John Cusack and Sam Jackson discusses working on their very scary Stephen King adaptation
There are three levels upon which to judge the new Stephen King short story adaptation 1408. You really have to look at the different elements in play. It's a pretty good movie. It's a great ghost story. More than anything, it's an excellent Stephen King adaptation. Possibly one of the best that has ever been done. And it doesn't wuss out on the ending.
The film revolves around the Dolphin Hotel's mysterious room 1408. John Cusack plays a debunker of ghost stories who goes to check it out. He finds that the room is indeed haunted. Mary McCormick plays John's estranged wife. And Sam Jackson plays the manager of this haunted resort.
Mikael Hafstrom directed and Lorenzo di Bonaventura produced the film.
This entire group sat down for a press conference at the Four Seasons last Friday. Here is that conversation:
John and Samuel, do you ever choose your projects with international box office in mind?
John Cusack : I just thought it would be cool to be on a poster with Sam Jackson.
Sam Jackson: When I go to work, I never think about where they are going to sell it. That's not my problem. It's not a consideration at all. You know it's going to go there anyway. Someone else will make sure that it sells.
You call the hotel room, "An Evil Fucking Room." Didn't you want to call it an, "Evil Mother Fucking Room?"
Sam Jackson: No, it never occurred to me. Not at all.
John Cusack: I was actually pissed off about that. Because it's PG-13, and I was getting tortured in this room for fifteen weeks. And the only thing you want to do is swear. You just want to go, "Fuck, shit, piss!" Right? But you can't. Because Sam got the "Evil Fucking Room" line. You just get one fuck. And they give it to Sam.
Sam Jackson: In PG-13 don't you get two?
John Cusack: No, you only get one.
Sam Jackson: One? It used to be two.
John Cusack: And you just took it, cause you needed the cool line.
Sam Jackson: That's a T-shirt. It's an "Evil Fucking Room." You in a room screaming, "FUCK!" That's not a T-shirt.
For each of you, what is the scariest hotel room experience you have had?
Sam Jackson: I don't know if it's bad, but it's the most interesting thing that every happened to me checking into a hotel. Last year, we went to a game reserve in South Africa. When we checked in, the guy didn't ask for a credit card, he asked us to sign a release. That's very bad. Walking from here to my room, there's something that can happen? And they didn't even have cats.
John Cusack: Besides waking up jetlagged, and you find yourself in Düsseldorf, and you have no idea what country you're in...Or what room you're in...That has happened to me before. But I was also in a game reserve in South Africa. A place called the Beaumont. They said, make sure you don't go out at night without the guard, because some woman had left dinner. She wanted to take her high heels off, and when she walked back to her cottage she got eaten. That's a true story. Yeah. They had cats. So, if you're in one of these places in Africa, if you are in one of these hotels. You have to worry if you're going to live. It's pretty real.
Mary McCormack: I spent time in a game reserve in South Africa last year, and nothing scary happened. I didn't know about that stuff. I walked to my room with no shoes on. So, now I know.
Mikael Hafstrom: I couldn't afford to stay in a hotel in South Africa. I'm not a big Hollywood director, you know? I like this place, the Four Season. I think John and I were staring to go insane in our hotel room, in the movie. That's the worste experience I've had.
Sam Jackson: Come on, you were a European teenager. You've stayed in some of those two-dollar-a-night places.
Mikael Hafstrom: Sure, that was scary, but not like this.
John Cusack: Actually, I have an anecdote, which I never do. So I'm going to tell it. I did a movie in upstate New York, and I was staying in this scary, scary old hotel. I later found out that's what Stephen King based The Shining on. It was supposed to be haunted. We were staying up there, and after one too many cocktails, it did get a little frightening. That's not a very good anecdote. But it does deal with Stephen King.
Did you have any experience surfing prior to this film?
John Cusack: Yeah, I've done it a little bit, but I'm not a big surfer. Water is pretty scary. Especially those big waves. I do have a couple of friends that do it.
Did you learn anything from the experience of acting alone in that hotel room, as opposed to working with other actors in a scene?
John Cusack: I think Mikael and I had Stockholm syndrome, where that room was keeping us captive. But as soon as we got out of the room, it was sort of strange to go into the lobby and see all of these extras. Then I'm out in Huntington beach, and I'm surrounded by all of the these surfers, and things. We just thought, "We got to get back into the room. We got to get back to where it is safe." That's horrible. It was just me staring at the walls. And I get tortured. That actually made more sense than dealing with people after a while. I thought it was funny. The piece was very ambitious that way. We didn't know if we could pull it off. How do you pull off that kind of dance, of just me and the director in the room. It was kind of ambitious.
