Dan Stevens – The Guest

September 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

After spending three seasons on the critically-acclaimed PBS drama “Downton Abbey” (before his nice-guy character Matthew Crawley was tragically killed off of the series in 2012), English actor Dan Stevens was ready to move onto something completely different. In the throwback thriller/comedy “The Guest,” Stevens finds exactly what he was looking for in David, a charming yet completely berserk American soldier, who infiltrates the home of a family in mourning by telling them he served with their son in the military and was with him on the day he died. Once the family opens their doors to this stranger, it becomes a fight for survival as David turns out to be the exact opposite of the polite, straight-laced young man he initially pretended to be.

During a phone interview last week, Stevens, 31, talked to me about what he thinks director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are doing differently in the thriller genre today, and why he felt a film like “The Guest” was the perfect way to disconnect himself from early 20th-century Yorkshire.

My sense of humor is sometimes very juvenile, so I have to tell you that I’ve been laughing all morning watching your recent appearance on “Good Morning Britain.”

Well, first of all, we want to get across to people that this movie is funny. There is a twisted sense of humor there. So, I guess we did that all in one fell swoop on “Good Morning Britain.” It was one hell of a morning.

What do you think a director like Adam Wingard and a screenwriter like Simon Barrett are doing for the horror genre no one else is doing right now?

When you meet Adam and Simon, you quickly realize what sense of humor they have. They’re trying to step outside of their comfort zone. “The Guest” borrows from the horror genre, but they also want to speak other languages, too, and have fun. I saw and loved [Adam and Simon’s 2013 film] “You’re Next.” I thought it was hilarious and such a riotous film. It was very playful. They were doing something with the horror genre that I hadn’t seen before. Simon said the other day that “The Guest” is a very charming home-invasion horror. It’s a formula you think you know, but you don’t.

I think there is a lot of wit in both “You’re Next” and “The Guest.” There’s also a lot of really well-done campiness. I think, however, sometimes the word “camp” can have a negative connotation to it if it come across as cheesy. How do you think “The Guest” avoids that?

Well, I think there are a lot of things that feed into that. I think when we get into the ridiculousness of it all, it is written with one or two realities kept in mind. I think one of those realities was this family in mourning and the bond that David has for his friend, this soldier who has died. Once we’ve established those rules and set that reality, then we can go to some pretty crazy places like films did in the 80s and 90s. I have to say, growing up in England we were saturated with American action thrillers. A movie like “Big Trouble in Little China” was a major turning point in my life. The comedy and humanity they were able to get out of those action sequences was great. It was important for us to do the same thing with “The Guest” and give the action sequences a little humor and character to them.

Was that throwback sensibility to the film something Adam made you and the cast aware of as you were shooting this? Did it feel like you were making a movie from the 80s or 90s or did all that happen in the editing room?

Well, we weren’t trying to pretend like we were in the 80s or 90s. It’s very much a contemporary story. But it is set in the desert in this slightly timeless landscape. I think, of course, the soundtrack and Adam’s choice of music gives it that throwback feel.

Since most people know you for your role in “Downton Abbey,” is it important for you at this stage of your career to play against type so you don’t get typecast in any way?

Well, typecasting only happens when you say yes. I would’ve felt foolish stepping down from something like “Downton” and into something that was similar. I was looking for something different. I was exploring a lot of different possibilities. I’ve been doing that for the last couple of years – really exploring a range of things. I certainly didn’t think I would end up in something as batshit crazy as “The Guest.” But when it came along, it just made perfect sense. It appealed to my sense of humor and it also felt a little bit dangerous. As soon as I sat down with Adam, we established that we shared that dark sense of humor.

Describe what it was like to play an American?

For an actor like me, it’s a delicious prospect – to step into something that is far out of your own experience. Getting my head around the accent was fun. I’ve always enjoyed doing accents and voices and that sort of thing. To get to work some of that into an on-screen character was cool. It was interesting to me how this Kentucky dialect, in particular, fed through a militarized dialect and formed the psychology of the character.

You’re going to be all over the big screen this fall with movies like “The Guest,” “The Cobbler,” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and the third film in the “Night at the Museum” series. Aren’t you worried moviegoers will be tired of you by the end of the year?

