Interview: Midnight in the Switchgrass Director Randall Emmett Talks Star-Studded Thriller

By | August 9, 2021

Based on a true story, the film Midnight in the Switchgrass chronicles the serial abductions and murders of young women and the FBI agents that are trying to stop them. The directorial debut of Randall Emmett, the film stars Bruce Willis, Megan Fox, Emile Hirsch, Lukas Haas, and Caitlin Carmichael. It’s now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

“While in Florida on another case, FBI agents Helter (Willis) and Lombardo (Fox) cross paths with state cop Crawford (Hirsch), who’s investigating a string of female murders that appear to be related,” says the official synopsis. “Lombardo and Crawford team up for an undercover sting, but it goes horribly wrong, plunging Lombardo into grave danger and pitting Crawford against a serial killer in a twisted game of cat and mouse.”

Tyler Treese: Midnight in the Switchgrass is your directorial debut. What really drew you to this project? Had you been wanting to direct for a while or how did this come together?

Randall Emmett: I hit a wall a few years ago creatively. I just felt like producing-wise, I was kind of creatively dying a little bit. My artistic self kind of was being pushed to the side. It becomes somewhat of a business, and I just kind of wanted to challenge myself again and bring myself back to the child that I grew up as an artist. I said, let me try directing. Every time I thought about directing, I got petrified and nervous and a lot of my director friends said, well, that’s the good thing. That means that you’re doing the right thing and you should really pursue it because as a producer I’m pretty comfortable. I’ve been doing it a long time.

So that’s kind of what initiated the interest to take the leap and direct it. I was nervous all the way through all the way till probably the last day of shooting, which I think really that fear and that nervousness to put a different hat on after so many decades pushed me to be prepared and work hard and be the best version of myself. That’s where the love for directing now is because I get to bring my artistic self back to the forefront. So that’s kind of in a nutshell, why I transitioned.

Was there anything that surprised you while filming? Something that was maybe more difficult than you expected or maybe easier?

It definitely was challenging. I also loved having to be really present. I think that was probably a challenging thing in the beginning. Then I just enjoyed every minute of it, but in the beginning, I was like, I can’t focus on anything else in the universe but this movie. So that was exciting for me. The pandemic obviously made it the hardest film I’ve ever done. Nine months of shutdowns and back and forth and new sets and different locations and multiple crews. That obviously is not what you want on your first movie, but I feel like it also showed me that I am dedicated to directing. If I didn’t love it as much, I don’t think I would have been as persistent and driven to get the film finished. I just was really ready. I was hungry and thirsty to really get back to my artistic self. I think directing is giving me that vehicle and that voice again to do it.

I was blown away by Caitlin Carmichael’s performance. She’s been acting for over a decade, yet she’s so young. There are some difficult scenes she was put in, recreating traumatic moments. Can you speak to working with her and getting her in these very physical scenes?

Caitlin, I’m going to tell you, I put her through the ringer on the callbacks. I called her back like five times and she just kept crushing it. Every single call back. She was better than the next, or as good as, and I was so lucky. She was 15 when she signed on to do the movie and just turning 16 and I just couldn’t believe how, how smart and how good and how much she just wanted to know about the character. Just like Emile, Lukas, and Megan, she equally wanted to rehearse and dive in and was willing to go anywhere. Any time I wanted to push her for more in a scene, I’d say, “Caitlin, I need you to fight for your life. I need this to feel like it’s the end,” and she would just say, “Okay, I got you,” and she’d go back in. It would just be everything I wanted. She’s just so talented. I mean, she is a superstar and I’m very grateful to have had her in this movie. She makes me look good. So she makes my job very easy. So I’m very, very grateful.

Randall Emmett Midnight in the Switchgrass

This film is just filled with great performances. Megan Fox has an interesting role because as an agent, she’s kinda being used as bait, but she’s also a total badass. We see her beating up Machine Gun Kelly in the one scene. She can take care of herself. How was it working with her and having her get physical and being such a empowered character?

That was the thing I think she was drawn to the role. I don’t want to speak for her, but I think the character is empowered. She’s not a victim until she obviously is fighting for her life, but other than that, she’s the one fighting for their lives, these girls. It was great. Megan, I would turn to sometimes I’d say, when you’re being chained up, I really want to be authentic. Is that okay? Is it okay if we use the real chains and they’re heavy and she’d look at me and say, “Randall, have you seen some of the movies I’ve done?” Like she’s all in. She’s not afraid of anything. She’s done some of the biggest action movies in the world.

