The actor, actress and director discuss this new horror film
I was recently invited to the lavish Four Seasons to take part in some roundtable interview sessions with some of the folks who put together Mirrors, which hits theaters nationwide on August 15. We were there to talk to stars Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the downtrodden ex-cop/present-day security guard Ben Carson, who starts to see things he shouldn't in the mirrors of the department store he works at, Paula Patton, who plays his estranged wife Amy, who doesn't believe his tales and the director Alexandre Aja, who shot to international fame with his breakthrough hit High Tension which led to him directing The Hills Have Eyes remake two years ago. The assembled press corps were waiting in a room when the lovely Paula Patton walked in, as chipper as can be. Here's what she had to say about this flick.
So how was this whole experience for you?
Paula Patton: It was intense, man. It was really intense. Sometimes people don't take the horror genre very seriously, but if you do, you realize that you're dealing with really intense emotions every day, level 10. By the time the movie was over, I was emotionally exhausted and physically exhausted from all the cuts and bruises and such. Every day I'm fighting with my husband or trying to save my children's lives or trying to save my own life. It was more of a challenge than I ever thought it would be.
How was Kiefer Sutherland to work with?
Paula Patton: He was great. He's a passionate dude. He always brings 150% to whatever he does so, when you have another actor that's giving that much, that just makes your job that much easier, so that's all you can ask from him.
Are you a fan of horror?
Paula Patton: I am, but it's a mix. I can't watch them by myself at night, but I can watch them during the day or as long as I have my husband or somebody to protect me from this movie screen (Laughs). I'm kidding, but I do. They scare me. I actually have a visceral response. I really believe it.
How was it to play the evil version of yourself, behind the Mirrors?
Paula Patton: So much fun. All that anger, all that pain, just brought to the table.
After doing the movie, do you see anything different when you see your reflection?
Paula Patton: You know, I wish I had a really clever answer for it, but I don't. I just think that there are days when you look in the mirror and you feel good about yourself and you're happy and there are days where you just hate yourself in that mirror and you really want to avoid it. I think that's what's most interesting about it is, especially about looking at yourself, is they're reflecting your emotion, rather than how you look. When people have eating disorders, they can't actually see what they truly look like because they're so clouded with their emotions. But that's what I think is interesting, it depends on the day. Sometimes, coming up against your own reflection can be jarring and jolting and I think that when you have to face that, sometimes you're shocked.
Was it tough working with a lot of water, always being wet?
Paula Patton: It's hard, but you're also thankful for it because it makes it as real as possible because you're always in the element instead of pretending there's water there.
As a guy, I was thankful for it.
Paula Patton: (Laughs) It's a horror movie. At some point, cleavage needs to be revealed (Laughs). Anyway, it just helps you feel uncomfortable, like it's really happening. When you're running around in that water and you take a spill, it's good because it really fills you up, like you need to hone up a lot of emotions and feelings for those moments in a horror film because it's always so intense.
What'd you think of working with Alexandre Aja, your director?
Paula Patton: He was great. He's an intense, incredible filmmaker. I loved High Tension. That's what really got me interested in Alex Aja. It's really hard to create a visceral response in people, to make them laugh or to make them feel really afraid. I really feel like the directors are the real stars in horror films, in many ways, because they have to craft something to bring out fear in you. I thought he was just really good at that and what I liked about this set was it wasn't a lot of green-screen. The practical stuff was there and he just allowed you to do your work and we collaborated on the character a bit. It wasn't like I felt like I couldn't do anything because there was this green mirror there, like 'Stay to the left of the mirror.' It didn't impede the work we had to do, so I really appreciated that.
So what's next for you?
Paula Patton: I have a movie in the can. It doesn't have distribution yet, so lets keep our fingers crossed. It's called Push. It's from the producer of "Monsters Ball" and The Woodsman. It's a really intense drama based on a novel. I think they're going to try to do Sundance with it. I play a lesbian school teacher. I like to keep it spicy. No wet tank tops, though. It's in Harlem.
Next in our little roundtable session (and yes, it actually was a round table), was star Kiefer Sutherland, who came in the room and cordially introduced himself to each of us before getting started. Here's what this talented actor had to say.
What are your views on the supernatural? Do you believe there are things, like in Mirrors, that we just don't understand?
Kiefer Sutherland: I would kind of hope so, because I would hate to think that we're all just dirt, after this, and molecules and air. So, if you're going to believe in the 'Wouldn't it be nice if there were an afterlife?' and 'Wouldn't it be nice if it wasn't over?' then I think you have to accept a whole bag of things. I'm on both sides of the fence with it. As someone that can look at something scientifically, I can tell you, from what I've read, that we go in the dirt. For me, certainly late at night and had a really nice day, I certainly hope that's not the case. So maybe you think that's true or you leave a window open for that to be possible. I certainly believe that's possible. It's not something I've experienced, but I do find it freaky on some of those news shows, whatever you call those shows now, where you find a 10-year-old girl who can talk to the ghost in the backyard and tell you who lived here in 1758. That freaks me out a bit.