(Laughs) Well, [all those films are] all for different types of crowds. “Night at the Museum” is definitely something my kids can see. My daughter is four and my son is two, so I don’t think I’m going to show them “The Guest” for a couple of years. But I certainly am having fun exploring all these roles and entertaining people in a lot of different ways.

Next year you’re going to star in a film called “Criminal Activities,” which will be Oscar-nominated actor and San Antonian Jackie Earle Haley’s directorial debut. What do you think Jackie brings to the table that would have you believe he has what it takes to be a director in this industry?

Jackie is an amazing actor and someone who I’ve admired for years. It’s always interesting when an actor wants to direct. I think a lot of actors leap at that opportunity. Jackie certainly has the sensitivity as an actor to really shape his scenes. He is a very sensitive guy. I haven’t yet seen how that film has come together, but I’m sure all eyes in San Antonio will be on that movie.

Sharni Vinson – You’re Next

August 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

After shooting for 14 straight hours, an incredibly long day which included working through the night in Columbia, Missouri, Australian actress Sharni Vinson never thought she would have to take her role in the horror movie “You’re Next” home with her. In the film, Vinson plays Erin, a young woman who is more than capable of defending herself when a trio of masked men show up and begin killing people during her boyfriend’s parents’ wedding anniversary celebration. During one day in particular in Columbia, Vinson had completed her work on the set and went back to her “dingy motel” to get some sleep, but was woken up when someone started banging on her door.

“Someone was trying to get into my motel room, so I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stood there staring at the door almost challenging the guy to come in,” Vinson told me during a phone interview last week. “I’m so glad he didn’t because he wasn’t aware who he was messing with.”

Who he was messing with was an actress whose character in “You’re Next” is the most badass heroine in horror/sci-fi/thriller movie history since Sigourney Weaver in the “Alien” franchise. During my interview with Vinson, whose very first film was 2010’s “Step Up 3D, we talked about how her background in dance helped her with the more physical aspects of “You’re Next” and whether she could handle herself if put in the same situation as Erin.

You’re such a badass in this movie. Is that what attracted you to the role?

Absolutely. I think it’s time we saw this type of female character, especially in a horror movie. It’s more often than not we see the lead female protagonist in these movies portrayed in an unnecessary, overly-sexualized manner. We were trying to break all barriers in the [horror] genre and really flip the script on its head and give the audience a reason to root for their heroine.

What I found refreshing about the film is that it’s one of the very few horror movies I’ve seen that injects actual logic into the story. Did you feel the same way?

Yes, I really appreciated the sense and sensibility of the storyline. A lot of the time, you are presented with these horror movies and these situations. Even if it’s a wonderful film, if the underlying story doesn’t make sense, it takes you out of the entire believability of the film. I really appreciated that Simon Barrett really thought long and hard when he wrote the screenplay. The backstory that was created as the reason to why all of this was happening made complete sense to me. You can’t just have a great movie. You have to have a great storyline and great actors. I feel we checked a lot of those boxes.

Did your background in dance help you with the more physical aspects of this role?

Absolutely. I grew up dancing my whole life. It’s definitely something, even unknowingly so, that helped me prepare for this exact role. In dance you learn multiple types of dance. For me, especially with a movie like “Step Up 3D,” [dance] also included elements of Parkour, Capoeira, Brazilian martial arts, boxing and fighting. These are wonderful skill sets that definitely come into play when you tackle a character with this type of physicality.

So, what’s more fun – doing a pirouette or kicking someone in the throat?

(Laughs) Great question! How about we do a double pirouette and end with kicking somebody in the throat? Let’s make that happen! That would be awesome!

If put in the same situation as Erin, how do you think you would fare? Would you survive?

I really hope so. I think by playing a character like Erin it gives you confidence. If presented with a situation like this, hopefully I could take care of myself. It definitely opened my eyes up to being more prepared in case something happens and feeling more confident in myself to fight back. It opened my eyes to the importance of learning self-defense, especially for women. If I was ever in a situation like this, I would hope I could borrow from parts of Erin and take care of myself.

What would be your weapon of choice in a kitchen full of utensils? Would you stick to the meat tenderizer?

