Interview: Ryan Kruger talks Fried Barry
Ian Winterton | On 08, May 2021
Having established himself as a renowned director of music videos and short films in South Africa, British-born writer-director-actor Ryan Kruger has finally made the leap to features – and the result is the triumphantly and unashamedly unhinged Fried Barry (read our review here). Hot off a year of wowing audiences – both online and offline – at film festivals around the world, the chaotic and psychedelic “road trip on foot” through Cape Town’s seedy underbelly is now available on Shudder. Having first met Kruger with Fried Barry for its UK premiere at Manchester’s Grimmfest back in October, Ian Winterton catches up with the director to discuss how creating “Bastard Barry” has changed his life.
You’ve had quite an amazing few months since I last saw you on Zoom
Yeah. We’ve played all over the world now and, apart from Switzerland and Amsterdam, that’s the film festival tour done. We had the world premiere at CineQuest in California in March 2020 and it’s been showing regularly at festivals since then, and now its release on Shudder. We’ve gained something like 22, 23 awards which has been great, and we’re on 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.
And with Shudder, you’re in lots of territories?
Yeah. It’s England, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand – on Shudder – and then we’re just in talks with different distribution companies for Asia and Germany and Poland. One thing we haven’t yet secured is distribution in South Africa because we’re not really used to this sort of content over here – it’s a little bit of a conservative country and Fried Barry is pretty far out for your regular South African audience. The majority of movies we make here are comedies, historical movies. There have been a few horrors recently but at the same time, when I talk about Fried Barry it’s not just a horror movie – it’s definitely the first film of its kind to come out of South Africa.
My first thought when I saw it was Bad Boy Bubby – an Australian movie from 1993 about a man who escapes from his parents’ house aged 30 into modern-day Sydney
That was one of our main references. We even called Barry’s kid, Bubby, in our movie. There are a lot of references in there. I’m an 80s kid and I love my 80s films so there are references to Indiana jones, or Terminator or Aliens, ET, Close Encounters, and 70s stuff like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Blade Runner – with the guy chasing them at the end howling – and Starman by John Carpenter.
And I noticed there’s the John Carpenter font in the opening credits…
Yeah. There are so many Easter Eggs and references to films I love. With this type of film, the right audience will love it – which is why it’s perfect that it’s on Shudder. It’s not for everyone but the people who like it will love it.
“Gary’s this notorious extra in South Africa – it’s this insane underdog success story”
How did it first come about? It was initially a short film, is that right?
In 2017 I shot a three-minute experimental film about a heroin addict and that was basically that – it nothing to do with aliens or anything like that. It was just a standalone short film and it went to about 60 festivals around the world and started getting all this fan art from all over, which was crazy. I never thought I was going to make it into a feature or anything like that. Where I was, before I made Fried Barry, I went through quite a hectic time. I had something wrong with my kidneys, I had an operation, I got sepsis, I nearly died, I went through a break up, my cat got cancer – I went into a depression, this dark black hole. I literally hit rock bottom. And over the years I’d come close to making films but the projects would always fade away. So, from that shitty hole I was in I thought “what’s at the top of my list of things I want to do in life?” and the answer was “make a movie”.
I’ve got all these other scripts I’ve written that would have probably been way easier to make than Fried Barry but when I got the idea for Fried Barry I just knew it was the right one to go with. I wrote a detailed scene breakdown in three days. Because of the way I wanted to make it, it had to be the right story and the right character. I rang up James [Williamson, producer] who I’d only known for a month or so at that stage and asked him if he wanted to produce and I said I was going to shoot it next month. He asked, “Why does it have to be next month?” and I said, “Because if we don’t shoot it next month it’s never gonna happen.” At that time, the way I was, I needed to make this film.
Gary Green played Barry in the short. He’s got a shedload of credits, but all non-speaking parts?
All non-speaking parts. He’s an extra so the odd time he gets a line. But when extras arrive on set, a director’ll look at them and go “Fuck, that guy’s got an interesting face we need to feature him!” This was his first proper role. Normally he’s just in the background so it’s been great for him.
