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The Real Reason For Certain Characters Changes In The Devil All The Time - Exclusive

Adapting a novel for the big screen is never a walk in the park, especially when you're dealing with a plot that features an ensemble of complex characters who have interconnecting storylines that span multiple decades. During the novel-to-screenplay translation process, screenwriters sometimes make alterations to the narrative that make more sense for the cinematic experience — while other elements sometimes get added, slightly altered, or scrapped entirely. That was the task at hand for writer-director Antonio Campos (Christine), who had the duty of adapting The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock for the big screen. 

Of course, writing the screenplay is only the first major hurdle of the process. Campos then had to flesh out every little detail — from authentic-looking sets and era-appropriate wardrobe to props, cars, musical cues, and, most importantly, pitch-perfect casting to bring the characters to life. However, even if a movie adaptation totally succeeds at capturing the essence of the source material, or if the novel's author gives his stamp of approval, filmmakers often have to deal with purists who dissect the finished product. In many cases, it's always the infinite echo-chamber of "the book was better."

How does Campos feel about this? He opened up in an exclusive interview with Looper, explaining some of the character modifications from The Devil All the Time book to the movie.

The film digs deeper into the psyche of Sandy

When it comes to Campos, he too is a big fan of the original novel by Pollock. While he and his brother, The Devil All the Time film co-writer Paulo Campos, did have the creative liberty to make some changes they felt were necessary, they both ultimately wanted nothing more than to do the novel justice. 

"My brother co-wrote it with me. We loved the book, so we wanted to capture the spirit of the book and what we loved about it," said Campos. "So, we were conscious of being faithful to that and capturing the essence of the characters and the stories and the themes and the way it spoke about those themes, but we didn't feel trapped by the book. We didn't feel that we were obligated to play every scene the way it played out in the book, or set every scene in the same setting, or sort of illustrate every character the way they might've been in the book."

For those who have already watched The Devil All The Time on Netflix, it's very apparent that the soul of the story is Alvin Russell, played by Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming). Another central character is Carl Henderson, played by Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), who poses as your everyday struggling photographer ... except he has a rather diabolical side hobby. Let's just say that that Carl doesn't specialize in headshots, but severed-head shots. He uses the sex appeal of his complicit, temptress wife Sandy (Riley Keough) to lure men — usually unsuspecting hitchhikers — and they're persuaded to engage in risqué photoshoots that end in bloodshed.

While Carl is certainly present in the film and plays a pivotal role, his wife Sandy was put under the microscope and fleshed out a bit more for the silver-screen adaptation.

"In the book, it's almost like the narrative is focused more on Carl and his internal process. But Paulo and I were way more interested in Sandy," explained Campos. "It wasn't necessarily that we changed Sandy from the book, we just kind of got in her head more."

Lee Bodecker is brought more into focus in The Devil All the Time film adaptation

In both the novel and movie, Sandy's brother is sheriff Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan), a corrupt cop who's well aware of his sister's horrible atrocities but chooses to turn a blind eye to them. There are details about his character that are barely glossed over in the book, so Campos also wanted to bring some of those elements more into the spotlight in the Devil All the Time film. He even had the blessing from original author Pollock. 

"There was the periphery of the Bodecker storyline that had a lot of stuff that we were kind of digging, so we that brought into focus," said Campos. "This underbelly — this guy that Bodecker is taking money from — that's alluded to in the book, but there's not a scene where that necessarily plays out. But we were taking cues from Donald, and we were just taking cues from the book. We felt like if we were faithful to the book and captured the essence of the book, ultimately Donald would dig it too — and he did."

The Devil All the Time is available to stream on Netflix now.