As I’ve said all week, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard‘s The Cabin in the Woods is one of the best “horror” movies I’ve ever seen, and it’s easily one of my favorite films this year. While many of you might love the horror genre, I find it repetitive and stale. It seems like the genre is stuck in neutral, and no one is making any progress forward. But that all changed after I saw Cabin in the Woods. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say the film turns “horror” on its head, and I loved every second of it.
At this year’s SXSW, I got to talk with the cast and filmmakers for both our partners at Omelete and Collider. Over the past few days I’ve posted my interviews with Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard and Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams & Kristen Connolly. Today I’ve got Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. During the interview we talked about premiering at SXSW, Joss Whedon, rehearsals, how much changed on set, how did they get involved in the project, Liberal Arts, The West Wing, and a lot more. Hit the jump to check it out.
Bradley Whitford: The love fest? People have been very, very nice. That’s the kind of screening that you dream of, where you have a really enthusiastic crowd who’s getting every moment of the film. I’m anxious for it to come out.
Richard Jenkins: You don’t always say that do you?
Whitford: I don’t always say that.
For the two of you, how familiar were you with Joss [Whedon’s] writing and his shows prior to this particular project?
Jenkins: I wasn’t that familiar. I knew who he was, I knew Buffy, but I had never been a viewer. I wasn’t the demographic, maybe. But I know that people loved him. I had no idea, when I read the script, how good he was. I’d been missing stuff over the last few years.
Whitford: I have an odd connection. He went to the same college I went to and I kind of knew him through that. We weren’t there at the same time, but I was aware of things like Buffy. I wasn’t a big sci-fi person.
You guys have fantastic chemistry in the film. Obviously we can’t talk too much about your characters and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody, but the chemistry between you two and the dialogue that you guys are working with is just great. For the two of you, did you do any sort of rehearsal and how much do you break down the script prior to getting into a movie or before filming?
Jenkins: No, we didn’t rehearse.
Jenkins: We had a read-through one day when we arrived. We just kind of jumped in and shot it, which was good. Rehearsal for film is tough. Until the camera’s there, everything changes. If you get it in your mind what you’re going to do, and say, “This is who this guy is, I’m going to do this,” and you stick to that, you’re missing a lot of stuff because once you’re on the set and the camera’s there, that’s when stuff starts to happen. And you have to be ready to go and change direction.
Whitford: It is a weird thing, because in some ways you want to be prepared but the main thing on film is you want to be innocent to the moment. It’s deadly if what you do in rehearsal leads to a decision about how you want to play it, so that instead of being innocent to the moment, you’re presenting something. That’s not a good-
Jenkins: It’s the old thing that once you make a decision, the creative process stops; it’s over, your options are gone. It’s weird, I know, especially in theater, too. You’ve got to be ready to change direction and ready to go with what’s going on.
I would imagine both of you have worked with directors who are indecisive, not exactly sure what they’re looking for…maybe not, maybe you’ve been very fortunate. I would imagine Drew [Goddard] and Joss, when you read the script, they had a very clear understanding of what they were looking for. On set, how much were they tweaking performances or were they really dialed in with what they were looking for?
Whitford: They’re two guys who are very secure and the best directors, and this isn’t just an actor-centric point of view, but really good directors want the actor to feel like they know more about how to act it than the director does, because it empowers the actor, it triggers the actor’s initiative. They’re two guys who get delighted by being around actors and it just makes a very secure, creative place. You saw it across the board in this movie. I thought the performances of the kids were – everybody’s blood is flowing, everyone is truthful.
Jenkins: He means that, everybody’s blood is flowing. (laughs)
Jenkins: I love it when a director says, “I don’t know.” Drew, I remember him saying it a few times: “What are these…I don’t know, let’s try it.” He would say that a lot. He’s willing, he has a vision, but he wants to see what you bring. That’s why he hired you. I love that. It truly helps actors to have the trust of the director.
I think I should also amend the original question, because I post audio so people will listen, the fact that sometimes the script isn’t there either, so they’re figuring it out in the moment, if you will.
Whitford: Yeah, this script was very clearly there. Yeah.
Some actors prefer the two-take method of Clint Eastwood; some actors like the David Fincher method of fifty takes. Both of you guys have theater experience. I’m very curious, for you guys on a movie, how many takes do you like to do and what’s the most you’ve ever done?
Jenkins: I like to do it until you feel good, then move on. Sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s ten. But I don’t have a rule about…sometimes it’s one. There comes a time when, especially when it’s about something else, something technical and you have to do it so many times. But, the older I get, the less takes I like.
Jenkins: Me too.
Whitford: The interesting thing is you start to realize that…there are a lot of sets where you’re using takes as rehearsals. On a Clint Eastwood movie, everybody adjusts really quickly and you start to realize, “Holy shit, the first or second one I do is going to be in the movie!” They can sometimes come a little more prepared. I think it is best not to be dogmatic about it. Some things are complicated. I used to want as many takes as I could possibly get, but the older I get, I feel like I can tell. Sign the painting, walk away.
For Cabin in the Woods, how quickly when you were reading the script did you know, “I want to be involved in this.” Or was it that you had sat down with Joss and Drew and they pitched you the project and you said, “Oh, this sounds really cool?”
Jenkins: I took about five pages of reading of this and then I really got interested. It’s just the way they write and the way they write dialogue, before I knew this whole story. I didn’t know either one of them, but by five pages you could tell.
Whitford: It’s really fresh writing. It’s all in the execution, so if somebody were to say to me, “This is the idea of the movie,” it’s always going to be, “Let me read it.”
Whitford: I was up for that. (laughs)
Were you really?
Jenkins: The part of the girl.
I wanted to know if you could talk about working with Josh [Radnor] on that. I’m not sure if you heard the buzz on the movie, but everyone really, really enjoyed it. So, a little Liberal Arts talk. And I have to bring up the fact that one of my favorite shows of all time is a certain show called The West Wing. Is it, for you, like everywhere you go, you’re waiting in line at Starbucks, people want to talk about Josh or just the show? Does that part ever get old? So many people love that show. Those are my individual questions.
Jenkins: Working with Josh Radnor was interesting. He’s really smart. He’s really growing as a filmmaker. Again, I was surprised when I saw it at how he had woven it all together. The stuff I saw in the page about him doing the age thing, subtraction, and him walking in the streets of New York. But the way he did it, it was so Woody Allen. I thought, this guy is like…I’m glad I’m on this ride. He told me he was going to write the part and [asked me] would I do it a while ago. I said, “It depends on the part.” But he put a couple of different goes at it, he went at it two or three times. It got better and better. I had a great time. I think he’s got a great career ahead of him as a filmmaker. I think he’s just grown from his first film to this one, a lot. It’s cool to be a part of that. And I am sick of hearing about The West Wing. (laughs) I’m surprised he didn’t bring his Emmys.
Whitford: Yeah, it’s hard to get those in carry-on. That show was such, again, you’ve got a guy who, for very different reasons, was allowed to be the brilliant freak that he is and pull off something that initially seemed insane, let alone write every fucking episode. I mean it’s still, to me, the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in show business, was to write 22 of those for four years, because they were complicated. It was beyond, as a creative experience, was beyond my highest expectations and for it to be in an arena that, at that particular time and that I’ve always felt and that I continue to feel is an urgent, fascinating arena…it was a really good gig.