When you think about a movie called Monster Trucks, odds are you picture a movie about actual monster trucks – as in enormous vehicles with massive wheels chewing up dirt tracks. Not the case with this Chris Wedge-directed film. We’re talking about literal monster trucks here. As in monsters controlling trucks.
Lucas Till leads the film as a teenager named Trip. His dad left when he was young and he’s still bitter about it so has a habit of getting into trouble. All he wants is a new engine for his truck so that he can get out of town and leave it all behind but when he finally does get his hands on one, the thing doesn’t work. But that’s when he meets a monster in need of a hiding place that just so happens to be capable of powering and controlling his truck.
Back in June 2014, I got the chance to visit the Vancouver set of Monster Trucks and take part in a roundtable interview with Till. Check out what he told us about his character, the monster and the amusing safety precautions taken to allow his co-star Jane Levy to safely ride a horse in the interview below.
Question: What’s it like coming into something that could be a potential franchise as opposed to X-Men where you’re playing a character that has iconography behind it?
LUCAS TILL: Yeah, you don’t really think about how high the stakes could be. I guess that’s the only difference. Because they could be pretty high later on but – it’s nice, it’s nice because you get to create something all your own and you don’t really get many opportunities like that because usually movies that are made are something that has been made a million times before or an existing property that’s in the comic world or a novel or something. So it’s really, really awesome to be part of something like that, that has the potential to be a franchise but also it’s mine, it’s whatever I want to do with it, you know? [Laughs] It’s relaxing, because [with] X-Men I was just nervous beforehand, nervous when I got it, nervous doing the movie, and nervous after it came out for a year until I talked to everyone I possibly could and got a good range of people telling me whether or not I messed it up.
Besides the script what did you get? Did Chris [Wedge] give you character backstory?
TILL: Yeah. I don’t know if you guys get to watch him work but he’ll give you backstory whether you want it or not. [Laughs] He’ll sit there and tell you how everything works, but it’s really helpful. I could be lazy and still get the job done because – while we rehearsed for a couple of weeks, he would sit there and tell me everything that my high school self, Trip, was going through at the time. Yeah, he likes to give a lot of backstory.
What is the initial reaction to a script that says Monster Trucks?
TILL: Yeah. Not that I’ve told anybody about this movie, but if you were to tell someone about it – when you say Monster Trucks they don’t think monsters inside of trucks, so it’s funny to get the reaction of people like, ‘Oh, literally monster trucks.’ I actually hadn’t read the script when I started auditioning for it so I didn’t really know what I was doing and I had to audition with a monster. I was auditioning with Jane [Levy] and had to act like there was a monster in the scene with us and I was like pantomiming and doing all this ridiculous stuff, not too different from what I had to do in the movie.
What did you picture when you were pantomiming? What kind of monster were you picturing?
TILL: Back then, umm – well, it did say ‘tentacles’ so I had some picture, but nothing like – I don’t know. I thought like a giant crab but somehow had tentacles. I think it was a crab was what I imagined when I was auditioning, but now obviously I know it’s different.
So what are the basics on your character? What’s he doing? What’s his goal?
TILL: Well, he’s trying to get away from, in his mind, his crappy life. He wants to go find his dad and get away from his mom, his step-dad really, and then he goes to find out that what he’s searching for isn’t what he really thought it was going to be. But the whole time he’s trying to get from point A to point B, he really just wants an engine for his truck, then he finally gets one and it doesn’t work out and then the monster turns out to be exactly what he needs. It starts out a little selfish, his intention with the monster, and then when we get to point B he realizes everything falls apart and then from point B to C he has this very strong relationship with the monster and then it’s about saving the monster.
Does getting an engine for the truck mean something? Will he get the girl or something like that?
TILL: No, no, he’ll just be able to drive away. He’ll be able to leave all of his problems behind, in his mind, and then he finds out that he can’t do that like we all do at some point in our life.
