Feature Interview by Brad Balfour
There are interview opportunities and there are interview opportunities.
Consider the circumstances that came up in covering this horror/suspense film, "The Strangers." When a movie is made by an unknown, first-time director with two actors who have been out of the spotlight for awhile, interviewing the stars together is usually a pain. It can dilute the dialogue and allow the two actors to mess around rather than offer insights that interviewers are supposed to look for in asking the questions. Well, this time a quartet of interviewers got a bit of both: a little fooling around and some insightful comments.
Inspired by "a true story" (so the film is tagged), a great trailer suggests a film that ratchets the personal anxiety up through an attack by three insidious strangers who decide to threaten and eventually slash a couple—played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman—late at night in an isolated summer home in some unknown vacation town.
After being a crucial member of the "Lord of The Rings" trilogy and the hot girlfriend/daughter in the sci-fi disaster flick, "Armageddon," Tyler established herself among the genre-geeks. Then a marriage, child-bearing, and pending divorce took her out of the spotlight until the release of this film; that and the success of the tentpole superhero movie, "The Incredible Hulk," proves that Tyler is not just back in form but proving that the break did her good.
Speedman had garnered his fan creds as well, by playing the werewolf/vampire hybrid in the "Underworld" series, as well as playing characters in various genre flicks as "Anamorph," "Weirdsville," and the swanky sequel to "xXx."
LT: Oh my god, talk about fears! [Doing this] is more terrifying than this movie was.
Q: Did you watch a bunch of horror flicks to prepare for this film?
SS: Bryan got us to watch stuff, right? What did he want us to watch?
LT: The things that I watched… "Rosemary's Baby," and we both watched "Halloween."
SS: Yeah. "Halloween." Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween" was a good one to watch.
LT: What was that weird one? It was a really dodgy movie... Two girls get kidnaped? Yeah, they're in the city and they get taken to the country, and it's really disturbing, and they're like naked—
SS: Oh yeah? That sounds really cool!
LT: Never mind! We did watch other movies—
SS: "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"—
LT: Didn't we watch "A Woman Under the Influence?"
SS: We were supposed to… [laughs]
LT: When I was a kid I was pretty obsessed with horror movies. It was my favorite thing to watch, and I remember seeing that for the first time and being like, "Okay! I'm done with the horror movie genre!" It really scared me so much.
SS: They're fun movies...
LT: We both read the script [of this film] and fell in love with it— it's really a drama—and it's a story about a couple going through a not-so-perfect situation, and they just happened to be happened upon by these three people.
SS: Bad people.
LT: Very, very bad people.
Q: How did director Bryan Bertino keep you in the mood so you weren't stressed out during the shooting of the film?
SS: It felt like we were stressed out the entire time. That was what was so tough and exhausting about it, was keeping up that fear and anxiety level every day. The whole thing takes place over five hours. If that to me is our job, he can't really do anything to get us there. I feel like that's our responsibility to get there every day.
LT: He really created an environment that was really specific to what he wanted. He would give us music to listen to and show us photographs, and that house was THE house he dreamt up in his mind. He was really clear about that and talked us through it extensively. Then he just kind of let us go.
There were moments when he was cautious about not interfering, because he would see us so upset and disturbed and he didn't want to get involved. He created everything for us and then just stood back and watched, in a way. He was very clear with us not to be campy in any way, humorous, but very real and bleak and absolutely terrifying.
Q: Were you surprised by his self-assurance considering this was his first time directing?
SS: It was kind of nice to have that. That's what you don't want with a first time director, is somebody who's not cock-sure. It was nice to have somebody so confident.
LT: [Laughs] I mean it depends on who you're working with, but this was different. It was just Scott and I and Brian and a small crew. It was a very intimate and very small experience for all of us, and it was just really emotional for everybody. There wasn't ever a light day. And for the crew it was emotional as well. There were days where I'd shoot certain things and I'd come outside and my poor hair and makeup people would have tears in their eyes or be shocked.
Q: Did you read stories in the paper similar to this one?
LT: Well, there was a story a year ago. But the movie was possibly going to come out a year ago, and I remember a story in the paper right at that time that was quite similar.
SS: Really? What do you remember? Where was it?
LT: I don't remember. I have two stories, but one is too personal to talk about because it is terribly sad—but it's not about me. The other one is about my stepfather, Todd Rundgren [the New York Dolls producer and legendary musician], who used to live in Woodstock. Two people broke into his house in the '70s. They tied him and his girlfriend, Bean, who was pregnant with my brother Rex at the time, to a chair and held them at gunpoint. I think one of them pistol whipped Todd, which is horrible. There was nothing stolen, there was really no reason, it wasn't a crime of passion. But things like this happen a lot and often they're really random.
