Guy Pearce admitted that he had trouble getting the accent of the Reverend right, who is supposed to be Dutch. He called it one of the hardest accents in the world, but worked hard to get as close as he could, hoping that Dutch audiences would forgive him if it did not sound completely right.
Carice van Houten and Guy Pearce became romantically involved on the set. They missed the movie's premiere at the Venice Film Festival because their son, Monte Pearce, had been born just five days before (director Martin Koolhoven nicknamed him 'the Brimbaby').
The movie's chapters would originally follow each other much faster. It was composer Junkie XL who suggested to put a few seconds of black screen in between, in order to give the audience some time to breathe.
Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson were supposed to star as Liz and Samuel respectively, but got replaced by Dakota Fanning and Kit Harington just before shooting was supposed to begin. Wasikowska backed out of the production due to "unforeseen personal circumstances". When one of the movie's financiers subsequently pulled out, the movie was nearly bankrupted before any footage was shot, since crew and equipment had already been hired and complete sets had been built. When Guy Pearce took the plane to come to Europe, he took a huge risk, because the financing was not completely in place. However, he had been very enthusiastic about his Reverend character since meeting with director Martin Koolhoven, and his presence was a deciding factor in securing the rest of the budget. Within a few days, Wasikowska was replaced by Fanning (who had already been considered for the part, but had availability problems before), but then Pattinson suddenly backed out. Luckily, Harington was prepared to cut his holiday short, leaving him only a few days to get to the set and prepare for filming. In a 2017 interview, Robert Pattinson stated he had backed out because he thought the movie would be canceled after Wasikowska pulled out, and that by the time the production got back on track again, his schedule was too tight because of his involvement in The Lost City of Z (2016). He said that it was "his own, stupid fault" and that he regretted not doing the movie.
Director Martin Koolhoven had been preparing the movie for 5 years, and had invested some of his own money in it. A cancellation would mean that he would be financially ruined himself, and he would lose the rights to his own screenplay. When funding for the movie almost fell through at the eleventh hour, he had to go to the hospital with symptoms of a heart attack. Fortunately, it turned out to be a panic attack from all the stress. Koolhoven maintains that although it may have seemed in the media that making Brimstone was a living hell (also due to some last-minute cast replacements), once the biggest hurdles had been taken, he had the time of his life filming his dream project with a wonderful cast and crew. Moreover, he was extremely happy to be able to shoot scenes in Almeria, Spain, where his favorite movie Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) had been filmed as well.
Director Martin Koolhoven was offered to make the movie for an American studio, but that would mean he didn't have final cut, so he chose to make it a European co-production, independently financed by eight different countries.
Even though being funded internationally, having an almost complete English speaking cast and being shot in Spain, Hungary, Austria and Germany Brimstone can be seen as a Dutch production. All department heads are Dutch: the director and writer, producer, DoP, editor, composer, production designer, sound designer, production sound mixer, art director, costume designer, head make-up and VFX.
On festivals (Venice, London, Toronto, Palm Springs, etc.) and in Europe the movie received much praise from audiences and most journalists, however in the United States the movie was met with more criticism by the main stream critics, mostly on moral grounds. It was much better received by genre- and cult-websites, who raved about the originality, relentlessness and lack of compromise. Globally, all critics agreed upon one thing: the acting is superb.
Guy Pearce had worked with Robert Pattinson on The Rover (2014), and texted Pattinson on his first day on set that he looked forward to working with him again. Pattinson replied that he had backed out of the movie. Pearce was actually the person who had to give director Martin Koolhoven the bad news. Due to the uncertain financing of the movie (with money coming in from various sources), it had been impossible to have the actors sign official contracts, so legally there was nothing they could do about it. Fortunately, Pattinson was quickly replaced by Kit Harington.
Brimstone premiered in the competition of the Venice Film Festival and stirred great controversy. On the one hand critics praised the movie as brave and important, though others were shocked by the violence. While Independent wrote "Brimstone is raw and very powerful filmmaking, a movie that can't help but get under your skin", Variety wrote it was "hifalutin exploitation" blaming it on the Netherlands (the country of writer/director Koolhoven), writing "It is, after all, a country that ever since the 1960s, especially in Amsterdam, has profferred a more liberal view than almost any other place of what might euphemistically be termed 'youthful sexuality.'"
Acclaimed Dutch director Martin Koolhoven worked almost 7 years on this project. He estimated that writing took him 3.5 years (interspersed with visits to movie festivals to promote his previous movie Oorlogswinter (2008)), two years to get the finance in order, and 1.5 years of actual production. In fact, the financial success of Oorlogswinter (2008) allowed him to work on Brimstone so long without having to take on other projects.
According to Martin Koolhoven, when news got around that Mia Wasikowska had backed out of the movie, he got a late-night call from Warren Beatty who suggested another actress for the part on his voicemail. However, Koolhoven already had his eye on Dakota Fanning, and admitted that he did not even call Beatty back.
Carice van Houten's eyes are normally blue, yet are brown in this movie. Emilia Jones on the other hand, normally has brown eyes, but has blue eyes in Brimstone. Guy Pearce's eyes are normally blue, yet they are only blue in chapter 2 & 3. In 1 & 4, they are almost black.
Brimstone was very well sold around the world. It was sold in more than 80 countries in the world, becoming the most sold Dutch production ever. Commercially, however, it enjoyed most of its success in its native Netherlands; in the USA, the movie was almost immediately released on video on demand.
