Director Fede Alvarez and Co-Writer Rodo Sayagues talk reimagining “EVIL DEAD,” in theaters tomorrow

Director Fede Alvarez (right) with Shiloh Fernandez on the set of TriStar Pictures' EVIL DEAD.

Director Fede Alvarez (right) with Shiloh Fernandez on the set of TriStar Pictures’ EVIL DEAD.

Writer Fede Alvarez from Uruguay makes his directorial debut tomorrow with his reimagination of “Evil Dead,” a movie made famous by successful horror film director Sam Raimi in 1981.

After his short film “Panic Attack!” received praise and recognition in the Hollywood arena, Alvarez and his childhood friend, co-writer Rodo Sayagues, penned a brand-new script under the supervision of co-producers Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert.

More than three decades after the original, small budget “Evil Dead” was released, Alvarez and Sayagues spoke with myself and two other reporters at a round table at SXSW 2013. They talk about the advantages of taking on a horror movie classic, working with practical effects, and what their creative process is like having been best friends for so many years.

Q stands for a question posed by another reporter, and AG stands for a question asked by me.

Q: The reaction to this film was tremendous. What was it like sitting in with that audience?
FA: It was such a bizarre reaction to it, because we’ve shown it before, when you do test screenings. It was just once, because it was very well-received. We got such a high score that you got to see the director’s cut. Usually, the first test you do is with the director’s cut, and the audience bashes it to pieces. Then the producers say, “We’ll go and take over from here,” and they turn it into some weird thing that is a mix of what the director wants and what the producers want. This time, it didn’t happen that way. We showed the director’s cut, and there were scores higher than ever for the studio. That’s the movie that everyone is going to see in theaters. That was a crowd that didn’t know what they were going to see. Half of them were EVIL DEAD fans; they’ve seen the original. Half of them didn’t know what it was. It was awesome, but it was way scary. There were some walk-outs and people that said, “I cannot handle this.” I heard that. In general, it was more on the fun and comedy side that is definitely there. I loved that. For me, when I watch it, I laugh all the time. I enjoy it in a different way. For other people, it’s super scary. I don’t know what it was for you guys, but I think that’s the beauty of EVIL DEAD. That’s why some people say EVIL DEAD is a comedy, and others are like, “What? It’s a scary movie!” It’s up to you.

Star of the film,Jane Levy (Suburgatory) in TriStar Pictures' EVIL DEAD

Star of the film,Jane Levy (Suburgatory) in TriStar Pictures’ EVIL DEAD

Q: The way that you were talking about the test screening and the director’s cut versus the producers’ cut and all that, sounds like you’re very familiar with the process.
FA: No, I learned it (laughs). I learned a lot, of course. Three years ago, we’re in Uruguay doing shorts and nothing like this, completely away from Hollywood. I would never even have dreamed of making a Hollywood movie, but suddenly that short was done and ended up getting a lot of attention in Hollywood. We started learning on the fly.
RS: We did learn through experience, because everyone was warning us how hard it was going to be. It was hard, but everything was supposed to be hell. “Developing your script is going to be hell,” but it wasn’t. “Oh, production is going to be hell,” but it wasn’t. “The shoot is going to be hell,” but it wasn’t. Nothing has been hell so far.
FA: Hopefully it’ll make money (laughs).

AG: For it being your feature film debut, undertaking a Sam Raimi original, did you feel any sort of pressure going into it? Did it influence you in any way?
FA: No, I think it empowered the movie, though, definitely. There’s an EVIL DEAD title instead of being something people don’t know about. Making your first film and having people so eager to watch your film, it’s a blessing. Usually, when it’s your first film, you have to raise everything uphill, try to convince people everywhere that it’s good, showing it somewhere and getting distribution. It was a blessing for it being my first film and having people talk about it, for good and for bad. The previous stage was a process, but at the end of the day, it was amazing. The biggest challenge was to have my own style and my own voice as a director on the film, because the original people knew so much about the style of Sam Raimi and everything. I wanted to make sure I didn’t repeat anything. There were a couple of moments in the movie where I was quoting something truly, and it made me feel bad to my stomach, really and honestly. I was like, “Oh, why did I do this?” I think there is one shot that I hate in the movie, when Jane shoots David and we cut outside the cabin and there’s a camera running towards the door. It felt so much out of the original, like 100 percent. The cabin, the light, and I just felt like, “This is wrong, this is wrong.” That was a challenge, to keep my own voice and my own personality in the movie as a director, not falling for the track of “Let’s just do what he did.” I don’t know if I succeeded or not (laughs).

Q: Were there any moments when you were shooting and looking at the script and thinking, “How am I going to do this?”
FA: Many (laughs).
RS: It’s so easy to write on a page. I mean, it’s not easy, but when writing the line, “And then she cut her arm off. Period.”
FA: That’s easy to write, but so hard to shoot it the way we wanted to shoot it.
Q: Especially with practical effects.
RS: Yes, especially the last sequence where it rains blood. We were absolutely convinced it wouldn’t happen, ever. We just wrote, “It starts raining blood for 20 minutes.” We were like, “Forget about it, it’s not going to happen.” It turned out it was possible.
FA: We had a great team. We had a great team of people working on the movie. As a director, you depend on your team. You need to have a great effects team and the practical team. You need those guys to be on your side and to believe in your ideas. Most of all those meetings start with me saying, “Okay, this is the way we’re going to do it. We’re going to have one shot, and it’s a long shot. We never cut, and we see her from every angle, go very close, and then she’s going to cut her arm off. We’re going to do it how they never do it. We’re going to show 100 percent, from a wide angle, so there’s no tricks. We’re not hiding anything.” Everything starts with, “What?” Everybody is like, “No, no, there’s no way, this guy is crazy.” Then, we find a way, evolve, if you keep your vision. Some directors would be like, “You know what, let’s do some green screens, a green arm or whatever.” They were cool enough to believe in that idea and those visions. Every one of those gags were a nightmare to conceive. You’ve seen movies hundreds of times and they are all done in the same way. They worked in the past, but we really wanted to push the boundaries there and make it a different way.

Alvarez on set in Thailand

Alvarez on set in Thailand

Q: So was that the influence to go practical versus CGI?
FA: I wanted the actors to witness real things, so when they react, they have better performances. Mainly, the reason why we didn’t use CGI was because CGI makes movies dated. They make movies old very fast. Avatar doesn’t look so good anymore. Even the best CGI ever will get old very fast. We have a responsibility with a movie like this one, that is not going to stand alone but stand next to three original movie classics. They are classics, because they are timeless. You watch them today, and it’s a movie that is super enjoyable. The first one dated, because it was campy and low budget, but the techniques they used didn’t. That’s why we wanted to do the same thing. If we put some CGI, it may have been great today. It would have sucked in five years. We didn’t want that.

AG: Since this is your first film, what kind of message do you want to give audiences everywhere? What kind of director do you want to be known as?
FA: No message. It’s just a movie. People will get what they get. It’s just… we don’t make movies to send a message. We make a movie to have fun making it, and we enjoy the writing process. I don’t think we ever do that. Hopefully, though, the message will be a good one.

Q: What do you enjoy more, the writing process or filming?
FA: The best part was probably the original creation, when it was just the two of us in the living room going, “How are we going to do this?
RS: The brainstorming. That’s probably the best part. It’s very exciting. Over a month throwing out ideas. You come up with one idea and you kind of wait. We’ve been friends since we were kids, so the way we work is, one of us will come up with an idea, and who knows. It’s an exciting moment where we come up with an idea at 3 a.m. and you can’t wait until the next day to call the other guy.
FA: The other one is like, “Ummm, I don’t know about that one (laughs). That’s the good thing, I guess. We have a healthy creative process where he can pitch me an idea and I can tell him, “Oh, no, that sucks big time,” and he’s like, “Oh man, you’re right.” (laughs) That’s fine, because usually, that’s the creative process that works instead of “That is a great idea, I didn’t think about that,” and all that bullshit. We don’t do that. I think that helped it turn out to be a more honest movie.