Is there anything specific that you modeled your performance on? I noticed you have Patrick Swayze hair right now. [Laughs]
TILL: [Laughs] Yes, actually! We’ve been talking about this a lot. It’s funny, I’ve always wanted to grow my hair out and I always seem to get a movie right before it’s sort of the right length or right after and it’s never timed right. I don’t know really what’s going on with my hair right now, but we’ve kept it this way the whole time and I’m having a good time with it. But yes, every day I sit in the makeup chair and I come up with some new 80s icon that I look like for that day. But, I’m trying to think of who me and Chris have talked about that we – I don’t know, I guess he probably hired me because he didn’t want to spend too much time creating things and just wanted to let me go I guess [laughs], and make it easier on everybody. But Trip is written really well and it’s easy. I don’t really try too hard to be anything that I’m not.
Is he kind of like a bad boy or a greaser?
TILL: Yeah, well, you know, your classic bad boy but a nice guy underneath thing going on. Because obviously he’s a sweet guy, he cares for his monster, he just has daddy issues which is weird. Normally strippers have daddy issues. But anyway, so his dad left him behind and he’s got all these issues, but in the beginning of the movie he’s getting into a fight but it’s because he’s defending a kid.
Is he an only child?
TILL: Yes, yes.
Jane’s character has a huge crush on Trip. Does he reciprocate?
TILL: It’s funny. I’ve done a lot of movies, especially the past couple of years, where there’s a lot of generic or predictable outcome of the girl and the guy, and I’ve really liked in this one that it doesn’t start out with any interest. There’s actually another girl who kind of catches Trip’s attention and he’s so focused on her until about halfway through. There’s a moment in the script where you kind of realize that Trip has fallen for her, but he doesn’t start that way, which I think is funny. He’s just got a lot of things going on in his life too at the same time. He doesn’t get that she’s winking at him and he’s like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ Which I think is funny and entertaining and different. And then by the end yes, not too much, but yeah, a little bit.
What makes him the right person to save the monster? Are there any parts of his personality or things he knows how to do that make him capable of that?
TILL: Well, I think it’s because he hates the monster in the beginning because the monster has kind of broken it’s like the last straw of him being able to – well I guess I can say it, but I’m just trying to come up with a better way to say it. He doesn’t have to listen to his stepdad and his disciplinary ideas for him. He doesn’t have to give into those until this monster comes into town and makes him look like an idiot. He calls the cops and the monster squeezes out of a hole that he traps him in so he’s not there anymore. So then he’s really angry about it and Trip actually tries to kill the monster in a car crusher and then I see, ‘Aw, he’s kind of cute,’ and then I get up really close, I forget that he’s there, and then he gets scared. So anyway, he’s about to get crushed by a car crusher and I end up saving his life, so that’s really no better reason than any to befriend someone than because they saved your life. But I think it’s because he’s definitely not the quintessence of a caretaker in the beginning and I think that’s why it works.
He’s not exactly Elliott in E.T.
TILL: No, not at all, not at all. [Laughs] Especially in the beginning of their relationship, not at all.
Was there an effort to steer it away from that kind of sentimentality?
TILL: I don’t know that we’ve ever talked about it being that. I don’t know that it was conscious if we did.
It’s like the typical boy and his dog kind of relationship.
TILL: Yeah, exactly.
But we see that a lot and I think it can get very kind of cheaply …
TILL: Yeah. Well this is more like little brother, big brother who don’t have the best relationship with each other in the beginning and then afterwards they certainly do by the end. But yeah, he doesn’t coddle him very much. He actually kind of cracks a whip on him like, ‘Get to work. This is my truck. You’re my engine now.’ But then obviously, like I’ve said a million times, it develops into much more than that.
Did you get to do many of your own stunts?
TILL: [Laughs] I mean, no. I just saw a rough cut of our final action sequence the other day and I’m really glad that I don’t get to do a lot of my own stunts. I mean, yeah, I guess I was sitting there with a truck doing a donut around me and if I misstepped once I could’ve really hurt myself, but most of the stunts are so extreme that there’s not even those gray area stunts that I get to do, but yeah, I certainly would’ve done anything that they’d let me do.
Jane said they’re gonna strap you guys into some harnesses and throw you around.
