In the mystery thriller Red Riding Hood, actor Shiloh Fernandez plays Peter, a poor woodcutter in the village of Daggerhorn, who is in love with the beautiful Valerie (Amanda Seyfried). However, Valerie’s parents (Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen) have arranged for her to marry Henry (Max Irons), the blacksmith son of the town’s wealthiest family. In love with him since she was very young, Valerie is not willing to be forcibly separated from Peter, and the two plan to run away together, until the village’s feared beast – the werewolf – takes the life of Valerie’s sister, changing their lives forever.
During the press day for the film, Shiloh Fernandez did this exclusive interview with Collider and talked about how he had wanted to work with Catherine Hardwicke since auditioning for Twilight and Hamlet, what it was like to work with Amanda Seyfried, and why he thinks fairy tales endure for generations. He also talked about working with Ashley Greene on Skateland (which opens in theaters in May), how he’d like to branch out and do a comedy like 21 Jump Street, for which he recently read the script, admitted that he would like to do a musical, and said he hopes to do a film that his friend, actor Thomas Dekker, will be directing. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you get involved with Red Riding Hood? Did Catherine Hardwicke come to you for this because you had wanted to work together since Twilight?
SHILOH FERNANDEZ: No, not at all. I had auditioned for Hamlet, which she was going to make, and we both agreed that that was a good project and a good thing to do together, but it didn’t happen. And then, I read Red Riding Hood and knew she was directing it, and felt like that was going to be something that would be perfect for us to do together. I felt like it matched both of our energies and, out of all the films – including Hamlet and Twilight – that she’s made, this one suited her and I the best. And so, I actually ran into her at a party and talked to her about it.
There was this British actor that was going around town, saying that he’d been offered this role, and I said, “Catherine, what’s going on?” We’d written letters after the Twilight thing, and she said we’d work together, and I said, “This is perfect. What’s going on? Why did you cast this person?” And she said, “I didn’t cast him. Come audition!” So, after a series of auditions, I got it. One of the things that she’s so great at is casting people that work well together. It was really important for her that Amanda [Seyfried] felt comfortable with who was cast, and she had a big say in that, too.
How was it to work with Amanda Seyfried and develop the relationship between your characters?
FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I spent a lot of time with her before we went to Vancouver, and up there as well. I just found her to be fascinating, as an actress and as a person. In the initial auditions, the way she speaks and her rhythm of speech and her choices are just so interesting and involving that you have no choice, but to hold on and let her steer the scene. That was new for me. I usually want to have control and win, so it was a great challenge to just be with her and see what happened. It’s not hard to fall in love with her, honestly. The hardest part would be to play that role where you can’t be with her and you have to say no, against your best judgment.
I try to create as many circumstances outside of set that help me fall into character when I get onto set. I know that I do have an affinity for Amanda, and I really admire her and think she’s extremely talented. It’s hard not to love her. She’s wild. Amanda and the character are both really strong women, they really know what they want and they’re going after it, and they don’t really take no for an answer. All those things were attractive to me and helped me to really fall into it. I just think she’s cool. She’s easy to love, she’s fun, she’s funky, she’s great.
When you have so many outside aspects with this, like the sets and the costumes, was there one thing that really helped you get this character, or was it just a combination of being around everything?
FERNANDEZ: That’s a neat question. There was a lot of work to be done, to get me to that place, and Catherine was really helpful with that. I definitely think holding the axe was a monumental thing for me. Holding it and knowing how to work with it, and feeling comfortable, like I could protect myself from anybody, really helped. At first, I couldn’t even tie my own boots. I got good at it, but it was so strenuous and involved. And, putting on the costume and being on the set, where they actually built these buildings and it was real, was all helpful.
I gained 15 pounds for the movie. I’m slight again, but working with a trainer who was a rodeo guy, I took a lot of the cowboy aspects of his personality and tried to infuse them into a strong, silent type. I learned exactly how old woodcutters chopped down trees. You don’t really see that in the film, but that was something we worked on. I met with one of Catherine’s ex-boyfriends, who’s a Navy SEAL, to get that edge and alertness, always being on point and ready for anything. All those things really helped me. And then, just knowing about love and having been in love before was a huge influence. Everything that Peter does is for Valerie, and I really liked the sensitivity that came through, which isn’t necessarily expected for the woodcutter type. There was a lot of sensitivity that I thought was a neat choice for them to use.
Because your character doesn’t come from the same means and background as Henry (Max Irons), was it important to you for him to still have confidence in who he is and not be ashamed of where he came from?
FERNANDEZ: Yeah. My choice, in working with Catherine and talking about it, was that the way he grew up was with a dad who was a thief. Not of this made it into the film, but they’d been on the run, and then his dad was captured and he had to fend for himself. His initial reaction to things would be to do the easy thing or the wrong thing, but in every circumstance, he has to go against that instinct and know that he’s in love with her and has to do the right thing. To play those things helps you fall into being confident because there’s always an internal thought process happening. Rather than playing, “I’m okay and I believe in who I am,” I tried to play, “This is what I could do, but I’m really trying to do the right thing here. I have to do the right thing because I’m in love with her and she needs my help.”
How was it to work with an actor as accomplished as Gary Oldman?
FERNANDEZ: I was completely intimidated and completely beside myself, but it’s such a challenge to work with somebody like that and it only makes you try harder, strive to be a better actor, be more in the moment and more committed. It can be daunting, but it’s also a dream come true because I aspire to be in a situation where I get to work with actors that are going to be known forever and who are going to go down in history as some of the best of all time. Just to be in his presence and to feel his creative energy and the magic that he’s making can’t be beat.
Since you’d been wanting to do so for awhile, what was it like to finally be able to get on set and work with Catherine Hardwicke?