The cast of SXSW 2013 Narrative Feature Competition Winner “SHORT TERM 12” talk about the emotional roller coaster of a film

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The cast of “Short Term 12” after the round table at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas
(L-R) Kaitlyn Dever, Brie Larson, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, John Gallagher, Jr. (Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

AUSTIN — Writer and director Destin Cretton has a lot to be proud of after last week’s SXSW Film and Music Festival. His film, “Short Term 12” ended up winning the Narrative Feature Competition, a well-deserved recognition of the independent film.

“Short Term 12” follows Grace (Brie Larson), a supervisor at a foster care facility. She tries her best to help the kids at her facility, from quiet but troubled Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who is about to turn 18 and not ready to leave the home to Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) who holds disturbing secrets of her own, all while trying to train a new employee, Nate (Rami Malek), and keeping her personal life together along with her longtime boyfriend and co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr).

The cast sat down with myself and another journalist to talk about getting to know each other, the emotional roller coasters they rode while filming, and re-writing scenes.

Q stands for a question from the other journalist while AG represents a question from myself.

Film editor Nat Sanders (L) and Writer/Director Destin Cretton (R) at the premiere of "Short Term 12" at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, Texas on March 10, 2013.

Film editor Nat Sanders (L) and Writer/Director Destin Cretton (R) at the premiere of “Short Term 12” at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, Texas on March 10, 2013. (Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

AG: You all did such a great job with this film. I felt exhausted after it was over, but in a good way. So what was it like for you all to take on these really heavy roles?
KS: Exhausting, but it’s good to feel exhausted. That’s what you build from. It was definitely draining, emotionally, for me, at least.

Q: I know this was a pretty tight shoot, scheduled 20 days. So before that, did you guys spend time together? How did that work?
JG: We had a day, early on, a couple days before we started shooting, where it was really a kind of “meet and greet” where Destin and a bunch of the producers, they invited us all over to a house that they were renting for production days. We all came, and we all met. Alex, who plays Sammy, and Kevin, who plays Luis, were there, and a friend of Destin’s came over who is a line staffer at the facility where Destin volunteered years ago. That kind of gave him inspiration for the story. He came over and just talked to us for a long time about the environment, what it’s like to work there and things like that. He taught us all how to do the – I can’t remember the name. There was a name for that technique.
BL: The restraint. Wasn’t it just a restraint?
JG: It’s the proper way to restrain. So whenever you see, when we take down Sammy, when we have to restrain Kaitlyn in that scene, that’s all proper technique that we learned how to do when you’re working in a facility like that. We also did some improve games and shared some stories, just talked to each other and got to know each other. Even though it was just a day, sometimes you don’t even need that much beforehand. It was super informative.

AG: So you two’s chemistry was really great. Your relationship seemed very natural. What did you do two do to kind of get there?
BL: We went to dinner.
JG: We went to dinner, yeah. We had a date.
BL: We went to dinner, and Destin had an envelope dropped off at his place. He said, “Don’t open it until you get to the restaurant.” We got to the restaurant, opened it, and it was a bunch of – I don’t know, there was a lot – probably like 10 to 15 strips of paper that were little conversation starters. Every so often – it was so great. We didn’t have to worry about making conversation.
JG: Yeah, you’re like, “So, let’s get these envelope strips.”
BL: We didn’t have to worry about guiding a conversation. “Oh! So there’s another piece of paper. I have nothing to say, so here’s another piece of paper.” (laughs) We just started basically creating a mythology for these characters. It was a lot about our personal experiences, our personal hopes and fears of being parents, what our thoughts were on that. We talked about the long-term relationships we had been in, and we just kind of created and even talked about what our first date was. We just kind of pulled from real experiences we had to kind of create a thing. Destin wrote a really good script, so we just did the script.
JG: Yeah, those two things combined…
BL: It worked out really well!
RM: I’ve since been using the envelope trick on my first dates.
AG: How’s that working out for you?
RM: Pretty terrific.

Q: What was the most difficult part of the shoot? There are so many scenes that were very raw and very real, so what day were any of you like, “I’m exhausted, this has been such a hard day for me?”
BL: [Keith]’s suicide attempt. I have a past experience of – I’ve never talked about this. I have a past experience with almost dying from hemorrhaging, so I have a really strong reaction to blood and a really hard time. Even if I get a bloody nose, I pass out. My dog broke a nail at The Grove, and I passed out. Someone had to grab me, because I just can’t do it. So dealing with somebody and I know it’s fake…watching him lose consciousness was really difficult, and I had to take some time. That was part of a really big day. I had a lot of really crazy scenes to do, but everything else I kind of know it’s not real. But that was the thing that was really personal for me that I didn’t want to tell anybody. I didn’t want to seem like a wimp, but that was difficult. I felt like I was smacking myself in those scenes.
JG: When we break up, I had a really hard time with that. We actually shot it a couple of different ways, and we ended up re-shooting it. They had tortured poor Brie. Wasn’t that later?
BL: That was later that day.
JG: Later that night, after putting her through the gauntlet of three of her most emotional scenes, they were like, “Oh, we’re going to do this scene where you and your boyfriend break up, at like, 10 o‘clock at night.” We shot it, and originally, it was much angrier. Mason really kind of lost his temper and got kind of mean with Grace. We came back to it the next day, and Destin called us and we were like, “You know what, we’re going to take another stab at that, because I think we can do it better. I think that some of the emotions are not quite right there.” We all went and sat on the ground, and we all three re-wrote it together. We just kind of pieced together talking about what kind of fight you’ve had where you’ve almost broken up, break-ups, losing your temper, how do you deal with it and came up with a new version. That’s the one you see in the movie. That was the only time I felt any kind of something that resembled a frustration or feeling like I was stalled. The rest of the shoot was very harmonious.

AG: Well, I’m glad they shot it that way, because you saying Mason loses his temper… I don’t know if I would have bought that.
BL: There were some other things in the story. The movie kind of changes as it goes.
JG: It was kind of from a draft, and we had already shot so much with these characters where all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, we got to that scene, but I don’t think this is how they would be with each other.” It can take time to learn that, and luckily, we were a little bit ahead of schedule. We could go back and do that.