(Laughs) Anything that was available! You know, the kitchen would be the best place to be. With a kitchen comes a lot of knives. It all comes down to what is available. You just have to grab something and defend yourself. You just want to pick up the sharpest knife possible.

Other than some weird guy banging on your motel room door, what gives you the creeps?

(Laughs) Spiders! The bigger they are, the worse. I’m from Australia, so I’ve had too many situations where I’ve been face to face with Huntsman [spiders] and tarantulas and spiders that are bigger than my face. That’s not OK. There was a time when I was asleep in my bed in Australia and I woke up with a Huntsman spider crawling on my face. If you don’t know what a Huntsman is, please Google it. It’s terrifying. It’s not an average spider. It’s massive and hairy and horrible. After that happened, I had a proper case of arachnophobia.

Are you ever going to be able to listen to the song “Looking for the Magic” by the Dwight Twilley Band again without thinking horrible things?

I love that song. I actually downloaded it to my iPad mini. I think that song is so brilliant. It complements the tone [of the movie] we were trying to get perfectly. I listen to that song almost every single day. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to it and not think of “You’re Next.” It’s taken on the sense of being the “You’re Next” theme song. I’ll always associate it with the movie, but not in a terrifying way because I really do enjoy that song.

What are horror films in Australia like today? Are there any that are exclusively Australian, or do you basically get whatever the U.S. produces?

We make some wonderful Australian horror movies. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “Wolf Creek.” It was a very terrifying film. I have to also mention in 1978, one of our cult classic movies “Patrick” came out and we recently remade that movie last year. I had the opportunity to star in the movie opposite Charles Dance and Rachel Griffiths. It’s a horror/psychological thriller that involves the concept of telekinesis. It was very much a new subject back in the 80s, but in dealing with the remake now, we’ve really been able to take the advances in technology and put that into this film to hopefully provide the audience with a wonderful film. We’re screening the movie at Fantastic Fest this year, so I’m very excited to be there and prove to America that we can make great horror movies as well.

You’re Next

August 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg
Directed by: Adam Wingard (“V/H/S”)
Written by: Simon Barrett (“V/H/S”)

When it comes to elevating the standard slasher movie into something more than just a series of cheap thrills and gory kills, “You’re Next” hits the nail on the head by adding just the right amount of wit and peppering the story with enough tossed-off bits of backstory to ground the proceedings in at least a twinge of believability. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t talking about an intricately-plotted puzzle of terror and dark comedy here, but when it all wraps up the audience should be satisfied with the circumstances behind the protagonist’s deft handling of knives and meat tenderizers in the heat of battle.

After a bloody prologue kills a couple post-coitus – leaving a bloody calling card on a window featuring the title of the film – the story shifts to that all-too-familiar of settings: a creaky old house in the middle of nowhere. Fresh into retirement, Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) arrive on the eve of their anniversary party. While cleaning, Aubrey hears a strange noise coming from upstairs, convinced there is someone else in the house. As Rob ventures upstairs to check things out, he’s surprised by his son Crispian (AJ Bowen), who has just arrived with his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson). The rest of the family trickles in with spouses and various significant others in tow, kicking off the anniversary festivities. Soon, though, dinner devolves into a family squabble, the arguments only broken up when a hail of deadly arrows begins raining down on the dining room. As attackers sporting creepy barnyard animal masks, jam cell phones and drive hatchets into skulls, staying alive is all that matters to the family now. It’s opportune, then, that Erin spent the first 15 years of her life living in an Australian survivalist commune and is startlingly capable of fighting back.

Director Adam Wingard (“V/H/S”) marshals his cast of relative unknowns into what feels like a mildly-quirky indie drama for the first 45 minutes (prologue notwithstanding, of course) before springing the trap with a bolt from a crossbow making its way through a character’s skull. Wingard also handles a second act plot twist with calm restraint, where a lesser movie would have stuck it smack in the middle of the climax. And while Sharni Vinson’s Erin owes more to horror-movie heroines like the “Scream” series’ Sydney Prescott than to put-upon reluctant heroes like the “Evil Dead” series’ Ash, it is refreshing to have a female lead survive a horror film because she’s a bona fide badass, not simply the beneficiary of good luck and bumbling bad guys.