Josh Lucas and Jon Hamm star in this thrilling mystery about the unidentified remains of a mummified boy
Stolen marks the feature film debut for the directing/producing team of Anders Anderson and Andy Steinman. It arrives in theaters this Friday, March 12th. A mystery/thriller starring Josh Lucas and Jon Hamm, the story follows a small-town police chief working to uncover the truth behind the mummified remains of a young boy found inside a box at a construction site, where it has been buried for the past fifty years. We recently hooked up with Anders and Andy to find out more about the film. Here is our conversation:
I want to ask you about casting James Van Der Beek. As soon as I saw him on screen, I knew there was something fishy about his character. Were you surprised that his creepiness in the role sort of took over from the very beginning? Or was that why you cast him in the first place?
Andy Steinman: We weren't surprised by James' performance. When we started talking to him about the role, we all knew that he could go there. He is such a phenomenal actor, and this was a part that he was really interested in playing. He wanted to do the role. Seeing his body of work, and the characters he's played in the past, we knew that he could play both a straight, average guy and the villain against Josh Lucas and Jon Hamm. We were really excited when we went to talk to him about it.
Anders Anderson: The big thing for us was trying to figure out the best way to establish him. People have different reactions to seeing James on screen. It all depends on what you know him from. There's his performance in Rules of Attraction. Knowing that he can go that far out. Others know him from his work where he plays the pretty boy lone quarterback, as in Varsity Blues. Who is this guy? We tried to use that to our advantage. At the same time, we knew James could pull this off. Both the friendliness and the creepiness of it. He could bring in those subtle hints here and there. Just with a look. We can see that there is a darker side to both him and his character.
Why did you decide to go the make-up route with James at the end instead of hiring an older actor to play the part? And how did you develop this very real look for him at that particular stage in his life?
Anders Anderson: That was an endless debate. One that Andy and I were always going through. Its one of those things that you don't want to have come off as really, really cheesy. Again, for us, we wanted to make sure that if we cast another actor for James, that they had the same sort of looks as him. Thinking about it, and talking to our casting director about how we were going to do that, it just didn't make sense to cast someone else. We were very lucky with a lot of things in terms of this movie. One of those things was that our make-up artist was able to bring on a guy who did a phenomenal job with the old man make-up. We did a test. As we were shooting some of those scenes, we had James come in. They did an hour make-up test. We put him in front of the camera and quickly saw that James was great. At one point, we didn't have the wig on his head yet. He was bald. He looked so menacing and mean. And old. You could see that James was going to nail this part. Without any lines. He was just looking into the camera and turning. He was giving us an idea about how he would play this character. And it speaks a lot to James being able to pull off those sorts of things, and really go for it. He had his own instincts, as well as a great make-up artist. Together, they brought this authenticity. You could look at his face in close-up, and you were wondering how they did it. This looks like James, yet very, very old. Which was kind of cool for Andy and me.
Andy Steinman: James, from the get go, always told us that he wanted to play that version of the character. It was something he wanted to do from the very beginning of production. To honor his desire, as well as ours, for him to play that, we set up this make-up test. And it answered all of the questions for us. The idea of having another actor come in was only if the make-up didn't work. We always wanted James to play this older version of himself. Because we knew that he could pull it off. It would be so much more authentic if he could play it. And the audience could see the aging process over the course of the same actor. Once the make-up worked, he embodied that role. It was a no brainer from there on out.
How does the creative process work for both of you on set? Are you as equally collaborative when it comes to directing as you are every other aspect of the production?
Anders Anderson: Andy and I have a unique relationship in the sense of how we created our production company A2. We have always been collaborative on how we do things. When we started this film, because we were on a low budget, we knew that we were going to have to separate out the responsibilities we were both going to do. It was one of those things were we set out the script and went through it page by page. We figured out how to develop it. We storyboarded everything together. At that point, because I had an acting background, and we'd already collaborated on a few things where I was learning how to direct a little bit with some short films, and Andy had such a deep background in cinematography, we decided to split up our duties. When we got on set, we both knew what was going on. There were no surprises between each other. We looked at how we were going to accomplish what we wanted to capture. How the actors were going to be blocked. The types of performances we were looking for. It is really hard for us to call each other just one thing. We are in control of so many aspects of the filmmaking process. Whether it be cinematography, directing, or producing. Which is what our fulltime jobs were all of the time. There were times when we couldn't sit down and really collaborate. Sometimes Andy would be on the ground with the actor, looking into the lens. He was closer to the action, and he couldn't tell me about it. If he had an idea or suggestion. If he said something, he had to say it. Because it was going to take me a couple of minutes to get over there. If it was a quick fix right away? Go for it. There was no real feeling of that one person stepping over the other person's boundaries. Because we're both producing it, and we both know what we want from the story. We really look at it in a different way. We are just two filmmakers trying to make a film. We both know what we want and what we are trying to get out of it. We both understand how each other works and what we want from the movie. That's the interesting thing about our ability to work together. We don't have an ego between us. We both have huge egos. But between each other, we both know what direction we want to take things. We are on the same page. If we're not, it leads to a great discussion on how to make a scene better. If he wants it that way, and I want it this way? We will try it both ways if we have time. Or we will see who has the better way of going forward and head in that direction. We both have the movie in our best interest. It's never about him saying something, or me saying something. That's how I look at it personally.
