Few have seen the cloistered politics of a witches’ coven, and “King Knight” serves to show there’s a lot more comedy and dancing than one might expect. This modern and absurd comedy posits a simple solution for overcoming self-acceptance and fear in relationships: Just try it out, man.
“King Knight” is written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., who sheds a less anarchic light on Los Angeles witch culture and dishes laughs without a hint of cynicism. The coven’s leaders Thorn and Willow (Matthew Gray Gubler and Angela Sarafyan) play as earnest relationship therapists for their fellow witches before succumbing to their own sticky pasts.
The cast of “King Knight” is stocked with comedic heavyweights. Andy Milonakis, Nelson Franklin, and Johnny Pemberton feature in roles as non-traditional witches and learn to find distance from the machines within.
Variety spoke with Bates Jr. ahead of “King Knight’s” screening at Fantasia.
What inspired you to tell the story of a modern coven? How are witches misconstrued in the public eye?
I had been sent a horror script about an evil witch and I didn’t think it was right for me. But it did get me thinking about how witches (real-life witches) are some of the sweetest, kindest people I know. I wanted to make something light-hearted to cheer myself up and decided to make a movie about a coven of witches and have them be the protagonists. I grew up in the south where the very notion of witchcraft is considered evil. So I wanted to show witches as regular human beings and treat them the same way I’d treat any characters in a comedy. I even had some friends who are witches read the script just to make sure they felt it was all in good fun. Hopefully the movie wins some viewers over. At the end of the day we’re all searching for answers to the same questions.
In “King Knight” the members of the coven have several scenes where they riff on absurd topics – did the actors improvise much in these scenes? What was your approach when writing for this film?
I’m not a big fan of improv when I’m directing – I find things tend to get messy and I lose sight of the point of the scene. The only scene with any real improv in “King Knight” is the Uber ride from L.A. to Vegas. The actress in the car had not previously acted before so it helped her ease into things. I told Matthew and Ale to pretend they were in a car together for five hours and only talked about lasagna the entire time.
How did you decide on the music and mood for “King Knight”?
I decided on the music as I was writing the script – quite literally listening to “witch house” music playlists every morning before I started writing. I had the song picked out that Matthew performs his dance to before even starting to write the script.
“King Knight” has an impressive cast with a flowing comedic dynamic. Do you think the concept could be extended for television? Are you planning anything more for Thorn and Willow’s coven?
I wrote a treatment for an animated series – which I thought would be fun considering Nickelodeon cartoons were a big inspiration on the film. The cast is totally up for it.