Now in theaters is The Purge: Anarchy, James DeMonaco‘s ambitious follow up to last summer’s surprise hit The Purge. For the sequel DeMonaco takes to the streets with more action, a bigger cast of characters, and a deeper exploration of the world established in the first film. In the film Zach Gilford stars as Shane, a middle class everyman stranded outside on Purge night with his wife (played by Gildford’s real-life bride Kiele Sanchez). Their odds of surviving until morning look pretty grim until the couple joins forces with a mysterious, well-armed man (Frank Grillo) and a mother/daughter pair intent on survival (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul). Together, the team struggles to evade the deadly forces all around them and find a place of sanctuary.
At the recent LA press day I joined a group of journalists to talk with Gilford about the film. He talked about producerJason Blum‘s method of filmmaking, why he loved working with director James DeMonaco, fun times on the set, the film’s socio-political commentary, the deleted scene that explains why his character is out on Purge night, and more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ZACH GILFORD: You know, it’s funny the first time I met Jason was actually after I was finished filming the movie. I’ve been in a book club with his wife for six or seven years – he’s a very busy man. His model for making movies works and it’s smart. And everything goes up on the screen. I know he’s gotten some heat for it, but if someone doesn’t want to do his movie because of whatever reason, then don’t do it. But if you’re doing it, then you’re doing it and be excited about making the movie. There’s definitely times when you’re frustrated for whatever reason, but that happens on fifty million dollar movies when you have a huge trailer, so who cares? We were all there because we wanted to make a cool movie and we thought this could be.
James DeMonaco is one of my favorite directors I’ve ever worked with. I think he shoots really well and all that, but the work environment he creates – he makes everyone feel respected, he makes everyone feel appreciated, and he’s a true collaborator. Something will be on the page and I’ll be like, “This feels a little like a movie beat.” He’s like, “Feels too much like movie dialogue? Fuck it, don’t say it. Don’t say it. What do you want to say? You want to say something else? Say whatever you want. I don’t care.” Which is cool. It’s so fun to work with someone like that. And he makes everybody – the prop people, the lighting people; they all feel valued by him. I was proud of this movie when I saw it, because I think at first you’re like, “Okay, I’m making The Purge sequel, I know what that is.” Then I read the script and I thought there was a lot there, there’s a lot of commentary politically in it. But even if you take all the political commentary away, which I think really heightens this movie, it’s a well made film and it looks good. It’s fun, it’s not cheesy. So I was really proud of that and I think that so much, besides the amazing acting by me [laughs], is really a tribute to James. He had a vision and he knew how to execute it.
Why do you think people want to see more of The Purge?
GILFORD: I think the first one it kind of got the ball rolling and I really think these movies kind of make each other better. Because they’re totally different movies. I think with the first one people were like, “The Purge, you can do whatever you want? That’s crazy, I want to go see that. What’s that all about?” Now people know what it’s about and this goes out on the street, it’s a totally different movie. This is like an action movie, where the first one was like a horror thriller, home invasion movie. So exactly why people want to go see it? I don’t know. I mean, it’s got a good trailer, a good ad campaign. When I saw the trailer I was like, “That looks like a cool movie. I would go see that.” I just really like the fact that I think people leaving it will get more out of it than they expected. Except of course now, because I’ve been telling you all the finer points of it and why it’s such a better movie than you might expect.
GILFORD: Which I think is really cool. That was a super conscious move on James’s part. He wanted it to be far enough in the future that this could happen and this isn’t the first year. It’s almost like that show The Leftovers. We don’t want to see the people leave and what happens the next day, we want to see what happens in three years once that’s the world that people live in. So this is what happens in a world where people live with this Purge night. I think it’s the seventh annual Purge, so theoretically it starts two years from now. So it’s not so far – it doesn’t allow you to escape from it. It makes you really think about – Could this happen? What would I do in this? If everyone’s running around in space suits you’re just like, “Oh this is a fantasy/sci-fi movie.” His goal really was to make everybody think about where we’re at and where we’re going.
What was the most challenging scene for you?
GILFORD: [Laughs] There were two. One was the scene where the rat jumps on Kiele’s leg, because we were actually in a rat infested alley with rats coming at us. It was literally like fifteen to twenty of them, it was so gross. Besides that, the scene in the subway, because it was actually the shipping docks down at the port of San Pedro, and it was just like you’re in this enclosed space all day and there’s a lot of dust – I sound like such a wussy actor. Dust and rats, those were the hardest things. I got to come up with a better answer. It’s funny because the physical stuff I actually love and I think is fun. James would be like, “Get ready, we’re going to do a lot of running tonight.” And I’d be like, “Great, I don’t have to workout today.” But making movies you just kind of get used to it, and this wasn’t a movie that had a lot of fight scenes or truly physically exhausting stuff. It is exhausting to be running around pretending to be scared at night – It sounds so wussy actory.
Rats, dust, and pretending to be scared.
GILFORD: I know, geez. Alright, I’m going to stop myself now.
Have you worked with guns before or was that the first time?
GILFORD: No, I’ve shot guns before in movies. Not into it. I do not understand it at all. Seriously, when we have that scene where I shoot that huge machine gun, my first thought was “Why does anybody want this? What is the point of something like this?” I know some people feel powerful or whatever and I’m just like, ” I feel like I want nothing to do with this.”