Andy Steinman: I agree with everything Anders said. That's obviously how we work. Also, working in low budget, we look at what works efficiency wise. We look at it time wise, and if Anders can start talking to the actors sooner, he does that while I set up the shot and talk to the crew. Then we have the scene, and everything is set. We can then talk about what we are going to do, how to make the shot a better shot, how the performances are working. How does the camera work. We can come at this as a team. We dole out the responsibilities to be more efficient. Then we come together at the monitor to see what we have and decide how we can make this the best film possible.
What sort of connection did you want Josh Lucas and Jon Hamm to have as actors? They both go through a very similar experience, yet they never share any screen time. Did you have them both approach their roles in a similar way?
Anders Anderson: There was one time when the two actors shared the same camera roll. It was a shot where we went from Jon Hamm, down the bar, and landed on Josh and James and Jimmy Bennett. That was the only day all of those actors were on set at the same time. We wanted to keep them separated. I thought it would help Jon keep the mystery of who or what Josh's character was really about. I didn't want Jon to know who the other character was. Jon and I thought that would help service the story. It was also part of what we were dealing with in terms of our tight time schedule, and trying to get both of these actors in the film. They couldn't be on for long periods of time. So we had to schedule it that way. It just worked to our benefit. In terms of approaching both actors, they work so differently from each other. When we met them for the first time, we realized that both of these guys were so different. But they were both very strong. We just needed to let them do their job. And play. We knew they'd come off differently on screen, but they'd both be equally as strong. That was going to show in the performances. It was going towards that vibe we wanted to capture. These guys were always well prepared and ready to go. It was a blessing to have them both. We knew they were going to bring it, but bring it in a different way.
Andy Steinman: We were so incredibly lucky with our cast. Especially with those two. When we started talking to them about the roles, they knew what we wanted. That's why they wanted to do the movie. The greatest injustice would have been to get in their way. These guys knew what they wanted to do. It was best for us to get out of their way. We let them talk about it and experiment. We let them discover what they wanted to pull out of those roles. They were such imposing personalities. The way they approached their process was perfect, because these are two very different stories being told. They melded together. It all worked out so wonderfully for us.
This production took place during the writer's strike, with a SAG strike looming in the distance. How do you think those challenges changed the film for the better?
Andy Steinman: It forced us to cut out any extraneous information in the movie. At the end of the night, we had very little time and not enough shooting days to get across what we wanted to get across with this movie. We needed every part of the day to shoot the bare necessities of this script. It made us better storytellers. We hope. We had to spend so much of our energy grabbing what we could. We needed to lock down the important moments, and that saved us some time in post. We talked with the actors, so they knew what we were against. It was a challenge for all involved. From the cast all the way down to the crew in transpo. We had to drive all around Los Angeles. This gave us a tight knit group who knew we had some challenges to face. They're the same challenges all small films have to face. We were close, so we were able to address all of the challenges together. It opened up some ideas that we could listen to. We were totally willing to listen to all of the ideas brought to us. We wanted to make the movie better. Our crew knew that, and they all brought their own ideas. That helps the movie. If we didn't have that type of stress, we could deal with the situation better.
Anders Anderson: We were first time filmmakers, and we weren't just taking on the challenges of being the director and DP. We were also the producers of the movie. There was a pressure to deliver. When you have something else outside that can be a huge distraction, it releases a lot of that pressure. When you feel like there are all of these things against you; that helps you focus. You don't worry about your status, or where you are. You just worry about making the best movie possible. That added time pressure helped us. It helped solidify the team. People focused more on what they had to do, knowing the odds we were against. It became this way of us versus the production Gods out there trying to take down the production. It was great. There was this feeling of, "Awesome! We're all in it together. And we are going to charge through this." People brought everything they could to it. Because of the chaos that was surrounding everything. When you have that concentrated focus, it helps elevate the movie. We really noticed that when we went into the postproduction process. We were in editing, and we'd see certain things, "Wow! Look at what that person did in one take." The actors didn't have much time. All of those things helped solidify the energy that went into the movie.
