On the heels of their southern-fried crime caper’s premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, Daily Dead had the chance to sit down and chat with the lovable lunatics behind 68 Kill, including director Trent Haaga and the film’s stars Matthew Gray Gubler, AnnaLynne McCord, Alisha Boe, and Sheila Vand.
During our interview, they discussed their approach to the action-fueled thriller, what attracted them to the world of 68 Kill, playing against genre stereotypes, and more. Look for more on the latest from Haaga, and from the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, right here over the coming days.
Let's start with you, Trent. I know this is based on a book, so I'd love to hear about what you saw in the source material that you thought would translate really well visually, and what was your process in terms of taking this story and adapting it for the big screen?
Trent Haaga: Yeah, it was the first time I had ever done this. I'm a pretty voracious reader, and this guy, Bryan Smith, who wrote this book and has published 25 novels overall, is someone whose books I’ve been reading for a long time. With this, he wrote this little, tight, potboiler type of a crime book, and I will say that the book is a little bit different from the movie, and the movie's different from the book. I think that fans of one could read the book and be like, "Wow, it's a little different."
But there's something about the guy's books, they speak to me, and I said, "There's something here that I can mine." I'm seeing something that maybe even the author didn't see in this piece of material, too. It just had a thriller, potboiler type of a story, but I liked the idea that there was a guy who had to go on his own personal journey to become self-sufficient. We’ve seen that a lot with female characters, and so I thought that would be an interesting take to flip the normal conventions.
It would have been easier if I had presented this as a story of a woman who had some guys that were manipulative or domineering or whatever, and she had to go through the same journey, but that's a story that we've seen a couple times. So [I wanted] to just do that story, but give it a little bit of a twist and see how that floats. I don't know if it's gonna float or not, but filmmaking is an experiment, right? Making art is experimental, where you push yourself in a place, and you're like, I could be exposing myself to get an arrow in the back, but I want to try something new, try something a little bit different.
For you, Matthew, what was the appeal coming in and playing this character of Chip? As Trent mentioned, normally we would've seen this as a woman dealing with all these crazy men around her, but there's a lot of humor and heart to your character that really grounds the heightened aspects of the story.
Matthew Gray Gubler: Yeah, the script really spoke to me, and meeting Trent, he's like a firecracker in a leather jacket. I was just excited to make something that I could tell, if done right, would tow this line of a very odd tone and something that you don't typically see. Again, I was very interested in the fact that you'll typically be seeing women victimized in grindhouse films, but to see a man victimized seemed like a new take on it. I really just love making movies, especially things that are so sincere and genuine and works that give you this unique vision–
AnnaLynne McCord: And he really wanted to make out with me, too, so that's really why [laughs].
For the women, you're all three playing very different characters, but they're all very strong, fierce, and very unforgettable. Was it cool to come into this and get to be the ones that dominate over this whole scenario and play roles that were so against the grain?
AnnaLynne McCord: Yeah, personally for me, no one really buys me as a girl next door, not that I'm really trying to sell this at the local liquor store. To me, what we're portraying in art, is art imitates life imitates life, right? I don't make choices that could play those roles of the women in the films that we've seen too much. I don't respond to them. I don't like them. I probably don't do as well commercially as I probably could if I played more to them, but I personally like women who are spicy and feisty and fierce. And I personally like crazy, too. I think it makes the world much more interesting. So I've played a lot of crazy roles and I see myself in life as someone who is a moderately to severe crazy person.
I have one goal in whatever I do, whether it's being friends or just us sitting here talking. You're a human being sitting across from me, I'm a human being sitting across from you. Liza is a human being, and for all of her craziness and all of her messed-up stuff and all the terrible things that she does, she has had a hell of a lot of pain in her life. I like to bring that to the forefront. I like to show that. I like to have all the fun that I get to have because I'm a gratuitous actress who likes tension. But personally, I like to show people for who they are. And they are human—that's it. At the base we're all exactly the same. We just want to be loved, that's all we want.
