Cabinet of Curiosities Director Ana Lily Amirpour Talks Blending Humor With Horror for Netflix Anthology

Ever since her debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in 2014, filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour has carved a niche for herself in the genre world, as the stories she tells often defy definition. While they often embrace premises familiar to the horror world, including vampires, cannibals, and telepaths, Amirpour injects plenty of other elements to set her stories apart from peers to ensure that every narrative she offers is its own ambitious experience. Amirpour's latest offering is the episode "The Outside" from Netflix's Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities, which debuts on the streamer on October 28th.

Netflix describes the series, "Guillermo del Toro -- the master of horror -- presents a collection of unprecedented and genre-defining stories that will challenge our traditional notions of horror. Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities is an anthology of sinister stories, told by some of today's most revered horror creators -- including the directors of The BabadookSpliceMandy, and many more."

Amirpour's "The Outside" is described, "Kate Micucci (The Little Hours) and Martin Starr (Silicon Valley) lead an episode written by Haley Z. Boston (Brand New Cherry Flavor), based on a short story by comic book author Emily Carroll, and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)." caught up with Amirpour to talk her connection to del Toro, developing the episode, and returning to fan-favorite worlds.

(Photo: Netflix) Before this project even took off, what was your own connection to Guillermo del Toro? What was your own personal connection to him as just a filmmaker and a storyteller and what did it mean to have him come to you to get involved in this project?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Well, Guillermo and I became friends when I was editing The Bad Batch. I had heard that he was a fan of my first film, and I reached out because I needed to get eyes on my cut while I was cutting. And my films are not ... I mash genres, and I do fantastical, surrealist storytelling. That's not that common to come by, so to find a filmmaker who you feel would understand what you're trying to do and be able to have input, it's difficult to do. Guillermo is the first, number one. I just thought, "Well, if he would watch a cut, that would be the ideal person." He was super cool, watched the movie. He loved what I was doing and just was encouraging, and we just became friends.

He's just a really generous person and artist, and he really just wants to push more. He wants to push the artist and the art forward. It's a really rare thing because I think making films is so much work and so hard for ... Because he's a prolific filmmaker, so when you have someone who takes time and really just gets so stoked. He gets excited and pumped on seeing people doing different things. I feel like he really just understood me in a really deep way, and then he told me, I guess it was last summer, he told me he was doing this anthology and that he had one story that he thought he would love me to do if I connected to it. He had a script, but he said right at the beginning, he said, "Anything you want to do to it, whatever you want to change, however you want to do it and execute it, absolutely no limits." Completely had my back.

I read the script, and I totally connected with the core idea. It was a really fantastic script. Then I just really made it my own. For me, this really does feel like my fourth film because in every way it's completely ... I've done a lot of TV, and sometimes you step inside of a format that's already -- certain things have been decided. With this, it's all completely the story I wanted to tell. If I could, I would have Guillermo produce all my sh-t. It was the ideal situation to be in, really.

What I like so much about all of your projects, and then also that applies to Cabinet of Curiosities, is there seems to be no notes from executives. There seems to be nobody else saying, "Eh, you've got to tone this down," or, "The comedy is too much," or this or that or the other. Do you personally feel like you ever, as you're developing a project, that you almost have to restrain yourself? Do you ever tell yourself, "I'm going too far, I'm pushing too much in this direction," or is it a much more just an organic process and whoever's on board is on board?

I don't think it's so much that I don't take input. I just think I'm very careful and selective about who I would get suggestions or notes from. I think whenever I'm making something, it's at a certain stage when it's a script, but then once you get the actors that you're going to have playing it, they are a certain, specific soul and spirit and energy. Me and Kate and Martin have rehearsals and Dan [Stevens] have rehearsals. Then based on how they play and what they feel like, we would tape it and change it, and I would rewrite the script around ... I love to do a lot of rehearsals. Even when I was rewriting the script, Guillermo was really the only person I was getting, if you want to call it, feedback from.