AG: Your storyline is really tough and really heavy for someone so young, so what was it like going through that?
KD: It was exhausting, and when I read the script, I really thought, “Wow, I could do a lot with this, and I could really get into the character, add a lot of drama and stuff into it.” I just really, really love playing a character where I can be something opposite than what I’ve ever done before. I’ve done comedy and stuff, and I did Justified, but I had never done something like this. Shooting it was really awesome. Most of my scenes were with Brie, and she is just really amazing to get to work with. She was so helpful, and I really learned a lot from her. My biggest scene was where I did the “freak out” scene with me shoving a cupcake in her face (laughs) and spitting on Rami’s face. It was really, like, it was kind of like a relief. I felt like I accomplished a lot. The scene where I read the story about the octopus, it’s just an awful story. I cried reading the script. I felt it was really moving, and I’m so excited that I was able to do the role. I was so excited when I met Destin, because he’s just brilliant. He wrote the script, and it was just brilliant. I was so happy I got to work with these people.
JG: We did so many takes of that freak-out, too. You never lost steam.
BL: Oh my gosh, it was amazing. You have this amazing…I mean, when we started, I thought, “I’ve got to take my cues from you.” If I have to get upset about something, I stay in it. I just say like, “Okay, I’m going down to the deep end, and I’m just going to get really dark for, like, an hour. I’ll let everybody know when I’m, like, not in a dark place. But you would just turn it on and off. You’d freak out and be screaming, “Fuck that!” and going crazy, and then you’d get up and be like, “Wow, that was so fun!” I’d be like, “Well, you must be tired,” and you were like, “No, I want to do it again!”
KD: It was exciting!
BL: I’ve just never seen anybody be able to just…it’s amazing the amount of emotional depth that you have and that you’re able to just tap into and then release from. It’s harder for me. I find that I just kind of, like, wade in the water, but you were so good about being like, “Now I’m Jayden, and now I’m myself.” That’s so healthy and so incredible to watch.
KS: It’s very difficult.
KD: I felt really bad for Rami when I spit on his face. The thing was, when we were shooting that scene, I kept spitting on his face, but really, they were on Brie for the first, like, eight takes. Then, Destin came up to me and was like, “Are you really spitting on his face?” I was like, “Oh my gosh, I am. Are you guys not even on us?” He’s like, “No, you didn’t have to,” so I’m like, “Oh my God, I feel so bad!” (laughs) I kept apologizing.
RM: I went up to Destin and said, “She knows the camera’s not on her, right? Can you go tell her the camera’s not on her?” (laughs)
KD: I felt so bad! It’s so embarrassing!
BL: That’s awesome (laughs). I love it.

AG: Your character was so awkward. He just reminded me of those random people that sometimes you’re like, “Did you really just say that?”
RM: No filter.
KD: Rami brought so much comedy to the script.
RM: It was there. I got a few good one-liners.
BL: I didn’t see that much comedy in it, but you made everything really funny. It was great.
RM: Cool. Thank you, guys.

Simon Baker and Dan Mazer talk I GIVE IT A YEAR at SXSW 2013

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AUSTIN —  While Dan Mazer is usually known for his script work with Sacha Baron Cohen on films like “Borat” and “Bruno,” he has stepped up behind the camera for his directorial debut with “I Give it a Year.

The film follows an unlikely pair named Nat (Rose Byrne), an ambitious businesswoman, and Josh (Rafe Spall), a struggling novelist, through their first year of marriage. While they at first fall deliriously in love, they begin to discover that perhaps Josh’s ex-girlfriend, Chloe (Anna Faris), and Nat’s American client, Guy (Simon Baker), might be better suited for them.

Mazer and Baker sat down with myself and two other journalists to talk about being burned out by typical romantic comedies, the trust between actor and director, and whether or not any doves (or actors) were harmed in the making of this film.

After the round table at the Intercontinental - Stephen F. Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas on 3/10/13.(Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

After the round table at the Intercontinental – Stephen F. Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas on 3/10/13.
(Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

(Q represents a question from another outlet, and AG stands for a question from myself)

Q: I read the press notes and everything. Can you talk a little bit about improvisation in this film?
DM: I’m sort of a great believer in things feeling natural and real and authentic, and I think a lot of that often comes with a bit of improvisation. It’s interesting, because I wrote it as well as I directed it. Bizarrely, you’d imagine I’d be more precious about the words than perhaps somebody who hadn’t wrote it, but I sort of realized the process and it was raucous. I thought some of these jokes might just be shit (laughs). I was very encouraging of the actors to sort of improvise. The philosophy is that I wrote it, tried and tested it one way. “Let’s have a go. Let’s get the script into words and see what happens.” In the casting, one my primary objectives was to find people who were funny and sharp and bright and witty. I sat down with all the actors as opposed to just kind of reading most of them and sat in a room and chatted with them and laughed with them. I thought, if they do have all those attributes, if they are bright and funny and can sort of think on their feet – which some actors can and some actors can’t – then I sort of wanted them in the movie. I was very encouraging of a bit of improvisation, because then I essentially get the credit (laughs).
Q: So you’re okay with your actors maybe criticizing your script a little bit, like, “Hey, I think this might work better this way.”
DM: Yeah. I hate to deference in any shape or form. I’m certainly very good at not being deferential.
SB: It’s funny, because so often you get asked questions about improvisation and how it works in films. It’s such a loose term, because I always think it’s like the controlled improvisation. I mean, Dan wrote it, but there’s a lot of people that get this idea that writer/directors are like, “These are my words, this is the Bible, this is the Holy Grail. Don’t mess with it.” But Dan had this sort of next step on confidence in like, “I’m cutting this thing,” which means, in essence, “I’ll take whatever is going to come out, but before it gets passed on to anyone to watch, I’m still editing, so I’m still the writer in essence.” (laughs) So there was a lack of sort of any kind of fear. I mean, I thought with Dan there was no fear. I didn’t improvise at all. I barely improvised.
DM: Well, your character was different.
SB: Well, it depends on what I’m doing. My character didn’t really lend itself on that in this particular piece. Obviously, Rafe’s character totally was that character. Rafe and Dan had this thing where he would just go, and sometimes we’d all be sitting there going, “Where the fuck is Rafe going? Where is he going with this?” and Dan never got like, “Actually…” (makes disapproving face) You know, he just let him go. It’s an interesting game, because really, when you do improve – like, I improve a lot on my show (The Mentalist), but that’s sort of the role. In this, I had to sort of hit certain beats off of what other people were doing. It’s a very interesting game to see the trust between an actor and a director. It was interesting for me watching Rafe and Dan, because Dan didn’t get panicked. This comedy stuff, when it’s really like a full-blown comedy, it’s quite serious business. “Oh, that’s funny, that’s not funny, that’s funny.” It’s like, “Oh, geez.” It’s okay if you’re doing a drama and you throw a couple of gags in there, because no one’s expecting it to be funny. When you say, “This is a comedy,” it’s like saying to a woman before you have sex, “This is going to be some great love-making.” Right? (laughs) You set yourself up for sort of a situation.
DM: Oh, I’ve never done that.
SB: Nor have I! I’m always like, “This is going to be shit, but I’ll do my best.” (laughs) But yeah, it’s interesting like that, with the rules. Also, from watching Dan, he’s not undermining Rafe’s confidence when he is going off somewhere where it doesn’t necessarily work, he’s not going, “That didn’t really work,” because that can really crush you. Rafe had a big responsibility in this film, and he had to pull off a lot. He had to be a twat that’s sort of likeable and entertaining, but shouldn’t really be with this girl. It’s sort of a hard thing to do, a hard ask for a character. I thought he did it quite well. I thought you handled that really well.
DM: Thank you, you’re very kind, sir. Oh, Simon Baker (laughs).

Q: When you’re on the other end, and you’re watching them sort of doing some improvising, can you feel where it’s kind of not going anywhere like what you were saying?
SB: No, because a lot of the time I was this straight guy kind of waiting, just a little bit. Like anything, there’s the direct route, and then there’s the scenic route. Sometimes we get very scenic, and then we’re like, “Finally, we’re back on the main road again.” In my head, I was always often thinking, “That one works.” The cut is like a house of cards. Obviously, Dan knows more about this than I do. With this particular film, once you get into the edit, it can be like a house of cards. You really like this gag, but in order for that gag to work, you’ve got to have this bit and this bit and this bit.
DM: Obviously, I’ve spent the last 10 years with Sascha [Baron Cohen] where it’s a lot of improvisation. I’ve become, hopefully, quite adept to seeing what works and what doesn’t. Often, he can go off for an hour and a half, and you get like a minute out of it. You’re constantly thinking, “What minute is good?” So now this, in contrast, was much more controlled.