The character of John, the boy who is found dead in the box, is an interesting one to me. He doesn't appear to be mentally retarded, but he does have some mental issues. What did you see in Jimmy Bennet that you thought worked for the role, and what sort of discussions did you have with him about how this child should look and act?
Anders Anderson: Jimmy is a smart little kid. We knew of Jimmy because of his past work with Josh Lucas. He's basically this rock star little kid. He is a small little kid that comes in, and he has these big ideas. It's hard to talk to him as a kid, because he is such an adult. When we first sat down with him, I remember our casting director saying, "He wants to sit down with you and talk about the script." We were like, lets pool our ideas together. How do we all see John? All of a sudden, Jimmy comes in and says, "I watched this and I watched that. I saw all of these films." He started naming all of this stuff he had looked at . Whether it was some documentary on Youtube or if it was What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He went all over the place. He looked at all this stuff. He asked us how we saw it. He wanted to know how far he should take it. He approached it in such an amazing manner. It made us feel really comfortable. The biggest thing was to make sure we didn't go too far with it. At the same time, we wanted Jimmy to bring enough to it that you could see that there was an issue with this child. That he had a lot to deal with. That's how we first approached it.
Andy Steinman: Jimmy was such an adult. Our immediate response was that we didn't have to treat him differently just because he was a child. He had good ideas. We just had to work with him and keep it consistent throughout the film. That was the hardest part. It was our job to talk to him and reign him in at a consistent level. We were the ones shifting that level. Jimmy could have gone in so many different ways. He is a talented actor. He just needed to keep that consistency, and he was really great about working with us on that. He played that role so well. We were impressed with all of the kids, really.
Anders Anderson: Trying to keep it consistent was a big challenge for us. We shot one of the scenes that didn't require as much of the handicap, and looking at it, you're left going, "Okay? How do we make this so that it stays in some sort of realm but doesn't go crazy?" The great thing about Jimmy is that he is fearless in front of the camera. He is going for it big time. Sometimes, you want to say, "Hey, that is really awesome! But remember the day before? We did it differently, and we won't be able to make the leap from that scene to this one. You are using different mannerisms." We had to pull back, because he wanted to give more and more. That is really fun, because it's much easier to pull back an actor than it is to try and make them give you more. That's what was fun and interesting about doing this with Jimmy. He could take direction really well. And he would really go for it every time. It was interesting for us to see that. And it was a challenge for us to figure out how to give him that space where he could stay consistent throughout the movie.
Your next couple of projects are all mystery thrillers. What is it about this genre that appeals to you on a personal level? And how do you hope to reinvent or change that genre in the next couple of years? What sort of stamp would you like to put on it?
Andy Steinman: First and foremost, all of the genres that we like are so deeply seated within the character. That's what we always cling to. How does the character play within any genre? Whether it is comedy, sci-fi, or action. We like suspense thrillers because it allows you to get a little deeper into what the character is going through. You can give the audience more of that character. We are starting to evolve and open up to other genres as well. What we want to bring to those genres is a strong connection to the lead character, were the audience really feels transplanted into their story. It's not just an experience they can watch. But they can feel it. Movies that we were attracted to years before, and that we are starting to see again now, are ones that have a connection to the audience. We want to bring that to every story that we are going to do in the future.
Anders Anderson: The thing about thrillers that interests us the most is that they provide instant conflict. We are really looking at how to deal with the internal conflict of the character, and how we put that on film. Because it's so difficult. Film is such an external medium. We are not writing novels. It's hard to show that internal conflict. We are trying to figure out how to make that leap. How do you create a character that has such internal conflict, which then gives him conflict with his own outside world. We want to put an added pressure on our characters. You can do that with the suspense thriller. That makes it clearer for us. We can move on and know that the film is going to have a strong, fast pace. We know it will have great energy, Yet, we are also dealing with a character that has a lot of pressure that gets put on them. We are going to open up this world and look at it in terms of how we usually deal with this stuff. We are going to bring that to light. Then we'll throw in some sci-fi, which we absolutely love. We feel like we can bring this to the next level. That's what we will be working on doing in the next couple of years.
Stolen opens in New York this Friday, March 12th and in Los Angeles on March 19th.