In The Belko Experiment, Tony Goldwyn plays Barry Norris, the man in charge of the Bogota office of the Belko corporation. His day gets a lot more complicated than he expected when the building is suddenly sealed and a voice comes over the intercom demanding that the men and women trapped inside start killing each other. How will Barry react? What does a leader do in this situation?
We talked to the star of Scandal, Ghost and The Last House On The Left about what drew him to this brutal story, what makes James Gunn and Greg McLean special, and whether he’d ever consider directing a horror movie.
What was it about James Gunn’s script that jumped out at you?
Part of it was its outrageousness. I couldn’t believe that someone was actually making this movie! And tied to that, the sense of humour along with its really stark exploration of violence and what it can lead to.
It does feel like it could have been very different in the wrong hands, something a lot schlockier…
That was my biggest concern, and that’s where the sense of humour comes in. James Gunn has such a great sense of irony; I felt that was obviously key. And then the other thing for me was that the acting be really strong. Because a movie like this could be cartoonish or cheesy or just leaning into the blood and guts of it. And when I saw Greg McLean’s film Wolf Creek I was super impressed by his work and we talked about that and he wanted to make it feel very real.
Particularly for me, playing what turns out to be the heavy, I wanted to make sure it was human and not simplistic. We were trying to make it as complicated as possible so people would put themselves in that situation and walk away going “Jeez, what would I do?”
What’s Greg McLean like as a director?
Sort of the opposite of what you might imagine given what his films are like! He’s really just a very warm, gentle guy. He’s very funny, a very acerbic sense of humour, and he’s super smart. We had a great time working together; he’s a really great guy. In such a dark piece there was a lot of laughter, which was a good antidote for the material we were working on.
There a lot of characters and it takes place in a very limited time-frame. Did you have much time to rehearse beforehand?
It was a pretty low-budget movie and unfortunately on low-budget movies you don’t have a lot of time for rehearsal. I think we had the better part of a week. One of the other things that was interesting about the synergy of this particular group of people, we were all in Bogota shooting it and we just hung out together a lot, which doesn’t always happen, and we went out a lot. We needed to blow off steam and Bogota’s a really fun place to do that! So outside of work we spent a lot of time together, including Greg and James and everyone else, so that was quite useful in terms of getting chemistry going.
It must help working with such a strong ensemble cast.
It was great. That was one of the reasons I also really wanted to do it, I knew the cast that they were trying to put together. I’d been a big admirer of John Gallagher Jr’s work, I’d worked with Rooker before and we knew each other, and I’d known John C McGinley for a long time and really admired his work, I really admired Melonie Diaz’s work. So that was really key to me, it was great. Because again we’re taking material that in the wrong hands could have gone wrong. So it was really interesting to see how everybody in their different way handled it, and a lot of the smaller parts too, these actors really committed to what they’re doing so it had a sense of reality to it.
And again, the other part of it was the sense of irony that is in all of James Gunn’s work, which is what actually makes it work. And Rooker, having worked with him so often, really understands that, but people like Sean Gunn, James’ brother, is hilarious in the movie, or Josh Brenner who’s so funny, different people brought that ironic sense of humour to it. Some of the actors who I did not know previously really handled that very well and I think without that the film would just be tedious and just violent.
Are you a fan of horror movies in general?
I’m a big fan of horror movies when it’s either an exploration of a social idea or social commentary, like: “What drives people to violence?” or people see themselves in one way and they’re put into a circumstance in which they end up behaving very differently, that’s always really interesting to me. I’m not always a fan of horror that’s just slasher films or something just for the sake of scares or shock value. That’s never been my taste.
But when something is really exploring something human…even something as horrifying as a movie like Wolf Creek, what I loved about that movie is that it just felt so real, that any of us could have found ourselves in that situation and that’s what’s horrifying about it. So I really admired Greg’s work on that. He was trying to do a similar thing in Belko obviously with a darker sense of humour.
The Last House On The Left feels similar to that, it’s ordinary people pushed into this horrific situation…
It’s very similar, and what I liked about that film was I thought that the characters felt very real to me and being a father, at that time my daughters were teenagers and I related to the movie a lot. The situation is awful, but it’s very real. And again that’s why I was attracted to it. The original movie was much campier and very much ahead of its time, but real super low budget and the acting wasn’t very good, but it was so shocking and it did have that tongue in cheek humour to the violence which Wes also brought to so much of his work. The remake was a little bit different; it was a little more straight up. Although, now that I think about it, exploding head in the microwave heads that way…or putting the guy’s arm down the garbage disposal. [laughs]
Would you ever consider directing a horror film?
I guess I would if the script was very complex. I think that would be a really interesting challenge. My brain doesn’t necessarily go to creating scares, those kinds of moments, but I think that, like anything, if you’re telling the story of a human situation, in a genre piece, the scary moments or the tension is built into it, so that would be a very interesting challenge to do. So if it was the right script I definitely would.
Finally, what’s your favourite James Gunn movie?
Guardians Of The Galaxy. It’s so original and hilarious. But it’s not the thing that he first got my attention with, a movie like Slither really let me know how talented this guy was. Guardians Of The Galaxy was in fact a real departure, but that’s a classic already.
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