned King Henry V vows to bring peace to the country. But he quickly finds himself embroiled in the snake pit of palace politics he tried so desperately to escape, and is suddenly unsure who he can trust. Forced to begin a new chapter of his life before the last can be properly closed, Hal feels his idealism being strangled by the loneliness of power, a growing sense of paranoia, and looming threats from France.

Coming-of-Age Story

In 2013, longtime friends and collaborators David Michôd and Joel Edgerton began writing a script
about Hal’s coming-of-age story. King Henry V, one of England’s most renowned monarchs who famously conquered the French at the Battle of Agincourt, is a well-known historical figure — he’s the subject of Shakespeare’s timeless historical plays and two successful film adaptations. But Michôd and Edgerton saw unexplored contemporary themes in young Hal’s story that spanned the 600 years between the 15th and 21st centuries. Together, they crafted a timely and innovative approach to the life and times of King Henry V.

Pitfalls of Power, Cyclical Brutality of War

Produced in partnership with Netflix, Plan B Entertainment, and others, The King is a modern story told through a period-authentic lens that examines the pitfalls of power, the cyclical brutality of war, and how the dangerous vanities of men reverberate through generations to come.

When Michôd and Edgerton began writing The King in 2013, they decided to approach the story through their own unique lens, blending historical fact and literary fiction to craft a fresh artistic
take. Edgerton, having played Hal on stage as a young man when he was fresh out of drama school in
Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, Part 2 and Henry V, and was thrilled by the prospect of bringing the
character to life on screen through a new interpretation. He explains, “We decided to use
Shakespeare’s plays as a launching pad, but somewhat depart from them. We’re using elements of true
history, we’re borrowing from Shakespeare, and then we’re putting it through our own filter.”

Shakespeare’s plays and historical facts served as artistic fulcrums while Michôd and Edgerton focused
on how to creatively swivel and bring a new angle to the well-known monarch’s story. They reworked
the language and rebuilt the narrative. Michôd recalls, “We were changing the story so much that we
were basically starting this project from scratch. I think our version feels relevant because it speaks to
the almost dysfunctional nature of the institutions of power today.”

The script gained a great reputation across Hollywood, but Michôd and Edgerton couldn’t find the right producing partners to help get the project off the ground. Meanwhile, both of their careers skyrocketed. In addition to their successful solo projects, the duo continued their creative collaborations on 2007’s short film Crossbow, 2010’s Animal Kingdom, and 2014’s The Rover.

In 2017, Michôd partnered with Plan B and Netflix to write and direct War Machine. The director formed a close relationship with Academy Award-winning Plan B producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. While filming War Machine, the producers brought up the script for The King.

Both Gardner and Kleiner had read the script before working with Michôd on War Machine — it was one of the reasons they were excited to partner with the director. Kleiner says, “Reading the script for The
King in its early incarnation made me even more eager to work with David on War Machine. I always
remembered that script. There was something haunting about it; it’s a very modern look at power and
masculinity. We all want to do better than the previous generation, but so often we end up making the
same mistakes. I always thought the script was amazing, and collaborating on this project with Joel and
David frankly just felt like a dream come true.”

Gardner recalls, “Our collaboration on The King was so organic. Jeremy and I had read the script when
it first made the rounds in Hollywood — it was a script that really traveled in the industry. We were on
set for War Machine and Jeremy and I just asked David what was happening with the project. He
walked us through the stops and starts the project had gone through over the years, and it all began to
take shape. The timing just worked out. I really believe these things happen for a reason.”

Ideas Behind the Words

Gardner was attracted to the script’s timely themes: “I admired that David and Joel didn’t just want to do a literal translation of the Shakespeare text. They were more interested in the ideas behind the words, and that made the story feel very modern to us. When we see things set in a different era, we assume that it’s not a story about us. But sometimes the best way to examine and talk about what’s happening right now is to go back to a different place in time. I want people to see the movie and recognize themselves, not something that they can store away as period trifle.”

Michôd recruited Australian producer Liz Watts of Porchlight Films, with whom he has a long-standing relationship dating back to his 2010 feature film directorial debut Animal Kingdom, to join the film. Watts had also been familiar with The King script for years and, similarly to Gardner and Kleiner, had been immediately struck by how it tackled modern themes. She says, “David has transformed a story set in the middle ages into something that is really relevant, and feels fresh and young. It’s a firmly anti-war film, and it’s also about the inheritance of mistakes; Henry V repeats his father’s mistakes, and I think that that transference is very interesting, particularly in a world run by men. David’s films have always examined men’s hubris and their ability, or inability, to deal with power. This movie has real relevance to what’s happening in the world right now, and asks pertinent questions about masculinity and the privilege of that power.”

To bring the complex narrative to life on screen, Gardner and Kleiner suggested a continued partnership with Netflix. In addition to War Machine, the producers had previously partnered with Netflix on 2017’s Okja, which earned director Joon-ho Bong a Palme d’Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival, and both seasons of The OA. Gardner says, “Our experience with Netflix has been one of real risk-taking, and of real commitment to a filmmaker’s vision. War Machine and Okja are strange, wonderful, and singular films. We’ve had a lot of fun working with them because we’ve been able to dream as big as the filmmakers want to dream.”

Production began in May 2018, when the team shot in England, then moved to Hungary through the end of August to capture the large-scale battle sequences. Michôd focused on how to visually and thematically differentiate The King from past iterations of the story.

Raw Dirty World

Michod says, “We wanted to create a world that was raw, dirty, and historically authentic, but also felt slightly otherworldly. Joel and I realized early on that this movie was about power, and how people in  positions of great power almost invariably find themselves incredibly lonely and isolated, and then become paranoid. When Hal becomes king his great desire is to be a different kind of king; to unite these warring factions by being a man of peace. He takes those ideals into an institution, thinking he’s going to transform that institution, and then suddenly realizes that once he’s inside it, he feels lonelier than he’s ever felt before. Instead of controlling the kingdom, the kingdom controls him.”