John Patton Ford Interview: Emily The Criminal

John Patton Ford is the writer and director of Emily the Criminal. Starring Aubrey Plaza as the titular character, Emily the Criminal follows Plaza as she goes deep into the Los Angeles criminal underworld. Saddled with student debt and working a tiresome service industry job, Emily feels no choice but to try out something new when presented with the opportunity. This leads her to meet Youcef (Theo Rossi), a seasoned criminal who shows her the ropes.

While this sparks a relationship between the two, they also end up entangled in a mess that they may not make it out of. Emily the Criminal also stars Gina Gershon, Bernardo Badillo, Jonathan Avigdori.


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Screen Rant sat down with Ford to discuss Emily the Criminal, including why it resonates today, the trend it predicted in 2022 shows and movies, and more.

Aubrey Plaza Emily The Criminal

Screen Rant: The word timely is thrown around a lot these days, but Emily the Criminal feels timeless in a way, too. What made you want to tell this story?

John Patton Ford: Just my own life. I got out of school with a tremendous amount of debt, I had a really difficult time finding a job. And I felt really scared. I had a lot of anxiety. And I wasn't alone. So many people feel that same thing. Like half the country. And so I thought, Well, why has no movie ever honored that feeling that we all have and that fear? So that's kind of where the initial thing came from. But then I wanted it to be fun, and I wanted it to move and so it's a crime movie.

This year there have been so many scammer shows, but Emily the Criminal feels like the antithesis of that in a lot of ways. It's not this glamorous story, and it predates these shows, too. Do you have any thoughts on that trend?

John Patton Ford: Well, I think that's based on quality of life in the United States. I think audiences don't know how to do the math in their own lives. They have all this student debt to pay off. The hurdle to getting over to homeownership is impossible for the majority of Americans at this point, especially millennials and young people. So we feel great release and great gratification watching the shows about people who actually break the rules to get what they want. Because so often we feel like that must be the only way. What else can we be expected to do? I think that's where that's all coming from. Emily the Criminal is probably dirtier and like, raunchier than those shows, but it's I think it's coming from the same jam.

With this being your first major feature, was there anything that surprised you about the process or any particular challenges you faced?

John Patton Ford: This movie put me in the dirt. It was tough. I mean, we had like 20 days to shoot the movie. Very little money. And it's tough to get a movie like this made. It's small, not a studio picture. It's not a franchise, and you're just making it by hook or by crook. The hardest part was just getting it made in a short amount of time. That's the toughest thing. It takes time. So when you're like, shooting, shooting, shooting an insane amount of material. But that was the hardest part. I'm like, still tired and it was a year ago.

I like how the movie comes full circle with Emily. Why did you think it was important to see Emily where she ends up at the end of the movie?

John Patton Ford: I can't say too much, because I don't want to give it away. But I didn't want it to be like a tragic morality tale. I wanted it to be ultimately about success. And it's kind of a coming-of-age story about someone discovering who they are and what they're good at, and what they're probably going to continue to do. And the whole social side of it and criminal side of it is, that's like dressing. I wanted her to end up in a place where we feel like she's become herself. And that's all we were watching. It's just someone becoming themselves. I hope anyway.

Emily the Criminal Synopsis

Aubrey Plaza in Emily the Criminal

Saddled with student debt and unable to find work, a college graduate becomes involved in a credit card scam, acting as a dummy shopper and buying increasingly risky products with stolen credit cards.

Check out our other interview with Emily the Criminal stars Aubrey Plaza & Theo Rossi.

Emily the Criminal is currently playing in theaters.