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In director Jonas Cuaron's Desierto, the audience never really learns much about Sam -- the villainous character played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Paired up in most of his on screen moments with just a dog as a screen partner, Sam doesn't really have anyone to whom he delivers big bouts of exposition, and instead just comes across as an immigrant-hating serial killer who hunts border-crossers in the desert. It turns out this wasn't always the case, as there were originally backstory moments built into the role -- but they were ultimately removed because the director and actor felt they undercut the character and were unnecessary.
With Desierto arriving in theaters this weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeffrey Dean Morgan during a Los Angeles press day for the movie -- and one subject I broached in the conversation was his character's backstory. Going in, I was curious if the actor had done some homework with his role to flesh it out beyond the information in the script -- but he surprised me by telling me about some exposition scenes that were edited out of the film. Said Morgan,
He had a phone call to his wife, and then there's a scene, [where he talks] to one of the immigrants he ends up shooting. He explains, 'You fuckers come into this country and you take my job.' It's this whole thing.
However, as those who have seen Desierto will be able to attest, those scenes didn't wind up making it into the movie. Instead, a firm decision was made about the character soon after Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jonas Cuaron first screened an early version of the film together:
And then we saw a rough cut of it. I remember sitting there watching it with Jonas [Cuaron], and I was like, 'It's just not necessary. It's more effective - the less he talks, the scarier it is.' And, of course, he's smart enough, he'd already come to that conclusion. He was just being polite. And I think that what we see now, is just a much more effective version. Sam doesn't need justification. The kind of human being that he is is enough. He's a monster.
It certainly goes against stereotypes to think about a Hollywood actor asking for some of his most dialogue-heavy scenes to be cut from the film, but that's the exact situation that we have here. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan is absolutely, 100 percent correct. Desierto is very much built like a slasher movie, and keeping an air of mystery around the killer makes him just that much more disturbing. Watching the movie, you can't be entirely certain why it is that Sam has decided to hunt and kill people, and what you imagine as an audience member may very well be much scarier than anything that the filmmakers could simply explain in dialogue.