Gary’s this notorious extra in South Africa – a lot of actors already knew who he was well before I asked them to be in the movie. Everyone in the film industry knows Gary Green because he’s this extra who sticks out like a sore thumb in any scene he’s in and now the crazy thing is he’s winning awards as best lead actor for Fried Barry. It’s this insane underdog success story where he’s now one of the most sought after up and coming actors in south Africa. If you’d told anyone five years ago then they would have thought you were completely insane.
You’ve got a large cast of actors playing the lowlife denizens Barry meets, with some pretty big names like Steve Wall (The Witcher, Vikings), Sean Cameron Michael (24) and Joey Cramer (Flight of The Navigator)…
The irony isn’t lost that we’ve got Gary the extra working opposite these actors who’ve been working in lead roles for years, but the movie wouldn’t have worked if we hadn’t had this amazing cast along for the ride. Because we had this very loosed, improv-based script we needed those really experienced actors to make the scenes seem real; actors of a lower calibre wouldn’t have been able to hack it. None of them auditioned for the movie, either – I chose each of them to play certain parts that I knew they’d be great at. And around 85% of them I’ve worked with before.
Was there a sense people wanted to work with the legendary Gary?
Totally. Everyone knows who he is. I’ve worked with him for about 11 years now – he’s been an extra in all my music videos. It’s funny because I was speaking to my friend Alex at the start and I said I’m making my feature next month and he was asking who I had as my lead and I said “Gary.” And he said, “Gary who?” I told him: “Gary Green” and he was, like “How is he your lead?!” And I said, “Dude he’s perfect.”
How did you go about coaxing his non-improvised performance out of him in each scene?
He’s not a trained actor, so I had to build the movie around him. I wrote a few pieces of dialogue for the actors in each scene but that was just the springboard to get into the improvisation. But even though a lot of the individual scenes were improvised, it’s not like we didn’t know what we were doing – we planned every single scene we shot, but it was the content of the scene that we experimented with in the moment. The only person who wasn’t improvising was Gary. I had to work very closely with him and he didn’t know what each scene was going to be about until he got on set. I needed that clean slate every day so he wouldn’t overthink it. I sometimes said, “OK, Gary, copy the expression on my face,” so it would help with the edit. With the right story and the right character everything just gelled together. We shot for 28 days, but over a year and a half, so that gave us time to plan – and there was a hell of a lot of planning for me and James.
That must have been a crazy 18 months for Gary – every so often there’s a knock at the door and he’s driven off to be Barry doing God knows what!
He gave it 120%. Every scene we shot he was like “Can I do it again?” and I had to tell him, “No, you got it – that was great.” On the first day I said to Gary, “You’re not here by mistake – you’re meant to be here. This is your movie. No one else could play Barry because it’s you, it’s your look.” The character, I made it for him. Even if I got the best actor in the world in, it wouldn’t work because Gary’s got this presence and this look. Nobody looks like him. So I told him not to be intimidated by all these well-known South African actors playing small roles against you – normally he’s the extra in the background. I said, “Listen to me, you’re gonna do amazing. Listen to me very carefully and I promise you people ate going to love you.”
And people do. The response has been amazing.
There’s such a buzz around the film. Winning all these awards, people saying it’s a cult classic. Even the fan art has started up again. One guy’s getting a tattoo of Fried Barry – fucking hell, that’s insane. It’s been this crazy ride.
“It’s designed so that by the end you feel like you need a shower”
It is an instant cult classic – not everyone’s going to like it but those that do love it
Fried Barry is one of those films that’s designed to make you feel uncomfortable, it’s designed to be spontaneous and unpredictable so you don’t know where it’s gonna go. It’s designed so that by the end of the film you feel like you need a shower.
Seeing Cape Town from the point of view of an alien squatting in a heroin user’s body, it makes Earth look like a dying planet. Kind of like The Junky Who Fell To Earth?
