Earlier this week, we took you behind the scenes of Universal Pictures upcoming prequel to John Carpenter's now classic alien horror film The Thing starring Kurt Russell. The upcoming film, also entitled The Thing, is directed by Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and is scheduled for release next spring. Last June, we had a chance to travel to the film's set in Toronto, Canada, tour the massive sound stages, and speak with producer Marc Abraham (Children of Men).
This new movie takes place at the base camp of the Norwegian science-team that was seen in the first film, and is where the alien spacecraft was found. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Katie, a paleontologist who travels to Antarctica and joins the Norwegian science-team just as they discovered the alien spaceship buried in the ice. Inside, they find a strange frozen creature with the ability to take the form of anyone it touches. When the monster escapes from its frozen cell, Katie must join forces with a pilot named Carter (Joel Edgerton) in order to destroy the creature before paranoia sets in, and they all kill each other. The film will lead up to the events of John Carpenter's movie, and should give fans a different take on what happened right before the first film began.
In the second half of our visit to the set, we had the opportunity to speak with the film's stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom), as well as tour the Norwegian base camp set. And we even got to watch them film a scene with a real flamethrower!
After we were done talking with Marc Abraham, the producer took us on a tour inside the Norwegian base camp set where we had a chance to watch some filming. The set looks very cool and you can tell that the filmmakers have gone to a lot of effort to make sure that it matches what we saw in the original. While we can't say too much about what we witnessed them shooting, as it would give away particular plot points, we'll just say that the scene involved actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead using a flamethrower in a nod to the original movie. It was really fun to watch, and the entire crew was extremely focused due to the safety issues involved.
Once Miss Winstead was finished blowing stuff up, we had a chance to sit down with the Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World actress to discuss her role in The Thing. Since she had just finished using the flamethrower, we asked her how it felt to use such an iconic prop from the franchise. "It's been mostly great. It's a little heavy sometimes and a little rough to run around with. But it's fun. It actually instantly makes you carry yourself differently. It's empowering. You've got this power in your hands to set something on fire. Watching it back, I've been really surprised to watch myself look that crazy. You instantly get this different look in your face when you're burning something, like you've lost your mind. It's kind of cool." The actress continued by discussing her experience on the film so far. "It's been really great. It's a really good group of people. Everybody's really genuinely excited and really wants to make this as great a film as it can be, as great of a companion piece as it can be to the John Carpenter film, while being sort of our own unique and different movie. Matthijs is fantastic. He's a great actor's director and it has been good for me to be doing a picture that's considered to be a genre film but to have it so focused on performance."
We followed up by asking the actress if she was a fan or even familiar with the original Carpenter movie before she signed on to the project? "I am a huge fan. I saw it five years ago for the first time. I just fell in love with it. I thought it was great. The performances were amazing. I thought it was a really, really great film," Winstead answered. "So when I got the script I was a little excited, but a little worried because it was kind of like, how can you remake The Thing? So I was excited to see that it's a true prequel; it's really not a remake. We're not trying to recreate the same characters. They are completely different people, completely separate. They are their own characters, but just put in similar situations and a similar world to the world the John Carpenter film takes place in."
The actress continued to talk about the tradition of strong female characters in the sci-fi/horror genre and how that applies to her character in this film. "Well she's definitely a strong, independent, intelligent character who ends up really taking care of herself in this situation. So I think she sort of fits in with that theme of strong heroines in the genre. But what's nice about her is she's sort of a real person. You know, she's a scientist. She's not a badass chick who comes in to save the day. She sort of just has to become strong throughout this situation and become stronger than she ever thought she could be. So she kind of has to take on this new life and become this new person by the end of the film that she isn't in the beginning. I'm not sort of just trying to be a badass action hero, I'm trying to play this part as true as I can."
Although this film features different characters from the first movie, Winstead's Katie is at the center of the action, so we wanted to find out if the spirit of MacReady (Kurt Russell's character) is alive and well in her role? "Sure, I mean I think between my character and Joel (Edgerton)'s character there's definitely that spirit, it's definitely there. I think it's probably more for Joel because he's playing the helicopter pilot so that personality is kind of represented in the film. Even though he's totally doing his own performance and he's completely great in his own way, I think that the MacReady spirit is probably a bit more represented in him. But hopefully I sort of have a little bit of it too, unintentionally."
She also discussed the filmmaker's decision not to pursue any romantic plotlines in this new movie. "I mean, trying to force that into the film would be a little ridiculous because things start falling apart as soon as she enters the base, so I don't think there's any time for any sort of sexual tension to build or romantic feelings to start coming forth. It's really that their connection is that they feel like they can trust each other for whatever reason. They don't really know why they just feel like, here's somebody I can trust, here's somebody that I'm going to sort of cling onto in order to help get me through this. That's really where the connection lies."
Since the original John Carpenter movie featured no women in the cast, with the exception of actress Adrienne Barbeau (Escape From New York) as the voice of the chess computer, we asked Winstead if the film addresses the female presence in the isolated Antarctic setting? "I mean we address it in a subtle way of just sort of everyone having a different opinion about her being there, when she shows up and she's sort of a young woman," explained Winstead. "Especially the character of Sander, who's the one who brought her along. Basically the reason he brings her along is because he thinks she'll be easy to control and he'll be able to take all the credit. He'll do everything his way and he won't have anybody getting in his way that's going to try and speak their mind. He sort of thinks that I'll be easy so he sort of comes to find that she's a little bit stronger and more intelligent than he had anticipated. So yeah, everyone has an opinion about her, who she is, why she's there and how they feel about it."