Q: Simon, what was it that drew you to the script when you first read it?
SB: I’ve read a lot of romantic comedies, like all of those “26 Dresses.”
DM: Or “27 Dresses.”
SB: (laughs) The prequel! They changed one number.
DM: Finishing the script, it was like, “I think we need another dress.”
SB: Yes, 27 is much more romantic. No, but I’ve read a lot of those. Ever since I did that movie, “The Devil Wears Prada,” I was sent a lot of those. Obviously, they always wanted me to play the guy that was an asshole, basically. They all tick these certain boxes of those sort of clichés of the genre. What I liked about this movie was that it actually ticked all those boxes of the genre but flipped them all upside down. So it was like, “Okay, we’re going to tick all those boxes, so we’re hitting the nail on the head with all of those bits that we expect, but we’ve got a total reverse story.” I thought that was just a fresh and interesting way to go about it. Little did I know that some people get a little bit like, “Well, what does that say about marriage?” Is this movie really about marriage? We’re just trying to make a piece of entertainment that takes the piss out of how far and how serious we are about the notion of committing to a marriage and sticking with it. I don’t know many people, but I’m from a broken home. My wife is from a broken home. So many people understand divorce. If they haven’t been through it, they certainly know someone that has been through it. Everyone knows the dreaded relationship where you lose a friend, because you’re like, “Oh no, please, what? That’s it. I can’t be friends with you anymore, because I can’t stand your wife!” (laughs) It’s like, “Can you come? Please don’t bring the missus. Of course she’s invited.” You know, the politics of that that we don’t talk about, is funny and interesting and awkward. I thought that was great. I thought, obviously if you can pull off that, that first anniversary scene. It was the most romantic moment in the whole script, I thought, when these two are being honest with each other and saying, “You’re not really the person that makes my heart sing.” I thought that was the challenge in the whole movie, and I was interested in that. I hadn’t done anything like this, so it’s always a challenge, sort of interesting.

AG: Kind of a random question, but you as a director, since this is so opposite of a romantic comedy, are there any famous couples or famous storylines in movies that you would love to take this route with?
DM: That’s interesting. Sort of all of them, really. If you take any romantic comedy, to me it’s sort of incredibly fascinating to see what happens the moment the credit rolls. If you talk about “What Happens in Rome” or “27 Dresses,” most romantic comedies are about people who absolutely shouldn’t be together. That’s the point of a romantic comedy.  It’s like, “Look at these opposites. They’ve attracted. Isn’t it going to be fantastic?” The cynic in me is sitting there like, “Well, it’s not going to be fantastic. They’re unbelievably ill-suited for each other. They’re going to get back from their honeymoon, and the thing that annoys you about the Irish sheep farmer, if you’re the San Diego PR girl, will absolutely drive you crazy within a week of moving in with each other, and it’s going to end in a horrific and acrimonious divorce.” So you sort of think, with all those things, it’s kind of the realist in me that looks behind the Hollywood curtain, if you like. I think you can take any romantic comedy, and almost all of them will end in divorce (laughs).

Q: I thought it was kind of interesting, because you made Anna Faris’ character and Simon’s character not conniving or evil trying to break them up. They were just kind of on the outskirts. His character didn’t even really know. I thought that was an interesting take. You obviously did it on purpose, because it follows the romantic comedy line to have this person trying to do something back-handed.
DM: Exactly. That tends to be what happens in a romantic comedy. A nasty guy swoops in and sweeps the girl off her feet. You think, “Please don’t end up with him, because he’s not very nice.” The challenge in this is that you’re rooting for a couple to split up. That’s really hard to do and not make it toxic and [make you] feel bad at the end when they do split up. So in order to do that and facilitate that, you need to pick another protagonist who you sort of want them to end up with. If they are kind of nasty or horrible, you’re going “Oh, don’t end up with that person.” You actually want them to end up with that [other] person, because Guy, Simon’s character, is lovely. He’s brilliant. Again, that was the interesting thing in Simon taking the part. When you see him on screen, you have an expectation. “Oh, he’s going to be a nasty guy. He’s going to come in and blah, blah, blah.” What’s brilliant, and what Simon does brilliant, is kind of flip that expectation. Guy’s actually a bit of a doofus, so you’re happy they end up with each other. Simon does that brilliantly. So the reason they’re not nasty is because ultimately, you want our characters to end up with them.

Q: Did you know Simon prior to this?
DM: Oh, no, not at all. Obviously, I knew Simon’s work and loved it and thought it was brilliant and just thought I would be only so lucky to have him. Obviously, the casting process was like playing Fantasy Football for me in a weird way. I came in and go, “Oh God, I love Simon in that, he’d be the perfect Guy; I loved Rose [Byrne] in ‘Bridesmaids,’ she was fantastic. I’ve worked with Anna [Faris] on ‘The Dictator,’” so, you know, it was amazing to have the opportunity to go out to these people. It was incredibly thrilling when they said yes. I think, universally, even if you don’t like the film necessarily or have problems with the film, universally everyone said “My God, you’ve got an amazing cast.” Almost in a way to kind of say, “How’d you fuck that up?” (laughs)
SB: That’s so English of you.
DM: (laughs) I got warned beforehand!
SB: I’m not even English, but it’s still in there.
DM: The PR people, before you come to America, just go, “We know you’re self-deprecating, but don’t be self-deprecating. Americans don’t understand it. They’ll just think you think the film’s shit.” (laughs)
SB: Oh, you’re so cute.
DM: Like Hugh Grant bumbling, sort of.

Q: So is this almost the romantic comedy for people that don’t like romantic comedies?
DM: I think it sort of is. I’ve been burnt, as it were, by riding on an airplane or sitting down on a Tuesday night and going into Netflix and thinking, “Oh, this would be fun to see, this kinky story of this mismatched couple.” Most romantic comedies are neither particularly romantic nor particularly comedic, so it’s really a slightly pejorative term, “romantic comedy.” You go in with an expectation, and I understand why people want to market this as a “romantic comedy.” People go and see romantic comedies, so it’s not really a difficult sell. To me, it’s a movie about relationships as opposed to a romantic comedy, really.

AG: So what were the biggest challenges for both of you in flipping this genre on its head?
SB: There wasn’t really a challenge for me in that regard. I mean, it was all kind of laid out there for me. It was just the process of doing it, which always has its little challenges here and there, but there were no real major challenges. Like Dan’s saying, what the idea of a romantic comedy is, and it’s a term that I don’t really like. It does set you up. You look at a film like “Silver Linings Playbook,” and it’s really a drama. It’s a family drama that has romance in it and some comedic moments, but they’re focused on it being a story about a family and a guy kind of getting back into the family. When you do a film that is a “romantic comedy,” you think, “You’ve hit me with romance, now where’s the comedy?” If you don’t have equal parts, then you’re in trouble. No challenge. I really always, I don’t get to do a lot of films because of the amount of work that I do on my TV show, so when I do something, particularly if it’s in a mainstream sort of genre like we’re looking at here, I want it to be something that’s sort of fresh and interesting. I’d rather take the chance on something like “I Give it a Year” and take that risk than go and do the standard tried and true obvious choices that come along. There weren’t really any challenges in it for me. I mean, just logistically, walking off one set and walking onto another was the only kind of challenge.
DM: I think for me probably it was, like, just to actually try and make it romantic in some ways, because my natural instinct is my previous work. I definitely am much more towards the comedy side of things, and I have quite, sort of in life, a relatively cynical view of things and kind of, as a reaction to those romantic comedies, I was like, “Don’t want any sop in this,” because you feel like you’re selling out. So the challenge was really to make the romance feel real and authentic within a comedy framework. I was always very confident about the comedy part of it and just needed to kind of steer myself to make the romance not really feel cheesy. That was my challenge.

