A chat with the cast of “The Cabin in the Woods”

If Lionsgate’s new horror film “The Cabin in the Woods” had been released back in 2010 like originally planned, there’s a good chance that audiences wouldn’t have recognized any of the young faces in the cast. Chris Hemsworth’s biggest claim to fame up to that point was a cameo role as James T. Kirk’s dad in “Star Trek”; Jesse Williams had just started his recurring stint on the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy”; Fran Kranz was working on the short-lived Joss Whedon series “Dollhouse”; and Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchison didn’t even have a noteworthy acting credit to their names.

Though most of the actors have still yet to truly break out (save for Hemsworth, of course), “The Cabin in the Woods” is definitely the kind of movie that could put them on the map, especially with so much positive buzz leading up to its release. I was fortunate enough to see the film at South by Southwest last month and joined a group of journalists in speaking with several cast members – including Connolly, Williams, Hutchison and veteran scene stealers Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – about their experiences making the movie. Below are some highlights from the roundtable discussions, although because of the secretive nature of the film’s story, consider this your official warning that the following may contain potential spoilers.

And when you’re done, be sure to check out my interview with co-writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard for more on “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison and Jesse Williams on their initial reactions to the script.

JW: Our audition sides were totally fake. I think Joss just wrote them to fuck with us. And because they’re such good writers, they could just make stuff up in two seconds and have us jump around like animals to get the part. I didn’t read the script until after I agreed to do the movie, I don’t think.

KC: I had an inkling of what they were up to because I read one of the later scenes in the movie with Fran [Kranz]… to see if we were compatible. So then I finally got to read the script and I knew it was really special right away. It’s just mind-blowing, and it’s amazing, and it’s awesome and rare to read something that makes you want to keep reading, and that you really don’t know where it’s going to go.

AH: You kind of have a bit of blind faith if it’s a project with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, because their previous things have been so rad, you’re kind of like, “I think this might be awesome.” And you guys didn’t have much of an idea going into the film, right? But you kind of knew that it might be good, and it is. I think that’s why I was just like, “Heck yeah, get me on this bad boy,” without even reading it.

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins on the film’s script.

BW: I’ve said this a bunch, but what’s miraculous about this is you have two guys who obviously are great imaginative storytellers, and they look at each other and they go, “What would we write if we could write anything?” And the fact that that actually got done and that that movie got made is just a fucking miracle. (Laughs)

RJ: I almost think it was a bet that they made. They wrote this unbelievably complicated story and then [Joss] turned to Drew and they flipped a coin and said, “Okay, you direct it. See if you can possibly direct something.” And you know, as good as the script is, the movie’s better, which was amazing to see.

BW: It is amazing that he’s a first-time director, because when you’re reading the script, when the elevator doors open and there’s a lot of stuff that comes out of there… How do you make that work? Modulating that kind of ridiculous horror and remaining human is really difficult. Most directors will fuck that up for you. It was a shock seeing it. Realizing that the original impulse was achieved with that kind of clarity was amazing to me.

Jesse Williams on avoiding the usual trappings of a horror spoof.

It didn’t really cross my mind, to be honest, about the performances coming off spoofy, and I didn’t really see any similarities. In the process of rehearsing and developing it, and spending time with each other, it was able to really feel organic. I think it was important that we didn’t spend time with Richard or Bradley, or we didn’t go to the control room… We’re responding to the moment when the air gets blown out of the vent; we’re not responding to knowing that there’s some all-seeing eye, so we really tried to play it as organically as possible. So therefore there was nothing to spoof. What was interesting was watching each other change. I’m changing (not by my own devices), but I’m watching these guys change, so do I know to what degree they’re changing? Because I’m also being changed.

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins on creating back stories for their characters.

RJ: No, we don’t do that. That’s not the way we work really. All the clues for these guys were in the script.

BW: If you’re pretending to work in the White House, your job is not to know how to work in the White House. Your job is to make scenes work. It’s always an acting issue more than a research issue.

