Mena Suvari Interview – STUCK

     May 27, 2008





There’s no way to hear the movie synopsis for “Stuck” and not think it’s made up. After all, who could believe someone would hit a homeless man (while driving) and then the person would fly through the passenger’s side windshield and get stuck there. But that’s not the end of the story…. After it happens, the person drives home and leaves the man in the windshield to die. While it sounds like a crazy story from a horror novelist…. “Stuck” is based on a very real event.


A number of years ago, in Texas, this actually took place. And even though “Stuck” tells a slightly different tale of what happened, the main part of the story – a woman putting a homeless man through her windshield and then driving home – is very true.



So with “Stuck” arriving in theaters this Friday, I recently participated in roundtable interviews with Mena Suvari and director Stuart Gordon. While I didn’t transcribe Stuart’s interview, you can listen to the MP3 by clicking here. For Mena, you can either read a transcript below or listen to her MP3 by clicking here.



Finally, if you missed the movie clips and the red band trailer click here to watch them.




Question: What was your reaction when you first heard about the project?



Mena Suvari: I remember I was reading this script up the street from my agent at my agency. I felt like my jaw literally hit the floor so many times. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that somebody would be in a situation like this and it just seemed to get worse and worse and worse. I guess that really appealed to me. It was very interesting. And I ran into his office afterwards saying that I had to do this. I really, really wanted to do it. I had worked with Stuart before on a film called “Edmond” so I was hoping that relationship would help me sneak my way in and that he would be able to see me in doing something like this. At the time I didn’t know that it was based on a true story. I didn’t know that this had happened at all. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. I thought that it was a really ‘out there’ story. I was reading a book at the time called “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach. Have you read this? I think it’s an awesome book. Not that many people know about it, but it’s fascinating to me. In the book she mentions this incident and then it was even more of a shock to me that this had happened. I guess I was even more on board. I had to be a part of it.



Question: Do you sympathize or have to justify Brandi?



Mena Suvari: In real life the woman’s name was Chante Mallard and I believe that Chante and Brandi are inherently good people. I’ve always been really interested in psychology and criminal psychology in particular and what makes people do the things that they do. I feel like, number one, Brandi and Chante, they weren’t in the right mind set when this happened. I don’t feel that they set out to be put in this situation. Brandi doesn’t aim for the man that she hits. I think if she were given the choice she wouldn’t have wanted to go through any of it or be put in that situation, so that was what was so interesting to me, you know, really dissecting that — what makes somebody snap and really go to that extreme. I feel that Brandi is somewhat ignorant about the system and she’s afraid. I think she is afraid to lose everything that she has worked so hard for which isn’t much, but she has her small little world and she has this job that she’s not so crazy about but I think there are a lot of people in a situation like that where she’s faced with possibly losing her own life. And what is that? That’s survival of the fittest. You know, primal instinct. Do we all have that within us that if we’re really put into that situation, what will we do to save ourselves. So that was really what was so interesting and fascinating to me. She ultimately snaps and just starts reacting. I think she loses all ability to have any consciousness of the situation and she has to justify it for herself. My favorite line in the movie is when she says “Why are you doing this to me?” I mean that’s just so sick and twisted to me the way that I look at it. But she has to do that because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to handle the situation. She has to turn it around. She has to validate it for herself that he’s doing this to her. She says just go to sleep when she just wants it to end. I think that’s part of why in the beginning and afterwards when it happens, again she’s hopped up on Ecstasy and drinking and she has her boyfriend who’s saying “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah” like it’s no problem and “Here, just forget about it.” And I think she sucks up that opportunity because why would she want to deal with it. It’s too much. I think she tries to do the best that she can and then it just gets worse and worse and she goes to him because she feels like he’ll be able to take care of it for her. And then you find out that he can and it’s just… I actually watched “Misery” several times because that was my inspiration for this film – Kathy Bates in that movie really just kind of going to that extreme.



Question: How did your dialogue or relationship with Stuart Gordon grow from “Edmond” into this film? Obviously you had a lot more to do with this.



Mena Suvari: I think we worked together for a couple days on “Edmond.” I think Stuart and I have a lot in common that we discovered, just our tastes and the things that we are interested in. One of the things I love about Stuart is that I feel like he’s a family guy. He has three daughters. He’s very soft spoken. But he has such a twisted, sick imagination. It’s so dark. I realize that those are things that I’ve been interested in too. Again, criminal psychology is something I’ve been interested in years and years before I even met Stuart or knew about this project. So I guess to be able to play something that would kind of address that was one of my key interests. Again, Stuart gives you that freedom on set to really kind of go for it and he was always supportive of any suggestions that I had and I loved the way that he works. He doesn’t necessarily dissect a scene too much. He lets that reality happen and for me as an actor, I really enjoyed that.



