The Thing: Eric Christian Olsen
There is something about the month of October that gets me really excited. It could be that it’s the start of the holiday season, or it could be that it’s the month of scary movies. I don’t know what it is about being in a dark room with your friends eating popcorn (or not, this movie might ruin your appetite!) watching something that’s probably going to give you nightmares for the next month that’s fun. The Thing, a prequel to the 1982 film of the same name, is guaranteed to make you squirm but also make you think.
The Thing has achieved a sort of cult-following over the past century given its beginnings as a novella in 1938 (Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr). It was made into a movie in 1951 (The Thing from Another World), and Kurt Russell made the 1982 version a horror-buff classic.
Eric Christian Olsen who plays Adam Goodman in the film gives a little bit of insight on the pressures of being a fan of the movie as well as what you can expect from NCIS:LA this season. From old-school horror flicks to travel, college and culinary school, Eric was kind enough to talk about the things that make this actor and this movie one-of-a-kind.
AG: Hello, is this Eric?
ECO: That would be me.
AG: Awesome, thank you so much for your time, by the way.
ECO: No problem.
AG: Alright, well I guess we’ll just jump straight into this thing. So this is your first horror genre film, Cellular was more of a psychological thriller, and given your background in comedy, was this something you looked for? What was it like working on a scary movie?
ECO: Well it’s always been a film I’ve wanted to do, and it’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror film. There’s a way to be scared in that someone jumps out from behind a corner with an axe, and it lasts for a second, and then there’s much more of a story-telling and character-based thriller, it’s much more of a slow burn as far as the isolation and the paranoia, and those are the kind of movies that I love. So, when I saw the ’82 version, I think it’s a blend of that, because you obviously have, y’know, these unbelievable, practical aliens that are terrifying, but also it’s about the paranoia between the people at the actual camp, and it’s about trust, it’s about betrayal. And then when they decided they were doing a prequel to it, which is the story of that Norwiegian camp, where they went back and found everybody dead, there was definitely a lot of gold to be mined in that story. In keeping with the philosophy of the 1980s version, that really appeals to me, and that’s why I got involved with this project. Because you only have so much time. Even with the worst comedy, if it’s making people laugh, y’know, in some way it’s successful. But I think it’s much harder to do a thriller than it is to do just a flat-out horror movie.
AG: I’ve got to say, I watched the 1982 version the other day, and I made the mistake of watching it while I was eating dinner, so I didn’t exactly get to finish my plate, so I was wondering if we can expect that same, I know it’s a very psychological thriller as well, but are we still going to be seeing that gore so I know ahead of time whether to eat dinner before or after this movie?
ECO: (laughs) Yeah, you should eat dinner before. I mean, you still have to make sure you do justice to what they did. Those were cutting-edge special effects in 1982, and in this movie, they definitely spent some money on creating those practicals, and the aliens are…grotesque would be an understatement. They are terrifying creatures. But because they are always in half-transformation in between the humans that get infected and then the actual source alien, it’s kind of a melding of both, which is terrifying, because you see little flashes of humanistic traits, which I think even makes it scarier, so I think yeah, we definitely have all that stuff in there. It’s, uhh, those people that loved that in the Carpenter version are definitely gonna get the 30 years, 3 decades later, all the technology that went into kind of recreating that level of… I don’t even know how to describe it. I mean, those guys are artists, they make these practicals, truly artists. They shipped them out to Toronto, and they had to go through customs. We all heard the story of these customs guys opening the boxes while they were being shipped and they found these unbelievably grotesque, crazy aliens, which I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard that story.
AG: Yeah, I can imagine that being pretty scary!
ECO: Yeah, they’re terrifying. But I mean, that’s the thing. That half a second means nothing. That with 62 minutes of storytelling prior to those moments is a very different thing, because we don’t know who it lives inside. I think that’s much scarier than that thing hiding behind a corner.
AG: Very true. Given that special effects have come a long way in the past 30 years, and there are all these movies coming out in 3D and with all these crazy special effects, storylines, I feel, are being really diminished lately, especially when it’s summer, blockbusters and things like that, what can you say about the storyline in this movie?
ECO: What can I say about it?
AG: What do you think of this story as opposed to the grotesque special effects?