RJ: And I do think that the first three or four pages of this script with us tells you all you need to know about these two guys. They’re relationship, that they’ve been doing this a long time, that they’re friends… All that stuff in those scenes is information that the audience needs to know about these guys, and the way [Joss and Drew] did it is brilliant. I mean, that’s great screenwriting.

Bradley Whitford on his great chemistry with Richard Jenkins.

Again, I feel like chemistry is a scene that works. That’s what chemistry is. We had a lot of fun. And that’s another indication of… when you see what I think is really good, truthful acting across the board, it’s because the director created a really good creative atmosphere, and that does not always happen.

Kristen Connolly and Jesse Williams on getting scared while shooting the film.

KC: When they blew that cellar door, they blew it early. When we rehearsed it, there was sort of a pause between when I finished speaking and when the door went, and they blew it early when we actually did it, because they were like, “We just wanted to see your reaction.”

JW: The cellar was always dark and creepy, and there’s so many options, and your mind also races with how many movies we could make. That is just a real testament to [Joss and Drew’s] creativity and they could write all those movies in a day. I think they wrote this movie in three days; it’s offensively talented.

Anna Hutchison and Jesse Williams on which scenario they would be most afraid of.

AH: I think the ghost could be freaky, because it can move… you don’t know where it’s coming from and what it’s going to do. But with that little ballerina girl, I would just smash her. (Laughs) She’s little and I would take her. There’s just so much freaky stuff happening. What is going on in Joss and Drew’s mind?

JW: I don’t know if we ever saw it come to fruition, but in the cellar, in the back corner – this cellar was really populated with great stuff, and I don’t think in the final cut you saw half the stuff – but one of them was this whole medical office, with all these old wheelchairs, and rusty medical equipment, and hooks, and spreaders, and stirrups and craziness, and I was just like, “Holy shit, I don’t want to be in that film.” (Laughs)

Bradley Whitford on the amount of gore in the film.

I struggle with it. I have kids. My son, who’s 12, really wants to see this. Probably not a great idea. I have a 14-year-old daughter, and there’s creepy teenage sexualization going on in the movie. You worry that it’s just gonna be exploited. I remember when I saw a great movie, “Pulp Fiction”… I came out and there were reporters out there – and I grew up Quaker – and they said, “What’d you think of the movie?” And I said, “I thought it was great, but I wanna take Quentin Tarantino and slam his pinky in a car door just so he knows it’s not funny.” I have really mixed feelings… but I don’t think it’s exploited in this. And I’m totally fine with violence with consequences, and I’m totally fine with what I think is a very interesting look at why people… we’re posing a question of, “Why do we have to watch this?,” which I think the movie achieves.

Jesse Williams on whether “The Cabin in the Woods” is the kind of movie that he would want to see.

Absolutely. It’s kind of the reason I go to the movies. We all know we don’t go to the theater for everything, right? Some things, you’re like, “Oh, I’ll see it on DVD. I’ll wait ‘til it comes out on cable. I’ll watch it on a plane, if at all.” A lot of my great memories are going to the theater for horror. The funnest part of showbiz for me as a consumer growing up was the thrill ride: screaming, being frightened, experiencing it with an audience, other people get frightened, they get the joke… It’s really a collaborative community experience.

Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison and Jesse Williams on the chance of becoming a member of Joss Whedon’s stable of go-to actors.

AH: I just feel lucky enough to be part of one. And I know there’s so many actors out there who would give all of themselves just to feature in an ad that he directed or something.

JW: Yeah, it would be great. We’re in one, so if he wants us, he knows how to find us. And on top of that, his loyalty to his cast, but also the fans’ loyalty to the cast of the Whedonesque shows in the past is really something cool. I think we’re in for a ride that we kind of can’t predict.

KC: And it speaks to how much Joss’ work has touched people and how much it means to his fans that they are so loyal, and they are so supportive of him and all of the people that he works with, so it’s pretty awesome.


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