Q: No doves were harmed in the making of this film?
DM: Oh no, loads of doves. Loads of doves! (laughs)
SB: You would see on set just a pile of dead doves. No, I think Rose was harmed more than the doves. I think there was someone in the back of the truck that we didn’t see spray painting pigeons white, like, “Two more!” (enacts spray painting pigeons) No, that was a tricky day. Rose was genuinely petrified, properly frozen in fear.
Q: That made it much more fulfilling onscreen. You could tell, that’s not acting.
SB: On the DVD, there’s going to be an amazing kind of sort of blooper reel of her just like, “Ugh, oh, no!” (squirms) It’s about eight minutes long (laughs)That was a good day. We enjoyed that. We rehearsed that, too, didn’t we? We rehearsed with doves. I remember, at the church, doing rehearsals, and I remember at the end of that day, looking over at you across the room and you were so sort of restrained that you were like, it was almost like an eye roll and a sigh at the same time without doing anything, going “How are we going to do this?”
DM: It was May the 17th or whatever.
SB: Then, when the day came and we drove out to this pretty location out in Pinewood, it was a beautiful location. We got there, and Dan was like (makes anxious face). As soon as the doves came out, Rose was like (jerks around nervously).
DM: It was amazing to have an animal scene and not be worried about the animals at all. The animals, we knew they were going to behave. It was actually the star that was the worst (laughs). You didn’t love them, but you were just…
SB: No, I didn’t love them, but I was just trying to keep the woman from running away.
DM: Very manly.
Q: Great job by the violinist in that scene.
DM: Yeah, he’s a brilliant sketch comedy performer in Britain. He’s got his own TV show, and he’s really funny. He will be a big hit at some point in his life.

Q: How did you get Stephen Merchant on board to do this? You don’t see him in many films.
DM: No, you really don’t. I know Stephen. I knew Stephen a bit from around, and he’s the only part I wrote with someone specifically in mind. I wrote it and wanted Merchant to do it. I wanted it in his voice. “I know how he’d do it, he’d be brilliant at doing it.” Because he doesn’t do much, I was like, “Oh, he probably won’t do it, but we’ll just get someone to do a sort of Stephen Merchant impression.” (laughs) He read it and was just like, very simply, “Yeah. Funny. I’ll do it.” It was an incredible thing. We made it work in his schedule, and obviously he’s a scene stealer in every scene he’s in. It was a real thrill to me in terms of he’s sort of comedy royalty in England. To have one of your peers think that what you’ve written is kind of up to his standard, as it were, was incredibly thrilling for me. That was really nice.

Q: You guys mentioned rehearsals. You had rehearsals before you started filming? Before any film was shot, you had rehearsals?
DM: Yeah, we did a couple of weeks. Again, just as part of the process, I thought it would be nice to stand stuff up and see what would happen, encourage improvisation at rehearsals and play around with things, just really work it all out.
SB: It’s pretty luxurious. Doesn’t happen very often. No matter how, when you really look at it, it’s very vague, but what it does it get it all a little bit of, you get to have a little chat, things come out, ideas get popped up. Sometimes, when you get to shooting, all of that’s forgotten. It’s just something to sort of work through. I thought that was fun and luxurious.
DM: It really helps on the day you turn up at your place. Sometimes you just throw everything out and say, “I wasn’t really expecting that to happen.” Often, it just saves you that first hour, or an hour and a half, in the morning of your shoot where you can actually be getting stuff on camera as opposed to working things out. It was great, I loved it.

Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert talk EVIL DEAD at SXSW 2013

evil dead mpAUSTIN — The producers of “Evil Dead” had a lot to be nostalgic about as their film premiered at SXSW 2013. Bruce Campbell appeared in and co-produced the original “Evil Dead” with Rob Tapert in 1981, and original “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi helped co-produce this time around. Since Raimi is busy promoting “Oz the Great and Powerful,” Campbell and Tapert sat down with myself and a couple of other journalists to talk about what it was like returning to the “Evil Dead” world.

Bruce Campbell in the original "Evil Dead" in 1981

Bruce Campbell in the original “Evil Dead” in 1981

(Q stands for a question from another journalist, and AG represents a question from myself.)

Q: You were on set, obviously, for the original trilogy. Did you get on set here?
BC: Nope. I had a day job. Burn Notice.
Q: Did you see any of the dailies?
BC: Of course we saw dailies. We saw everything they turned out. Rob was on set. He was there, so he saw it first-hand. Sam [Raimi] and I, from a distance, were still watching.
Q: Was it kind of a kick to see the progression of the practical effects from then to now?
BC: Yeah, but it takes a long time to finally see the finished version. It’s not until they finish the effects that you can finally say, “That either worked, or it didn’t work.” It’s only recently when we were like, “Cool, that worked.” We had a pretty good idea, but we still had to fine-tune plenty of things.

AG: Even though you weren’t physically on set, how fun was it for you to be back in the “Evil Dead” world?
BC: Very good! I was working with Sam and Rob [Tapert] again, I always run into these guys through various things, but this time we actually had to get on phone calls together and talk about the script and run through it like that. Rob was very involved in the actual production of it. We came and went whenever we could.
RT: Post-filming, we brought it here, we did the previews, worked on the sound all the way through.

Q: Why did you film it in New Zealand?
BC: Because Rob’s the king of New Zealand.
RT: I was down there working on something else. It is less expensive, but it was also very easy for me to be there and keep an eye on it.
BC: This is Rob’s world. I mean, these are good crews. I’d put a New Zealand crew up against anybody as far as discipline, ability, craftsmanship. Those guys are really good. I remember I went to direct a “Hercules” episode in the early days. I went to move a table on set, and I about threw my back out. It was a real wooden table. They hadn’t even learned how to fake stuff yet. Like, “Here, you want a wooden table? Here’s your wooden table.” I’m like, “God damn!” So, they’re good craftsmen, and their job is to support Fede. It’s a good place to work, New Zealand, and he’s from Uruguay, so whatever.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the preparation for this film?
BC: The script was everything. We know that know. We’ve been around long enough to know that the script is everything. It’s your blueprint for your movie. The trick was just to have Fede pitch us a tone and a story. Together, the four of us would have long conversations. He’d come back with something, and we would slowly work up the script. Then, Rob mostly had to determine whether we could afford to shoot, based on the budget. It’s always a dance of creative versus monetary.
RT: But it was the easiest movie I’ve done in a long time. It went really smoothly. Fede knew what he wanted and was able to communicate as a director. The most important thing a director can do is tell you what wants, how he wants you to do it, and how he wants you to do it again differently, and you can understand all those things he says.

Q: You guys put this cast through the wringer.
BC: Oh, they should’ve been there for the first one (laughs).
Q: Was it difficult to find this cast?
BC: Chemistry is an amazing thing. It either works or it doesn’t. When we got further into the casting process, we did start to put people that we thought could do the part with other people we thought were good for the part and then just saw how they reacted. Sometimes right in the room you go, “All right, good.” Shiloh [Fernandez] and Lou [Taylor Pucci] did a lot of auditioning together, and they had to be the two guys in the movie who were close with each other. In the room, it worked. That’s what can put it over the top. You might have someone who looks good with this person, but they have no fucking chemistry whatsoever, and two people can be very unlikely and have great chemistry. Chemistry is everything.

