In Maniac, Megan Duffy gives a standout performance as Lucie, a thoroughly modern gal looking for Mr. Right-Now via online dating. Unfortunately for Lucie she ends up on a date from hell with Frank (Elijah Wood), a mannequin store owner with some serious mommy issues and a fetish for women’s scalps. Directed by Frank Khalfoun (P2),Maniac is damn good film with engaging performances, stylish cinematography, nasty effects, and as any fan of Sin City can tell you, Elijah Wood can be one creepy sonofabitch when he wants to. Maniac also stars Nora Arnezeder, Liane Balaban, America Olivo, and Jan Broberg, and so far it’s the best horror film I’ve seen this year, so definitely give a look when it comes out on VOD on 6/21 or in theaters on 6/28.
I recently landed an exclusive phone interview with Duffy. We talked about how she got the part, the challenges of acting in a POV film, shooting such vulnerable scene, working with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre, audience reactions to the scalping scenes, and more. Check out the full interview after the jump.
MEGAN DUFFY: Pretty much like any other actor does [my agent] submitted me and casting picked me up to come in and read. I went in and read and really didn’t think much of it then I got brought back, then about a week after I went in and read for the director Frank Kalfoun I got a phone call asking me if I had read the script and if I was comfortable with nudity. From there it was like every couple weeks we’d hear an update. I went back and read again, and after about four months of waiting I got the good news that I got the part.
What was it about the project that made you want to be a part of it?
DUFFY: When I first got the audition notice I was going to turn it down until my boyfriend at the time looked it over and said, “Alexandre Aja? He’s amazing.” I didn’t even know the people who were involved initially and I’m a big fan of Piranha 3D, so I figured why not go in? It can’t hurt.
Do you consider yourself a fan of horror or is Piranha 3D just a special case?
DUFFY: I’m a fan of some horror. Some of the really corny b-horror movies I don’t love so much, but Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies. I thought Cabin in the Woods was really incredible. Like I mentioned, Piranha 3D, so I’m a fan of some horror films, just not all of them.
I’m always interested in the actors experience on a horror film. For some actors all the high stakes emotions and the blood and guts can be really traumatic, for others it’s really fun to see behind the curtain so to speak. Where did you fall on that spectrum?
DUFFY: Well, I was really excited by the challenge of playing Lucy because technically it was going to be a tricky shoot given the POV and then the nudity is always a little terrifying. I think the bloody parts were the least traumatic for me, actually it’s kind of a fun feeling to be covered in fake blood. There was one day, the last day, where we did the scene on the bed, where whether you were crew or cast you were completely covered in blood from head to toe. People were stepping off and pouring out their shoes, all this blood was coming out so it was almost a bonding experience.
You mentioned the POV and that’s kind of the stylistic trademark of this film, what were some of the challenges of working in that format?
DUFFY: It wasn’t that challenging for me, it was more trying to figure out how the shot was going to be shot. That was probably the trickiest part, and blocking and trying to figure that out. The trickiest thing for me was probably not making eye contact with the person I’m interacting with. Elijah was there for almost the entire shoot, he was there for all of my scenes, so it was hard to be exchanging dialogue and shaking his hands, but not being able to make contact with the human being that you’re interacting with.
Of course you always have to hit your marks, but is the blocking more intricate and complex when you’re doing the POV format?
DUFFY: Absolutely the blocking is trickier. When we did the apartment scene where we’re walking around it’s usually Elijah’s hands that you’re seeing, but sometimes it’s Maxime’s, the DP, so I would have to be aware of who I was interacting with at one point.
I’m a big fan of Maxime’s work, I think he shoots really good looking movies. Given the format of Maniac, you probably worked with him a little more intimately than you would on a different film-
It’s Maxime’s hands on my boobs.
[Laughs] Oh, wow – super intimate.
DUFFY: Very intimate, yeah, that was kind of a surprise. I think they originally had a plan of having Elijah wear the camera rig, but it didn’t work out that way. [Laughs] We got to know each other pretty well, pretty quickly.
What’s he like to work with and what does he bring to the table creatively?
DUFFY: He’s so incredibly hard working. On my first day we were shooting the scene in the van and the way they rigged it was there was a whole cut out ceiling of the van and he was actually laying on top of the van on his stomach hanging through this hole operating the camera as we drove around downtown LA. I’ve never seen a DP go that far to get his shot and I think it’s incredible.
I understand it was a pretty fast shoot right?
DUFFY: I think four weeks in total.
Did you guys have any time for rehearsal?
DUFFY: There was no rehearsal. It was literally I heard I got the part, they sent over my revised script, I got my start date and I showed up. So for me there was no conversations, no rehearsal. The rehearsal was basically blocking and figuring out how we were going to pull off the shots on set.
What’s that like to be thrown into a scene that’s so vulnerable, I mean you’re naked and you’re killed, without having a chance to rehearse it?
DUFFY: The way that we shot that day, the first thing that we did was the scalping so my first shot was lying there naked, but being scalped so I kind of got to feel comfortable being nude in front of everyone. It was a little more stressful to do the scene where we were just walking around taking clothes off, just figuring out whose hands were going where and at what time. And she does some provocative stuff, which is not the kind of person I am in real life, but the reason I was excited about getting to play her was because she is such a departure from the things I normally do. So it was a challenge.
Your character Lucy has had an interesting reaction from people, just reading around on the internet doing my research, she was pretty much the most talked about character after Frank. She’s really aggressive and bold, and sort of a stand out character in the film. How has the response been for you? What kind of feedback have you received?
DUFFY: My friends who know me, the first thing that they usually say is that my ass looked great [laughs]. I think what makes her so interesting is that she’s pretty close to modern girls nowadays. I think women are really open to meeting strangers and having intimate relationships with them even if they don’t know them hat well. So she’s kind of a symbol of modern times. I think that’s what makes it so scary watching it.
Absolutely. I literally just had a conversation with an old friend of mine last night and she was telling me that she had met this really sweet, innocent guy on a dating site and your scene was the first thing I thought of.
DUFFY: Yeah, there was that one case a few years ago on OK Cupid or Match.com and after their first date he followed her home and raped her. So I think that we put trust, sometimes, into people that we don’t know very well and I think it happens more and more. With things like Facebook it’s really easy to think that you know someone that you really don’t. So I think that’s a really scary thing for women, especially if you live in a city, if you’re open to meeting new people there is that reality that something like that could happen to you.
Oh, definitely. The movie, for me at least, played on very real fears that I have. I wanted to talk about the effects in the film, because they looked great, and I was curious about what the balance was between CG and practical effects.
DUFFY: Most of what you see is practical. There were some marks where my fake scalp met my real forehead, but most of the scalping that you see was the real deal. It was Mike McCarty from KNB special effects and he was just a master at what he did. They’re really, really genius. A lot of it was practical, especially the ending.
Yeah, that was gnarly. A few of the effects were kind of tough for me to stomach and I consider myself a pretty seasoned gorehound. I watched a screener so I didn’t get to see the film with an audience, but I know you’ve seen a couple screenings now, was the audience reaction to the big moments pretty satisfying?
DUFFY: When we debuted at Cannes last year there were some cheers for the first scalping, which was Liane [Balaban], my scalping we heard a couple people storm out, and by the end we were getting cheers for everybody who died. I think it just depends on your sense of humor. If you go into it being offended by women’s deaths then you’re probably going to have a pretty negative reaction to it, but if you’re a fan of the original, if you appreciate gore, if you’re a horror fan then the scalpings get more and more satisfying.