John Gallagher Jr on 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush and The Belko Experiment

10 Cloverfield Lane star John Gallagher Jr talks secrecy, John Goodman and breaking type

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Few films this year have had the same impact as 10 Cloverfield Lane. There was that sweet JJ Abrams secrecy, the amazing first trailer, the revelation that it was a part of the Cloverfield universe…and then, best of all, the fact that it was a damn good film.

A huge part of the movie’s success comes down to the performances of its three leads: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr. The latter has emerged as one of the most interesting character actors around, with standout performances in the brilliant indie Short Term 12, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, and most recently as a masked home invader in Mike Flanagan’s nail-biting Hush.

We got the chance to talk to Gallagher Jr about the excitement of working on a secret JJ Abrams project, why John Goodman makes your job easy, wanting to play a psychopath, and why we should all be excited about Greg Mclean and James Gunn’s The Belko Experiment.

There was obviously a lot of secrecy surrounding this movie. Were you told very much about it when you got the script?

Not really! I checked my email one day and I saw that I’d been sent a script by my agent to read, and when I opened the file it had two titles. It was called Valencia AKA The Cellar. I read the basic plot outline, and I thought “Oh, that’s intriguing” and of course my interest was piqued by seeing JJ Abrams’ name as a producer. That’s always exciting to see! And so I started reading it, not knowing about anyone else who was involved, and I was totally hooked. I was very engrossed and swept away by the script and really liked the characters and all the tension, and that I didn’t know where things were going.

And then I found out that John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead had signed on and I was a big fan of theirs already. Then I talked with the director Dan Trachtenberg who had never done a feature film before but had done some very wonderful short films that I got to see online. And so all of these elements came together at once, which doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes you might like a part of it without being inspired or interested in other parts. But I was into all the parts of this film as they came together and it ended up being a fantastic experience, so I’m glad that I threw my hat into the ring, and then luckily was asked to join it.

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Emmett is presented as this kindly but kind of dimwitted guy at first, but so much of the film relies on the audience not trusting the characters. Was it tricky trying to avoid tipping the audience off?

Yeah, you don’t want to give anything away. There’s this sense at the beginning of the film that you think he’s kind of a simpleton, maybe he’s a little slow, and then as the story progresses you see that he is smart, he’s a really sweet person and knows a little bit more than he lets on. But I think that’s able to make the audience think “Oh this guy’s fine, he’s this sweet and simple and stupid guy who’s just going to be there in the corner,” and that’s able to throw the audience off of what’s going to come.

It’s funny because I think people naturally put their own projections onto the story, “This guy’s a bad guy, this guy’s a good guy.” I had several of my friends say that they were convinced that I was going to be the bad guy at the end somehow, that that would be the big twist and the big surprise! Of course it didn’t happen that way but I always love talking to people and hearing what was their take on it, what did they think was going to happen, where did they think it was going.

But we just kind of stuck to the script, there would be talk about it with the director, we’d do a take and be like “Was that too heavy handed, does that suggest too much about what’s going to come?” And ultimately we found a balance while shooting it that the editor could then take and make into something unpredictable.

Did you have much time to rehearse beforehand to find the dynamic?

We didn’t really. We had one rehearsal which was a table read, and the producers filmed it and they were able to look at and get some ideas about where they wanted it to go, but once we started shooting it we were up and running. We got to shoot it in order, which was really nice. That rarely happens, but because we had one set and we were able to just stay there, and because it’s only three characters, we thought “Oh we could actually shoot this whole thing in sequence and then we can all go through what the characters are going through in real time.”

Which I think really helped the way that we made it because I think you really feel the journey of them being down there and being stuck there. Michelle tries to escape and then she comes back down and there are all these dashed expectations. So once we got going it just started naturally unfolded.

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Did it ever get claustrophobic?

Thankfully it wasn’t because they built this really small and tight set on a bigger soundstage, and so in between takes you could escape the bunker and go outside the warehouse and walk around and get some fresh air. If we didn’t have that I would have started going stir crazy for sure, but we were able to get out in between takes which was very important for our sanity, I think!

Having made the film in secret, kind of, what was it like to see it finally come out and get such an amazing reaction?

