Interview: Scott Speedman
Thu, 17 Apr 2008 09:00:39
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"Let me just turn off the television here. I was running through the channels trying to find something to stimulate the brain so I don't fall asleep," exclaims Scott Speedman. "I was watching the NFL players box each other. It looks like that's what they were talking about on ESPN—very high brow stuff [laughs]." Even though his television may not be tuned to the most high brow content at the moment, Scott Speedman currently stars in a refined, tight and terrifying thriller called Anamorph. The film finds Speedman teaming up with Willem Dafoe. The two play cops on the trail of a gruesome serial killer that has a profound obsession for the fine arts and painting his own macabre masterpiece.
In addition, the affable and funny Speedman also plays leading man in another creepfest entitled The Strangers, where he and the lovely Liv Tyler are trapped in forested home by some downright evil psychopaths. However, Speedman isn't simply just another "Scream King." He's a gruff and prepared method actor that pulls viewers into each and every scene, and he's got an impeccable sense of humor to match. He took some time to talk to ARTISTdirect about his new films and the definition of scary.
Anamorph puts a new spin on the serial killer concept, incorporating a fine art aesthetic. Did the concept initially intrigue you?
Have you ever seen a movie like it? I haven't. I'm not very well versed in the whole art scene, so it's especially interesting to me. It felt really authentic and visually interesting, while I was reading the script. My favorite parts of the movie are those detailed elements like the visual style.
Your character, Carl, uncovers that Stan (Willem Dafoe) is hiding a secret. Carl knows that Stan didn't actually kill the murderer like he said he did. You really unravel the plot, and it's a crucial part to the narrative. How did you prepare for the role?
First of all, it was really exciting to play that character. When you get these scripts with two cops, one a senior cop and one a junior cop, it's usually about the older cop taking the younger cop through the ropes. This one isn't really like that at all. My character went in there, and he’s almost the same age as Willem Dafoe's character. So it was really great to be his adversary, and just go at it. I had to get up everyday and face that challenge of going up against a great talent like Willem. It was kind of fun. I got ready for this movie the same way I get ready for everything. The method is: you do your homework, you get into it as much as possible with the limited amount of time, and then you just go for it. You’ve got to rely on your instincts as much as possible.
The film has a claustrophobic feeling. What do you feel creates that intensity? Is it the interplay between you and Willem or the atmosphere?
I think that it's much more atmosphere and the director's ability to create that tension and that atmosphere—through music, cutting or whatever it is. It was fun, because I could feel that tension. The most interesting part to me was that these two guys were put together on this case, and they clearly don't like each other at all. There's no love lost between them. Willem's character, Stan, just really creeps me out, and my character has an instinct that Stan knows something about these murders that he's not revealing. So that creates a lot of that tension.
There's a duality to the characters as well. Each one has his own separate motive.
Yeah, that's the fun part, when you get to play scenes that say one thing, but they have all of this other stuff going on underneath. It's like poker—you're always trying to see what the other guy's got. Playing off of each other is really cool.
That subtext can emerge in so many different ways, especially with actors from different backgrounds like yourselves.
It's great. We do come from different backgrounds, different approaches and different methods of work. That was really fun to see how that would play out. Those were my favorite scenes, when Willem and I are going at it head-to-head like that.
There are also two cat-and-mouse games going on in the film. There's the game between Carl and Stan, and the game between the cops and the killer.
Exactly, for me, my main concentration was showing that Stan had an instinct about what was happening. He'd been on these other "Uncle Eddie" murders and watching him try to solve these new murders was Carl’s way of trying to solve the case. Watching him watching the murders was Carl’s way of keeping an eye on him and waiting for the other shoe to drop, in a sense.
The audience doesn't necessarily know who’s good and who’s bad, because of that duality, and that's the film's biggest strength.