Have all of you guys been long time fans of Stephen King?
Mikael Hafstrom: I think the first time I remember seeing a Stephen King film was when I watched Brian DePalma's Carrie. I think Carrie was one of the first films that was made from a Stephen King novel. This was in the mid-Seventies, around 1976. I think that's when Carrie came out, and I was really obsessed with that film. I liked it a lot and I started to watch a lot of Brian De Palma films. But I also started to read a little bit of King's work. I have read some, I haven't read everything. I think King's genius is in his short stories. Which is a very tough literary genre to pull off, but I think he's a great master in this contained way. 1408 is what, forty pages long or something? But, if you read it right, you've got a lot of the information there. Obviously our film is longer. Our film has more material than what is in the short story. But I feel very much that we are very true to the heart and soul of the short story and I feel like Enslin's character is the guy that Stephen King writes about in that short story. Even if we do trade the more ambitious back story. It started with Carrie. I read a lot of his short stories. I think they are great.
John Cusack: My parents took us to Boston. That was about 1979 or 80, and The Shining had come out, and it was already a classic. It was in all the revival houses, and I snuck in to the theatre around six o'clock because it was an R movie, and I had to walk back to this cottage where we were staying. When I went out it was night, and it was a pretty winding road with lamps. That was the scariest walk home I've ever taken after a movie. I saw The Shining when I was about 12 years old and that freaked me out.
Mary McCormack Alone?
John Cusack Yeah. Alone. I snuck in alone and I had to walk home about 20 minutes by myself. And I saw Jack Nicholson around the corner in every bush. That was my first introduction to Stephen King. Then I saw Carrie. When I got older, I read The Stand in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. I think he's very underrated as writer. He uses a lot of pop culture references. He doesn't say, "The man poured the detergent into the laundry." He says, "He poured the Tide into the laundry." Everyone sort of dismisses him as a literary talent because he's too pop culture. But I think he's pretty damn good.
Mikael Hafstrom: Misery was a film that I watched a few times when we started to work with this. The connection with Misery is that it revolves around such a contained arena. It's just his bedroom, and I knew we had to do this film in this hotel room. Watching Misery was a good thing to do. Obviously you get stressed out. How do you make this alive and kicking in one room for an entire film? Misery is probably the film I connected most to out of all the Stephen King films I've seen.
John Cusack: Carrie's a really intense film, too.
Do any of you actually believe in Ghosts?
Sam Jackson: I grew up in Tennessee around people who believed in all kinds of things. I was told ghost stories at night by my grandfather and his brothers. And there were people in my neighborhood, that when we got hurt or sick or whatever, and we couldn't afford to go to the doctor, or even go to the hospital, we called the "root lady". She would actually come over and she'd put very stinky stuff on you. And chant. Good stuff. And you would get well. She would take herbs and things, and we bought chickens. We didn't buy chickens from the store, we bought chickens off a truck. They were live chickens and we killed them. She would get the heads and feet. She did stuff with them. Also, there were people who died in our neighborhood that we saw long after they were dead. If you were out at night in the wrong place, doing something doing something you weren't supposed to be...You'd look up, and there would be that lady who used to call your house and tell your mother you were doing something wrong. You'd be like, She's dead. She's not supposed to be here!" And you weren't the only person that saw her. We had phenomenon like that, and it went on throughout my life. We've gone through some interesting things. People would tell you stories about places you could go to see some of this stuff. There was a school bus that turned over in this particular place, and if you go there at a certain time of night, you can hear the kids crying and tires screeching. We'd go there and, sure enough, you'd hear it. So there are lots of things that we can't explain. Somebody somewhere has seen these things and they write about them. Some people remember them vividly enough to write about them. Some people make them up. But there are lots and lots of things that we can't explain, that are just part of our culture.
Does that make you fearless?
Sam Jackson: Fearless? No. I'm quite the opposite of fearless. I'm the guy that sits in the horror movie and says, "Don't go in the dark room. You're safe in this particular place right here, stay there until it gets light and call somebody or do something. But don't go in the dark room. Don't go down the stairs. Don't go see what the noise is." Even in my house, if I'm at home by myself...My house is big enough that if I hear something down the hall, I'll just stay in my room. I'll go turn the alarm on and if something happens then the alarm will go off. But I'm not going to go down the hall to see if something's not right. I'm not that interested.
You don't consider yourself the heroic type?