Q: Do you share his same disdain for the sight of blood? I’ve heard he doesn’t like blood.



Mena Suvari: Really? I never knew that. No. My parents worked in the medical field. My father was a psychiatrist and my mom worked as a nurse. I’ve always been really interested in science and biology and nanophysiology. I’m all for it. I’ve played with cadavers. I’ve done a lot, you know. It’s something that’s fascinating to me.



Q: How much did you do in terms of studying this character? Did you go back to the locales and the places where this happened?



Mena Suvari: No, I wasn’t able to. It took place in Ft. Worth, Texas in 2001 and we shot in New Brunswick which is pretty far away from there. I basically educated myself about her and the story and the incident as much as I could. I didn’t get the opportunity to meet her. She’s serving 50 years to life.



Q: Did she have the same hairdo or was that your idea?



Mena Suvari: Probably. I don’t know.



Q: Did you see pictures or photographs of her?



Mena: Yeah.



Q: Did she have hair like that?



Mena: No, no.



Q: So whose decision was that hairdo?



Mena: I think it was really that we wanted to establish her as a particular kind of person living in a particular kind of neighborhood and the boyfriend that she has. We assumed that it would be like Providence, Rhode Island, like a mix of cultures, and just kind of where she comes from and her background. I don’t want to be me. I don’t want it to be like “I’m blonde and it’s Mena Suvari.”



Q: Would you consider yourself more of a character actress?



Mena: I don’t know. Maybe. But that’s exciting. That’s why I do what I do. I have people that come up to me a lot and say “You’re so much prettier in person.” I feel like they’re trying to compliment me, like they’re being nice. But it is weird to me because I feel like I’m acting. That’s not supposed to be me. I don’t want to be like the celebrity or whatever. I remember I worked on this project called “Sugar and Spice” in 1999, years and years ago, and my character had to get sick, like I had to throw up or something. And the director came up to me and she asked me how I would prefer to be shot – basically the makeup or how I’d want to look – and it was the most confusing conversation because I felt like I’m supposed to be sick. I shouldn’t be all made up and perfect. I’m all for that. To me, I feel that that’s real. I enjoyed the way that Denis Maloney, our cinematographer, shot it, and the way that Stuart doesn’t have those concerns. That’s not a major concern of his. That’s liberating for me. That’s exciting. I’ve worked on things like that. I did a film called “Day of the Dead” with Steve Miner and my character is in the Army and I was in fatigues for the whole movie and it was awesome. I didn’t have to worry about anything like hair, makeup or costume. You can really deal with the material. I don’t want to have to worry about how I look. That’s not my goal. I don’t want to be like pretty, perfect, or whatever. If that’s what it calls for, great. But if it doesn’t, I don’t need to look that way and I don’t understand sometimes why that’s so shocking. Like “Oh my God, your nails are like ..” or maybe I looked like I had a few more pounds on or I had a particular hairdo or whatever. That’s just should be for the character.



Q: Did you base your character on a friend of yours or someone you’ve known in the past? Did that help you mold the character?



Mena: For this? No.



Q: So it’s completely original?



Mena: I just go for it. I don’t know.



Q: How was it working with Stephen Rea again?



Mena: Oh wonderful. We worked together on “The Musketeer” in 2001 so it was great to be able to work with him again. I was so excited that he wanted to be a part of it. That’s fun for me. It’s comforting when you work with the same people again, whether it’s behind the scenes or in front of the camera. It’s just kind of like a family.



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Q: How challenging was it to play opposite him in some of those scenes in the garage where’s he’s stuck in the car’s windshield?



Mena: It was very intense. I remember saying to Stuart once… I got really frustrated because it was a particular kind of filmmaking. You didn’t really have time. There was like one camera and he’s like “Okay! Go!” Like one or two takes and I said I can’t go from 0 to 90 in one second. But I was trying to use that. I was just trying to use the intensity and what’s available to me to draw from because it’s very, very intense. It’s the emotional experience. It was like losing my mind. I hadn’t really gone to that before and I just had to go for it.



Q: The material also steeps itself in some vicious black comedy too. There are some very intense emotions between you and the boyfriend where you just had to laugh.



Mena: When I say “Why are you doing this to me?,” you know, watching it with an audience and people reacting to that and laughing. It was such a sick and twisted humor. That was a concern of mine too because this film is based on a true story but the real man – his name was Gregory Biggs, he was 37 years old and he died. I battled with that while making this movie, like what we were really doing. I didn’t want it to be so kind of weirdly humorous. To me, there was a reality to this story and I didn’t want to lose sight of that or disrespect anyone. We had a screening in Texas and I heard that the son came with his wife.