And she finds that in Chip. I don't think she sees it at first, either. Initially, she’s like, "Here’s one more dude who wants me, but you know what? I'm going to screw this one over because I'm tired of being screwed over by all the men that have f***ed up my life." So he's her ticket out of this pain and this world, and I think that in almost losing him, she actually sees how much capacity she has, even with all of her pain, to love something in the world. And maybe that scares the shit out of her. It would scare the shit out of me personally, and also makes her come hunt him down and want to kill him. Because, like Chris Rock says, "If you haven't stared at a can of rat poison for 45 minutes straight, you ain't never been in love."
Alisha Boe: Yeah, I was very excited to do this, because I've never had the opportunity to play a character with such a range. Violet's vulnerable, but she's in charge of her sexuality, she is very sure of herself and she's willing to do anything to get out of any situation she's in. And she's smart, too. Usually I just do things like Teen Wolf and procedural shows, and I was so excited to have this character who was so, so well-written and complex.
Sheila Vand: I feel very similar to AnnaLynne in that I'm trapped into roles that are rough around the edges because I think I'm rough around the edges. For whatever reason, I have a lot of pain and rage and demons inside of me, and also a lot of light, and I think that's just what it is to be human. But I don't get to explore my darkness as much. I always find it is cathartic to play parts like this because I get to explore my darkness, and because I get to investigate my pain. I get to figure out where the monster is within me.
And we all have a monster inside of us, and I'm in touch with mine. When I have the opportunity to play with my monster, I think it's healthy, actually. When I have the opportunity to get the demons out, it's just really liberating. People sometimes think, Is it heavy to always be playing these intense, darker parts? And it's not at all, it's the opposite. I feel more sane when I get to have an outlet like this.
AnnaLynne McCord: It’s a release, yeah.
Was it equally cathartic for you Trent, being behind the scenes and everything?
Trent Haaga: Yeah. It was more exciting than anything. I don't have to pour it out immediately on camera, I have to slowly release the valve over a two-year period as I write it. And then I've got to get the team together, so I have to preserve my capacity for emotional release, where it has to be slower, and then these guys get to blow it out. To write and direct a movie, you’ve got to stoke those coals for a longer time. It was just exciting for me. I like to make these kinds of movies. It's the movie that I wanted to make and I managed to gather the team that could help me realize it. Are you kidding me? And the great thing is I get to sit there with some headphones and monitor in the other room and watch these guys just explode on the screen. And there's nothing more exciting than that.
One thing I wanted to ask about Violet, for as fun and crazy and kooky this movie is, there's a serious part of it which involves your character being subjected to this life that she has no control over and she has no say-so, either. It’s a rather sad situation, really.
Alisha Boe: Yeah, she has been alone in this house forever, being subjected to things she doesn't want to do, and then she sees Chip as the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, she's able to release all of her emotions and finally talk to someone about it. It is like therapy, acting, because I'm kind of closed off when I'm not working, and this really helps me release all of my emotions.
And I need it, because I'd be going insane if I wasn't able to have this outlet. It really saved me as a kid. It's the best thing. That scene with Chip and Violet just talking is one of my favorite scenes that I've done in my whole career.
Matthew, how has this whole experience been for you?
Matthew Gray Gubler: It’s been amazing. My dream is always to entertain one person, so anytime there's more than one person in a room watching something, I feel like the happiest person on Earth. So it's an absolutely great feeling.
At the same time, I am also happiest when we're all actually making something. And as shitty as the conditions are, if you're covered in bug bites, working through 14-hour days, that to me is heaven. Just making stuff is the most important thing to me as an actor. And as this has been a great experience, where I'm glad people are watching it, I’m hoping it leads to me making more stuff in the future, too, because these opportunities are so great to be a part of.
Stay tuned to Daily Dead for more of our coverage from SXSW, and in case you missed it, catch up on our previous coverage of the film festival.