So this was a very, very easy physical role for her. But what I love about Megan is she’s equally committed to the character and an emotional arc. We had a moment where he’s basically telling her that she’s not going to get out of there. She kind of breaks emotionally, while she’s chained up. I remember, writing on a piece of paper on the last take, she was just giving me so much and I was loving it. It was just so emotional and it was great. I wrote on this paper. I said, you’re never going to see your kids again. I handed it to her. I said, open this right before we start rolling. She just let it go. That’s who Megan is. She’s willing to go where you want her to go and then some. She’s so talented and I couldn’t have asked for a better leading woman and better lead in this movie than her.

If we talk about transformations, Lukas Haas is just incredible as the killer in this film. It’s intense and uncomfortable to watch. How was it like filming him? He’s he has such a presence there.

Lukas Haas is the most underrated actor in Hollywood. People will see this soon, but he just booked a big movie opposite Brad Pitt. I’ll tell you, I am so excited for him because what he did for that role of Peter and how he pushed me. Every day, he came to my room. We do rewrites every night. He would want the character to be better, more authentic. He and I pushed each other to the point where we were challenging each other on set on certain days. I felt like we were doing something special. What Lukas brought to that role of Peter was times a thousand what I could have ever imagined. Again, another actor that made my job so easy. He’s so, so, so talented with so many layers, internalizes every part of any character he plays. I’m just happy that people could see him again now doing what he’s doing.

Interview: Caitlin Carmichael Discusses Midnight in the Switchgrass’ True Story

I know you’ve worked with Bruce Willis before on projects, and you produced Out of Death, which is out soon with him. What was it like directing him?

It’s completely different directing. It’s like working with Emile on Lone Survivor and some other movies, it’s a completely different game. I’ve been on 15 movies of Bruce and I never got nervous once. When he showed up for the first time for me to have to really give him a vision and direction. I was like butterflies. It was like starting over. But he’s a friend and he was so generous and wanting to do whatever I needed him to do. He was great. He was fun. Everybody loved working with him. He’s Bruce Willis. It just doesn’t get any better. Even as a director, it was like the first time I’ve ever worked with him. So I really, really was grateful that he did this for me. He did it for me at a number that I could afford because if he had done it for his regular number, I definitely could not have afforded him. So I was also grateful that he supported my first time filmmaking.

You mentioned Emile Hirsch, it seems you guys have a great friendship over pickleball. How did that come up? Did he introduce you to it?

What happened was my fiance’s family friend, we were in Palm Springs and she played pickleball. I grew up playing tennis and she asked me to come play pickleball. I was like, I’m not playing a game called pickleball. It’s not gonna happen. She’s like, you’ve got to come out and you’re going to play and it’s going to be fun. I was like, whatever, dude, pickleball, it’s just not cool. There’s no such thing. I picked up the racket and I was hooked times a thousand. When I went off to do the movie, I found out Emile loves pickleball and Lukas loves pickleball. They’d been playing for five years. So I started playing with them in Puerto Rico. Then when the pandemic hit, it was the only activity you could do. It was outside at my house. We were distanced and so I started taking it pretty seriously and then Emile and I got really competitive with each other. Now I kick his ass all the time. I beat him at my house two days ago, like six times.

That’s amazing. Emile’s performance is so great and he has a lot of emotional scenes. He’s struggling with the case and balancing his family life. Can you just speak to that character and that performance he puts forth?

Well, I think what I like most about Emile’s character is he’s so simple that he’s complex, right? Like he loves his family. He’s strong with religion and he wants to walk a straight line, but he also wants to not let these girls not have somebody to defend them and be a voice. I feel like what I enjoyed is watching Emile’s turmoil as it grew. It starts out with a couple of bodies, and for a police officer, of course, they have feelings, but it’s part of the job, but that evolves into a serial killer. It evolves into young girls being killed. I feel that that’s where his character really comes to life and really is in pain and torment because these girls are being murdered and nobody’s there to claim them, nobody cares. That’s what society has cast off these girls. I feel it’s just such a beautiful story between him and Megan coming together and risking both their careers and their lives to go off the protocol of being a police officer or a law enforcement person and risking everything to save these girls’ lives.