FERNANDEZ: It’s such a stretch. She has so much energy and it’s always going, 24 hours a day. I’m a calm person who wants to talk about things and think things through. With her, you’re really thrown into it immediately. That was the great challenge. You’re forced to go on this journey with her. The fact that she connects with such a powerful, young audience and really gets that, is something that I’m so proud to be involved with. She’s very different from any director I’ve worked with before and I cannot wait to do another movie with her. It’s infectious, what she does. I’ve seen the progression from when she was casting, to the build-up to when she was filming, to finally now having finished the film and coming back to who she is. I find it fantastic that I can be her friend and also look to her as a leader, when we’re doing the movie.
What do you think it is about fairy tales that seems to make them endure for generations?
FERNANDEZ: My brother was telling me that there are eight stories in the world, and they’re just told over and over and over again. I found that fascinating. Innately, there are qualities in human beings that are always repetitive. There are things like love and hate and jealousy that are just going to be there forever. So, when we see something that exposes those things or makes us think about those things, it can last forever. What I love about this movie is that we have that aspect of this story that everybody knows and, at the same time, it’s a film that anybody could see because, just like any other romantic thriller, people that like that kind of film will enjoy this film too. You have all these different aspects, which makes it unique and open, at the same time.
What was it like to do Skateland and work with Ashley Greene?
FERNANDEZ: It was crazy to work with her. I learned a lot from her, too. She was so subtle, but when I watched her performance, it had such nuance and beautiful subtlety that I was so impressed. That was a movie that I would have killed for. I just knew that character and I knew that I had to make that film. It’s about a kid who’s out of high school, who’s complacent. He’s only complacent because he doesn’t believe in himself, and that’s exactly where I was at that age, at 19 or 20. It’s confusing and it’s confounding. You’re like, “Do I make this next step? Do I believe in myself?” Through this series of events, he’s forced to reexamine his life, take responsibility, move forward and find his place. Ashley was a fantastic friend to have on that set. I was just blown away by her performance. I love that movie and I hope that people get to see it.
Do you know what you’re going to do next, or is there something that you would like to do next, if you could?
FERNANDEZ: I want to play a country star. I’m serious. I’m so jealous of Garrett Hedlund. No. There’s a movie that my friend, Thomas Dekker, is going to make. He’s written it and he’s going to direct it. He’s great. He’s so interesting. I did a movie with him that’s never going to be released, that he directed. I hope that will work out, to do next. It’s just a beautiful story, that’s very dark, about these five street kids and kids that come to L.A. to be actors. It’s the other side of it, and what happens to the rest of the folks here. I think that’s a story that needs to be told. I really do want to do a musical film and explore that side of myself. I like darker things. I just read 21 Jump Street, and that was hilarious. I like books that are funny, but that aren’t trying to be funny. I like situational humor. But, that script was hilarious. In terms of comedies, put me in 21 Jump Street. I would be very happy. I also want to explore and try new things. I’m open to any sort of thing that I think I could bring something new to.
What do you look for in a project? Is it about the script and the character, or is it more the director and actors involved?
FERNANDEZ: I think that, when I was first starting out, I took roles because I would rather do a movie than keep working at the Chinese restaurant, washing dishes. And, it was really about the role. I didn’t care about the movie, if it was a role that I felt I could play. As you have those experiences and work with people like Catherine [Hardwicke], and Amanda [Seyfried] and Gary [Oldman], it does elevate you, make you a better actor and does challenge you more, so those are the type of things that I’m now going to lean towards. There are all types of things that will attract me. Luckily, I have a team of people that give me other insights. If I was making my own choices, I would have already probably crashed and burned.
What initially drew you to acting? Did something inspire your passion for the craft?
FERNANDEZ: I think it was more planned than I remember. As aloof as I try to be about it, it was probably very much a thing that I was working towards. Growing up, I didn’t have television. My dad would make up stories and tell me stories, so my imagination ran wild. When I did see films, which was very few and far between, that was such an interesting medium that was so new to me. It wasn’t something that was just part of my life, so it was really appealing and so different that I enjoyed that. When I went to college, I had no drive to study anything in particular. There was all this money being spent on this college that I didn’t think would necessarily lead anywhere for me. I thought about acting and how, to be an actor, you’re studying life, every single day. I already enjoyed people, and thinking about people, and thinking about what they’re thinking and what motivates them, that it was the only job that I felt right in taking part in.
Do you always have that same passion for the craft, or do you find that you need to take time away to recharge creatively?
FERNANDEZ: I do feel that way. I know a lot of people who are like, “I just want to work.” I know that, for me, to be an actor that brings knew things and is interesting, doesn’t mean always doing film or being on set. It means having new experiences and going new places and meeting new people, and I definitely need that break. I’ve only made two movies in the last two years because I don’t feel the need to make anything just to make it. I feel the need to find things that are going to make me happy and that I think I could do a good job with.
When you have friends that are writing and directing, does that give you inspiration to get behind the camera as well?
FERNANDEZ: Yeah, it does. You work with different directors and you see their methods, and you read a lot of scripts, and obviously, there are always ideas. Luckily, living here, I have tons of friends that are more interested in writing and directing. To sit down at a computer every day and write a script is commendable. Today, I don’t have the patience for it, but I have some fantastic ideas. I love movies so much that I would love to, one day, direct and put my stamp on something.
Are you prepared to deal with the attention you’ll get from films and roles like Red Riding Hood?
FERNANDEZ: I really think that I’m going to have to wait and see. Maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t. I’ve never been recognized. I thought I got recognized once, and it was somebody from the crew. That hasn’t happened, and I can’t imagine it happening. All I want is for the movie to be successful and for people to enjoy the performance. If there are fans that come with that, I would embrace that, wholeheartedly.