Yeah, it was amazing! When we went to the premiere of this film, I had not seen it cut together yet. So I knew what we had shot but I had no idea how everything was going to get edited together and how it was going to work. And so when I went to the premiere I felt like I was in the same boat as the audience. The lights went down and I was like “I don’t even know how it begins! What’s the music going to be like, what are the credits going to be like?” Then once it started I could never remember what was coming next! With each scene I got so swept away, just by watching John and Mary and hearing Bear McCreary’s music and the way that it was shot and edited, I just got totally taken away on the journey and couldn’t remember what we had shot and what it was going to be and where it was going next. It was so fun!

I even ended up going back a few days later and buying a ticket on a Saturday night just to see it in a theatre and watch what a real paying audience thought of it and reacted to it. And both times I saw it, everybody jumped at the right times and screamed at the right times, and it seemed that both times I saw it the audience had a great time. And that’s just exciting, that’s such a great feeling to see that it worked. Like “Oh right, we achieved what we were aiming for!” That’s always a relief when you’re making a movie!

Hush

The next thing we saw you in was Hush, where you play a masked murderer stalking a woman in her home! Are you consciously looking to play these different parts?

Totally. I love all kinds of stories and I love all kinds of movies, and it’s never my goal to make the same kind of movie over and over again, or play the same kind of character. I do get slightly bored if I feel like I’m being repetitive in the things that I’m doing. So I do try to look for different things and new things and things that challenge me and things that scare me and things where you read it and go “Oh man, I don’t know, can I do that?” I think it’s always a little bit more healthy and risky and exciting to challenge yourself and go for broke on something.

Hush was certainly that kind of example. I had been trying to convince people to let me play psychopaths for years and nobody would, and then totally out of the blue last year I got sent the script for Hush and an offer to play the part from Mike Flanagan, who’s a fantastic horror filmmaker, one of the best I think that we have in the genre working today. And it was his idea from the get go, he said “I believe that you can play this, I have no reason to believe it because I’ve never seen you play anything like a psychotic serial killer but I think you can do it. I think it will be more interesting to the audience to have no clue that you’re the guy wearing the mask and stalking this girl around in the middle of the night.”

So I totally leapt at the chance to do something different, that’s what keeps me excited as a performer, is doing different things and trying to stretch myself and go a little bit further and just see if I can surprise myself in the process, is what keeps me excited.

We’re really excited about Greg Mclean’s The Belko Experiment, can you tell us anything about that?

I’m excited for that too! I don’t know exactly what the status is on it, I think they’re still putting finishing touches on it, but that was really fun to make. It was funny, I went from making small character driven dramas and last year the three movies that I shot back to back were genre pictures and thrillers and horror movies!

I was drawn to that one because it was a fantastic script that James Gunn had written. And he had written it years ago and had been trying to make it for a long time, and everybody turned him down, they said “It’s too dark, too violent, it’s too bleak.” And then thankfully through the success of Guardians Of The Galaxy I think he was able to have people take a closer look at it and then it got set up at MGM with Greg McLean, who’s a fantastic horror film director from Australia, who did the Wolf Creek movies.

Those were the two element that really sucked me in, I thought “Oh if you’ve got Greg Mclean directing it that’s really cool, and if you’ve got this great script by James Gunn, well then I absolutely want to give that a go.” But it’s so intense, it’s a really wild adventure, and some fantastic actors; Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rooker, John C McGinley, a lot of really fantastic performers. So I’m really looking forward to that one, I’m excited to find out when it’s going to come out, when people are going to get to see it.

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Finally, we just wanted to ask what it was like going toe to toe with John Goodman?

Oh, it’s so easy to just put yourself in the shoes of the character and imagine how terrifying it would be to be down there. Because John is such a pro, he’s such a fantastic actor, and he has such a force, larger than life, immersive and intense, so the scenes where he really goes for broke and goes wild were really fun to shoot because all you had to do was just react to him. Which was very easy to do because he was just killing it in every take!

And then between takes he’s just the sweetest guy in the world, so nice and genuinely funny. He’s such a funny person on camera but I didn’t realise how funny he was going to be in real life until I got to meet him. I was definitely star struck, I get star struck all the time. I got into movies and being an actor because I was obsessed with them as a kid and because I was a huge fan, and I still am a huge fan of moviemaking as an art form and everybody that does it. So when I meet an idol or someone that I’ve been watching on screen for years, it always takes a few minutes to adjust and certainly meeting John and being on set with him, I was totally star struck at the beginning, but then he made everybody feel completely at ease because he’s such a pro.

10 Cloverfield Lane is out now on Digital and Blu-Ray and DVD Monday. Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.