SciFiNow sat down with As Above So Below star Ben Feldman (best known for playing Ginsberg in Mad Men) in the Paris catacombs for an exclusive interview about why this found-footage horror from the makers of Devil isn’t your average genre movie, what he thinks of the genre, and what it’s like filming underground…
It’s not a straightforward, traditional horror movie, it’s a treasure hunt too. Did that aspect of the film appeal to you?
100 per cent. That’s exactly why I wanted to be in it. You know, it’s nerdy, it’s like Dan Brown and Indiana Jones, it’s not just ‘Here’s a haunted house, oh my God what’s was that noise? Let’s run away and keep running until the credits’. There’s history in this film and it’s fascinating, I learned a lot about the history of Paris and alchemy and Nicolas Flamel. Everything that’s in this movie you can go home and look up and discover that it existed to some degree, even if it was just folklore – that’s what’s fascinating about this movie.
How would you describe your character George?
Kind-hearted. Sceptical. Nerdy. Intelligent. A little bit nervous and neurotic. There’s some adjectives.
The Dowdles said they needed a guy who looks like he could be intelligent and strong and masculine and you had to be able to root for him. What do you think they saw in you?
Oh God, there’s no way to answer that question. Either I sound massively self-deprecating or I sound like a total douche. You know what, I think I give off a nerdy vibe, a more intelligent than I actually am vibe – I think that’s just me in Los Angeles compared to other actors. I was this guy to the cast and crew during filming, I was the guy who wanted to learn about all of this stuff, I wanted to talk about it. If they made the movie I wanted to make during shooting, it would be the most boring film on the face of the planet. Every scene would be my character talking about a bridge or the etymology of a street sign – it would have been a massively boring movie. I think in that regard, I was pretty similar to George.
You’ve done three horror films now, but you’re not a horror fan. So why have you done three horror films?
Well, for different reasons. Friday The 13th was just fun, working with some of my best friends and some of my future best friends and it was this great horror legacy and it was Michael Bay [producing] and a really interesting director [Marcus Nispel] – it was a fun experience. Cloverfield was just because it was a very bizarre top-secret J.J. Abrams project and you just don’t say no to that. This was the first time I could actually get behind the actual project and the story, it wasn’t about going to Paris for the summer – although that was an aspect of it.
While there are treasure hunt aspects like Indiana Jones, I really didn’t want to revisit old films. To me it was more about learning about the history behind the legends. The second you get a little too movie-ish in your acting, the audience are going to call you on it. We wanted people to buy straight away that these aren’t camera set-ups, there isn’t any special lighting, these are real people in peril – it has to feel like a field trip that’s gone wrong.
As a film fan, I came out and thought to myself, ‘I enjoyed that, I really want to go watch The Goonies now.’
There’s something about that going-on-a-treasure-hunt adventure kind of movie. I kinda got the same feeling after watching the movie where I wanted to go play Legend Of Zelda on Nintendo. There’s just something fun about going on a journey like that.
This was the first movie given official permission to film in the Parisian catacombs. How was it working in such an otherworldly place?
We had to break down into a skeleton crew – no pun intended – and there was supervision and we had to go over a lot of official stuff before we were allowed to go down, it was pretty hardcore. It was a really interesting thing to do, going to a place where nobody has ever been allowed to go before. That was the scariest part of making this film, when you’re in the parts of the catacombs that are easily accessible to the general public you feel fine, but when you have to crawl tiny little narrow caves and you’re soaking wet and you really feel like you’re in uncharted territory that at times can be a little terrifying.
So when you say skeleton crew, who was down there?
Director, DP, producer, like maybe one sound guy. Most of the movie we had the whole crew, but there were moments in those really off-limits place where we had only ten guys down there. Hair and make-up and those guys were all waiting above ground in the trailers and we came up at the end of the day and told them about what happened in the movie that day because they were all hanging out in the street.
A lot of times, take one for us would be a total surprise. They’d keep us in another part of the caves while they were setting up the shot and then say to us, ‘You know your lines, you know what’s happening in the scene, go in that direction and it’ll happen’. There’s a choir of creepy people singing in the nude, there was like boobs, we did not see that coming. Sometimes that approach works and sometimes you get a bunch of actors who are taken out of the moment and just start giggling.
Can you imagine George and Scarlett returning for a sequel?
From your lips to Universal’s ears. They have a history together and a dynamic together and I don’t see why there couldn’t be another adventure that these guys could go on. It would be a compelling thing to watch, people would want to see it hopefully.
When you left Mad Men, it was in quite intense circumstances. Did that help to inform your performance in this movie?
No, it feels completely different. Even Mad Men at its most intense creepiness is still quieter and calmer and often feels like a comedy – when we sit at table reads at the beginning of an episode there’s laughter, it feels like a sitcom. Even when my character does something ridiculous – that I’m not going to ruin – it felt like a comedy at the time. So to do that and then to come to Paris and to descend into these terrifying caves and scream for my life all day long for two months felt very different.
Were you scared during filming at all?
I don’t get scared because I don’t believe in things like ghosts. I get more scared of logistical situations, like getting lost if the catacombs is pretty easy to do, it’s a labyrinth. I’m not claustrophobic, were I claustrophobic it would have been an awful situation for me. But no, I don’t get scared. Scary movies actually bore me, which is ridiculous because this is number three for me, but this particular movie is one that I can say to press – and not be bullshitting – that I really did enjoy. I would tell friends to see this, even though I’m the kind of guy who normally hates horror movies.
So you weren’t scared watching it?
Not at all, because I has so much fun filming it – for me that would be like flicking through my old high-school yearbook and screaming. But I have seen the film with other people and they were freaking out – my wife would not watch a single second of this movie.
As Above So Below is in cinemas 29 August 2014. For more horror coverage, check out our new range of digital-exclusive Horror Handbooks.