Sam Jackson: I got a gun, too. I will take the gun out and I'll put the gun on the bed. I'll sit there, and if somebody comes in the room that's not supposed to be in the house, I'll just start shooting (Motions with his hand as if shooting a gun).
John Cusack: I shouldn't drop by your house late at night, then?
Sam Jackson: Not unannounced. No.
John Cusack: (John knocks on the table) Sam?
Sam Jackson: As long as you're (knocking), you're okay. But don't just pop in the room. "The door was open." It was not (shoots his imaginary gun once again).
John, What would you do in the middle of the night if you heard strange noises in the house?
Sam Jackson: He takes karate lessons. He'd want to test his skills.
John Cusack: No, I wouldn't. The cool thing about this movie is, we go into the room at about minute sixteen. Then we go for another hour and see if we can sustain that kind of thing.
Sam Jackson: I'm always afraid that once you go in there, you end up doing what you did. The key gets sucked in the lock. The doorknob breaks off. And you can't get out. Then it's like, "Damn, I'm stuck in here with it. Why? I never had to go in here in the beginning."
Mary McCormack: There's still a lot of "Don't go in the room in that room." Like, "Don't go in that vent! Don't lift the shower curtain."
John Cusack: "Don't go in the bathroom."
Sam Jackson: "Don't go out the window."
John Cusack: I'm pretty lucky. The only time I've ever had any kind of weird paranormal event, it wasn't a bad spirit. Because I've never really been in the presence of something truly evil that I couldn't explain.
were you in any sort of heightened state when you experienced this?
John Cusack: No. Not even alcohol.
Sam Jackson: It's not necessarily evil, either. I remember doing a movie and just being freaked out. I was in New Mexico, and when we finished we had to go back to Santa Fe. For some strange reason, I drove myself from Santa Fe to Alamogordo. I was in my car alone because nobody wanted to ride back with me. So, I'm on a lonely New Mexico highway that's just straight. I'm just saying to myself "Please let nothing show up in the sky and beam me up." Because it's New Mexico and you're always seeing shit in the sky. All I could say was, Please let nothing pull in front of my car and just hover. Let me get back to Santa Fe, please!"
John, have you ever been treated by a root lady?
John Cusack: No. But I actually have met a couple of women like that.
John Cusack: When I was in New Orleans, I met people who do voodoo and rituals. They said it was for good, but they weren't dark.
Did they kill any chickens?
John Cusack: I haven't seen that, but they pulled out all sorts of things...
Sam Jackson: Some bones...
John Cusack: They had a lot of elixirs and potions. I'd been researching a movie about Edgar Cayce, so I'm interested in all types of hustlers. I'm just interested in all of it. So, yeah, I have seen people like that.
Sam, talking about things that fly by in the night, aren't you doing Jumpers? Do you like to make movies like this, that are Sci-Fi and horror? Or is it just a script that comes along?
Sam Jackson: It has to be a movie that interests me, or a story I want to tell. Or something that I saw when I was growing up that made me excited. Now all of a sudden I can do it. I don't have to go home and describe it for my friends. I'm actually in something where people teleport and it's great. Okay. I get to chase them. I can't do it, but I can chase them. Then when I catch them I get to beat them up and kill them. Kind of cool.
At one point Eli Roth was attached to this. What happened with his involvement?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: Well, Eli was attracted to it right away. With Eli's take, we could not set it up anywhere. So, he fell out and it was a little while later that Dimension bought the rights to the short story and Greenberg came in and Mikael.
What was Eli's take?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: it's too bloody to say it out loud. It was madness, an entirely different movie actually. He has such a love for the bloodiest parts of the genre. I think that scared everybody at the time. To go through some kind of transition like that. What's very fortunate about it is some of the most interesting aspects of the story, like the mental disintegration, as opposed to any sort of physical degradation going on...We thought that Mikael could bring that to the table.
What is Stephen King's take on the film?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: Stephen pretty much let's the filmmakers make their decisions. He's not a guy who is looking over your shoulder constantly. He's very clear about the difference between the written medium and the movie medium. A lot of novelists don't understand that. That's why you get in trouble trying to adapt things. We were able to show him the movie three or four weeks ago and, fortunately, it lived up to the short story for him.
John Cusack: There is something about his stories that are so rich. We kept going back to this 30-page short story just to see what he wrote? And there was always stuff we could pull from. Just little details or lines or turns of phrases or descriptions. It was amazing. It was like this 30-page piece that was like a bottomless well of stuff.
How do you compare this elegant, quant, traditional kind of scary horror movie to the world of torture porn and all that graphic stuff that is so popular today?
