Ohio's Donald Ray Pollock On Netflix Debut Of 'Devil All The Time'

Ohio writer Donald Ray Pollock sits on the steps of his home in Chillicothe
Donald Ray Pollock on the steps of his home in Chillicothe [David C. Barnett / ideastream]
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Donald Ray Pollock won international acclaim for his 2011 debut novel, “The Devil All the Time,” a grim and darkly humorous yarn set in his native southern Ohio. This gothic tale is now a film with an all-star cast that premieres this month on Netflix. The story starts with a father and son holding a prayer service in the woods.

Bill Skarsgård and Michael Banks Repeta in "The Devil All the Time" [Netflix]

Willard eased himself down on the high side of the log, and motioned for his son to kneel beside him in the dead soggy leaves. Unless he had whiskey running through his veins, Willard came to the clearing every morning and evening to talk to God. Arvin didn't know which was worse, the drinking or the praying. As far back as he could remember, it seemed that his father had fought the devil all the time.  - From “The Devil All the Time” by Donald Ray Pollock.

Pollock and his wife, Patsy, live in a big, sprawling house perched on a bluff overlooking Chillicothe, about an hour south of Columbus, and what remains of the former Mead paper mill with its iconic smokestack jutting into the sky.

“That was a huge part of my life, not just because I worked there, but because my dad worked there, and my grandfather worked there,” he said. “Back in the day, it was the best and biggest employer around here.”

“The Devil All the Time” is largely set in Chillicothe and the nearby town of Knockemstiff, where Pollock grew-up. Certain scenes from the book and the film take their inspiration from this place.

“I do remember when I was a kid, up on a hill behind our house lived a very religious man who had an orchard up there,” Pollock said. “And I can remember people saying that he went out and prayed in the woods every evening, I think after supper. And sometimes, if the wind was just right, we could hear him down in Knockemstiff praying. He was yelling pretty loudly, I guess, so God could hear him.”

In addition to tapping such memories, Pollock infuses his story with the speech patterns he’s known all his life.

“My characters are all, I guess, what you would consider working class,” he said. “I worked in a paper mill for 32 years. I listen to a lot of guys talking, you know, and I know how it sounds.”

Producer Randall Poster was a big fan of Pollock's book and secured the movie rights for director Antonio Campos. Campos and his brother, Paolo, wrote the screenplay and even ran drafts by the author.

“I mean, I didn't really have a lot of advice,” Pollock said. “I don't know how to make a movie. I had never read a screenplay before. And then they came up with the idea that they wanted to have a narrator, and he asked me if I would do that. So, you know, I agreed. I thought, 'well, you know, this is the closest I'm ever going to come to being in a movie.'”

After seeing the finished product, Pollock wondered why they didn’t choose a more polished voice for the film, like Morgan Freeman. Still, he’s impressed with what the filmmakers have accomplished.

Trailer for "The Devil All the Time' [Netflix]

“I have to say that, when I saw it, it was like, 'wow,'” he said. “I would have never believed that it was going to be, you know, this close to the book. It's definitely a dark movie and it's not for everyone, but I think he did a heck of a job.”

Pollock’s two other books, 2016’s “The Heavenly Table” and a collection of short stories about his hometown “Knockemstiff” (2008), have both been optioned for films, though he hasn’t heard anything about the status of that lately. Perhaps this month’s Netflix debut of “The Devil All the Time” will move the process along. 

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