Q: Sometimes there is a weak link in the cast, but I think they all knocked it out of the park.
BC: Look, guys like Shiloh had a tricky part. He’s not the obvious hero. He’s a guy who has flaws. He’s a coward, and he’s a little weak-spined. He couldn’t muster up to see his mother when she was sick, and it’s just not his bag. Greatness is forced upon him. He’s not the ripped guy, Dwayne Johnson getting out of a Jeep like, “Hey, how are you guys?” That’s not what it was. It was one of those tricky things. I give Fede credit for writing a character that was that obtuse and slightly flawed.

Q: Was it difficult to fight the temptation to cast some known actors or was it pretty easy to find these guys?
BC: We had pretty much total control of casting. The distributor, Film District, they wanted us to have one person. They were very happy to have Jane [Levy] in that role, and Jane had the most physically demanding part. Her attitude on set help set the tone for everybody else. They saw “Oh, she’s really going through hell doing that. If she can do that, when my turn comes, I can do that. I’ll get through it one way or the other.” So that was really great. Within everything else, we pretty much had freedom to – the distributor, as they always do, that’s the only thing they asked us for. “We’d like one person that we can book.” Can they get on Kimmel? (laughs)

AG: Was there any anxiety or pressure revisiting the “Evil Dead” now that it has this huge cult fan base?
BC: The pressure was the same as the first three. As partners, the three of us just tried to make the best movie we could based on that script at that time. It was no different. We were just making another “Evil Dead” movie. That’s why I call this a new Evil Dead movie. To me, it’s not a remake or a prequel or a sequel or re-imagining. It’s just new, or another Evil Dead movie. People wanted it. They’ve been pressuring us and hassling us for years.
RT: Now that it’s in the marketplace, actually the horror genre. It’s different than anything that’s out there in a way. I think it’ll be a welcome relief to people who actually like horror. It’s something different. It’s familiar if you like “Evil Dead,” but it’s different from what’s currently out there. It’s kind of an old-fashioned, hard-hitting horror movie.
BC: The parents of the kids that see this movie will still go, “Okay, cool,” because it’s going to look like effects from the 70s. You know what I mean? Their parents are not going to know, it doesn’t feel like a “modern movie.” It just feels like a movie.

Q: How satisfying was the crowd last night? They ate it up.
BC: It’s everything you need to hear. You need to hear people laughing and talking back to the screen like, “No, no, no, don’t, don’t, don’t!” I mean, there was legitimate dread. One of my favorite sequences that played last night is when Eric is walking into the bathroom to see what’s going on, and you hear this weird sound. The audience is like, “No, no, no,” and he keeps going, “Are you okay?” The audience was like, “No, she’s not okay, she’s not okay!”
RT: Everyone was laughing.
BC: They did! That’s the thing. You can’t worry about people’s reactions, because it’s in the moment. They’re like, “Fuck no, she’s not okay.” That’s great. That’s a reaction where you know the audience is paying attention.

AG: There were these two big guys sitting on both sides of me, and the guy to my right was slouched over covering his eyes and the guy to my left was like, “No, nah-uh, stop!”
BC: They punch each other! We watched screenings the other day with a bunch of football players. Whenever they got scared, they were, “You got scared! No, you did! No, you did!” (enacts punching)

SXSW 2013: EVIL DEAD Round table #1

Premiere at the Paramount Theater March 8, 2013(Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

Premiere at the Paramount Theater March 8, 2013
(Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

AUSTIN – Three decades after Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” violently tore itself into the hearts of horror movie buffs the world over in 1981, Fede Alvarez makes his directorial debut with a “rebirth” of the film. This year’s “Evil Dead” premiered to much applause at the Paramount Theater on Friday night.

I got to sit down with a couple of other journalists to talk with the cast, director, writers and producers for round tables the next day, and here is the first. Cast members Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore talked about “zombie classes,” the original “Evil Dead,” and working with practical effects.

(L-R) Shiloh Fernandez, Elizabeth Blackmore, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Jane Levy(Photo Courtesy of Yahoo! Movies)

(L-R) Shiloh Fernandez, Elizabeth Blackmore, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Jane Levy
(Photo Courtesy of Yahoo! Movies)

AG: So how are you enjoying Austin?
LTP: I’ve actually only been here less than 24 hours, and I’m leaving in four hours. It’s been crazy. I got a pilot, so I’m working in New Orleans. Like, right now. Literally, it’s starting in two days. They didn’t want to let me go.
EB: We went to Stubb’s on Thursday night.
LTP: They did. I wish I had been able to. Stubb’s is iconic. The first time I came here, I went to Stubb’s. Amazing. Then, I go home, and I look at my mom’s kitchen. On the stove, there’s Stubbs’ face. Like, what the fuck? They started bottling his barbecue sauce after I was there, not before, so I’d never seen it before. I was telling them all about the best barbecue ever, and now everyone can have some.

Q: So I don’t know exactly how it works for you all, but when you got the script, did you know right away that you were interested in it?
LTP: Immediately, I was not interested at all. I didn’t want to do it at all. I thought it was a terrible idea. Why would you remake Evil Dead? It’s so good. Someone was just showing us the Rotten Tomatoes score. The old Evil Dead is still at 100%. It’s a perfect friggin’ movie in some ways. So yeah, I didn’t think it was a great idea. It was written like we were 30 years old. The characters were a bit older than us by like five to ten years, so I was like, “I’m not right for this.” When it came down to it, to get the callback, Bruce Campbell was going to be there, and I just wanted to go meet Bruce Campbell. And then shit happened.

AG: What kind of influence did the original have on your interpretations of the characters?
EB: I actually hadn’t seen the original. I didn’t know Evil Dead, didn’t really know what it was. I hate horror films. They scare the crap out of me! When I got the role, my boyfriend made me sit down and watch the original then. I think we were given so much freedom. Having Bruce and Rob there, I feel like it took care of that. For us, they gave us the freedom to make something beautiful.
LTP: We were safe. We were in such safe hands. You can’t be in better hands than with Bruce Campbell being a producer on it.
Q: Was he on set with you guys?
LTP: No, he wasn’t there.
EB: He was filming. Rob was there most of the time.
LTP: To answer your question, I was a huge Evil Dead fan. That’s why when I got the script, I was like, “This is dumb. How are we going to do this? We can’t do this.” But obviously, it was the right thing to do. When I found out they were going to do it all practical, I was like, “This is it. This is going to be so cool.” I can’t believe they even came up with that idea. They were in such good taste.

Q: The practical effects have obviously come a long way since the original. What was it like working with them?
LTP: They came out even better than I thought.
JL: My stuff was pretty much practical. It was a prosthetic piece on my face that blacked out in the middle, and then they put white dots on it to be able to follow it. So the actual inside of my mouth is CGI, obviously. That was not real (laughs). Everything else was practical. It was like three and a half hours of makeup.
EB: I think my most was six or seven hours.
JL: I probably had it the easiest out of everyone.
EB: We spent a day in New Zealand, about a month before we started anything, just getting body cast. I had like five different arms in different positions. We all had our faces cast. He had his chest cast. We spent a whole day doing that, so I knew it was going to be big.