The Junky That Fell to Earth – I like that. But Cape Town is a very beautiful place but with fried Barry we’ve focused on the bleaker parts of the city that have never been shown before and probably totally fucked up the tourist trade.
Ah, but maybe there’ll be Fried Barry tours?
Yeah, and they’ll be the only tourists from now on! But the thing about Cape Town is we have a huge film and TV industry and a lot of the UK and US studio come and film here so it usually doubles as Budapest, or some beautiful exotic location, and we never see Cape Town portrayed in this way. It’s got a lot of these great, almost post-apocalyptic locations. We shot in a lot of dilapidated buildings, under highways and overpasses and in doorways. Locations like that have their own interest and beauty.
With this gutter-level view of Cape Town it acts as a sort of social commentary – was that intentional?
Not hugely, but I think the film does have a very bleak view of humanity. We’re not saying this is how we see the world but it just so happens that this is the kind of slice of life the alien sees. That’s where the interesting dichotomy comes up, where you have these awful human beings and this alien who’s learning how to function in this society and he picks up some of their bad habits as well as some of their good habits. By the end of the film he’s become a little bit more human and he’s maybe a much better human than a lot of the people we see through the course of the film.
I always thought it was funny when I came up with the idea that this alien comes down to Earth and just happens to make a really and choice of which guy’s body to inhabit and chooses this bad, fucked up drug addict. I’m sure after spending time seeing the world through Barry’s eyes the aliens just decided to head off and just let humanity live in their own filth taking drugs.
There are a lot of chemicals in the film – it’s very effectively trippy film – but the film’s also sweet…
It’s got a lot of heart. Barry’s wife is the heart of the movie. If you look at casting directors we look at actors and they put you into boxes. He looks like this, she looks like that. If you look at Gary Green, at Fried Barry, and you look at his face then you go “He’s a bad guy”, not the love interest in a romantic comedy. A bad guy. And when the movie starts he’s Bastard Barry, before he’s been possessed, you hate this guy. “How am I ever gonna like this guy and follow his journey?” But when he’s possessed, the alien is a nicer Barry than the human Barry. Fried Barry is a mash-up of genres – it’s a sci-fi/horror but there’s comedy with the dark humour and there’s even a love story between Barry and his wife, especially after alien Barry gets someone pregnant.
He even builds towards a sort of redemption.
I always like to think that, while Bastard Barry has taken a back seat while the alien is controlling his body, he’s sitting there going, “Ah, I’m such a horrible bloke – if I ever get control again I’m going to try to be better.” So it’s like he gets that second chance.
“I’ve worked my whole life to get to this point”
And the film’s become that in a way for you – would it be fair to say Fried Barry’s changed your life?
It’s definitely in the process of changing it, I think. I’ve worked my whole life to get to this point and I’ve never been in the situation that I’m in now. It’s quite interesting to be in this position and to know the movie is out there all over the world right now. I’ve been in Cape Town for 13 years and I’d say for the past decade people have known my work, my music videos, but since Fried Barry it’s gone crazy.
Do you think the pandemic has helped or hindered Fried Barry’s success?
When I went to Sitges in November the crowd absolutely loved it. I tweeted while I was there that if anyone wanted a signed copy of the movie poster then I’d be in the lobby and there were 150 people there – I wasn’t expected that at all. But Sitges was one of the few festivals where people were able to see the film in a cinema. Most of it has been virtual festivals and being interviewed by journalists like you on Zoom.
We had the world premiere at CineQuest in the States two weeks before lockdown and then Covid-19 kicked in and I thought it was going to ruin my film. But a lot of these festivals went online so instead of us getting 300 people at each screening watching it we ended up with 4,000, 5,000 people viewing it via online links for each festival. And that just boosted everything.
But what we’d like to do with some of the film festivals that supported us over the last year is to screen Fried Barry at their first post-pandemic festival, not in competition obviously, but just so we can meet the fans who supported us and we can all see Fried Barry together on the big screen.
Fried Barry is available to stream online on Shudder UK, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, or £49.99 yearly membership.