Adi Shankar is the man behind Sundance’s favorite serial killer film, The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver. The dark comedy focuses on a seemingly well-meaning guy who, unfortunately, hears the psychopathic voices of his pets in his head, who “convince” him to kill the women he likes. There’s a girl he’s trying to pursue romantically (Kendrick), but when she turns him down for a date, things begin to go south.
I was happy to speak with Shankar about his work on the film, how he got into production, and advice he has for others who are growing into their respective fields. I also asked him what it was like to be honored by GQ India.
The Voices is currently available On Demand and is in theaters now. You can also see more of Adi’s work on his YouTube page, where he uploads animated Judge Dredd cartoons to his “Bootleg Universe” miniseries.
What led you to film production?
It’s interesting, I’ve been asked that a lot recently. I think it…had to do with the way I grew up and the time period in which I grew up because film and music…you have that period between the mid-’90s and the late ’90s where music is just ubiquitous and it’s the same the top 20 boy bands and girl bands playing all over the world…At the same time, movies became the ubiquitous artform. Everyone knew who Brad Pitt was, everyone knew Keanu Reeves was, the whole world saw The Matrix[.]
I think this trajectory really started in 1994 with Speed, where all of a sudden, this random action movie is playing all over the world and doing well all over the world. All of a sudden, movies became America’s greatest cultural export. To come of age during that time period, that’s the only reality you know. I think that subconsciously led me down a path where I was channeling my creativity through film. Had I been born five or six years earlier, I might have done the music. Had I been born five or six years later, it might have been the web-based stuff…we’re really just an amalgamation of the things that influenced us growing up.
I read that The Voices premiered at Sundance and that people really like it. What can you tell me about the film?
I’ve been super fortunate to have produced a string of movies, all of which have been critically acclaimed, except for one [laughs]…The Voices, however, is slightly off-brand for me. I focus on these masculine, thinking-man action movies that are R-rated and super violent. The Voices is super violent, it is R-rated, [but] it’s a little less masculine than my other films. On top of that, it’s a serial killer movie told through the viewpoint of the serial killer. You end up with a slightly more fantastical movie than my audience would normally expect from me.
It seems a little off-brand for Ryan Reynolds as well, because he hasn’t really done serial killers before, so it’s interesting to see him take on this kind of role.
It’s funny you mention that. You have Ryan Reynolds basically playing against type-I mean, he’s played characters before that are a little goofy, but is…taking Ryan in a new direction. He’s really sincere in everything he says in all his performances. He brought a level of sincerity to the performance, whereas I feel a lesser actor would have just turned the movie into a slasher movie.
You have Marjane Satrapi, the director of the picture, basically going against type as well, and you have me doing something against type. We each brought elements of who we are into it. Ryan brought his sincerity and, obviously, he’s a great actor. The first 10 minutes of the movie lead you down the path that it’s a romantic comedy. And he brought humor to the role, which I think the movie really benefited from. Marjane, she brought the world of the movie in a way that another director, again, would have turned it into a slasher movie.
I also heard you have your acting debut in this film. Didn’t you run out of the screening because you didn’t want to see yourself on screen?
Yeah [laughs] that’s true. I just bailed at Sundance and everyone was like, “Where’d he go? He’s supposed to be doing Q&A!” I’ve acted in a number of movies since then. I acted in [sic] project with Ryan Kwanten from True Blood. Great actor. I’ve acted in a movie with Shawn Astin and a movie directed by a fabulous filmmaker called Eric England. But yes, The Voices was the first time I’ve acted professionally.
You’ve worked on so many successful films, and you’re relatively young. One thing that struck me about your career is that one would think you’d have to be older to do all this stuff, but you’ve done it before hitting 30. I was listening to an interview you did and you mentioned how success is like a lot of little successes littered with setbacks and you have to work through that to get to where you want to be. How would you advise someone out there who wants to be another Adi Shankar to get to navigate the bumpy road of success.
It takes forever to become an overnight success. Literally. It takes years to become an overnight success. I don’t think anyone has just kind of stumbled into it. I think in a lot of ways, the media does a disservice because the fairytale is better sell, the rags to riches story, the guy who went from zero to 180 overnight.
I do think that life, fundamentally, comes down to a few moments and you need to recognize when those moments are to get those opportunities. But at the same time, those opportunities aren’t going to be tectonic shifts in your life. They’re going to be slight course corrections. Hopefully one course correction leads you to another and another and another, and that becomes a career.
To me, seeing that you’ve done all of this is inspiration to me as well. It lets me know I can get to where I want to be as well.
And you know what’s interesting, too? I’ve realized just this year that you might even get what you want; it just might not come in the form you want it and it might not come on your timeline. I remember wanting to start an animation company years ago and I was like, super close to having a deal with Marvel where I could take all of Marvel’s properties and make animated movies out of them. I was like, “This is going to be awesome!” I was, like, 23 or 24 when I was working on that. Then Disney bought Marvel and the deal got cratered and that was that.
I was really bummed out because I really love animation. But, last year, I released an animated Judge Dredd for free, for the fans on YouTube, and I’m putting together my own little animation operation and getting approached with all these massive titles that I would have jumped over a barrel to adapt five, six, seven years ago. It’s funny how the opportunities come around. It comes around at a different time, in a different way, through different means, but the opportunity still presented itself.
Your success led you to be at number 20 on GQ India‘s Influential Men list. How does it feel to be recognized in that way?
That actually totally took me by surprise, because I’m usually not the guy who makes the list. Either I’m too controversial or, for whatever reason, I’m usually passed over. This wasn’t something I lobbied for…I found out about it because my mom called me at six in the morning when I was asleep…I was like “What? What are you talking about?”
It’s one of those things where you’re like, “Is this real?” but then you get up and go about your day…like I said, it’s a small victory, and all it does is create more opportunities that are tiny that, hopefully you can turn into major opportunities. Hopefully, if you get a bunch of those together, it can be life-changing.
What can fans expect next from you?
Definitely more Bootlegs…I’ve got some cool, quirky movies down the pipeline, but definitely more Bootlegs. I’m all about making stuff and throwing it on the internet. What can I say?
Photo credit: Warren Remolacio