Adam Salky on luck, secrets and his new thriller ‘Intrusion’

Credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix
Credit: Jeong Park

Adam Salky brings us a fresh take on home invasion with his new thriller Intrusion. Adam made his feature film directorial debut with the 2009 drama Dare and followed it up with I Smile Back in 2015.

Starring Freida Pinto (Hillbilly Elegy) and Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation), the thriller features a married couple who move to a small town and suffer a home invasion that leaves the wife traumatized and suspicious that those around her might not be who they seem. The film was shot in the midst of the Coronavirus epidemic in Albuquerque, NM. 

Check out my interview with Adam.

How does it feel now that it’s coming out and people are gonna get to see it?

Adam: Well, I can’t wait for people to see this film, we’ve been working on it for over a year, and Chris Barling, who wrote the script, wrote it almost six years ago. So it’s been a long journey. Can’t wait to hear what people think.

What was the timeline for this film?

Adam: We shot this film in the fall of 2020. It was one of the few films that were filmed during the pandemic at that time. I don’t have an exact number but I believe that there were approximately a dozen, perhaps a little more films that actually were able to get into production at that stage in the pandemic and Intrusion was one of them. This is an unusual part of film history and there were a lot of hoops that had to be jumped through to make that happen. One of the things I’ve learned over my filmmaking career is that it’s important to never get too high, and never get to low. Making a film during the pandemic is a real exercise in that and in shifting circumstances and, just being able to keep your head down and focus on the work. Thankfully, we had just an incredible production team, health and safety team, and there was rigorous testing. There was PPE, there were health and safety managers on set poking us to make sure that we stayed six feet apart. And we really bonded a lot more and a lot quicker as a team because of it. Everyone was going through the same thing and trying to be very careful and keep each other safe while making something we could be proud of. And the actors, in particular, Freida and Logan were so game and so willing to just get out there and tell the story. We really couldn’t have done it without them.

What was it like working with them? They both seem to just mesh really well together.

Adam: I count myself as one of the luckiest directors to have this cast. Freida and Logan are both incredibly sensitive collaborators. They were so engaged and deep in their characters. Freida obviously had such a breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire, which is also a breakout film and that performance really lodged in my mind and I kind of filed it away. She has a real warmth to her which is important to the Meera character, who’s also kind of a child and adolescent therapist. And I’m also really interested in surprises with casting. One of the cool things about this film is that Freida has never done a role in this genre before so you’re gonna see a new side of her. Logan, also, is just a really unique actor who’s very much a chameleon in a lot of his roles, he’s always different. And that was really important for Intrusion because the Henry character is someone that we’re trying to kind of get a read on in this movie.

Credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix
Oh, I’m so glad you said that because from the minute I saw him I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I’m supposed to like you, like I do, because you’re a really awesome husband, But there’s something off.’

Adam: You’re touching on really the cinematic core of the movie, which is the terrifying unknowability of people, and how there’s nothing scarier than that blind spot with those that you’re closest to. And it’s something that really fascinates me and it’s one of the reasons that I signed on to do the movie. I’ve always been really interested in the different sides of people’s personalities and the masks that people wear in life, either to get through life like in I Smile Back, one of my previous films, or to figure out your identity like in Dare, my first feature. And this one is even more complicated than that, it’s sort of the idea of secrets and unknowability and how deep that rabbit hole goes.

You signed on to direct this film, can you explain how that came to be? Were you approached, did you approach them?

Adam: I met one of the producers, Josh Weinstock, about 12 years ago, when I first moved to Los Angeles, and we had a meeting and had a great conversation but there wasn’t really any business to be done at that point in time, but I did make a mental note of him, just as being someone who I really thought seemed like a great producer. And it turns out that he did too because flash forward to the spring of 2020 and Intrusion was a movie that Josh was producing, and it didn’t have a director. So, when he contacted my agent to see who could possibly direct the movie, he mentioned me and Josh said, ‘oh yeah, I remember him,’ that basically opened the door for me to read the script. I was immediately drawn to it. I just was on the edge of my seat, reading the script and I couldn’t tell where it was going to go, which hopefully is the experience of watching the film because there’s quite a few surprises in this movie. I also was personally drawn to it because my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer around the same age as the Meera character. That’s a very important part of who she is and why they’re in this small town because they’ve moved there to kind of reconnect now that she’s in remission. And I felt that the Meera’s journey from traumatized victim to empowered survivor really mirrored the journey of one of my best friends who, unfortunately, struggled with this illness as well but ultimately overcame it and became a much stronger person in the end.