Both of your parents are actors. What kind of advice did they give you when you started in showbiz?
Kiefer Sutherland: My mother said don't... I'm joking. The best advice I got was really simple. My mother lives in Toronto and I don't get to go back there as often because of my work and my father is working all the time and he's all over the world, so when we see each other we really do kind of talk about more personal things, like how are my brothers, family stuff, normal family stuff. I remember my dad telling me, I think I was about 17 or 18, somewhere in there, and he had seen a couple of films that I had done. The first one he had really liked, which was a film called The Bay Boy, made by Dan Petrie and some really wonderful actors. As I started to work more and he started to realize that I was really trying to do this for real, that it wasn't going to be just a whim of mine, or someone else's, to have me in a film, he said, 'Don't let them catch you lying in a film.' There are certain moments that you have to hit in a film, like when a character cries. What he was basically saying was, 'If you can't get there, don't do it.' If you're not feeling that, and you can't get there honestly, don't fake crying because they'll nail you for it and they'll kill you and it'll be over. Don't take the shortcuts and maybe the scene plays great if you don't cry and it's more organic and natural. I took that to heart because every time I've tried to cut a corner or force something a little too hard for me, I've been burned. It's the one thing that I remember him saying that I've kind of kept with me until now, that you have to be really straight with what you're trying to do.
What were the challenges of this film?
Kiefer Sutherland: There were a lot of them. Interestingly enough, Alex and I met and we broke it down into two really simple parts. We sat down and I said, 'I love your script. One of the things I really love about it was the characters are really developed and this film could be a drama until these horrific things happen at the Mayflower, the department store.' That's a quarter of the way into the movie. As an audience person, I'm going to be invested with these characters and I'm going to care about them and so when this stuff starts to happen, they're going to matter even more. I told him, That was the thing that I loved about the script and that I think, as an actor, I can help you have people care about this family. And you have to promise me that you can scare them.' He looked down and he smiled and he went, 'No problem.' We agreed to work together right there. The great challenge for me was to do simply that. To create, in a very short amount of time, a dynamic between he and his wife, he and his sister, he and his children, that an audience would care about so that when they are ultimately threatened, you have something to be scared about.
How did you like working in Romania for this film?
Kiefer Sutherland: Romania is an interesting place because I think it has been abused, on so many different levels, but from a film perspective, I think a lot of people came in when the money was good, it was cheap. They'd go in and make crappy films and these guys (Romanians), they won Cannes last year. They're sophisticated filmmakers over there. The way they can pay for their own films to get made is to do these other films and a lot of them were crap. One of the greatest moments we had on Mirrors was, we had a crew that wouldn't look at us sideways, for 10 days. They just didn't want to know. We were just another American company coming in and doing a piece of shit. Then we did the sequence where I'm firing in the mirror and throwing the chair at the mirror and just breaks down and loses it. We finished that sequence and, it took a lot of energy for me so I just went off and took a sip of water. Alex told me that eight or nine of the guys from the crew, the heads, looked at Alex's translator and said to ask him, 'This isn't gonna be like a normal movie, huh?' And Alex, in his way, just smiled and went, 'No, no.' Then the crew got behind us in a way that kind of changed everything for us.
What's the status of a 24 movie?
Kiefer Sutherland: It's in limbo. It's never been anything but. We decided... (Laughs) we. The writers basically said that they couldn't write the film the way that they wanted to with the amount of energy and time that it would take, properly, and do the series at the same time. We collectively agreed and understood that we would probably approach doing a film, if it was still desired, when the series ended, which could be as early as next year.
And what about the next season?
Kiefer Sutherland: I think it's going to be the best season we've done, because simply, we're going to have all 24 hours finished before we air one. When the writers would get kind of pushed towards the end of the season, and they're writing something that they know has to be on the air in like eight weeks, and you're still writing it, the panic starts. That was alleviated for them. As frustrating as the strike was for all of us, and I'm absolutely sure for an audience, across the board with all of television and I don't blame them for being fed up, in searching for a silver lining in any of that, we had the kind of time afforded us that we've never had before. 24, you can almost break it down into three series of eight. There's the initial conflict, the next eight episodes are the resolve of that conflict and the beginning of the next one and the last eight are the final. The first eight and the last eight, we've never had a problem with, in my estimation. Where we struggle is that middle eight, in transitioning out of the first one and going into the second one without people going, 'Oh, please.' The writers know that, we know that. There are some years we've been more successful than others. It's always been a sticky time for us, and we're in the middle of it now, but we have some time that no one is yelling or freaking out. I think that's helping us immensely.
There have been a lot of remakes of Asian horror films. Why do you think they've been so successful?