Q: Did you hear what his reaction was?



Mena: I think he had asked a question about how much we knew about the characters. We had a DVD commentary several days ago and John (screenwriter John Strysik) was talking about this story. I wasn’t there. I couldn’t go but I guess Stuart saw them and they were having a conversation afterwards, talking about it, comforting one another.



Q: Can you talk about the fight you had with the naked girl?



Mena: She was awesome and her name escapes me. I wish I could remember, but she’s so amazing. She actually worked as Halle Berry’s stuntwoman for years. She was great. Talk about just fearless and full throttle. She was encouraging me to just go for it. I’d be interested in wanting to do something and then I felt like I’d hold back a little bit and she’d go, “No, just hit me. Just do this. Grab me here.” I was like, “Okay!” So it was exciting. I’d never been in a fight before so I just kind of had to go for it. I appreciated that. I think ultimately that’s what I would want because as an actor, that’s freeing. You don’t want to have too many limitations on things. Sometimes it’s like “Okay. Now you want to do exactly this.” And it’ll take away from the performance. Yeah, I’m sure Stuart was just like “Look at them go!” The cat fight, you know.



Q: So there’s no chance you could have taken her in real life?



Mena: Wow! I don’t know about that now that I’ve learned the moves. [laughs] I was like, “The frying pan? Really?” She was great. Russell Hornsby, who plays my boyfriend, Rashid, really enjoyed it. He really enjoyed that move.



Q: What is your biggest fear?



Mena: My biggest fear? Oh God, I try not to think about it too much with these kinds of questions. I’m not sure. I think I’ve really worked towards not being afraid. That’s why I’ve pushed myself and challenged myself especially in the material that I’ve done. I set myself on fire in this movie. It was like “Why not?!” I’m not sure. That’s a good question. I have a phobia of the ocean sometimes, what’s underneath anyway. (laughs)



Q: What else do you have coming up?



Mena: I did a film last year called “Garden of Eden” that should be coming out later this year. It’s based on a Hemingway novel. It’s a great book by the way. And then I’m about to start a project with Peter Medic called “Sex and Lies in Sin City.” It’s based on a book by Jeff German called “Murder in Sin City.” It’s about the Ted Binion murder in 1998. Ted Binion was the son of Benny Binion who owned the Horseshoe Club Casino and Ted was a heroin addict. He was found dead in his home. I play his girlfriend, Sandy. She was convicted of his murder in 2000. It’s a comedy. [laughs] It’s a family movie. It’s for Lifetime. I’m really excited about it. It’s a really interesting story. With this (“Stuck”) and that movie, I’m a little concerned that somebody may come after me like I’m addressing too many things that are real dangerous. Sandy was acquitted so…



Q: What else can you tell us about “Day of the Dead”?



Mena: Apparently it’s gone to DVD now. Frown…



Q: Oh, it’s not going to be released?



Mena: I don’t know. There’s a lot of behind the scenes [stuff] that they don’t tell me about. Steve Miner is a great director. He was involved in creating “Friday the 13th” and that guy is just awesome.



Q: How close is it to the original?



Mena: It’s very different. It’s like when they did the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. But it was great. For me, it was a lot of fun. I played a Corporal in the Army and I did all my own stunts. It was like 2-1/2 months in Bulgaria. It was intense, carrying guns and shooting. It was fun.



Q: Do you have a favorite zombie film?



Mena: I’m trying to think. I don’t know.



Q: Did you watch certain ones or were you told to watch certain ones for getting ready for the part?



Mena: I did watch the originals like “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead.” Actually I really liked the remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” I thought it was really awesome, all the effects. I was reading one that they’re going to do soon. It played more on the …I don’t know if you know the Bodies exhibit. It was more like that. It was Ken’s zombie. That was cool.



Q: Are you a fan of the zombies that walk or run?



Mena: A: That run, that run and fly and jump and bite into jugulars. Yeah, back in the day. Now you watch them and you’re like, “C’mon!”



Q: There’s a big debate about which is better: a walking or running zombie. It’s a big thing.



Mena: You’ve got to love the girl that’s running and she trips and she’s (panting) You’re like “Get up!” It’s always like that. So I guess when the zombies can pose more of a threat than a challenge, then yeah, it’s more realistic.



Q: Had you ever seen any of Stuart’s earlier films like “Re-Animator” or “From Beyond”?



Mena: I hadn’t when I had worked with him. No.




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