Best known for his early pop music career and for lending his voice to characters in kid-friendly projects like “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” actor Jesse McCartney has decided to do something completely different by taking on a role in the horror film “Chernobyl Diaries.” In the film, McCartney plays Chris, a young tourist who travels with a group to the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the Ukraine and discovers they are not alone. During an interview with me, McCartney, 25, talked about the research he did for the film and what he thinks about the idea that “Chernobyl Diaries” is an insensitive way to remember an event as terrible as the one that took place over two decades ago.
Tell us about your character in “Chernobyl Diaries.”
Well, the story is about these three college grads who decide to go visit my older brother who is living in the Ukraine. I’m planning on proposing to my girlfriend when we get to Russia. Every possible thing that can go wrong does. It’s not a horror film in a sense that there isn’t any blood, guts, and gore. It’s more of a psychological thriller. This is my first studio film and I’m really excited about it. It’s a terrifying movie. If you’re into these films it’s one that you will absolutely love.
I’m assuming the site of the Chernobyl disaster isn’t the most romantic place to propose to your girlfriend.
Maybe for [screenwriter] Oren Peli and his girlfriend. I wouldn’t go there if I was trying to impress a lady friend.
Did you know you were born almost exactly a year after the Chernobyl disaster happened?
I did know that. I was a tyke when that happened.
Was researching the disaster part of the filmmaking process?
Yes, I read all about it because I knew nothing of it. I had to discover it on my own. I wish I hadn’t because it’s absolutely terrifying what happened over there. People suffered miserably. It was the biggest ecological disaster ever.
On that note, some people might argue then why a horror movie about a disaster like Chernobyl is begin made. Some people might say it’s insensitive to the people who were affected by this event. What would you say to that?
I would say that in no way is this film exploiting the Chernobyl disaster in a negative light. This actually might open people’s eyes to what happened. I would say 95 percent of people my age have never heard of Chernobyl. There are a lot of elements in the film and you see these characters sympathizing with the people who went through this.
Well, we have about 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. Does that ever go through you mind or worry you? I mean, the disaster in Fukushima happened a little over a year ago.
It’s not something I think everyone thinks about, but when you when I do it’s absolutely terrifying. I live in L.A. and when I drive home past San Diego I pass [a nuclear plant] up all the time. If that thing goes, it’s lights out. It wouldn’t be a pretty picture. I don’t know enough about the subject and I don’t know what’s really going on inside those plants, but if something goes wrong that would put everyone in harm’s way, and that’s not good.
So, you didn’t have to verse yourself and thermonuclear physics or learn about nuclear reactors for this movie?
(Laughs) No, not for this one.
Do you believe in Murphy’s Law, which states anything that can go wrong will go wrong?
No, I don’t believe in that law. I think that anything that can go wrong may go wrong but it also can go right if people do what they’re supposed to do and pay attention. I don’t know what goes down inside those nuclear plants, but I feel like we are in control. Everything can be prevented.
Would going to Chernobyl actually be something you’d be interested in doing as an extreme tourism trip?
I’m not that extreme. I think driving in my car in L.A. is extreme. That’s dangerous enough. We actually asked several scientists when we shot this movie what they thought would happen if we decided to actually shoot at the actual Chernobyl site. Their answers were across this broad spectrum. On one side we had people saying we could go for about 72 hours and not be in harm’s way. And on the other side we had people saying, “Don’t go there ever or you could die!” We decided to play it safe. As far as extreme tourism goes maybe I’m not an extremist.
So, would be safe to say that you wouldn’t have signed up for this role if the studio wanted to shoot the film on location?
(Laughs) Yes, it’s probably safe to say that.