The lead actor in the film talks about the unique processes of this movieMichael Stahl-David doesn't quite have the name recognition of a Cruise, Hanks or DiCaprio... yet. You might not know this young actor by name, but you might have seen or heard about this movie Cloverfield he was in. Stahl-David portrayed the lead, Rob, in the film, which is coming to DVD on April 22. I had a chance to talk to Michael on the phone about his whole Cloverfield experience.
I was in Santa Monica recently and I happened to drive past Cloverfield Boulevard. Have you driven past or on that street since the movie came out?
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah. It's funny.
Yeah, it's just odd driving by, thinking, 'That's the street.'
Michael Stahl-David: Right. You heard the story about that, right?
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, I know. It's just funny. It's so mundane, it's a quiet place. Who gets the inspiration for carnage here? Oh, JJ Abrams does, OK.
(For those who don't know the story of why Cloverfield is named so, it is the street in Santa Monica where the Bad Robot offices were housed. It was originally just a code name for the movie, but it stuck and they went with it.)
Were there any other code names or possible titles that they were thinking of, that you know of?
Michael Stahl-David: Oh yeah. There were lots. It was a big topic of conversation on the set. This whole movie it felt like we all could contribute like collaborators, which was cool. That was one of the elements. We were thinking of all sorts of titles. The coolest one was Rec. That was one they were going to try to move forward with and then they found out that some Spanish low-budget zombie movie had taken the title like a week before (Laughs).
How did you first become involved with this project?
Michael Stahl-David: I made a tape, an audition tape, and I sent it out to L.A. and, you know, you never know when you send something off like that. They were like, 'Yeah, this is cool.' I'm like, 'OK, do you wanna fly me out?' They're like, 'No, we don't really wanna fly you out, but if you were here that would be good' (Laughs). So I bought a plane ticket and flew out there, and that's the whole process.
So how much of this shoot was in New York and how much was in Los Angeles?
Michael Stahl-David: We shot about 10 days in New York and 20-some in L.A.
Was it just like a real snappy, guerilla filmmaking kind of a thing?
Michael Stahl-David: It was happening really fast and we were on a tight schedule. Yeah, the whole thing was, I think, we couldn't go over the $25 million or J.J. (Abrams) and Matt (Reeves) couldn't get final cut. That's just what I heard, though. I don't know if that's true. That was like a fun, racing against to the deadline. It was kind of like, 'Get that right to the studio!' We were just barrelling through stuff sometimes. It was crazy.
It seems that this whole production was done under this big veil of secrecy. I read that when you auditioned you didn't read the script, but you read other stuff from J.J. Abrams.
Michael David-Stahl: Yeah, other than the scenes we were in, yeah. One of the scenes I read from Alias.
You read from Alias?
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, yeah. Totally out of context and I didn't know what to feel. The scene was like, 'OK, you're passed out and you're passed out and this girl stabs you with a syringe full of adrenaline and now you're up but you've gotta run, because you're being chased, because you're a spy and you're in France. OK. Go.'
Michael Stahl-David: What the fuck? It was really impossible to do and I think they kind of felt bad for us because they needed to see us in this intense scenario, which is why they picked the scene. But it just was hard to do. It was kind of random. So, J.J., in the final call-back, got up and went to his office and wrote a monologue and handed it to me. It was kind of crazy, the craziest auditioning experience I've ever had.
Yeah, I can imagine.
Michael Stahl-David: It's like, you're in the final rounds for something and, at this point, you're just like, 'Oh, get me through this. I just want to pull this thing off.' Then he's like, 'OK, I'm going to write you a monologue and hand it to you.' OK, sure. It's this page and a half monologue, just ranting, you know.
So did you guys have any idea what this was going to be like at all, when you came in?
Michael Stahl-David: No, no. Definitely not.
The whole group of friends in the movie was portrayed really authentically. Did you guys hang out a lot after you were cast but before the shoot?