GILFORD: I married her a few months before the movie. That was all in prep for this. You know, obviously we know each other very well, so it was kind of fun to just get to play with each other. On the stuff where there’s tension, it’s acting. You’re acting it the same as you would with an actress you’re not married to. The fun of it was almost where we got to bring stuff, any memory we have of bickering or whatever, and put it in the movie because we’re actually making fun of ourselves. Not in the movie, it’s not tongue in cheek, but afterwards you’re like, “God, why did we fight about that ever?” It was really fun and it was really cool. It was interesting because we’ve visited each other on set before, but we’re kind of like, “Okay, you’re going to work, I’m going to let you go be at work and do your thing.” It’s not like we hang out with each other at work. So this was the first time we really got to see the other person work and how they carry themselves on a set. It’s funny because we get into competition. I think both of us always feel like, “I’m the crew’s favorite person on set.” Then on this one I was like, “Yeah, they like you better. They definitely like you better.” She’s everyone’s favorite person, not me.
Do you identify with your character?
GILFORD: I think I definitely identify with Shane in that I feel like he’s kind of the everyman in the movie – well, everyman to middleclass white guys. He’s just thrown into this situation. They’re not like, “Yeah, let’s Purge.” They’re not cowering in corner, just crying themselves into oblivion. They’re just dealing with it and figuring it out. Over the course of the movie they get a little more courageous, they step up a little bit more. Versus Frank’s character, which I think is such a complex cool hero, because he’s out to do bad, but he can’t stop himself from doing good even though it’s risking his life and everything. Then Carmen and Zoe’s characters as well – there’s literally someone who invades their home and assaults them, then they’re dragged out – I don’t know, I just think these characters are very relatable. I don’t want to say likeable. I think they’re not polarizing characters. I think in the first one a lot people felt like, “Ugh, this rich family.” But that, I think, was on purpose and in this one it’s kind of to give you the feeling of this could be you.
Have you thought about where you guys were headed? I’m just curious where that middle class white couple is going on purge night.
GILFORD: [Laughs] Right. In every movie there’s tons of scenes that are cut out, and for every character there were a bunch of scenes that were backstory. It’s like, you know what? No one really cares about the backstory, let’s get into the Purge night. So there’s all this story. I’m actually out of work and there’s a part where I say, “You know what, we’re bickering right now because we’re both mad that we’re not at home on Purge night. Why are we not at home? Because we’re going to my sister’s because we can’t afford a security system. Why can’t we afford a security system? Because I can’t get a job.” There’s all this stuff where I’m unemployed and that’s putting pressure on our relationship, yada yada – Oh, I’m not supposed to say “yada yada” in interviews. I got reprimanded for that recently. Anyway, there’s all that. And another interesting point, which to credit someone I was talking to earlier, this is also the seventh Purge, so I think unfortunately it’s become normal for people. So for you or I, if there was a Purge starting this year. Oh god, Okay, I’m going to be ready three days before hand, I’m going to go to Canada, I’m going to whatever. But I think it gets to a point where you’re like, “Okay, we’ve been through this before. My sister’s is a half hour away and we have two hours, that’s fine.” Which I think is another cool thing, that it’s actually a detail we were conscious of, even though on the surface you’re like, “Two hours, why aren’t you there? Why are you cutting it so close?”
That’s what I thought.
GILFORD: Totally, but I think it’s kind of purposeful because this is how life is now. People are used to it. It’s like, “We’ll be fine, we do this every year.”
Do you have any fun experiences or memories with the cast?
GILFORD: The scene where we’re all on the stage on our knees, that whole scene somehow we got the giggles. Literally all five of us had tears streaming down our faces. I don’t know why, but for some reason. It’s over our shoulder so it probably looks like we’re crying, but we’re just cracking up laughing. I wish we had some big pranks someone played – this is kind of where it was so fun working with Kiele, because making a movie is kind of like summer camp. You go, you have all this fun, you come home and tell people stories and no one really cares, because you had to be there. Luckily with Kiele, we were both there, so we both have the same stories and we can tell them and enjoy them. As opposed to if I came home everyday and was like, “Oh my god, Frank said this, Frank said that.” She’d be like, “Yeah, I get it, Frank’s funny. Whatever.” I even have it now because she’s shooting a TV show [Kingdom] with Frank, and she’ll come home and be like, “Oh Frank, Frank!” And it’s a little funny because I know him, but then I’m like actually jealous because I want to be there. I’m missing out on all the fun.
GILFORD: [Laughs] I imagine they’re some right wing politicians. I think it’s really kind of a normal – pretty much what we have and I don’t know, some people got a little too much power and ego and were able to name themselves the New Founding Fathers. But I really don’t see it as a much different government, whether the New Founding Father party has edged out the Republicans and Democrats or what…
What would you tell the audience of why they should go see The Purge: Anarchy? What’s the difference from the first?
GILFORD: Where the first one felt very claustrophobic, you’re stuck in this house. This one takes you out on the street and it’s so appropriately named Anarchy, because it’s just chaos out there. It’s much higher concept in that – everything that we’ve been talking about, the political commentary and also the discussion of humanity’s innate violent tendencies. I just think it’s a good movie that moves. It’s well made, but you actually leave with a lot to talk about other than , “Remember that scene where that guy blew that other guy up?” I think it’s a good, cool movie.