TILL: I guess. Is that what she [said]? Yes, I think that’s true. [Laughs] No, it’s true. I just haven’t seen it yet and I’ve heard this about this mythical rig that apparently can make you go 180 degrees or 90 degrees to the ground with it or something like that. I’m looking forward to it, but I have not done that yet. I’m trying to think. We did something recently. Thomas Lennon almost killed himself [laughs], because I told him that he should do – it was like a joke where we’d redo the trucks and there’s like a switch instead of a handle for the door to open, there’s like a button, and Thomas Lennon if you know, he’s a hilarious guy and I felt proud because I had told him, ‘You should do this.’ He was like, ‘Oh, that’s it,’ and then so he did it and the truck is like seven feet off the ground and he did it but hit the button and he started swinging out and he was like trying to catch himself and he almost fell. You know how people die off those six foot ladders? It kind of was like that.
You get to do some driving though, right?
TILL: [Laughs] I thought I was except because either there’s a stunt guy driving the car or there’s a remote control driving the car because it’s either little movements and it has to move side to side and pick up a wheel, so that’s all animatronic so I’m not controlling that, and then the only other times that I drive, I’m driving really fast and there’s a stunt driver where the engine would be. So it’s not like they wouldn’t let me. I just haven’t had any need to in the scenes, you know? And then all the other scenes they’re flipping over semis, so I’m definitely not driving those.
They said you have to do second unit on Friday.
TILL: There you go! I will be driving soon. I’ve been waiting this whole time! There’s like six trucks. Holt [McCallany] got to finally drive his own so I can’t wait. I’m gonna drive it eventually. I can’t wait. I mean, they’re huge. Have you seen them, these trucks?
We saw some of them. We saw the one that they control.
TILL: Yeah, my truck I’m assuming.
And then we’ll go to over to the motion platform later and see Holt in his truck.
TILL: Oh yeah, yeah. They got really cool trucks. The truck guys are amazing.
What do they provide for you so that you can have a reference for what the creature’s gonna look like?
TILL: Yeah, early stage previs stuff and it’s really cool. It was only like a couple seconds long but those seconds are really almost fully developed except for his skin color. It’s really cool because he’s like an octopus walrus, so he’s got like a walrus body and octopus legs, but he can like squeeze through a hole. I mean, just like actual octopi and squid can, they can squeeze through holes that are like that big, which Chris showed me and that’s a whole thing in the movie where I trap him in something and he sneaks out of a hole, so it’s this thing that he does.
Do they move fast?
TILL: No, not at all and that’s why he needs my truck to move. And the only reason he gets to my junkyard is because he sneaks into a Terravex truck which is smashed and they bring it to our junkyard and that’s how it gets there, but he can’t get out of the car crusher and that’s why I save him because he can’t move and I pull him out from there. No, he can’t move at all and that’s why he enjoys the truck.
That’s a cool symbiosis thing.
We have a lot of questions about the monsters because we haven’t seen them.
TILL: Yeah, neither have I.
Yeah, it sounds like you’re still working it out a little bit, but that’s helpful to know.
TILL: Yeah, exactly.
It’s not like these are monsters in a truck. It’s like these monsters need this truck to get around.
TILL: Exactly, yeah. And that’s the whole point of the movie. That’s the whole point is that they cannot move on land without our trucks really.
So when the oil accident happens and the monsters come up, are they pulled up with the oil? How do they get up to the surface?
TILL: I don’t fully understand that either because there’s like a vent that we go to which is where they were drilling. They live in a subterranean lake, I know that much but I just don’t understand. They feed off of oil. I think that they drill into something that explodes and it pushes pressure up through the surface and because they can fit through a small hole they just kind of end up through – or maybe one ends up and the others go through it searching for him. I’m not really sure, actually.
Those are notes you can give them on the script and say, ‘That’s not clear enough.’
TILL: Yeah, there’s been a couple of times that Jane actually had a really good point one day and then they fixed it really quick and they were like, ‘Ah, yeah that doesn’t make any sense.’
In this movie it seems to be all about you helping Big Ugly get back to his family. Where do you see your relationship with him evolving in the hypothetical sequels?