Martin Koolhoven said that at some point during post-production, he had to contractually agree to cut a shorter version of the film if an American distributor would ask for it, and he could not take his credit of that version. He therefore decided to have the title "Koolhoven's Brimstone" in the beginning; if he would be obliged to make a shorter American version, he would simply take away his name from the title of the US version to indicate that it wasn't his preferred cut. In the end, the American distributor bought the rights without demanding any cuts.
Writer/director Martin Koolhoven has acknowledged the influence that both The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) had, especially on the depiction of the Reverend character, played by Guy Pearce. It is interesting that he plays a reverend who immigrated from The Netherlands to America, where the character of Reverend Harry Powell from The Night of the Hunter (1955) was based on the murderer Harry Powers, who was born in The Netherlands and had moved to America. His real name was Herman Drenth. Koolhoven also admitted to have been subconsciously influenced by how Sergio Leone introduced the Harmonica and Cheyenne characters in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968): his Reverend character is also first heard approaching and noticed by bystanders, but not seen on camera, and the final reveal of his face occurs very slowly.
The outlaw gang of which Kit Harington and Jack Roth are part have stolen the gold in the town of Bismuth. When Kit throws his saddle on the floor in the church, a pouch falls out. On it, its says 'Bismuth' (the mining town where Joanna will later flee to).
Brimstone was the big contender during the 2017 Nederlands Film Festival (Dutch Film Festival) with 9 (all eligible categories) Gouden Kalf nominations (the Dutch equivalent of the Academy Awards). It became the big winner with 6 awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Martin Koolhoven, breaking the old record of 4 wins. Even though Koolhoven was a former award winner, with Brimstone being his passion project, he said that this was the movie that he wanted to win the award for most.
Director Martin Koolhoven calls this movie his 'Dutch Western', and was inspired to make it out of his love of Italian 'Spaghetti westerns'. In Dutch it is called a 'Stamppot western' (mashed potatoes western), named after the most important type of Dutch dish.
Being a fan of the spaghetti western genre, director Martin Koolhoven cast German character actor Dan van Husen in his previous film Oorlogswinter (2008). Van Husen started his acting career in Italy, acting in over 20 spaghetti westerns. Since this was his first western, Koolhoven brought him in again, for a cameo (as coach driver).
A scene that was scripted but not filmed due to time and budget constraints included a sequence where Liz (Dakota Fanning) gets trapped in a water well. In another scene, the father of the stillborn baby would get drunk, and in his rage about the death of his child, he sets a sheep on fire. Writer/director Martin Koolhoven didn't film the burned sheep because he feared that this would become ridiculous.
According to composer Junkie XL when he told director Martin Koolhoven he wanted to do the soundtrack, his reaction was: 'I'm sure you do'. It wasn't until a year later Martin asked him to do the score.
Writer/director Martin Koolhoven had originally scripted the story as a conventional linear narrative, with ample flashbacks at the end to explain some of the events. However, the many long flashbacks became too disruptive to the narrative, so he decided on structuring it in four chapters, with a reversed chronology making the past a relevant part of it.
When Guy Pearce says: "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?" he is quoting the Bible. It is what Jesus says when he has risen from the grave and the disciples are startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. (Luke 24:38)
Martin Koolhoven said that by far the favorite award that he won for the film was the price for Best Western at the Almeria Western Film Festival in Spain; not only because he had shot parts of the films there, but also because he received the award from Claudia Cardinale, who was his childhood idol from his favorite film Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), which was also shot in Almeria.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
On the Weird West Radio Show they came up with the theory that The Reverend dies when his throat is cut at the end of the second chapter. That would mean that The Reverend in Chapter 1 and 4 is dead. In his first and his last scene in the movie, he does indeed talk about Hell in a way that he suggests he has seen it. Also, his eyes are darker in those two chapters and he seems more ghost-like.
Despite being antagonists in the movie, Emilia Jones had a great time with Guy Pearce on the set. Jones said that after every scene, Pearce profusely apologized to her and gave her candy, and claims that the scene where Pearce drags her by her feet through the mud was much fun to do.
In the epilogue Nathan (the father of the baby that died) enters the story again, claiming he was send to Bismuth by The Reverend. He became a deputy there and when the old sheriff died, he became the new one. He then found the 'Wanted Poster' of Elisabeth Brundy, a woman without a tongue. Since Nathan knew the tongueless Joanna as Elisabeth (Liz) Brundy, he does not see the drawn image on the poster is not Joanna/Liz, but the original Elisabeth (who he doesn't know existed). Though it is nowhere said all of this was foreseen by The Reverend, it does seem to support the theory that The Reverend has died in Bismuth and he is a ghost from the past when he enters the story in the beginning.
The characters predetermining their own deaths: director Martin Koolhoven has said during Q&As that characters who will get killed later in the movie touch the part they will die by. So the outlaw that gets strangled by a rope touches his throat, the husband (who gets knifed in the gut) touches his stomach, the prostitute who ends up with a knife in her chest at some point touches that exact spot, etc.
Martin Koolhoven cast Dutch actor Tygo Gernandt in a brief part as the Crawling outlaw who is shot through the back of his head by Samuel (Kit Harington). Koolhoven had worked with Gernandt on Het schnitzelparadijs (2005) and Oorlogswinter (2008), and was impressed by his talent in doing a death scene in the latter movie. He joked that he plans to give Gernandt even smaller roles in his future movies, where all he has to do is die on screen.