Eli Roth Talks earthquakes, Hemlock Grove, and Aftershock, which is in theaters starting today!
Multi-talented director Eli Roth is showing off his acting skills once again in the thriller Aftershock, which is in theaters this Friday. Playing a character lovingly referred to as Gringo, Roth co-wrote and produced this tale of an earthquake that hits Chile while he and his new found friends are partying at a club. They must survive the aftermath in what turns out to be quite a gruesome ride.
We recently caught up with Eli, who was participating in a junket for the film at Los Angeles' exclusive home to magicians ,The Magic Castle. From a room adorned with owls, the director of Hostel and Cabin Fever revealed that Aftershock is based on real events that happened to director Nicolás López. He also spoke a tiny bit about his own next directoriual effort The Green Inferno, and hinted at the possibilities of Hemlock Grove getting a second season on Netflix.
Here is our conversation with the friendliest man in the horror business.
Eli Roth: I'm in the magic castle. So I'm going to pretend like I'm talking to a ghost.
That place is awesome. Are you a member there? Or did they just decide to do random interviews this morning at the Magic Castle?
Eli Roth: I had no say in it. I thought it was a great idea, though, cause it's a fun place! And it's so much more fun than doing it in a boring hotel suite. You can so easily get lost here. You have to say magic words to open doors, and you have to move a book to get the wall to spin around. It's the best place ever. It's sort of my dream house.
I've never been invited. I wish I could be out there today. Now, I want to say congratulations on Hemlock Grove. We love the show. Is there going to be more?
Eli Roth: Oh! Thank you so much...It's completely up to the fans if there is going to be a Season 2. So far the response has been overwhelming. Netflix has been so happy.
(A ghost at the Magic Castle hangs up the phone. It takes a few minutes to relocate Eli...)
Eli Roth: Hi?
Hey, you're back!
Eli Roth: Yes, I'm back!
Sorry, I guess the ghost hung up on you. Guess it didn't like what you were saying...
Eli Roth: (Laughs) It's the magic. Those ghosts do get mad. Now, I'm looking at a bunch of owls. So, it should be okay, but I am being watched.
You were telling me what was going on with Hemlock Grove. I actually want to know for myself...
Eli Roth: What's going on is, basically, it's really up to the fans if we do Season 2. The response has been incredible. It's going to be a combination of how many people are watching it. How many people are watching it all the way to the end. How vocal people are about it. But, opening weekend, they had more viewers than House of Cards and their stock went up 25%. I think House of Cards is a masterpiece. I think its one of the best shows I've ever seen on television. Apparently, the second week numbers for us are phenomenal. As long as we keep getting great user ratings and great tweets, that's all going to factor in. Its funny, I'm going to sit down...They have until June to decide whether or not they are going to do season 2. I am going to go and sit with them, and talk to them next week. So far the response has been overwhelming. I feel good.
How has the audience responded to Shelly? She was our favorite character here. Is she universally beloved?
Eli Roth: Yeah! Shelly is the heart of the show. One of the things I loved about the book, in this town where everyone is so monstrous, the person that is the least monstrous is the most outwardly monstrous. But inside, she is the least monstrous. Shelly was a very important character, and it was tricky to get her right. It was a combination of using two different actors, how far do you go with the effects on her, and how do you deal with her glowing? It was really tricky to get her right. I'm so glad you liked her. She seems to be everyone's favorite character in the book.
I thought you guys nailed it. She's perfect...
Eli Roth: She is the soul of the show. All these people, these other monsters, they are behaving in monstrous ways. They are doing monstrous things. She is like this glowing light that sees everything. She is the only truly good person out of everybody. She is just a victim of her appearance and the way people treat her. You know, everyone fell in love with Shelly, and I'm glad you fell in love with Shelly. That was the most difficult character to nail. It took us a while to figure her out.
Speaking on Netflix just in general, I assume you have Netflix, right?
Eli Roth: Of course!
I've noticed some obscure movies on Netflix that feature some of our more well-known directors, and we see them acting early on in their careers. Paul Feig in Zombie High, Grant Heslov in License to Drive, and they have, for the most part, drifted away from the craft. You haven't. What keeps bringing you back to the screen, and what do you find you have more passion for? Being in front of or behind the camera?
