House at the End of the Street, directed by Mark Tonderai, is a creepy psychological thriller about a teenager and her divorced mom, who move into a beautiful new house that just happens to be next door to where a grisly double murder took place. When Elissa (The Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself drawn to mysterious boy-next-door Ryan (Max Thieriot), the sole survivor of the nightmare that took the lives of his family, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) becomes increasingly concerned about how close they’re getting and where their relationship might lead.
At the film’s press day, actor Max Thieriot spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what attracted him to the complex character, how only minor changes were made from the original script to the final product, that he’s personally more scared by stories that could be real than he is by monster movies, the advantage of receiving a 100-page film bible from his director, and what it was like to work with co-star Jennifer Lawrence. He also talked about what attracted him to the role of Norman Bates’ older brother, Dylan, in the upcoming 10-episode A&E drama series Bates Motel and just how twisted the story might get, why he wanted to be a part of the indie drama Disconnect (centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world), and how he’d love to do a Western. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this film? Did you just go on an audition for it, or were you specifically pursuing the project?
MAX THIERIOT: It was just an audition that I went on. It was a script that I got from my agent, who said, “We like this role for you. What do you think?” And I read it and was really excited about the script, in general. I was shocked by everything. It really got me thinking about the complexity and layers of the character, and just the movie, in general. It was something that I wanted to be a part of.
When you read the script, did you immediately see a way that you could identify with Ryan, or were you interested in it because of the challenge?
THIERIOT: Yeah, it was more about, “What could I do to make this really cool, and make this character soft-spoken and quiet and just different?” So, (director) Mark [Tonderai] gave me a direction that he liked, and I took that and created my own thing with it. I watched a lot of videos, and all sorts of stuff on people with different issues, and tried to find some common ground and similarity between them and their actions, and Ryan. I put together a lot of stuff, and came up with what I did.
Is this a character that you were happy to not identify with too closely?
THIERIOT: I don’t think I do, really. Even down to the fact that I don’t like being alone that often, and Ryan is solitary, all the time. I’m always around people, hanging out.
Was this a character that you could easily turn on and off? Were you able to still keep things light on set and have fun with it?
THIERIOT: Definitely! There were times when I had to crunch down and stay in it, but for the most part, I try to bounce in and out, just so I can keep it light. It just becomes a little bit easier that way, as long as I’m not losing track and losing sight of what I’m trying to do. If it becomes an issue and I notice that I’m not performing how I want to be, then I’ll just buckle down. But, for the most part, I think it’s helpful to make it a little light, now and then.
From that initial script that you read to the final product, were there any major changes made to the story or your character?
THIERIOT: Not major. I would say there was some stuff that was a little bit more graphic, and some of that stuff was toned down a little bit or cut out. And there was some stuff added to make Ryan seem a little bit more compassionate.
Do you find psychological stories more scary, personally, than just outright blood and gore?
THIERIOT: I do, yeah. Things that are more real appear more frightening to me. Things that are fabricated and made up, I’m not scared by, regardless of how good they are at trying to make you jump in your seat. Vampires, zombies, werewolves and things don’t scare me at all because I just don’t find stuff that’s made up like that to be frightening. But, the idea of real situations and scenarios, and things that really happened, to me is more frightening.
Did it help your performance to have a 100-page film bible from your director?
THIERIOT: I don’t expect that because it never happens, but I definitely found it useful. It gave me a foundation and something to start from. He didn’t give me it and say, “Hey, this is the character you have to play.” He just said, “This is what I see it as. Do what you want.” So, I went through there and found some things that I liked and some that I didn’t, and then I came up with the character that I wanted to play. But beyond that, more than anything, I just appreciated how dedicated and passionate he is, to go that extra mile and do that. It just means a lot, as an actor, to know that you have somebody that cares that much about the whole thing.
What was Jennifer Lawrence like to work with, and establish the complex dynamic between your characters?
THIERIOT: It is extremely helpful that she is such a talented actress. She can play so many different roles. I had a lot of fun, playing off her and working with her. She’s really cool.
Did you have any time to get to know each other, prior to filming?
THIERIOT: We had met a few times, but no, we didn’t get time. She lived in L.A. and I was in northern California, so we just met [in Ottawa]. Obviously, we spent a lot of time together there.
Now that the casting has been announced, there’s a lot of attention on your next project, the A&E series Bates Motel. What attracted you to that? Had you been looking to do television, or was it specifically that project and the people involved?
THIERIOT: It was really that project and the people. I recently became a little more open-minded to television, but I wasn’t out searching to do a TV show. They just came and said, “Hey, this is what’s going on,” and I met with the creators (Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin). It just kind of happened, and it seemed like a good opportunity. I’m probably going to be criticized by many people for doing another genre project, but it’s all right. I don’t really care. Also, I’ve done four movies, in between that, that have not been in this genre, but they just haven’t come out or haven’t been seen. It just happens to be that that’s the way it’s worked. But, it’s 10 episodes and it’s on A&E, and it’s Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore.
Did you have any hesitation, knowing that it’s something so iconic for people, or does it help that it’s not just a new part of the story, but you really are playing a character that isn’t known?
THIERIOT: Yeah, it helps because I can come up with anything I want and I won’t be criticized for that. That takes a little bit of the pressure off my back, definitely. You never see Dylan Bates in the movie, so I can come up with whatever I want. We’re going to work on that soon and try to figure out what that’s going to be.
Has there been much discussion about just how dark and twisted it will get?
THIERIOT: I think they can get away with quite a bit. I don’t know how far, but there’s going to be a lot of good stuff. It’s not going to be soft, I can promise you that. I think people are going to be really happy. The scripts are awesome.
When you started making the transition from family-friendly movies to more adult roles, was that a conscious effort for you? Have you been really picky about the type of roles you want to do?
THIERIOT: Yeah, a lot of it has definitely been consciously making the transition into a different age bracket, so to speak, and getting people to not see me as the 15-year-old kid in The Pacifier. But, I have three specific movies coming out soon that are all very different. In two of them, I have a beard that’s fully grown out and tattoos. It will be different, for sure.
Was Disconnect appealing to you because it is something that’s so topical and current, right now?
THIERIOT: Definitely! And for me, on top of that, I loved Murderball, so that was also exciting. And the character was something that so many people wanted to play because it was so risque and so different from what’s normally offered for people my age. It was exciting to try to pull that off.
Is there a dream role or genre that you’d love to do, if given the opportunity?
THIERIOT: I’ve never done an actual Western, and I would love to do that. I’ve done drama and dark comedy stuff. I’ve never really done a romantic comedy either. I would do that. I’ve done action, I’ve done sci-fi with Roland Emmerich (Dark Horse), I’ve done thriller and horror, and I’ve done family movies. I’ve done a little bit of everything now, but I would like to do a Western because I’ve never done that.
House at the End of the Street opens in theaters on September 21st.