A politically-charged serial killer thriller set in 1953 Soviet Russia, CHILD 44 chronicles the crisis of conscience for secret police agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), who loses status, power and home when he refuses to denounce his own wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), as a traitor. Exiled from Moscow to a grim provincial outpost, Leo and Raisa join forces with General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman) to track down a serial killer who preys on young boys.
A sumptuous period thriller encompassing themes of power, love, betrayal and murder, Child 44 is loosely based on the crimes of real-life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. Also known as “The Butcher of Rostov,” Chikatilo was convicted of murdering and mutilating 52 women and children in Soviet Russia in the early 1950s. Novelist Tom Rob Smith’s fictionalized version of the grisly case met with resounding critical and popular acclaim upon publication in 1998.
The author’s fans include Oscar®-winning filmmaker Ridley Scott. Galvanized by Child 44’s rich characterizations and epic scope, Scott arranged nine years ago to meet the novelist at his London production headquarters.
Scott initially intended to direct Child 44 himself. Then he saw Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s 2010 crime thriller Snabba Cash (aka Easy Money). The highest-grossing movie in Swedish history, Snabba Cash showcased Espinosa’s inventively staged action sequences and stylish editing. “Ridley liked the movie and invited me dinner,” recalls Espinosa. Once Espinosa signed on to direct, he recruited Oscar®-nominated screenwriter Richard Price (The Color of Money, The Wanderers).
To anchor an adventure of such grand historical scope, the filmmakers needed an actor capable of handling the script’s demanding emotional and physical range, from quiet dramatic moments to brutal action sequences. They also needed someone who could subtly express the protagonist’s inner conflicts as he struggles to find his humanity in an inhuman situation. They found their Leo Demidov in British actor Tom Hardy. Hardy says he was attracted to the project by the moral complexity of his character—and the script as a whole.
During production on Child 44, Hardy burnished his reputation for meticulous preparation and intense performance. “Tom came in the first day with a very clear idea of who Leo was,” says Espinosa. “He manages, with the subtlest expressions, to convey the inner emotions and uncertainty of a man who has been trained his whole life to avoid showing emotion or uncertainty, and who lives in a society where honesty can get you killed. And he does it all with a great Russian accent.”
Hardy was thrilled to reunite with his The Drop co-star Noomi Rapace, who plays his wife Raisa in this film. Producer Ridley Scott introduced Rapace to Child 44 in Los Angeles when he cast her in his 2012 sci-fi epic Prometheus. When she learned Espinosa would be directing, Rapace was thrilled. To understand Raisa’s timidity, Rapace imagined the paranoia experienced by ordinary citizens on a daily basis during the Stalinist regime.
Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, who first worked with Espinosa in Snabba Cash, enjoyed the challenge of developing treacherous secret-police bureaucrat Vasili as a three-dimensional character.
Child 44’s 15-week shoot took place over the summer of 2013 in the Czech Republic. The capital city of Prague doubled for Cold War-era Moscow. Prague’s beautiful old National Theatre and the Rudolfinum, a neo-Renaissance concert hall, were used to shoot scenes in which the elite group of MGB officers and their wives watch “Swan Lake” performed by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. Additionally, two-time Academy Award®-nominated production designer Jan Roelfs oversaw the creation of 125 sets for scenes staged at Prague’s famed Barrandov Studios.