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.

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A chat with co-writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard of “The Cabin in the Woods”

Joss Whedon is a bit of a geek god in some circles, having created cult shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long-Blog,” but that’s all about to change with the upcoming release of “The Avengers.” Before Whedon assembles the Marvel superhero group on the big screen, however, the writer/director is reteaming with longtime friend Drew Goddard (a writer on some of Whedon’s TV series, as well as others like “Alias” and “Lost”) on the genre-bending horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Co-written by the duo, the film also marks the directorial debut of Goddard, who’s had to sit idly by and watch the movie endure a number of setbacks on its way to theaters. Originally completed back in 2009 before being indefinitely shelved due to MGM’s ongoing financial problems, the film eventually found a home at genre-friendly studio Lionsgate and will be released April 13th. “The Cabin in the Woods” had its world premiere last month at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and to say that it was well-received would be a serious understatement. I had the chance to speak with Joss and Drew (as well as some of the cast) with a roomful of other journalists two days after the premiere. Here are some highlights from the roundtable chat, although because of the secretive nature of the film’s story, beware that spoilers may follow.

Joss Whedon on whether making a horror movie was the next natural step for a filmmaker with a habit of killing off his characters.

We like killing characters, but I think we’re ready to step it up and kill actual people. (Laughs) I do not look forward to killing people. I love the people. The point of this movie, I think to a large extent… was definitely about the idea that people are not expendable, and that as a culture and for our own entertainment we assume that they are. Although I absolutely love horror movies and always have, I love the most when I really, really care about the people in dire trouble.

With the exception of “Alien,” I think… It’s not that I don’t care about them; it’s that I was very frightened by that movie because they didn’t care about each other. I didn’t think they were going to band together and fight back. I thought, “These guys would sell each other down the river in a heartbeat.”

Joss Whedon on the inspiration for the story.

The story itself really just sort of popped out. And then because it’s so clearly the kind of thing that we love – which is true horror with a cold eye toward “What is that about?” at the same time as we’re in the thick of it – and then once the idea just sort of came, it was years before we actually sat down and did it. But that was what made it so easy to do when we finally did, because we bandied back and forth… This is an entire movie of “I wish we could.” It’s too raging ids just enjoying themselves for 90 minutes.

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