ECO: I think that it’s absolutely necessary. You can’t do…I mean, they’ve proven that. In the last couple of years, they’ve done some terrible remakes that didn’t have any story, there was no coherent, linear story, there was no character development, and therefore there’s no investment. When you have no investment, there’s no lingering terror. I think what the 80s did right with these kinds of movies is, it took its time, like we said, it’s that slow burn, and I think that is why so many people look back at those early thrillers and early horror films, and they still have something deeply imprinted on us because of the story. Not because of the creature, but because the story itself is so terrifying. I mean, that’s the beauty of a movie like Jaws. They didn’t even reveal the shark until the third act. They spent so much time, I mean one of my favorite scenes in all of those, all thrillers, is where Quint is sitting in that boat, re-telling the story of the Indianapolis where 1,100 guys fell into the water and only 316 came out, that kind of story gives us such background to what these creatures are. When he tells the story of the “dead eye,” the “black eyes” that look like a doll and look like they’re not even alive ‘til they roll back and that’s when they’re biting you, by the time you get to the shark, you’re like “Oh my God,” you know. Those movies leave imprints on whoever sees them. Forever! And that’s the beauty of that kind of storytelling. But audiences have changed. I mean, the patience is different, with the generation that I’m in now. They want it early, and they want it fast, and sometimes that’s more important than the story. So there’s gotta be a balance, you have to find that balance for both, and I think we do a good job of that, which is, y’know, we don’t wait until the third act to introduce the creature, but we also have enough of a story that we kind of identify with these characters and also feel the paranoia and the isolation that they have.
AG: Speaking of leaving an imprint on people, this story, The Thing, it has achieved a sort of cult-following over the years. Did you feel any sort of pressure doing the prequel to this movie given that it has this large fan base?
ECO: Yeah, I did and I think everybody else did, and I would argue that that’s a good thing. Because I think there’s a couple different ways to make this movie. One of them is the cheap version, where they hire crappy actors and do all CGI and no story, and I think because of that respect for the ’82 version and the ’51 version, Howard Hawkes (?) version, I think that from the top down, from Universal to Marc and Eric, our producers, and Miles, to our director, Matthijas, everybody came in with that kind of respect and appreciation for the ’82 version. So therefore you try to make sure you’re stepping up to that kind of philosophy of storytelling. So that’s a good thing, because everybody knows that you’re working like, “We gotta fix this. We gotta do justice to what we, ourselves, loved about the ’82 version.” Which if you think about it, when the ’82 version came out, it inadvertently canned…. Hello? Can you hear me?
ECO: Oh okay. AT&T, God bless ‘em. Um, I don’t know, did you get that whole answer?
AG: Uh huh!
ECO: Okay, good.
AG: Speaking of fan bases, delving a little farther from The Thing, you’re now a part of NCIS: LA. Can you tell me a little bit about what we can expect from Deeks this season, for fans of the show?
ECO: This is a great season, but it’s not a great season for Deeks, I think that this is, you know, the first season of the show, and really getting…when you talk about a slow burn as far as the reveal of character development, I think it’s such an exciting time to be a part of television, because they’re not telling stories in 120 minutes, they’re not telling it over 5 episodes, they’re not even telling it over a season. The beauty of NCIS: LA is that this is the second highest-rated show on television for scripted shows, so they’re really doing character reveals over hundreds of episodes, which is so exciting to be a part of, because I’m a fan of the show, first and foremost, because I wasn’t on it, I came on in the second season, so I get so excited getting new scripts to see what we find out about these characters. I think as the background of Callen and his family is revealed, there’s an unbelievable episode we’re shooting right now about Sam, where we meet his wife. That moment in itself, isolated, is powerful. The whole episode leading up to that moment when we meet his wife, is heartbreaking. And you could never do that in any other kind of outlet of storytelling except for a show like this. I mean, it’s incredibly exciting, and the relationship with Kensi and Deeks has become kind of a wildfire with fans, which is the greatest thing ever. That storyline is incredible this year. Heddy’s character, she’s back officially now, in the episode that airs, I don’t know when this is gonna come out, the episode tomorrow (10/11/11) or this past week, whenever you put this out, Heddy’s character is back full-time. I meet a possible new love interest with this really, I refer to her as kind of a “stone-cold fox,” a cop that comes from south of the border into the United States, and that causes all sorts of trouble with the dynamic between Kensi and I. I mean, there’s amazing stuff happening, it’s a pretty great time to be on NCIS: LA.
AG: So obviously TV is very different from filming a movie. Is there one you prefer over the other? Or what’s the biggest difference?
ECO: They’re both fantastic. Film has allowed me to travel all over the world and do some amazing jobs. One of my first movies ever, I flew in a B-25 bomber, in the glass bubble, off an aircraft carrier in San Diego.
AG: Was that Pearl Harbor?