Q: What's it like being in a movie made for under $10 million?
LT: The lower the budget, the lower your salary! That's how it works. We didn't really care. It's not about that. It's an amazing, wild, wacky collaboration of a bunch of gypsies making a movie, no matter how big or small.
I just did "The Hulk" and it's the same thing, but there was a lot more stuff to blow up and a lot more time to do it. And actually, I wouldn't say the catering was any better, frankly. We were in Toronto… Just kidding! But it's the same experience.
Q: I imagine your experience with this film gave you a lot more input than with "The Incredible Hulk?"
LT: I actually had a lot of input in "The Incredible Hulk" too. I mean, it's a collaboration, but I don't mean to be cocky about it. I mean, it depends on who you're working with, but this was different. It was just Scott and I and Brian and a small crew. It was a very intimate and very small experience for all of us, and it was just really emotional for everybody. There wasn't ever a light day. And for the crew it was emotional as well. There were days where I'd shoot certain things and I'd come outside and my poor hair and makeup people would have tears in their eyes or be shocked.
Q: As for "The Hulk"—did you go back and watch Ang Lee's movie to see what Jennifer Connelly did?
SS: Are you playing the same person?
LT: Yes I am, Miss Betty Ross. I mostly went back and watched the television show, which was one of my favorite things my mom and I used to watch all the time.
Q: What did you want to bring to the Bruce/Betty relationship?
LT: The story's completely different. There's nothing similar about the stories, or even the characters in many ways. I would say the essence of the image of that lone figure of Bruce Banner walking down the street alone with his little backpack, hitchhiking—the misunderstood hero having to move on to another town type of thing—was more of the overall feeling for the film. But the story is completely different. Edward Norton wrote the screenplay. I was really happy, because I was offered the part and had to decide if I was going to be in the movie before I ever read the script. So the script was very well-written, and he wrote a great part for me.
Q: Unfortunately, word has it that there is some acrimony now between Edward Norton and the producers. Was that evident on the set?
LT: No. This was a real collaboration for everyone. Edward wrote the screenplay and they agreed to his story. He was really involved, as were we all, and I think the misunderstandings that happened were reached in the editing. I think that basically, at a certain point Marvel just decided to edit the movie that they wanted to, and possibly Edward disagreed with some of those things. But I can't speak for them. It's not a big deal. It's the same movie. There's nothing crazily different about it.
Q: Did you get to meet the actor who played the original Hulk on television, Lou Ferrigno?
LT: I did not. He came to the set one day, and I believe it was, amazingly , one of the only days in the three or four months where I had a half a day somehow, and I didn't get to stay to meet him. I really wanted to.
Q: Is there anything you haven't done in this business that you'd like to do?
LT: Wow. I would looove to do a musical. That's like the dream of my whole life. I always wanted to be a singer, or get to sing in some kind of capacity. I haven't been able to do that, and I'd love to do that. I like the idea of the Old Hollywood singing and dancing—there's something so fabulous and fantastic about that. Actually, I recorded a song [recently] with my friend—I don't know if it will ever come out. My friend Evan Dando [of The Lemonheads] asked me to sing a Leonard Cohen song called "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye."
I worked all year—I just did three movies in a row, and I finished "The Incredible Hulk" in November and then took a little break because I was a little exhausted. Now I'm excited to see what happens next.
LT: Scott, what is one thing you'd like to do, and what do you have coming up next?
SS: Well, Ms. Tyler, I have no idea. Definitely NOT a musical! That is one thing you will never see me do. You wouldn't be very happy about that! I've got a movie called "Adoration" [directed by Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan] coming out at some point, I don't know when.
Q: Would you revisit doing a horror film again?
LT: Of course.
SS: Yeah, absolutely.
LT: This was a tremendous experience for me, and I would be thrilled to have another experience equally as good, if not better again.
Q: Have you ever been in a situation where you were by yourself and were scared?
LT: Oh yeah, all the time. Absolutely. That's what's so real about this movie. We've all been in bed at night, trying to relax, and all of a sudden you hear a [she hits the table] and you're like, "What was that!" And it's like, are you brave enough to go and check or not? Bryan used to always say that to us, "Imagine if you got up and went and looked and there's nothing ever there and your girlfriend is in bed and suddenly one day you go out and look, and someone is there, with a mask on, standing with a butcher knife in your living room?
SS: Yeah, that would suck. That would be really, really scary.