Michael Stahl-David: They gave us a camera and we went and got flaming margaritas, I remember one night, and kind of played around with the camera. You know, with that schedule, everyone was kind of hanging out. It was nice. The whole time people weren't really holed up in their trailers. We were allowed to improvise so that helps with that whole spontaneous feeling.
So did you guys still stick pretty close to the script or was there a lot of improv?
Michael Stahl-David: No, there's a lot of improv. In terms of the action of the script, we stayed really close and some scenes were all scripted. I want to give (screenwriter) Drew (Goddard) his props because it was a great script, but there were also times where we were encouraged to just do our own thing, and that's a lot of what ended up in the movie.
From that first trailer it was always J.J. Abrams name on this, but when I saw it, I was really impressed with Matt Reeves' direction. What was he like to work with on the set?
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, he was fanstastic. He's relentlessly positive, which we needed on that set and just no ego. No ego whatsoever, very open to your ideas about what a scene should be. You never felt like you had to get it right for him, or you were gonna be in trouble, you know. You can be on set with that sort of feeling, where you don't want to dissapoint the teacher and with him, he was a total collaborator.
This movie obviously has one of the most notorious marketing campaigns in movie history. Was everyone kind of following the buzz that started when the trailer on Transformers hit?
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah. We were kind of taking from that, like the fountain of energy, you know. It was really cool that that was kind of going on, that it was hyped, while we were filming. It was fun to have the producers on set, checking their Blackberry's and telling us crazy stuff that people were hearing or coming up with. That was definitely a lot of fun for us.
You guys were on set when that first trailer came with Transformers?
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, we were filming. When Transformers came out, we had the day off because it was the 4th of July so we went and saw it and went right back to the set the next day. When the buzz started, that was really fun because we didn't know how it was going to be received. We hoped it would work, this idea, but we couldn't imagine to the result it did.
Yeah, it really took off like crazy. January is traditionally a slower movie month and I was kind of surprised that, with all the buzz it was getting, that it wasn't moved to a summer tentpole thing. Was that ever discussed at all, that you know of?
Michael Stahl-David: That was the whole idea, you know, was to get a hit in January. It was to be the biggest movie of the weekend, on a weekend when there wasn't a lot. You know, there was 27 Dresses, but there wasn't a ton coming out that weekend.
Can you give us any official word on a sequel that we've been kind of hearing a little about?
Michael Stahl-David: I certainly can't. I survived the Cloverfield secrecy without spoiling anything and I lived to tell about it. I'm not going to give that up now (Laughs).
Can you tell us anything about The Project or anything else you're working on?
Michael Stahl-David: I made a mockumentary with a buddy of mine that is going to be online that's called Michael Stahl-David: Behind the Star (Laughs). I think it's pretty funny so we're shopping that around to a comedy website so you guys will have to Google it to try and find it. I play a version of myself where I hire my friend as my publicist, who's also an out-of-work actor. It's supposed to show how down-to-earth I am and tell everyone how they sought me out when, in fact, I'm paying them.
That sounds hilarious.
Michael Stahl-David: It's really fun. It was a fun thing to do. It was my first experience writing something and shooting it and it was a lot of fun.
So, is this a short?
Michael Stahl-David: They're webisodes, so they're like three or four minutes. We've got about six of them shot and we're gonna do another six.
Oh, so like an ongoing series?
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, yeah.
Finally, how has the whole experience of doing Cloverfield, from the auditioning to the shooting to the hype, has this whole project changed how you approach movies in general or taking on projects?
Michael Stahl-David: No, not really (Laughs). You're actually reminding me of something that I should've remembered. When I was auditioning for this, I was really Zen about it for some reason, maybe because I didn't know what it was and I didn't get attached to it. I was like, well, whatever this is it would be cool to do. I mean, J.J. Abrams is awesome, but I'm not going to think too much about it. I was very Zen about it. I don't know, I usually freak out, so I've gotta try to do that again.
That's about all I have for you. Thanks a lot for your time, Michael.
Michael Stahl-David: All right man. Take care.
Cloverfield will invade the DVD shelves on April 22.