Eli Roth: I enjoy everything. Directing is my passion. That's what I love. I hate writing. But I also don't want to...Its hard to direct anything I don't write, the exception being Hemlock Grove. But even there, that's sort of my own thing. Which is fun. Everything, it all feeds each other. My experience with Inglourious Basterds gave me the confidence to write a character like that to play. Quentin Tarantino said, "Now you can write great parts for yourself. You've proven that you can act alongside the best. You acted under me." Nicolás López is a very special guy and a very special director. Anyone that has Netflix, I really encourage them to check out his comedies. His first film he made when he was nineteen years old. Promedio Rojo, which I think is so fucking funny. They called it Latin American Pie. He had this amazing trilogy, Que pena tu vida, which means 'fuck my life', Que pena tu boda, which is 'fuck my wedding', and Que pena tu familia, which is 'fuck my family'. All of them are on Netflix with Spanish subtitles. I actually have a cameo in Que pena tu familia, but he made all of these movies by the time he was thirty years old. He had done six films. What I love about him is, Que pena tu boda was really the first feature that was shot theatrically on a Canon 7D. We wanted to try experimenting, and try new things. Like, we shot this movie in Chile, and we shot on the Canon MarkD52. We put really nice lenses on it, and it looked incredible. We put it on a remote control helicopter, and took it places you could never get a real helicopter. The footage looks spectacular. I think a lot of movies are being digested on Netflix. One of the things I love about Netflix is the connectivity. This is what I talked to Famke Janssen and Lili Taylor about. I love Household Saints, and a lot of the 90s movies, I Shot Andy Warhol...And you can watch Hemlock Grove, and then if you loved her character, if you loved Lili Taylor, all of a sudden, there are all these other movies that she did that are right there at your fingertips. That's what makes you enjoy the show more. When you watch an actor, and you can go back and rediscover all these old things that they did. "Oh, that's so cool!" For me, I never look at writing, acting, producing as something that takes away from directing. I look at it all as adding to it, and making me a better director. I could feel the difference when I made The Green Inferno. I had taken a five or six year hiatus from directing, with exceptions like Nation's Pride, and stuff like that. Even Hemlock Grove. But directing a feature, the way I dealt with actors, to the way I shot a scene, to even the logistical problems...Like we shot in Peru, and we were shooting the Amazon in places no one has ever shot before. I could have only done that if I had the experiences in Prague and Iceland, and China, and the U.S., and all the different places I've shot. Ever movie, I feel good about being fluid and changing jobs, as long as it's a project I care about.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't recall ever seeing another earthquake movie like this. The old ones are really boring. You wait for the earthquake forever, its over in a blink, and there's nothing more to it. You guys really took an old, stale idea and made something fresh out of it. I don't think anything like this has been done before. Maybe I'm wrong, I haven't seen as many movies as you...
Eli Roth: No, no, no, you are right. It came originally from my conversations talking with Nicolás López. On his first day of shooting Que pena tu vida with actors, that's when the earthquake hit. It was traumatic. It hit at 3:30 in the morning. It rocked...It was an 8.8, and it went for several minutes. It rocked people like an amusement park ride. All the people in the clubs, they were drunk, and most of the stuff that happens...Almost all of the stuff that happens in the movie is real. It didn't happen in this order, but Lorenza Izzo who plays Kylie was at a club when her friend got his hands cut off, and everyone was looking for the hands, or he is going to bleed to death. But the club was also going to collapse, and people were jumping through plate glass windows. In the club where we shot, Nicolás looked at the security camera footage, and the speakers fell on people. People got trampled to death. They were crushed. Even those tunnels where the priests and the nuns meet to have sex, and they would bury babies there when a nun got pregnant...That stuff is all real. Those tunnels really exist. We realized as we were making it that every disaster movie from the 90s until now had so much CG in it, it felt like you were watching someone else play a video game. They were fun, and they are spectacles. But most of them don't feel real. They don't have that visceral impact of things falling on people, and shit breaking. One of the great things about shooting in Chile was the safety rules are very different. You can really destroy stuff. It costs a lot less to do stuff there. And they figured out...They are so isolated from the rest of the world, they don't know that it should be done any different. You have an art department that is two or three people. On any other set, you'd have twenty people doing those jobs. We could go there and make this movie with our own rules on how to do things. Thank God no one was hurt, and we were very careful. But I remember when we were in that club, and we were dropping that ceiling, and we had 100 girls in heels, and they are covered in dust, and they are climbing on each other, I said to Nicolás, "Man, I can't believe all these stunt girls here in Chile, this is great!" He laughs and goes, "Gringo? Stunt girls? What are you talking about? These are extras, most of them have never been in a movie." But they all looked like models. The get in, they rehearse, and they get it. You couldn't do that in America. You'd have to have 170 stunt people for a scene like that, and it would be way too expensive. A lot of stuff is easier solved with CG, but our rule was, we'd do that only if it was absolutely necessary. I think one percent of the shots are CGI. Maybe three shots in the whole movie. Everything else we did practicly. And we said, "This hasn't really been done since the 70s." We are using super modern techniques to capture the image, but the way we are actually making the movie is, we are really destroying stuff. I wanted people to feel the impact. I'm really glad that you felt that. I felt that too. Every disaster movie I've seen is this big special effects extravaganza. Truthfully, I back out after a certain point.