ECO: That was Pearl Harbor! We were literally gonna fly back to San Diego, and it was gonna be another five hours, and I was going to school at Pepperdine at the same time, and I was like, “I really have to get back, if I could just hitch with these guys.” The producers were like, “Sure, do it,” and I talked the pilot into letting me sit in the bubble going off the aircraft carrier. That doesn’t happen! I mean, those were manufactured in the late 30s into the 40s. That was one of the greatest moments ever. So film, as far as travel and meeting new people, and hustling and discovering new characters, I think that’s a pretty fantastic thing. But also, what I said about television, Scorcese was talking about Boardwalk Empire, that’s one of my favorite shows on HBO, and he talked about scope and about storytelling in the outlet of television and how that allows you to develop characters over a long period of time. I think one of the best shows doing it right now is Breaking Bad, I don’t know if you watch it. Do you watch Breaking Bad?
AG: I don’t, but I have heard so many good things about it. I mean, it’s on my Instant Que on Netflix so I guess I’m gonna have to start that up pretty soon, because I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
ECO: It’s masterful! Like, I literally just watched all three seasons in a month, because my fiancée was away, so every time I’d come home, I’d watch an episode and then another episode, and you start to see a character arc over a span of, whatever it is, I think 39 episodes or something, and it’s unbelievable. I mean, you couldn’t do that, you couldn’t do that anywhere else but television. I think this is the most exciting time in the history of television, what we’ve been doing in the last 5-10 years, starting with The Sopranos, and now with, y’know, I’m just a fan. I’m a huge fan. I’m a fan of storytelling, I guess what the answer to that is. Whatever that comes in, when I’m not working or reading a book, when I’m driving my car, I’m listening to books on tape, and when I have two seconds off, I’m watching movies and television in 15 minute segments , because that’s all the kind of gaps I get in the day, and that, to me, I love it. Doesn’t matter. Television, film, doesn’t matter.
AG: Oh, I’m sorry, I just heard this huge break, and I thought AT&T had failed us.
ECO: (laughs) You know, it probably has, we just don’t know about it yet!
AG: Yeah, it happens to me way too often.
ECO: Me, too. I’m a huge fan of Apple, but AT&T is, uhhh… a little short in my book.
AG: Well I guess that’s all the questions that I have for you unless you think there’s anything else the people of Houston, Texas need to know about it.
ECO: Oh! We shot in Houston, Texas! The first days on Pearl Harbor were shot in Houston, Texas.
ECO: Embassy Suites downtown? I stayed at the Embassy Suites in Houston, Texas.
AG: How’d you like it?
ECO: I loved it! We were shooting on…is there a boat that’s stationed somewhere off of there about an hour away?
AG: Probably like in Galveston? That’s the beachy area.
ECO: That’s it! There’s some museum boat they dock there where we did interiors for Pearl Harbor, and that was a couple days in Houston, Texas. Wearing a wool flight suit in 107 degrees.
AG: That couldn’t be fun over here.
ECO: No, it was pretty hot. But it was okay, ‘cause we found like seven great steak restaurants nearby so we at steak like every night we were there.
AG: We Texans love our meat.
ECO: Yeah, I think I ate a cow in seven days.
AG: That’s quite possible over here.
ECO: Yeah. Well, I don’t know! I’ve been so kind of entrenched in doing interviews that I can’t even tell you what else there is we haven’t talked about specifically, so if there’s anything else, I’ve got a whole other seven minutes, so you can ask me anything you want.
AG: Okay, well, the first thing that pops into my mind is not specifically anything to do with movies, but you said you studied at Pepperdine, and when I was doing research for this interview, it was about a week ago, and I was in LA, and we were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, and was passed Pepperdine, and I was like, “No wonder he came here!” Can you tell me a little bit about your experience at Pepperdine?
ECO:Oh, that’s probably the most important question. I started doing this on the side, to help pay for college. I was on 75 percent scholarship, but I still had to pay 25 percent in room and board. So I actually came out to Los Angeles, because I thought I could do commercials at the same time as getting my education. I started going to Pepperdine in 1998. I didn’t graduate until 2007. So all those movies I did between ’98 and 2007, I was at the same time kind of juggling school. The reason that I finished, people kept saying, “Why are you continuing to go through school? You’ve done these movies, you’ve done this television, just forget about it.” The reason I didn’t is because I think it’s probably the most important thing that we can do. Especially right now in today’s job market, there’s nothing better than, I mean, whatever it takes. You take out the loans, we all do, we put ourselves in debt, but everyone that asks me, “I wanna be an actor, what should I do?” I say, “Go to college.” If you can go to college in Los Angeles or New York where you can possibly do commercial work and audition at the same time, do it. Find something else that you love, that you’re passionate about, and major in that. I majored in, it was a liberal arts college, so it was Child Psychology and Growth and Development and a minor concentration in English Literature, and those are things that I love. And I can’t tell you how important that life experience is, of college, and if there’s overseas programs, but just study something like, you know, literature, or whatever it is that you’re passionate about that’s outside of what it is you’re doing for a living. I think that really helps people find balance, and I think that gives you a foundation to pull from when you’re doing whatever it is that you love. That’s why I finished college, and why that’s a great question, and why education is so important.
