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Netflix 'Reptile' director praises Alicia Silverstone's 'effortless' acting with Benicio Del Toro

"Movies like this, you want to be on a roller-coaster," director Grant Singer said

Alicia Silverstone, Benicio Del Toro, Justin Timberlake in Netflix movie Reptile (Kyle Kaplan/Daniel McFadden/Netflix)
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Benicio Del Toro, Alicia Silverstone and Justin Timberlake take on a story of deceit in Grant Singer's Netflix movie Reptile.

Movie: Reptile
Streaming: Netflix
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Alicia Silverstone, Justin Timberlake, Eric Bogosian, Ato Essandoh, Michael Pitt
Director: Grant Singer

"Movies like this, you want to be on a roller-coaster," Singer told Yahoo Canada during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). "You understand that people who like these movies are very intelligent."

"So you have to both tell this story that you're telling in an interesting and compelling way, but also find clever and creative things. It's almost like poker, ... you have to give [the audience] certain things and then take certain things away. The characters are, in this film, oftentimes concealing things and you don't know what the intent behind that is. If things are malicious, or if things are sincere, things are genuine. You don't know who you can trust."

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What is 'Reptile' about?

The thriller-crime element of the film begins with the murder of Summer Elswick, a real estate agent in New England. Will Grady (Timberlake) was her boyfriend and he's the one that found her dead body.

Detective Tom Nichols (Del Toro), who recently moved to the town from Philadelphia with his wife Judy (Silverstone), is trying to work through the case, with a small number of suspects. But as the investigation progresses, there's a whole system of corruption to expose.

"Hopefully this film makes people think and talk, and I do think it requires a bit of an active participation to come to your own conclusion about certain things," Singer said.

(L-R) Benicio Del Toro as Tom Nichols and Alicia Silverstone as Judy Nichols in Reptile. (Daniel McFadden/Netflix)
(L-R) Benicio Del Toro as Tom Nichols and Alicia Silverstone as Judy Nichols in Reptile. (Daniel McFadden/Netflix) (Daniel McFadden/Netflix)

'Alicia is such a strong actor'

In a movie filled with tense moments, the rapport between Silverstone and Del Toro is a highlight, reuniting the two actors who starred in the 1997 film Excess Baggage.

"Alicia is such a strong actor and she seemingly effortlessly, even though it's not effortless, ... inhabits a warmth and a vulnerability in the character that I think is brilliant," Singer said. "It's so welcome because it's a counterpoint to the evils that Benicio's character faces in his world."

"To see them navigate that together very beautifully, the chemistry that they have, ... I'm certain that part of that is because they worked together so many years ago, and it feels so natural. When I see those scenes, even just rehearsing them on set, there's a vitality to them."

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Singer went on to say that when he's directing actors, the question that he asks himself is, "does this scene feel alive?"

"Sometimes it doesn't and then you have to kind of pivot, and you work with the actors and you make it feel alive. But with their scenes in particular, ... I didn't have to do much. ... It was certainly the less is more approach for me, working with them."

Justin Timberlake as Will Grady in Reptile (Netflix)
Justin Timberlake as Will Grady in Reptile (Netflix) (Courtesy of Netflix)

'There's something about being scared that brings us together'

Thinking about what Singer wanted Reptile to look like, "timeless" was the goal.

"We were obviously very inspired by [films] of the '70s and we shot on long lenses, which allow the viewer to feel within a scene," Singer explained. "I'm very interested in perspective as a director and it's this very delicate balance between wanting to feel the presence of the filmmaker, but also the invisibility of the filmmaker, and the restraint."

"So I'm constantly navigating, playing with doing things that are graphic and visually exciting, but also doing things that are invisible. Because I feel like sometimes when you watch films that are so magnificently beautiful, so composed, you're almost in some ways taken out of the movie, because it's such a breathtaking visual spectacle that it almost takes you out of the storytelling."

Thinking about how the crime-thriller genre attracts so many people, Singer believes these stories tap into our "primal fears."

"As humans, we love to laugh. We love to cry, and there's something about being scared that brings us together," he said.

"There's a real fascination, obsession with true crime and we all like to play detectives, and oftentimes the truth can be very hidden, and sometimes unknowable. I think that feeling of not knowing is a feeling that I find very lasting and interesting."