Telling me that its based almost entirely on reality takes some of the fun away from it. Too, though. It makes it a more serious look at tragedy...
Eli Roth: Look. We didn't want to make a serious Oscar movie. But it's real. There's a fine line of not wanting to tell people that...But it is all-real. Even...There is a town in Chile by the sea where the Tsunami sirens went off. People started freaking the fuck out. They ran for the hills. They started communicating with Japan, and Japan told them that it didn't look like the tsunami would hit. They turned off the sirens. Then a few hours later, the tsunami came along and wiped out two thousand people. All the stuff that happened, Nicolás said, "Fuck it. This is based on my experiences and my life. I don't want to make a serious Oscar contender. We are going to turn this. We will fictionalize it." They do make jokes about the miners, we make minor references, and we put these events together in a way that tells an exciting story. But, dude, it was hardcore. The prisons broke open. People were looting and rioting. There was Marshal Law. There were a lot of stories that didn't make it into the script. We couldn't find a way to weave them in. But that's what I think makes this so terrifying. This is what really happened. Now, I'm getting someone giving me the lasso. Either they want me to talk to you about The Lone Ranger, or its last question.
You're not in that movie too, are you?
Eli Roth: No, but they're giving me that little lasso motion.
Let me ask you this last question, cause you called us out on the Twitter feed about this. What is up with that Inglorious Bastards prequel or sequel, or whatever it is?
Eli Roth: That is a Quentin Tarantino question.
I just remember you got kind of mad at us for writing a story about that. I wasn't too sure what that was all about.
Eli Roth: Its because, someone asks you a hypothetical question, "Would you like to be in this?" And you're like, "Um, if Quentin Tarantino wants me to. Sure." It's a hypothetical question and a hypothetical answer. Next thing, you see a headline that says, "Eli is ready to pick up the bat!" That gets on MTV. Suddenly, I'm like, "Guys, I'm done." I don't like those headlines, and that will piss Quentin off. I didn't even mean it that way. So, its better not to...I've learned, you should not take a throwaway answer and spin it into an actual story. If you want to make a hypothetical question and get an answer, then treat it as such. Don't treat it like it's an actual headline for a story, especially when I'm doing an interview about something else. Suddenly the story becomes about this one throw away answer that you said in the last five seconds of an interview that is a hypothetic question. That's like, "Come on, guys, this isn't real. This isn't really a story." It looks like people are using it as a headline grab, trying to get people to go to the site. Which is ridiculous. It's not bad. I wasn't mad. It takes a lot more than that to make me mad. I mean, come on.
We didn't write the story. That came from MTV and it was all over the place.
Eli Roth: Yeah, I know. You have to pick a point and come out, and say, like, "Guys, stop it!" For people to listen to you. If I just said, "I didn't mean that." No one is going to listen to me. If I say, "Guys, what the fuck?" You know you pissed me off. You have to react that way. Or people don't bother retracting the story. It's all nonsense. None of it means anything. Just, some of it can get back to Quentin, and you don't want to look like you're talking out of school. There's nothing even happening. It's totally up to him. I don't mind you bringing it up. There's no bad press. I appreciate all of the support. By the way, Aftershock is a total word of mouth movie. We are coming out on a hundred screens. But we did this movie in a new way. We went to Chile to shoot the movie. It's available on VOD. Look, it was a nightmare on The Man with the Iron Fists. We were the number 2 most pirated movie in the world. So, if this movie comes out day and date, on VOD, and people really respond to it, and it really works, it's a great way to release a movie. It's a vital model, and it helps all filmmakers.
They're not going to use the rumble seat over there at the Mann's Chinese theater? That seems tailor made for this.
Eli Roth: God, I would love that. I'll see what I can do. I'll put in a phone call.