Kiefer Sutherland: Just a different perspective. I think in the United States when you started to see Scream and certain movies that were parodying horror films, that opens up for the French filmmakers that are doing it a lot, Asian filmmakers that are doing it a lot. Once we start to parody our own work, it's time for other people to show us what they've got and that's why I think you're seeing a huge influence of it. The audience didn't go away for them. It's just the filmmakers that were making them at that time were just trying to make fun of their own stuff and there were really young, hungry filmmakers around the world, and that's the way it should be. It constantly goes in a circle.
I should also note that while he was leaving, and someone asked him what he expected out of the next President of the United States, he replied simply, "Change," smiled, and left the room.
The last of our trio of roundtable interviewees was director Alexandre Aja and here's what he had to offer.
When did you first see the Korean movie?
Alexandre Aja: First, I received the script from Fox. I read the script without knowing it was based off the Korean movie and I didn't really connect with the script, with the story, with the characters, everything. But something was between the lines, a subtext or an element, and I was starting to think about no one has done a movie about a mirror, which is such a part of our lives and what you think about yourself when you catch your reflection. I was thinking that we can recreate something that will bring that fear from the Mirrors. Then I went back to Fox and said I didn't like the script but I was going to write another script based off that and they said it was based on a movie and I should watch it. Watching the movie, I really liked some scenes, the ending and the opening scene with the tone and the modus operandi of the Mirrors. I went back to Fox and said I would write my story based on all these elements. I didn't want to do a straight remake. I wanted to do something pretty different.
Was Kiefer always your first choice for this, and why?
Alexandre Aja: I'm 30 years old and one of the most interesting characters I've seen, when I was 10 or 12, was Kiefer's character in Flatliners. It became, for me, a kind of hero. I wanted to be that romantic guy with the long coat. He was so cool. He was just the ultimate cool guy. When we were writing the script, and talking with my writing partner, I was saying we have to find someone like that character in Flatliners because that character is a very close movie to me. It's a kind of supernatural but also very scary. Kiefer was thought of very fast, but it was kind of like just putting on a piece of paper. It didn't mean we could have him because first, he was very expensive and he was working so much. Making a season of 24 is like shooting 12 feature films a year. He had only two months and I never thought that he would come on his off days to Eastern Europe to shoot a movie with us, but he did so I was very lucky.
How was he to work with?
Alexandre Aja: He was the best. He understood the movie right away and he was right next to me to defend the movie and to bring the movie without making any concessions.
Can you talk a little about the jaw-ripping scene? When that picture was released on the Internet, it made quite a stir. Can you talk a little about the process of doing that scene?
Alexandre Aja: You always have a few scenes that are very important for you and you want to do the movie for and, after watching the Korean movie, I thought about what if the Mirrors had the power to take over your own reflection and make your own reflection do something to you that's going to kill you. I was thinking about what would be the most horrible, awful thing and the idea of prying my own jaws open and ripping my head off, for me, that was the most awful, so I found a way, in the script, to put the scene in and create the scene. The studio thought it was too violent and things like that, but I think it's one of the most shocking and memorable scenes of the movie.
How far can you bend the rules when you're dealing with the supernatural, as compared to something more realistic?
Alexandre Aja: I think it can go very far because there is no plane. In real life, nobody can do that to themselves. The biggest woman in the world will stop when it hurts too much and even if you really go, you can't. But the supernatural, the interesting difference is I think if it was a guy sneaking into the apartment and doing that to Amy Smart, I think the MPAA would never ever allow that scene in the movie, ever. They would cut the scene right away. It's exactly the same thing, but the fact that it's supernatural, they can accept it somehow.
How tough was it to set up the shots and not have your face or the camera in the reflection?
Alexandre Aja: We knew on paper that it would be a big challenge. We knew on paper that we would have hundreds of mirrors in the movie so what we did with the production designer, was we found a way to rig the mirror so we can move them a little bit, three or four inches left or right. We were walking a very narrow area. We managed to not have any visual effects to erase ourselves. It was a big success, but shooting in the mirrors, I'm not sure I'll do it again because it was very difficult. Mirrors are hell.
Why are you going to 3-D next?
Alexandre Aja: The way I think it's interesting is because it upgrades the entertainment of the movie and it's a very smart way to counter the piracy. You just bring something that cannot be downloaded or uploaded on the Internet and you bring something that is better instead of just putting cops for every person and forbid them to download the movie, you just bring them something better than no one can steal. It's always better and that's why James Cameron is doing it. For me, since I started making horror movies, I try to find a way to bring the audience inside a movie and not having them watching something, but to have a real experience and 3-D technology is just the best tool to create that dimension factor.
That's Piranha 3-D, that you're doing, right? The remake?
Alexandre Aja: It's not a remake. Completely new story. I mean, it's the same fish, but the story is completely different. It's very simple with piranha's being released over Spring Break. It's basically about pirahna's eating drunk kids (Laughs). It's very simple and completely different.
How far into that are you?
Alexandre Aja: We start shooting in the fall.
Mirrors opens across the country on August 15.