That's a good point, because nothing lets you off the hook that way. I don't think it's color-by-numbers or that it's all spelled out for you. You're never sure who’s doing what. It's fun to watch, and it's fun to act in.
It keeps the viewer guessing too, unlike so many thrillers, which tend to follow the general Silence of the Lambs and Se7en formula.
Yeah, there are natural comparisons to those movies. I love those movies, but there's an eeriness to Anamorph that I really felt when I was reading it.
It's unsettling, because it's realistic, but very evil at the same time.
[Laughs] I think that's true. I know exactly what you're saying, but every time I pick up the newspaper, I'm like, "Really? People did this to each other? That's crazy." These acts are all definitely possible. How methodical the killer does become stretched to make it into an interesting film. Still, people do wicked things to each other. That's for sure.
The film also explores the way we view killers as a society as well. America keeps coming back, and they want to see serial killer flicks, now more than ever.
It’s interesting how the news media portrays these crimes and sensationalizes them in a way. It's also interesting to clear the gap and see how we can make movies like this relevant and interesting for people to watch. For me, you've got to go the opposite way. When I start to watch those torture movies, I get so bored, and there's nothing interesting about them. Films have to be much more eerie atmospherically to be truly terrifying. What's not seen on screen would resonate even more today. The horror really lies in what you don't see, I think.
People become more terrified by the images that they conjure from what’s not shown on screen.
Creating that fear rather than bashing you over the head with it is really important. Over-the-top horror seems to be the trend now. However, I saw a horror movie that I really liked this year called The Orphanage. I felt that the filmmakers nailed it with the tension. It was just a well-done ghost story, and it really freaked me out. I haven’t gone home like that and made sure more doors were locked in a long time. I love being in the theater like that, hearing people scream and go crazy.
Is it a coincidence that you have a double-shot of horror right now with Anamorph and The Strangers?
When I read that script for The Strangers, I flipped out. It was a fun script to read. It's really eerie, and it speaks to what we were just talking about, definitely. It really touched a nerve, and it felt very possible that the story could really happen. It does too. It was a very well-done script I thought.
Is it strange to enter into this horror world?
I know they're going to sell The Strangers as a horror flick. In some ways, it definitely is. It also wasn't really like that. Both of these movies are so different. Anamorph feels much more like a crime drama in a sense, and The Strangers feels like a relationship film that went sadly awry. They aren't strictly horror genre films, both movies have much deeper elements.
Most great horror films aren't necessarily about some monster, but relationships, which can be the scariest thing of all.
Yeah, that's what I liked so much about The Strangers. Both Liv [Tyler] and I read the first 30 pages, and we thought it was just a love story. It didn't seem like it was going to end up where it did! The script really takes the time to set up these characters, bring them together and show that they were having struggles. Then the horror of the home invasion and the people attacking them felt a part of that. It was well-done for sure.
Anamorph examines the relationship between your character and Willem's. That tension is what the audience can grasp.
That makes sense. For me, if that attachment's not there, in any genre, all of it feels like a jerk-off…for lack of a better word [laughs]. Then it's nothing important, and it's just a waste of everybody's time to me.
Why not explore those relationships more in this genre?
Yeah, I just feel like everyone wants to get to the shock, the horror and the big money shots. However, when you're emotionally attached to the characters, that's what makes it truly scary.
Is it ever creepy being on a horror set?
It's funny; my natural instinct is to be like, "No, no, no." But, there are always some things. We shot The Strangers in a tiny town in South Carolina in this little house. We were in the middle of nowhere. So when there was this girl with blonde hair in a mask holding a knife, it got kind of creepy for sure [laughs].
How could that not be creepy?
[Laughs] That's never not going to be creepy for me. It reminds me of that movie with Carol Kane, When A Stranger Calls, where she's a babysitter. She keeps getting these calls that say, "Go check on the children." He's in the house the whole time. It's just this sick guy that's been in the house the entire time, and he's watching this lady. That really creeped me out as a kid.