AG: I’m a huge baby. Scary movies creep me out. So what was it like filming? I feel like I’d be scared all the time.
EB: It’s not scary at all!
JL: Really, you’re so uncomfortable, too. You’re just grumpy and trying to make a great scene, wanting to get it as crazy and out there as possible, so you’re more focused on that. You don’t have time to think about it.
EB: It’s just not scary. It hurt, because you’ve had your arm folded for three days, and the blood is sticky. I got allergic to my prosthetics, and my face was all fat.
LTP: It was hours and hours and hours in makeup and all that. So no, it wasn’t scary, but it was fun. You had to keep up the fun and keep up the energy, and that was about it. That’s really the hardest job the whole time, having to do that where you look scared again.
EB: Like, how many ways can you look scared? We got to take three, and I was like, “I’m not scared anymore, what else can I do?”
LTP: “What other faces can I make?”

Q: Did you guys have to do a lot of takes for each scary reaction?
LTP: Sometime yes, and sometimes no. Sometimes it was very little. It was minimal. But some days we would work for five days on one scene.
Q: Which scene?
EB: Guess (laughs).
LTP: It wasn’t action-y, but there was a lot of stuff to do. And even those days, we’d still only get like a take or three takes.
JL: We didn’t do a lot of takes ever. They would spend a lot of time setting up and all that.
LTP: We spent a lot more time on wides than on close-ups.

Q: This is kind of a big breakout for a lot of you. I mean, Fede [Alvarez], this is his first big film. Was there a feeling of that on set?
LTP: I definitely felt that was the coolest thing. Knowing the original Evil Dead so well, stepping onto the set that first day was like stepping into the old Evil Dead. It was the same house. It looked the same, and I was in that house. That was cool and scary. That was cool.
JL: I never thought about it, really.
EB: I think you’re safe with Fede. You knew he was going to make a really cool film.
LTP: The biggest thing when we got there was he wanted rehearsal time. He wanted to get us able to work with these people who were doing a sort of interpretive dance, yoga-zombie training, so we could learn to move as if we were being marionetted or something.
EB: We spent a day writhing on the floor.
JL: There’s tape of us doing crazy, weird stuff with our faces and bodies.

Q: There was an actual teacher?
LTP: Yes, a zombie teacher.
EB: She was a choreographer.
JL: We just learned to move our bodies.
LTP: How cool is that? They thought to do that for us. We didn’t ask for it. We just got there, and they were like, “Okay, zombie class is tomorrow at 1:00.”
JL: It was great, because I think we all felt like kind of anxious about that. How do you act like a zombie? We were trying to figure that out.

Q: If you all want to apply for “The Walking Dead,” you have that on your resume now.
LTP: I know! It was easy then, though, to really get to know each other, because we were all on the ground going like (enacts a seizure). They were like, “Okay, the poison is going through your body, so you’re on the ground again.” Interpretive improv dance zombie stuff.

Q: You just kept coming back, you never died.
LTP: (laughs) Seriously, Wes gets stabbed, like, 30 times.
AG: It reminded me of “Pineapple Express,” how Red never dies.
LTP: (laughs) Yeah! That part, though, with the crowbar, that was nasty.
EB: That was awesome. I really hurt the stunt guy that day. I bruised him so bad. They gave me a crowbar! It wasn’t a real one. It was firm, but the core is still metal. They were like, “Beat the shit out of him,” so I did. I cracked his rib! I had contacts in, so I couldn’t really see what I was doing.
LTP: That was the thing, you couldn’t see anything most of the time.
EB: I didn’t want to hit his head! It was sick.

AG: Obviously, this was really physically grueling for you all, but emotionally, how did you prepare?
LTP: Like I said, I just needed to have fun. It was really about keeping that energy fun and not making it too heavy. It was already written pretty heavy. It’s a detox and all that, so we all had to just be light with it.
JL: We knew what we were getting into, too, so nothing was that surprising to me.

Q: Was this the first time you saw the final film?
LTP: Yeah.
EB: First time ever.
JL: Good audience, and they were really into it. It was nice.
LTP: Insane. I thought it was going to be at the Alamo Drafthouse with 150 seats, and then I walk into the Paramount with 1,200 seats.
EB: I didn’t know there was a balcony!
JL: Me neither!

Niels Arden Oplev talks about finding his first American film, reuniting with Noomi Rapace, and working with Colin Farrell for DEAD MAN DOWN

Now in Theaters

Now in Theaters

Niels Arden Oplev, Danish director of the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” made his American directorial debut this weekend with “Dead Man Down.”

“Dead Man Down” follows the story of Victor (Colin Farrell), a lackey in a crime empire with a dark secret involving revenge. His seemingly fragile neighbor across the street, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), threatens to expose him unless he helps her carry out a certain revenge of her own.

Oplev talks about finally finding a script he loved, working with Noomi Rapace again, and his nontraditional approach to telling a dark story.

Director Niels Arden Oplev

Director Niels Arden Oplev

AG: This film definitely had me on the edge of my seat the entire time wondering what was going to happen next. It’s a great script by Joel Wyman. What was it about this story that made you really want to take part in this film?
NAO: I came over here [to the U.S.] with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and I read so many scripts. I just couldn’t connect very well with any of the scripts. There were many that I didn’t think deserved to become a film, and those who I did think could, the stories were too traditional, in a way, for what I felt I should make after having made a film that became a world hit. When Joel sent me the script, he had seen my film. He sent the script to me and was very excited about the fact that it has this element of a really compelling action story but yet a great revenge story, a double revenge story, where the male and the female lead’s stories get entangled and disrupted by each other. It has my favorite theme, which is when you’re in the most trouble, when your life is the darkest, and something or somebody grants you a second chance and gives you the chance to get your life back again, regain your synergy in a way. This story really had it all. Character-driven action was what I was looking for, so that’s why I was so excited about the script.

AG: Ori Marmur said you had a very “clear and specific vision for the film.” What vision was that, and did the film stay on track? Was the end product what you had wanted from the beginning?
NAO: It’s an elevated action film, so I wanted everything in the film to be super real. I really wanted the acting to be compelling and emotional. At the same time, because it’s a film that has such a heart of darkness and is a revenge story, the traditional thing would be to shoot it kind of dark and gritty, but I wanted to shoot it beautiful. I wanted to go against what you would normally expect and really make the images beautiful even though the film has this darkness in it. So one of the inspirations for the look of the film that Paul Cameron had, the Director of Photography, was that Hong Kong film, “In the Mood for Love.” All this darkness in “Dead Man Down,” I wanted it to take place in an aesthetic setting. That, of course, made it a very distinguished vision for the film. I really honestly feel that the end product completely lives up to my expectations. I’m very excited about sending this film out.

IMG_1870.CR2AG: There was a really great balance of action and emotion, so what was the most challenging part about making this action-packed film with all these twists and turns while keeping that relationship between Victor and Beatrice so central?
NAO: I think that the script already has that in the sense of the situations that happen between the characters, it kind of swings things into action. It’s really founded in the characters. The way that Beatrice entangles herself into Victor’s plans sets it off. I don’t think it was very difficult to do the thing between Noomi and Colin in the sense that they both have such intensity and such talent as actors, and they both loved the material. You have great action, but you also have such great emotional scenes between the two of them. It’s a very good mix for me, as a director, to work with, doing lots of action that I’ve ever done before and still doing these really good dramatic and compelling moments between characters, which is what you could say my “home field” is. It was a good mix.

