‘The Changeling’ Director Describes Capturing ‘Painful’ Scene Inspired By Victor LaValle’s Real Childhood Experience

“As a father, those were the hardest,” Jonathan van Tulleken tells TheWrap

LaKeith Stanfield in "The Changeling" (Photo credit: Apple TV+)
LaKeith Stanfield in "The Changeling" (Photo credit: Apple TV+)

“The Changeling” director and executive producer Jonathan van Tulleken broke down how he captured a “painful” scene that was inspired by “The Changeling” author Victor LaValle’s real-life experience growing up. The scene — where Apollo Kagwa’s (LaKeith Stanfield) mother is compelled to leave her young son home alone while she goes to work — plays out in the third episode of Apple TV+ series.

Fear and uncertainty describe what a viewer might experience while watching the Stanfield-led horror-drama, “The Changeling.” But those words can also describe the experience of parenthood, which is one of the backdrops upon which “The Changeling” rests.

“There’s definitely strands of postpartum depression, how difficult is to be a mother, how difficult it is to be a Black mother,” van Tulleken told TheWrap about “The Changeling,” which was adapted from Victor LaValle’s book and carries the same title.

Tulleken, who directed Episodes 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the freshman series, had the opportunity to bring some of those raw themes to the screen, including some draw from from LaValle’s real life.

Warning: Spoilers from Episode 3 of “The Changeling” ahead

In the third episode, named “*,” Apollo’s mother Lillian Kagwa (Alexis Louder), is forced to leave toddler-aged Apollo alone at home while she heads out to work on the weekend, which was a punishment given to her by her boss after she turned down his numerous advances.

Before taking off, she leaves Apollo with several kisses, hugs, a smile, a thumbs up and a TV to keep him entertained during her hours-long shift. Exhaling her worries and inhaling her confidence in her son, she closes her apartment door. When she returns, Apollo is just as she left him, and Lillian’s relieved herself and viewers of their anxiety.

As uneasy as it might have been for you watching, it was just as terrifying for van Tulleken — who’s a father himself — to direct.

“Talk about painful scenes…I think that, as a father, those were the hardest,” van Tulleken told TheWrap. “The idea of leaving my 4-year-old alone, at home, which happened to Victor, that was rooted in his real experience, you know, just to have the TV on…And that being the reality of someone who has to work. It wasn’t that [Lillian] didn’t love him. It was, like, desperately painful, and it’s terrible for both of them. The 4-year-old doesn’t really understand; his mum did what she had to do.”

Van Tulleken went, adding that he wanted to emulate the essence of parental challenges for watchers.

“I think it was….trying to capture the sadness, trying to capture the pathos of that, trying to, you know, really feel those moments and try to express somehow, visually, what I felt as a parent, which is just, God, the vulnerability of your children, but also the things you have to do sometimes as a parent, to look after them.”

He continued: “I was really helped by Adina [Porter], LaKeith and Malcolm [Barrett].

The eight-part drama, which is co-executive produced by LaKeith dropped the show’s first three episodes on AppleTV+ on Sept. 8, the day of the show’s debut. Other cast members include Clark Backo, Samuel T. Herring and Jared Abrahamson.


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