ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Though he gets to travel constantly on film and TV projects, Drew Goddard misses New Mexico every day.
It’s a feeling he just can’t shake.
“Luckily, I get to come home once a year to see my family,” he says. “It’s amazing to get back and feel at home.”
Goddard grew up in Los Alamos and graduated from high school in 1993.
He’s been a staple in the film and TV industry since then, working as a writer on shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Lost” and “Alias.” His recent projects include “Daredevil,” “The Defenders” and “The Good Place.”
Goddard jumped into the director’s chair for the 2012 thriller “The Cabin in the Woods.”
He’s back with the upcoming film, “Bad Times at the El Royale,” which is being released Friday, Oct. 12.
For this project, he pulled triple duty as director, producer and writer.
“Everything I do is a labor of love,” he quips. “I try not to take anything that I’m not passionate about.”
“Bad Times at the El Royale” takes place in January 1969, just as Richard Nixon has been inaugurated as the 37th president of the United States.
A new decade beckons and seven very different but equally lost souls converge on the El Royale, a once-glorious resort that has since fallen – like its visitors – into disrepute.
Situated on the border between California and Nevada, the El Royale offers warmth and sunshine to the west; hope and opportunity to the east. It also straddles the colliding worlds of past and present. Once the hotspot of Tahoe, where the country’s most famous celebrities and politicians co-mingled in and around the resort’s casino, bar, bungalows and pool, the good times have now come to a close.
Coming off an Oscar nomination in 2016 for the screenplay for “The Martian,” Goddard was looking for a different kind of project.
“I thought to myself, what’s the opposite of a sci-fi film,” he says. “It hit me. Let’s do a crime thriller. I have a real love for crime movies and novels. I wanted to take a shot at it.”
So Goddard wrote – for three weeks exactly.
Starting in November 2016, he wrapped up the script the first week of December, just before his trip back to Los Alamos.
“The movie has a lot of spiritual undertones,” he says. “I realized this while I went to Mass with my mom at Immaculate Heart of Mary. I was sitting there listening and thinking. Then I realized I wrote a movie about my Catholic childhood.”
Goddard’s writing was able to pique the interest of a stellar cast.
The film stars Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Ervo, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman and Cailee Spaeny.
“There’s that adage in screenwriting,” Goddard says. “Just write what you want to see. So I locked myself in a hotel room and wrote the movie I wanted to see. It started from my love of film noir, crime fiction and classic ensemble movies where you don’t quite know who the protagonist is, and you get to see a bunch of movie stars in a limited space. And then I convinced Fox to let me make that movie, and here we are.”
Goddard set the film in the 1960s, the perfect era for a film that peels back the layers of both its action and characters.
“In the ’60s there was a spirit of sexiness, of warmth and celebration,” Goddard says. “But beneath the surface there was paranoia. There was surveillance happening beneath the glitz and glamour.”
Bridges describes the story as “awesome.”
“Every once in a while I read a script and say, ‘Wow, this is nothing I’ve ever seen before. This is the kind of movie I’d like to see.’ And then to find out that the writer, Drew Goddard, was also directing it, that was a big plus,” Bridges says. “One of the wonderful surprises – because it is rare that something like this is attempted – is that some takes go on for 10 minutes. That really gives the actor a chance to immerse themselves in the scene. It gives all the actors a chance to show their stuff. And it draws the audience in, in the most beautiful way, when the camera isn’t cutting so much.”
Hemsworth had worked with Goddard before in “Cabin in the Woods” and was already a huge fan.
“(The script) is one of the best things I’ve ever read. It is fresh, unique, full of drama and sinister humor, complex and layered,” Hemsworth says. “The chaos just builds and builds and becomes this house of cards that all goes very pear-shaped. It’s wildly unpredictable and intense.
“I didn’t think I’d have that much fun,” he continues. “I’ve spent a lot of my career playing the hero, and there are certain rules that they have to stick by, and so it becomes predictable. So to be able to be unpredictable, to keep the audience guessing, was surprisingly enjoyable.”
Goddard is humbled by the cast, whom he adores.
“I had moments where I would look at Jeff and Cynthia and Chris, Jon, Dakota, just sit and look at all these heavyweights and think, how did I get here?” he says. “I don’t understand how I got to be so lucky. It was never lost on me how special it was.”
Production was a little rough because there were plenty of rain scenes.
“The hardest thing about directing is that it’s physically grueling,” Goddard says. “We had a lot of long nights in the rain. When you’re a director and you and 100 people are sitting in the rain, it’s not the best. I did a lot of cursing of the writer. There were times I laughed because it was me who wrote these scenes.”
After promotion of the film is over, Goddard will take a look at what he wants to do next.
“Perhaps a film in New Mexico,” he says. “I would love to do a Western and I would love to do a romantic movie. I’ve learned that you can’t chase these things. Ideas will pop up and you have to see where it takes you.”