IMG_5538.CR2AG: I thought Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace did such a good job. It was a great chemistry. What was it about them that made you want them for these parts? Were they your first choices, or how did that work out?
NAO: They were definitely my first choices. I worked with Noomi before, and we have a very close relationship, kind of like sister and brother. I thought it would be absolutely fabulous if she could reunite with me and team up with me again for my first American film, my first film since “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” When I heard Colin was interested in the script, it was really exciting, because he has this – as well as Noomi – wide range in an actor. Colin can go from being incredibly tough as an action hero, but he also has the ability to portray himself as an engineer who moves over here looking for work and loses his family and then chooses to transform himself into a “street soldier,” in a way, to take down these people that have caused this injustice on him. He holds credibility as a compelling, dramatic actor and at the same time, he has this toughness as an action guy. That’s what made it so cool. You could say the same thing about Noomi. She has this compelling strength inside herself, but yet she can be vulnerable and emotional. She can also really kick ass if she has to. She’s a strong female lead. She’s a strong woman in herself, but also a strong female character. It was very cool to be able to have this Beatrice who has this French, petite look with a French manicure, a beautiful woman, but at the same time, she has this unexpected darkness and fury inside her that comes out. She’s a strong female character in a beautiful, fragile wrapping.

Nicholas Hoult talks working with Bryan Singer, his interpretation of Jack, and his favorite fairy tale with a twist for JACK THE GIANT SLAYER

In theaters Friday, March 1st

In theaters Friday, March 1st

Nicholas Hoult may have started out as an awkward 11-year-old in “About a Boy,” but this Friday, he will be starring in his second leading man role of the year in “Jack the Giant Slayer.” In the past 11 years, Hoult has shed his metaphorical baby fat and landed himself yet another fantastical lead role in what seems to be a chain of spectacular projects for Hoult.

In this film, he stars as Jack, the “unlikely hero” who must defeat a race of angry giants and save Princess Isabelle, the feisty heroine he falls in love with. Along with Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Ian McShane, Hoult plays out this light-hearted but action-packed take on the classic fairy tale we have all grown up with.

In the interview below, he talks about his version of the fabled Jack, his favorite fairy tale with a twist, and what it’s like working with Bryan Singer again. You can watch the trailer and read his answers in our Fairy Tale Question Speed Round at the end of the interview. Enjoy!

Nicholas Hoult as Jack climbing the fabled giant beanstalk.

Nicholas Hoult as Jack climbing the infamous giant beanstalk.

AG: So you play Jack, the hero of the film. There have been several different versions of Jack over the years, so what makes your Jack different? What kind of man did you want him to be and what parts of yourself did you kind of insert into your interpretation of Jack?
NH: I wanted Jack to be an “every man” in many ways. He’s quite normal and a good guy, and he stands up for what he thinks is right. Things don’t always go his way. He makes silly mistakes, and he isn’t a hero from the start. That’s what I really liked about the story. It’s very much him growing and learning to become an unlikely hero and stepping up to the plate. I think that was what attracted me to the role. To be able to play a character that changes and grows over the film is interesting. The fact that Bryan Singer was directing was a massive plus. He is a great storyteller and really talented at bringing lots of different elements together in a film of this scale with the special effects and visual effects, with these giant characters and that whole world. To still keep quite a personal story within that of two young people, myself and Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays the princess, falling in love against the odds and then growing and creating their own destiny. I loved that.

AG: You mentioned that Jack is this sort of “every man” kind of hero.Was there anyone you looked up to like that growing up that you wanted to emulate in a “hero” sense?
NH: There’s kind of a little bit of a Star Wars vibe going on between myself and Ewan McGregor, where he’s kind of an “Obi Wan” to my character, someone he looks up to. Bryan watched “The Princess Bride” as kind of a model for this film. It’s romantic but light and very action-packed and huge in scale, but still quite funny and humorous in a very interesting world he’s created for it to be set in.

Hoult at the Los Angeles Premiere of  "Warm Bodies" at ArcLight Cinemas Cinerama Dome on January 29, 2013 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)

Hoult at the Los Angeles Premiere of “Warm Bodies” at ArcLight Cinemas Cinerama Dome on January 29, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)

AG: Recently there has been this surge of fairy tales being re-told in Hollywood, from “Snow White & the Huntsman” to “Beastly” to “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” What do you think it is about these stories that have people wanting to hear and see these new takes on them?
NH: I think it’s because they’re all classic stories from people’s childhoods that they really care about and love. It’s just interesting to see these new twists on them. Obviously, with special effects nowadays, we can create these marvelous worlds and these giant characters that are more realistic and fascinating to watch than they ever could have been in previous takes on these stories. I think it’s also just a fun family outing where parents can take their children along, and they can learn something about the story that maybe the kids haven’t seen or don’t know as well. Parents can re-live their childhood a little bit seeing it, and there’s something new and fresh in there.

AG: What fairy tale would you like to see re-vamped and made over? Which fairy tale would it be, and what would the new twist be?
NH: Strangely, one of my favorite films growing up was “Hook.” So that tale I thought was fantastic. I just think the writing in that film, and in this film as well, is really smart. I love the way they take the original tales and then twist them and make something new and entertaining.

AG: Looking at your body of work, you have been a part of several fantasy films like this film, “X-Men: First Class,” “Warm Bodies,” and “Clash of the Titans.” Are these kinds of projects just what you are drawn to or are you just sought out for these films? How has that worked out for you?
NH: I just try and look for interesting characters and directors to work with. At the moment, I enjoy watching these types of films, certainly, and going to the cinema to watch them, especially when it’s a big spectacle like this. It’s a real escapist thing to get to the cinema and just enjoy. It’s not been a conscious decision by me to aim for these sorts of films. I want to mix it up and try as many different things as possible.

AG: Having done these films, you are no stranger to working with CGI and visual effects. What has been the most challenging part of acting with that?
NH: This one was definitely the most challenging, because, obviously, before when I’ve done the special effects, it’s been landscapes that have been created and things like that. It’s never been to this extent where there are whole characters that aren’t there. We had Bill Nighy’s voice playing over loudspeaker, and we had kind of an idea of what they would be doing. They had already been motion-captured before the live shoot began. It’s tough to kind of imagine, though, what will be placed there. That was something that was most enjoyable about seeing this film, seeing what the visual effects team created. It’s really special and so exciting to see these giants and the land they live in. You’re watching it and thinking, “Wow, this is better than I ever could have imagined, and it’s so realistic.” It’s intriguing to watch, because it’s all in 3-D and pulls you right in. It’s a real adventure.

(L-r) EWAN McGREGOR as Elmont, ELEANOR TOMLINSON as Isabelle and NICHOLAS HOULT as Jack

(L-r) EWAN McGREGOR as Elmont, ELEANOR TOMLINSON as Isabelle and NICHOLAS HOULT as Jack

AG: What was it like working with Bryan Singer again?
NH: It was fantastic. Obviously I really liked him when he was working on X-Men [First Class]. He cares so much about film and is so talented in bringing so many elements together. We had fun on set. We’d laugh and joke about what we were doing. It was a very light atmosphere, but he was also very serious about crafting this movie and making a good character for me. I really enjoy working with him, and we’re going to be doing the next X-Men [Days of Future Past] film together as well. I’m looking forward to working with him again in a couple of months.

Fairy Tale Speed Round:
If you could choose, which fairy tale princess would you rescue? I genuinely wanted to rescue the princess from this film. Eleanor did such a fantastic job playing her, and I liked the fact that it wasn’t a typical princess where she wanted to get out and have an adventure. She wasn’t cooped up or in a tower somewhere. She was out fighting and being involved and growing herself.
Would you rather slay a dragon or reverse an evil curse?  I would definitely want to slay a dragon.
If you found a magic lamp, Aladdin-style, what would your first wish be? For more wishes!
Which fairy tale villain would you want to defeat? Oh, I think Captain Hook.
If you could be any fairy tale hero, besides Jack, who would you be? Pinocchio. Is he a hero? He’s a hero in my eyes.

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