Violent Night Cast on How the Film Still Captures the Christmas Magic, but with Action

Violent Night Cast on How the Film Still Captures the Christmas Magic, but with Action

Christmas, to many people, is a time of celebration, love, gift-giving and joy. All of that is still very true in the upcoming Christmas flick Violent Night. You just need to mix in an out-of-touch billionaire family, violent mercenaries hell-bent on stealing the family fortune and a surprisingly well-trained assassin, A.K.A, Santa Claus.

You’ve also got a stellar cast of David Harbour as Santa Claus himself, John Leguizamo as the villainous Mr Scrooge, Alex Hassell as Jason Lightstone and the iconic Beverly D’Angelo as Gertrude Lightstone.

Lifehacker Australia was privileged enough to chat with Tommy Wirkola, director of Violent Night, and John Leguizamo, who plays the film’s dangerous villain.

Christmas, but make it violent

As you can tell by the trailer and the title of the film, Violent Night is, well… violent.

Violent Christmas movies aren’t a new genre by any means. In movies like Die Hard and Home Alone, two films from which Violent Night draws inspiration, the idea of a peaceful Christmas is blown out of the water.

It’s this very concept that excited Leguizamo, who admittedly despises corny Christmas movies, about being part of Violent Night.

“I love an anti-Christmas movie. It’s just my favourite thing because most Christmas movies are unbearably boring and corny and this was like the anti Christmas movie,” Leguizamo said, “It was so violent [and] so freakin’ funny.”

Violent Night
Violent Night interview. Image: IMDb

When I asked the film’s director, Tommy Wirkola, about what made him want to create an anti-Christmas movie, he argued that Violent Night isn’t that at all.

“No, I don’t think it’s anti-Christmas, right? Actually, you’re touching on what I wanted to make the movie. When I got some of the script, [the writers] said it was Die Hard with Santa Claus,” Wirkola explained.

“I thought, ‘okay, that sounds fun but let’s see how it is’. And I re-read the script. It had crazy action and violence and humour but what I loved about it was that actually, it did feel like a Christmas movie with a big heart,” Wirkola continued.

“That was my way in. I felt like if we can make the heart of the story work with Santa and Trudy and make that, kind of, the beating Christmas spirit within the film, I felt like we can do all those (sic) crazy stuff around it.”

In my defence, I had interviewed Leguizamo before speaking with Wirkola, so I was just using the wording that Leguizamo had used. So yes, John Leguizamo fully set me up by saying it was an anti-Christmas movie. But it’s okay; I forgive him.

To Wirkola’s point, there is something special about the way Violent Night makes you feel when you’re watching it. Somehow through all the blood and gore, you still manage to find that festive charm.

And, in the end, even Leguizamo echoed Wirkola’s sentiments about how Violent Night carries a fair bit of Christmas magic.

“At the end, you still felt a lot, you know? I can’t believe I was a sucker for it and it got me, even though I read the script, it still got me when I saw the flick,” he admitted.

When I asked Wirkola why it was important to keep the Christmas magic in the film, he shared it all boiled down to his own personal connection to festive movies.

“Christmas movies was (sic) a very big thing for me growing up and not that long ago when Bad Santa came out, it just proved that you can really make a Christmas movie and you can have the Christmas message and the Christmas spirit in a film that is super naughty and filthy and all those things that Bad Santa was,” Wirkola explained.

“So I just felt like we can do all these things and I can do a lot of things that I love but I can also test myself at something new. I really hadn’t done a movie with a big beating heart like that before. So yeah, that (sic) was a lot of appealing stuff to me, I felt I’d combine what I’d done before with something new as well.”

Creating balance in a violent comedy

Violent Night interview. Image: Universal

Something I think Violent Night achieves with ease is the ability to balance meaningful humour with violence.

Sure, there are plenty of violent comedies around, but they are largely based on slapstick and cheap punchlines. The difference with Violent Night is the humour is still accessible, but it’s extremely witty and doesn’t detract from the overall message of the film.

The relationship between Santa and Trudy, the daughter of the heir of the family fortune, is where the magic of Christmas is most explicit. Somehow, having Santa literally kill people for the sake of Trudy is when the Christmas spirit feels strongest.

This balance is something that was intentionally curated when making Violent Night, Wirkola explained:

“I think the key is to not make it too jokey, I guess…

“That’s the trick; you don’t want to make fun of your own movie or try to make people laugh at the wrong places. You want to still have the sincerity and make people believe in that and also make the action dangerous.”

