Director Drew Goddard and actor Jesse Williams talk about making The Cabin in the Woods and why it's a love letter to a horror genre that has recently lost its way. Drew also discusses the enthusiasm of the fans' response so far and why working with Steven Spielberg has been a dream come true, while Jesse talks about finding new projects in between seasons of Grey's Anatomy.
I read a quote from Ridley Scott recently, while promoting Prometheus, that it's getting harder to scare people and it's also getting harder to be totally original. You seem to have achieved both, so how easy was that for you?
Drew Goddard: Thank you! Well, it was not easy at all. It was really hard but it was really fun because we just love this movie and we love the genre. The Cabin in the Woods is just a love letter to the genre. It certainly took effort but it was of the fun guide.
How did you go about keeping the movie's many secrets under wraps'
Drew Goddard: Well, it's been interesting and this is the only time it's happened in my career but I've noticed that people who watch the movie don't want to spoil it for people. And I think that's because they had so much fun [watching it] that they want to protect that experience for other people, which is nice. You can feel there's a real social aspect to this of people not wanting to ruin it for other people. You hear a lot of 'trust me, go see it'. And that's nice because once I give it to the public, they're free to do whatever they want.
Jesse, how much did you know about The Cabin in the Woods before joining it? Had you seen a script?
Jesse Williams: I didn't know much about the full script but we saw some slides, some audition material... much of it was not actually in the movie. It was written by Joss [Whedon] and Drew [Goddard] to get what they wanted out of the process to kind of figure out the right characters. I was also impressed by how prolific these writers were. They were writing these amazing scenes that they had no intent of even using! They were throwing aside their talent and it was spilling out of the side of the script. But as to what I liked about it? It's the fact that it was this genre-bender. It was hilarious but it was also a horror, but it was also really, really creative. It was a multi-dimensional kind of world and there's no rules and it was imaginative. All these things were happening at once, so that really jumped out from the type of scripts I was reading. Also, the character... I think being able to play this kind of straight and narrow kind of square guy, who is a socially awkward person... a misunderstood person and somebody who is not quite comfortable in his own skin yet, that was fun.
Where did you go to draw on that?
Jesse Williams: There's a little bit of that inside all of us, I think. I was also a public school teacher for some time and I spent a lot of time in that junior high/high school phase of people coming of age and figuring out who they are and who they're not and taking on or appropriating other people's style to try to figure out what fits best for them. I think all of that fed and informed the process of this character. I was a friend of Curt [Chris Hemsworth]... I think we were all these archetypes but even from the beginning there was a twist on them. I was the bookish square guy but I was also the star athlete and Curt was a star athlete but also an incredible student. Everybody was both of these things at once. Anna [Hutchison]'s character was a pre-med student, so we're playing with all those. And its also modern, it's current, it's contemporary that nothing is that simple, and nothing is what meets the eye, but we can still take the best from that in order to feed a story. You don't need to be rudimentary. These things can still co-exist and we can still squeeze the juice out of it.
Given the delay in getting the film released, following MGM's financial woes, were you ever worried that the film might not see the light of day for all of its brilliance?
Drew Goddard: I never was. We got caught up in this bankruptcy that also delayed The Hobbit and James Bond so we were like: 'OK, we're all going to come out. They're getting delayed too, so it's fine.' This was just a red tape thing and we just had to untangle that. Once other studios started seeing our movie and bidding for it and flipping out, we knew it was going to work out.
You've said you see the film as a way of putting the horror genre back on track after it went a little wayward amid all the torture porn?
Drew Goddard: Look, we love this genre and if we get other people to start making more horror films, that's great for me. Certainly, there have been some bad films but there are also been some great horror films in the last 10 years. I'm not sure. I do feel there are certainly some films where you can feel that the directors don't care about the genre and they don't care about their characters. It's almost like a cattle call... let's put these kids out there and then slaughter them. You can feel that when it's happening. So, we certainly wanted to explore that and do something different.
Jesse, had you noticed that about the genre and had you been sent scripts asking you to be a part of those types of films?
Jesse Williams: Yeah, I had. I got sent a couple while we were shooting this. But it's just not interesting because, as Drew has pointed out before, you can tell that the characters just aren't important to the writer, or the author, or whoever that is. They are there to be knocked down. And if I don't attach to them as a viewer, or a reader or an actor... you can't just have a character that's just 'the jock' because who cares? You want them to get punched down. But if you don't feel you've lost anything when he does go, then what was the point? So, yeah, you read a lot of stuff that feels like it is a re-tread of a teen movie, or of a horror movie, or of a camp movie, or a whatever, and that's fine too. Luckily, there is enough stuff coming out that there is always diversity... one doesn't kill all. This just stood out heads and tails above all that.
Drew, how has your relationship with Joss evolved over the years? Who's harder on who?
Drew Goddard: We're both hard on each other but so much of our relationship is about making the other person laugh and making the other person... we're just really trying to surprise the other person. Usually, if I can surprise him or he can surprise me we know it's good because we've both done this a long time and we're our toughest critics. So, if we can get it past each other we know we're onto something.
And how do you put out a casting call for a Merman and a Japanese Frog Girl?
Drew Goddard: [Laughs] Well, I don't want to spoil anything but we definitely did not put out casting calls for those ones! We had to be much more subtle. Have you ever crawled around on your belly on the floor before? Let me see under your shirt...
You're now working with Steven Spielberg on Robopocalypse. How are you enjoying that experience?
Drew Goddard: It's definitely one of those dreams come true. It's so rare that you meet your idols and they outdo your expectations but he is even better than I knew he could be. You realise why he's the greatest filmmaker of all time. His passion and his enthusiasm and his genius come through with every word he says. It's really been fun.
Jesse, you're obviously still attached to Grey's Anatomy, so how do you pick and choose your projects in between seasons? And how do you feel your career is progressing on the film front as you try and make that leap?
Jesse Williams: It's tough because we shoot Grey's 10 months a year, which doesn't leave a whole lot of room for doing film stuff. But it's a huge gift to be able to be on the show, so that's part of the deal. But we're finding a way to make it work. It gives me time to do some things on the production front - to do some writing but also I'm going to co-produce a film that I'm going to star in this hiatus... kind of a drag racing, 70s biopic that we can squeeze into that time. You get two months off and you've been working for 10 months, so you want to either try to figure out something new and fresh to do or just take a break to see your family. So, it's the gift and the curse of being on something that occupies a lot of time. But it's all a gift.
Interview: Rob Carnevale Photo: Lionsgate