I want to talk about the house a little bit. Was this built for the movie or did you happen to stumble upon this masterpiece?

Adam: I’m glad you like the house because it really was a character in the story, and I want to say kismet that we found it. We found it on location in Albuquerque, which is not really known for modern architecture. It’s actually known for an architectural style called Pueblo Revival, which is great and I love it, but it wasn’t what I wanted for the movie. Logan’s character is a very stylish architect and I wanted this dream home that he built for them to be very unique, architectural, and modern, but we were having a difficult time finding it. One day, the cinematographer Eric Lin went to the grip rental house and he was just asking the owner if he knew of any modern houses in Albuquerque and the owner said, ‘oh yeah my friend owns this modern house.’ Cut to two hours later, the whole team descended upon this house and it really had that special quality and it also had secrets and an unknowability as well, because there were some interesting quirks to the design. There were hallways that sort of went to surprising places and there were closets that you would open and there would just be a wall there. There were things about the house that you just couldn’t fully understand and that really connected dramatically with the story. Thankfully, the family allowed us to shoot there. 

Credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix
That’s funny how things work out like that, like it was just perfect.

Adam: There’s a saying in filmmaking about, I’m gonna butcher this saying, but it’s essentially that you have to prepare as much as possible, but if you’re lucky, sometimes you get happy accidents when you’re filming. And that actually happened here with Intrusion Usually that phrase ‘happy accident’ is related to things that happen  with the performance with the actors, but in this particular instance it was the sort of the happy accident of finding that house.

In directing this film, did you use anything as inspiration for how you approached filming?

Adam: I always work to come up with a unique visual design for every film that I make. And this film was the same. I was inspired by some paintings by an artist named Lucian Freud. They had a really haunting quality to them. They’re paintings of people kind of looking like they have secrets. And then there was also another painting by George Frederic Watts, called Found Drowned. That really had the color palette of the film in it for me, which was a mixture of warmer tones for Meera and cooler tones for Henry and the house. So there’s a lot of design work that goes into the making of any film, and it’s done in collaboration with me, the cinematographer, the production designer, and the costume designer… Other movies are fair game, of course, and it can be very helpful when you are in pre production on a film to talk about other movies to help people understand the tone of the film that you’re setting out to make, but I also like to look in the photography world and the world of painting and art for inspiration. Often those ideas make their way into the movie. Usually when I’m in early prep on a film, one of the first things I do is go to the biggest, best museums closest to me and just walk around and let things sink in and see if anything I see feels like the characters or feels like the themes of the movie. If I find something, that often becomes a conversation with, for example, the cinematographer about how the lighting can have that same tone as the painting and how that can relate to the characters and what’s going on thematically in the movie.

Did you know of the paintings that you used beforehand or did you find them in a museum like you just said?

Adam: One of the interesting quirks of making this film, of course, is that it took place during the pandemic, so I couldn’t go to a museum. Everything was closed. These came from a mixture of collaborative reference discussions with Eric Lin, the cinematographer. He presented me with the Lucian Freud paintings and I thought that he really nailed it. But you have conversations with your key collaborators and then you share ideas with them and they come back and they share ideas with you. So that came from him and Found Drowned was something that I found searching online in, I believe, a Getty Museum database, which was open to the public.

Provided by Netflix
Is there anything else that you would like to say about Intrusion or about anything else you have coming up?

Adam: Yeah, I’m so excited for people to see this movie. At a time when people were feeling claustrophobic out in the world, you know, if you think you felt trapped during the pandemic, wait until you see this film. It hopefully will take you on an entertaining ride that will ultimately make you feel better about breaking out into the world now. And I’m excited about another project that I have coming up. It’s another thriller, you could call it the mirror image of Intrusion. It’s about sort of the perfect family that gets terrorized by a very mysterious character who, it turns out, is very connected to them in surprising ways. I’m excited to live in and make films in this sophisticated thriller space for a little while. 

Intrusion is now streaming on Netflix!