TILL: Right. Later in hypothetical later installments. I’ve been thinking about this [laughs], and I was thinking, when you understand how he moves the car – I was talking to Chris and I was like, ‘Why don’t we have boat ones? Why don’t we have ones moving propeller planes and stuff like that?’ And I think it’s still in the script, they talk about what these creatures can do and because they’re prehistoric they have things that you would never find on other creatures, like their teeth are made of diamonds or something like that, and they can metabolize oil and gasoline. So then once people find out that they exist, they’re gonna be harvested. They’re gonna be used like that and then that’ll probably be their role in the next movie is discussing what you do with creatures like that. Should you test on them or should you leave them alone? Which of course they’re gonna use them and exploit them is what I’m trying to say.
Trying to create a hybrid electric oil …
TILL: [Laughs] Yeah, creatures! Something, I don’t know. Or breed them so everyone has engines for trucks and stuff.
You could totally get one and put it inside an exoskeleton like the Iron Man suit they’re making for the military, then you can militarize them.
TILL: Yeah, there you go! Get payed for a script revision on the next one. And I just really liked the idea of those things in the air flying. I don’t know what the role – because Trip has gotta be in a lot of financial trouble after the end of this movie. [Laughs] And I don’t know how he’s gonna – ‘oops, kid in high school. Sorry guys.’ So it’ll be interesting to see a lot of different things in the next one, how they wrap that up.
So Trip’s trying to get away from his mom and his stepdad to go to his dad. Is it because his dad’s a cool dad or is his dad just like a mythical freedom thing?
TILL: He left him when he was young, he had an idea of him and any problems that you have at home it’s easy to just put the solution elsewhere, like most people do, so then when he finds his dad he realizes, ‘Oh, it was always a pretty crappy situation, I just wanted an excuse to blame it on my mom and wasn’t really the case.’
So it’s not like his dad is Tony Stark and he’s gonna go live a life of …
TILL: No, no! [Laughs] In fact, just the most extreme opposite.
So the father has a small role to play outside of his impact on him.
TILL: Yeah, but he also is the reason that it all happens, that I leave. But yeah, I guess especially in screen time he plays a small role.
Are you a big car guy?
TILL: No, no. I wish I could say I was and that I knew all about cars. My uncle is a mechanic and I wish I had payed more attention, but I never did. I don’t know though, after this movie I might start spending a little more time looking at cars because it’s fascinating what they can do with them.
Have you learned anything about fixing them and building them?
TILL: Yeah, for sure. Well, I’ve learned a lot about customizing them. I don’t know about actually doing real productive work on my own car.
But if you need to make it larger so you can fit an alien inside we’re good.
TILL: Yeah, I’m done. [Laughs]
You can’t expect to have a car that can actually go up on three wheels.
TILL: Yeah, I can’t. I can’t fix my Chevy Malibu’s alternator, but I can make it a lot bigger.
Ca you put some sweet flames on it?
TILL: Yeah, I can actually cut them in the side.
I know Meredith is with a horse at some point. Are you ever with the horses or are you just with the cars?
TILL: No, no. I’m never with the horse. We have a scene with me, I’m riding a truck and she’s riding a horse and we’re competing. Did she tell you about her life jacket she has to wear on the horse? You know how when you’re running on a treadmill, you put that magnetic thing so if it detaches it shuts off? Well, it’s kind of like the same thing except it expands like this and she’s like the blueberry from Willy Wonka.
Is that in the movie?
TILL: No, that’s for real life.
It’s a life vest for horses, wow.
I knew she came from a pristine family in the movie, so I didn’t know if they made her wear it or something like that.
TILL: No. That would have been funny though. I wish they had put that in the movie.
Is the ripcord attached to the saddle?
TILL: Yeah, exactly, from what I understand.
Did she ever fall off just to see if it would work? That would be the first thing I would do.
TILL: Yeah, I know. I asked her. She hadn’t ridden horses before this movie.
For more from my Monster Trucks set visit, click here to check out the roundtable interview with director Chris Wedge and producer Mary Parent. Monster Trucks is set to hit theaters January 2017.