Sam Jackson: Torture porn? Really? Is that like Asian cinema or something? What is it? Asian extreme, gonzo? What is it? Who's making that?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: I hesitate to put any genre into any sort of a box. I think what this movie does, versus what Eli has done in those movies, is two totally different experiences. I hope that the genre is big enough to do all of that. You always want the fans to show up on opening weekend. But this movie is trying to go beyond a call to the extreme. It's not trying to elicit a reaction. It's going towards the subtle or the nuance or the emotional and we need the audience to come and support us in doing that. That's the only way we're going to decide how wide and how broad the genre is. If the audience keeps showing up. That's going to be our challenge. It's funny, some people have talked to us and said that this isn't as scary as that or that isn't as smart as this, and they're really two entirely different movies.
Takashi Miike type stuff.
Sam Jackson: Yeah, Ichi the Killer? Audition? Is Audition torture porn?
Sam Jackson: I love Audition. That's an awesome movie. It's a good date movie! It's about a man who hasn't had a date in a years and makes a bad choice. Nothing really happens until the end, and then it's kind of like, "Damn!"
John Cusack: This has its share of spooky moments. We've seen this with an audience and jump, too. So it's really two different deals.
Sam Jackson: Every generation jumps for different reasons. People used to jump for Vincent Price. Now they're jumping for different shit.
John, what kind of challenges did you encounter while making this film?
John Cusack: It was a relief to do scenes Mary and Sam. After a while, when you're in the third act and you're trying to top or keep the tension, or keep the stakes raising, it required a lot of wattage .You had to keep putting out. So Lorenzo and Mikael and I would really try and figure out the logic of the inside of the room. Once you figured it out, you actually do it with no one to cut away to. That was a challenge. And then doing the end. You're going to go through nine circles of hell, but each one of them is going to have a piece of your life and your past, and you're going to have to confront your demons in it. So by the end of the movie, you sort of knew they were going to bring Katie back. "Are we going to go here? Are we going to go this dark?" And we sort of had to, but that was kind a dark place to go. When you saw that little girl walking on the broken glass, that wasn't a fun day on set. It's all pretend and we're just making a movie, but that was challenging.
John, are you still attached to Cosmic Banditos and the remake of Better Off Dead?
John Cusack: Yes, and no. Cosmic Banditos is something we're developing, although John from Cincinnati seems to have stolen our thunder. It looks like that way. All these scripts are floating around and then it ends up on HBO, so that's what happens when you develop something. I heard about Better Off Dead, but I don't know anything about it.
Can you talk about the Paris Hilton situation?
John Cusack: Yeah, I'll talk about that. I think all heiresses should be put in prison on general principle.
Sam Jackson: Not my daughter, no. My daughter's an accidental heiress. It's only because of what I've done.
John Cusack: No, no, no; I'm talking about old money.
Sam Jackson: Oh, old money, alright.
John Cusack: I'm Irish-American, so I'm anti-royalist. I intransigently don't trust the monarchy, so any heiress should have to do prison time. Mandatory prison time.
Sam Jackson: This story is way bigger than it needs to be, really. For real. That's just the truth. It's just way bigger than it needs to be.
John Cusack: It's only sad in the context of that it's taking up air time when habeas corpus is suspended and no one else is doing anything about it.
Mary McCormack: And Scooter Libby was just sent to jail.
John Cusack: Habeas corpus, it's the foundation of our structure, right? You have to face your accuser on all your rights and all your rights stem from that, right? The Bush administration is taking away habeas corpus and people are talking about Paris Hilton. That's America.
Do you think Paris and Scooter should be chained together?
Mary McCormack: That'd make a cute couple. Now there's a reality show. Nicole Richie's out of luck. That'd be a real punishment.
John Cusack: That is a fascinating and grotesque story, isn't it?
Mary McCormack: Just because it happened the same day. They were both arraigned on the same day.
What's an inner demon that each of you have, that you'd be terrified to see manifest itself in that room?
Mary McCormack: I'm a classic girl. I can't do bugs. No bugs for me. I mean, real demons are much bigger, sadder things like family safety and all that. But in terms of just shallow demons, it's bugs for me. No bugs, no bats.
Sam Jackson: Not working...
John Cusack: You won't have that problem.
Sam Jackson: The phone stops ringing, "Damn!" On a deeper level, getting older is one of those things that scare me. Alzheimer's runs in my family and when I walk in a room and I don't know why I walked in there. It's really starting to fuck with me. So I'm having that issue, but I'm doing more crossword puzzles.
1408 opens June 22nd, 2007.