Now available on VOD and coming to theaters this weekend is Eugenio Mira‘s ambitious, highly stylized thriller Grand Piano. The films centers on Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), a brilliant pianist making his highly publicized return to the stage after flubbing a major concert years prior. He learns the true meaning of stage fright when he discovers a note from a calculating sniper (John Cusack) scrawled in his sheet music – “Play one wrong note and you die.” Captive in a packed theater with nowhere to run, Selznick must either figure out how to beat the sniper at his own game or die trying.
Earlier this week I spoke with Elijah Wood in an exclusive phone interview. He talked about why he was attracted to Grand Piano and the technical challenges of shooting the film. He also talked about his production company SpectreVision, premiering Cooties and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night at Sundance this year, the fantastic poster Jay Shaw designed for Cooties, his hopes for the serial killer trilogy The Boy, developing the zombie film Curse the Darkness with director Jorge Michel Grau, and more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ELIJAH WOOD: [Laughs] It was difficult. It was just so many elements. Sometimes so many elements happening at once. I think when it was it’s most complicated was when I was listening to the audio track to be on time with the music so my hands are in the right place, whilst also at the same time listening to John Cusack in my ear and then responding to him, all in the same shot. [Laughs] That’s when it really became the most complicated, but I’d say the primary challenge was portraying a pianist accurately, because I don’t play the instrument. When I was younger I took piano lessons, but I certainly didn’t know how to play this well. Even for a seasoned pianist I think parts of the music we were doing was quite complicated, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time. I had about three weeks prior to going to Barcelona and about two more weeks while I was there to prepare, and it was really a constant process as we were going along. But you know, it’s also challenges like that that you sort of look for, they’re exciting.
Have you continued playing now that you had that kind of crash course?
WOOD: I haven’t and I should. I think I’d be foolish not to. The learning curve was intense, but I did learn a lot in a short amount of time and I think if I were to scale it back to the level that I could be at now and actually try to sort of start from scratch it might be a little bit easier for me. It’d be kind of a foolish thing if I took that opportunity and didn’t do anything with it.
Talk a little bit about how this project came together for you and how you got on board with this one.
WOOD: Yeah, the script was sent to me and Eugenio was attached to direct, and I was thrilled because I had spent the last two years going to Fantastic Fest in Austin and met Eugenio in 2010 with another mutual friend Nacho Vigalondo, who I also met at the festival, two great Spanish directors and we knew each other socially from attending this film festival in Austin with a lot of mutual friends there. So I was thrilled at the prospect of working with him and then I read the script and honestly it was as simple as reading the script and having never read anything quite like that before. It’s incredibly audacious, incredibly ambitious, the concept, it’s kind of crazy and all of those elements were thrilling and exciting. I loved the fact that 70% of the movie effectively takes place in real time. I thought that was an interesting approach and I loved that a great deal of it is a concert performance. You’re an audience, watching an audience, watching a man play the piano [laughs]. It’s great.
I had the opportunity to visit the set of Cooties last year.
WOOD: Oh, yeah! Last summer.
Yeah, it was awesome and I’m very excited by your production company SpectreVision and the kind of films you guys are doing. Can you talk a little bit about what this first phase of kind of getting the company off the ground has been like?
WOOD: Oh, it’s been incredible. We started the company about three years ago and spent a majority of those three years developing, meeting with filmmakers and editors, gathering material and fostering some films, and to have began this particular year attending Sundance with two of those films is just extraordinary. Cooties was a lot of fun to make, and it was an idea that we had internally, but Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan wrote a really hilarious and incredible script for us and to sort of see that through to fruition was really exciting and gratifying. And also to be involved in producing A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was a gift. The filmmaker’s extraordinarily talented and wrote something really special and the director turned in something that’s so unique and so beautiful. It was also really wonderful to premiere that at Sundance as well. Our aim with the company is really to really work in the horror and genre space and to really push- at it’s best I suppose, to really push the horror genre into directions that are not commonly know. So far that goal has been achieved and we’re just aiming to make really interesting films. It’s been super gratifying.
The poster for Cooties is super cool, did you have anything to do with that?
WOOD: Oh dude, yeah, well I’m a big fan of Jay Shaw. He does a lot of work for Mondo, but he works with a lot of other companies as well and he’s done proper movie posters too, and as it was approaching Sundance I just thought it would be so fantastic if prior to the screening if we had actual posters there. I was like, “We should really see if any chance Jay Shaw would be interested.” [Laughs] Because I just think he’s incredible. We emailed him and he was super excited. It was really wonderful to not work with imagery from the movie specifically and he just did something so beautiful and so classic. It’s awesome. I love that poster, man, it’s killer.
Yeah, it’s great. It was just announced that Rainn Wilson would be teaming up with you guys again for The Boy and that just sounds so interesting. What can you tell me about this trilogy and kind of the idea behind it?
WOOD: Well it all really started with this short film that a gentleman had made I think two years ago, 2012 Sundance, and we saw the short, I think it was called “Henry” and we just found it to be so beautiful and so kind of quietly disturbed. It follows this young boy who in the context of the short, he lives with is dad in this roadside motel and he’s picking up road kill off of the road for a quarter, he’s got this process, but starts to realize that he can actually make road kill by killing animals, by leaving trash in the street, and you just start to see the very insidious and very subtle sort of psychotic behavior that you could simply ignore or that could lead to something far more dangerous and menacing. We just loved that. We saw the short and thought this would be such an incredible feature to explore deeper what’s happening to this child psychologically, but then also the idea of where that could go in the growth of this boy into a man. So we started talking about this idea that we could have a trilogy, which I suppose is a relatively audacious idea, it’s something I’ve never seen before. I’ve always be psychologically fascinated by serial killers on a sort of true crime level, reading bits and pieces of information over the years, it’s just psychologically kind of fascinating; the disconnect that’s there. Certainly what are the elements that get people to that place? Is it always there? Is it environmental? So those are some of the things that are explored within the context of the films. I’ve never really seen anything quite like that so it’s exciting.
Absolutely, I’m so interested in this one. Like you said, the trilogy idea is super unique and exciting.
What else is coming up for you that you’re excited about?
WOOD: Well we’ve got a number of films that we’re developing. There’s a movie called Curse the Darkness, which is a sort of anthropological zombie film in the sense that it deals with- it’s actually a film about migrant workers really, it’s set against the backdrop of migrant workers in Miami and their exploitation. It deals with zombies by the way of the real Haitian zombies, there’s kind of an alchemic powder that can turn people into slaves. That film Jorge Michel Grau is going to direct for us, he directed the original We Are What We Are. So that hopefully will the be the next thing and then I’m about to start working on the fourth and final season of Wilfred. That’s about it right now [laughs].
How are you guys choosing the directors and the talent you want behind your pictures for SpectreVision?
WOOD: Very good question, Jorge Michel Grau is a good example. We all loved what he did with We Are What We Are. It really feels in some ways the cannibal answer to the vampirism that’s explored in Let the Right One in. We love genre directors, so that’s part of it, and especially foreign directors who haven’t worked in the US, that’s exciting. I don’t think there’s anything specifically beyond films that we love and certain directors we’d love to work with in that space.