AG: I also understand you went to culinary school.
ECO: Ha! (laughs) You did the research. How did you find that out?
AG: You said it in another interview, someone asked you something, and you mentioned culinary school, and that stuck in my head, too. My sister always tells me, “Why are you a journalist? Why aren’t you a cook!” I’m just like, “You know, I’m not good at it.” How did your go at culinary school go?
ECO: Here’s the best answer to that, you can do both. I made an agreement with my manager that I was gonna stay in town. There were these two movies we turned down, and she said, “I really think we should do a television show this year, so you have to stick around during pilot season to do meetings and stuff, we’re not gonna have you flying off,” I mean one was in Romania, another one was in South Africa, and I said, “Alright, well if I’m staying in town, I’m not just gonna sit around and do meetings and work out like every other actor in Los Angeles, I’m going to culinary school.” She’s like my mother. “I’m going to culinary school,” and she’s like, “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re not going to culinary school.” I said, “I am, and it’s 6 o’clock to 11 o’clock every night, so don’t make any meetings after 4:30, ‘cause I have to get all the way to Hollywood to Le Cordon Bleu.” And she was like, “Fine!” and I was like “FINE!” (laughs) so I went to culinary school, and it’s culinary thunderdome! They do presentations for 30 minutes, and then you’re off to the races. You’re cooking, y’know, and you’ve got six burners going, and the oven, and you’re slicing up a thousand things, pulling stuff out of the freezer, people are cutting their fingers, people are being rushed off to the hospital, it was amazing. And I didn’t cook prior to this. It’s something that I thought, I mean, we all have this kind of delusional idea of being a fantastic cook, and sipping great wine, and I was like, “Whatever! I have no experience whatsoever, but I know that I’m capable of learning anything, I’m just gonna do it.” It’s actually a really great story, if you tell your sister, there were people that came into that class with a lot of experience. They had been cooking, and they cook for their families, all ages, all ethnicities, nationalities, it was everything. And the people that started off with the most experience, that were kind of the best the first couple of weeks when the rest of us were cutting our fingers off, a couple of us that had no experience, it became like Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” All of a sudden, we rose to the top and became some of the best chefs in the class. I was only in there for six weeks — the whole course goes for eight months – so I didn’t get to finish the course, but it was an awesome kind of learning experience, because everything that I knew, and everything that I used to kind of define myself flies out the window. All of a sudden, I’m just a guy learning how to cook, which was a great experience in itself. I think you should do it.
AG: I will keep that in mind, even though it sounded like something out of “Iron Chef,” and I don’t know if I’m capable!
ECO: You’d be surprised! We are, we just naturally learn how to do these things. Everybody does. I mean, I took a motorcycle class. It started off with like 15 people, and I was like, “Some of these people are never gonna learn how to ride a motorcycle,” and we do, we just learn. It’s crazy! It’s crazy what we’re capable of. We just learn these things. And you would. You’d learn how to cook. I promise you that.
AG: Well I’ll take your word for it, and I’ll try it out rather than being in my kitchen cooking mushy, burned pasta. I’ll see what I can do.
ECO: You tell your sister I agree with her. I say, “She’s a great journalist, but she can also do culinary school.” And you can do a blog! You can start a journalist, culinary blog. I’d read it.
AG: Well thank you so much for your time, you’ve been so wonderful, this has been really fun, and I’m very excited to watch The Thing. Before we go, any last minute things I didn’t touch on that you think people need to know about the movie?
ECO: No, I think you did the research. I think you’re goin’ in with everything you need. It’s going to be terrifying, and I definitely wouldn’t try to eat while watching the movie.
AG: Yeah, I already told myself I’m not going to the Alamo Drafthouse to watch that one, I think that would be a really bad call.
ECO: Yeah, it’s pretty burly, gets pretty dark pretty quick. But thank you so much for the time, and thank you for the article, and I look forward to reading it.
AG: Thank you so much!