But, really, what he would say is, "Push farther. If you feel like you want to go farther, go farther." So I think as long as I understand why I'm in telling a certain story with my movies, I understand why I want to tell the story, that's really what I'm listening to. With "The Outside," I understood this was a maddening satire about the agony of our ego and how we can be our own worst enemy. and I just deeply connected to that.

I was definitely huffing on movies like Death Becomes Her and American Psycho, which are these really amplified, madhouse satires, because there's a fun in that. I think there's a fun in getting told that message where you're really with these people that are basically torturing themselves in a way. How do you go on that ride and have it be fun? I think it can be a little bit oppressive. It's a different horror. I think, for me, telling this story in a way that there's a little bit of playfulness, because life can be agony, but it's always a dark comedy at the same time, for me. 

Dan with The Guest and then you with Girl Walks Home were on the 2014 festival circuit, Sundance and all that, you guys have a history together. So I'm excited that you got to finally collaborate on something like this. 

I worked with him on an episode of Legion, too. That's where we met. I loved The Guest. The Guest is one of my favorite movies. I love that movie. Then we worked on Legion. Dan is one of those actors I love. He's one of those chameleons, he's really like, I equate him on the scale of what Johnny Depp was doing earlier in his career where he could do anything. He could play deranged characters and just go to all different places, a huge spectrum. So Dan is really special. 

You'd worked with Dan before, but Kate and Martin have a comedic background. Are those two people who were, you'd crossed paths with them and just were looking for a way to utilize them? Was it a more traditional casting process of just having the script and then going out to people? How did Kate and Martin then get involved?

Kate was the first person. There were a few ideas sent to me. There's something about her that is just so warm and genuine and likable. I know that she has this lighthearted gentleness to her, and I think that's necessary, because in the story, Stacy does some really horrible things. In a way you could, I think, become really uncomfortable with someone like that if you weren't completely on her side, so there's just something about her expressive eyes and her face and just her soul. We met and it was actually Kate, in the first draft of the script, the ending was different, and Kate was the one that was like, "Wouldn't she do that?" It was so obvious, and it was crazy that it didn't end that way, and so I rewrote the ending.

The point being, we met, and she just connected so deeply to Stacy on lots of different levels. We both had, when we were growing up, felt like the odd duck out in so many ways. And with Martin, too, I'm always attracted to actors that have a comedic sensibility, but not this broad ... It's a certain kind of thing. It's a certain kind of understanding of the humor in life, in melodrama, that I feel like is more honest in a way to what life feels like to me. I feel like it's an absurd, dark comedy almost all the time. They're just wonderful, and then to put them in this different environment and story and let them just lead the way, I think just makes it super enjoyable.

Every time one of your stories comes out, it goes in directions I never would've expected. You're always pushing yourself into new arenas. However, I think the last time I talked to Sheila Vand, she mentioned you and her often talk about reuniting for continuing with The Girl. Is that at all of interest to you given how often you're venturing into new territories of actually returning to tell more live-action stories with The Girl in the future?

It's definitely something I'm open to. I've had that feeling about that movie. I've had that feeling about The Bad Batch. I actually have that feeling about Mona Lisa [and the Blood Moon]. I feel like I set off these worlds and these characters, and the way my films are, they tend to be, I don't want to say just open-ended, but it's not like I'm coming to one finite conclusion. It's more like presenting a certain universe and characters that you feel they continue on. 

I'm totally open to continuing any of those stories if the right circumstances existed for that to happen. It's also a thing where, when you're a storyteller, I'm a writer, too, and I'm not writing every time. In this case, it was great to work with Haley, her script was so awesome, and then rewrote it and made it curated to me.

I'm writing another new thing right now, so it's like when you're a writer, you have to write. When the idea is there, you have to write it. It's not like I can set it aside and go do a sequel. If there's an idea, it becomes the pressing, most important thing, and I just have to get it out and finish it. Then there's only so much juice you have. It's a lot of energy to put out the script, so it all just depends. If the timing aligned and it was the right circumstance, I absolutely would do it. 

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities hits Netflix on October 28th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.