“The key for me was if we really sell Santa and Trudy and we really believe in that relationship and really root for them and root for Trudy and kind of her belief in Christmas, then we can get away with everything else. I honestly felt that if we can make that work, we have total freedom on the rest, but of course it is still a balance.”

The tonal balance was also important for Leguizamo in creating his villain, Mr Scrooge.

“I think that [is the] thing that I tried to do, with Tommy and the writers who are brilliant and wrote a brilliant script, just to make sure that my character was really intelligent, and I still wanted to be funny, but I couldn’t be silly or ridiculous because then you lose the danger,” Leguizamo explained.

“I could never stop being dangerous and that’s why I didn’t want to be a silly villain. I wanted to be really respected and that was the challenge I put to the writers and the director – that I still want it to be funny, but witty funny, not silly funny, because I feel like that’s when the air comes out of the movie. If you for a minute don’t think I’m dangerous, it just goes flat. Then the tension, the danger, drops and disappears.”

Reimagining Santa

Violent Night interview. Image: Universal

As you watch Violent Night, the mystery around Santa (David Harbour) slowly starts to unravel, and the audience gains some more context as to how jolly ol’ Saint Nick can fight like a superhero. This paints a much clearer backstory for Santa Claus than other Christmas films.

Wirkola said that a rather violent Nordic backstory helps you understand the motives of Harbour’s Santa Claus.

“I remember thinking when they first sent me the script, before I read it, I was thinking, ‘Well, how can Santa take on these guys and actually come out of it alive?’ That doesn’t make any sense. Then I read the script and I thought it was a brilliant idea that they had to link him up to the Viking heritage, and kind of anchor into that and just actually ground the character.”

“I can see this as an origin story for Santa Claus. It gave us somewhere to go as well, when it comes to revealing our Santa and who he really was and who he used to be and how he has to go back to that to become a new type of Santa Claus.”

“I just thought it added a lot of layers in creating a new type of Santa Claus.”

Wait, are we rooting for the villain?

Violent Night interview. Image: Universal

Although it’s easy to fall in love with David Harbour’s Santa Claus, it’s difficult not to, in some way, resonate with Mr Scrooge throughout the film.

Sure, his methods aren’t morally sound, but his targets are an uber-wealthy family who has probably committed multiple crimes of their own to maintain their status. Can you blame him?

“I think the writers were really genius in giving you an antihero, Santa, and a villain that you understood. That’s what I really loved about it…,” Leguizamo explained.

He added that villains don’t need to be liked, “but to be understood makes [them] more interesting, you know? Complex heroes and villains is what great filmmaking is about to me.”

Both Scrooge and the film itself are reflective of the current shift in society where celebrities, corporations and the wealthy are being called out for being corrupt or unethical. And in this way, Mr Scrooge feels like one of us.

It’s a similar reflection that Leguizamo’s other recent film, The Menu, offers:

“I think it’s what we’re feeling in the world right now, you know, that we know that corporations and billionaires are wrecking our planet and our democracies. I think the movies are hitting something that we’re all feeling. That we really feel manipulated by corporations and these billionaires who think they can run the world the way they want. And that’s not the world that I want to live in and I think this is what these movies are addressing, that zeitgeist,” Leguizamo said.

How the cast brought Violent Night together

Violent night
Violent Night interview. Image: Universal

It really does take a village to create movies, and both Wirkola and Leguizamo gushed about those who helped pull together Violent Night, especially each other.

“I think Tommy Wirkola is one of the really special directors,” Leguizamo said.

“By special I mean, he’s got a lot of heart. He’s very sensitive. He’s very respectful of the actors’ process. It was a joy to work with him. He created a really safe environment, where you felt like you could experiment and do whatever you wanted and you were going to be okay. And that’s really necessary for me as a creative artist.”

Wirkola also had his own fair share of compliments, sharing that working with both Leguizamo and Harbour was “a true joy”.

“John, obviously I watched him so much being a movie lover myself, and this is a guy who can do anything. He is a fantastic dramatic actor, funny, charming, deadly and all those things we wanted to put into Scrooge. John bought a lot of his ideas and energy into that part. He really made it his own. A lot of those funny lines are actually him ad libbing on the day, which he loves to do,” Wirkola said.

“With Santa Claus, we knew we needed somebody who’s a great actor, but also has a physical presence, that is funny and has a big heart and can really sell that. David has all those things in spades, obviously.”

This magic between the cast and Wirkola is so evident when you watch Violent Night. The chemistry between Leguizamo and Harbour is electric, and you can tell that the whole cast had a genuinely great time on set.

Do yourself a favour this Christmas and watch Violent Night when it opens in cinemas across Australia on December 1.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


Leave a Reply