The actress went onto discuss the tone of the film that they are making. "It's actually very similar to the tone and the pace of the first film. It sort of starts out ... one of the actors was describing it the other day and I thought it was a really good way to say it. It starts out as a drama, sort of slowly turns into a thriller, then into a horror film, and then into an action movie. So that's how it starts out as just these characters getting to know each other, feeling each other out, then something starts going wrong and you start playing the whole game of, who's The Thing and who's not? People start dying and things get really sort of bloody and scary," she explained. "Then you've got to take care of business, get tough and sort of get into action."
In the original film, there is an iconic scene where the survivors take their blood and test it against the fire to see who can be trusted and who can not. We asked Winstead if there is a similar moment in this film? "Yeah there's a scene that's sort of less definitive than that. There's a test that we do that sort of just separates who is suspicious and who is most likely trustworthy. So we have a test that doesn't say who's The Thing and who's not definitively, but we at least sort of separate it into two camps. Which sort of adds to the paranoia. It makes other people pit against each other and it's a great moment in the film that amps up that level of paranoia and attention."
There are other great moments from the original that are now considered iconic by many fans like the defibrillator scene, so we asked the actress if she has filmed any scenes for the new film that felt iconic to her? "Definitely. We have some really wonderful and unique actors who have just been creating moments that are just great. Especially having so many Norwegian actors it feels like such a special unique thing to this film," she said. "There's one scene that is my favorite scene that we've shot. Where we're all celebrating after we've found this creature, and we're all drinking. They all break out into this completely improvised Norwegian folksong. They're dancing, they are singing different parts, harmonizing, jumping, sloshing their beers, and it's all pouring out. It was so much fun to shoot. But then when you watch it back it's actually really sad because you know that these people are going to die. It's kind of haunting and really wonderful. So there's moment like that where you think that this is going to have a lot of really cool stuff."
In the first film, the characters visit the Norwegian base camp and find remains of the science team so we asked the actress if the character she plays could be seen in that segment in the first movie? "No, not my character. But we definitely go through and we include all of those bits. The mystery of the Norwegian base and all of those moments are definitely explained in this film." The actress went onto discuss working with the creature in the movie. "Every time The Thing is shown, it's shown in a completely different way. It looks different or it's manifested in a different way. Sometimes we're dealing with huge animatronics puppeteer creatures and sometimes its only half there and the rest will be CGI. It's interesting to see all the different ways they've been working this out. It's been really great to have something there to act to. It's not just a green screen. It's really moving and sometimes actually set on fire. So it's been fun," Winstead stated. "Every time we've been dealing with The Thing, it's been really freaky," she continued. "There's one particular scene I did where there was an actual person on fire and running through a hallway, you know, on fire. They have this fire retardant gel on, so you're just setting their skin on fire. We have to actually set people on fire. For me, that's a little bit terrifying. But it's exciting to see because it looks awesome."
The actress also talked about her most demanding scene in the film. "There's a scene where my character kind of starts to lose it a little bit. That's actually during the scene where they are testing people and trying to keep people separated. That's actually my test and I'm sort of in charge of it. Nobody really wants to go along with what I'm doing. They all start to try and overthrow my control and I start to lose it a little bit. That's kind of the point in the film when everything starts to spiral out of control. Nobody knows whom he or she can trust anymore and there's nobody to look to for an answer. It was one of the most fun scenes, but it was also really challenging because my character keeps it really together and is really focused. I had to figure out how to let her lose it, to a certain point, but also come back to reality enough so you believe that she can survive a little bit longer."
Finally, we asked Winstead, as a fan of the original if she thought that other fans of Carpenter's film would be pleased with this one? "I think they will. I think they'll be really pleasantly surprised. I think a lot of fans immediately worry when they hear that someone is doing a prequel or a remake, they sort of assume the worst sometimes. So I'm really excited for them to see this because I think they're going to be really surprised as to how sort of respectful it is to the John Carpenter version, and how dedicated we all have been to make it really cool and fun for them to see."
Finally, we had a chance to speak with Australian actor Joel Edgerton who plays helicopter pilot Sam Carter in the prequel. Edgerton has starred in a string of critically acclaimed Australian independent films recently including Animal Kingdom and The Square, which he also co-wrote, as well as playing the voice of the villain Metalbeak in Zack Snyder's Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. But Star Wars fans know him best as Owen Lars, uncle to Luke Skywalker in both Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
We began by asking the actor how it feels to be doing a big budget American prequel coming off of two independent Australian dramas like Animal Kingdom and The Square. "It's good but I don't really see a lot of differences. Obviously there is always a lot more equipment and people but the main difference I see is in terms of momentum. It's easy to kind of block out the scale of something but the biggest difference for me is momentum," he explained. "On a smaller film you get to shoot sometimes four or five scenes a day and you've got to do the tight schedule. I think I really feel the luxuries of a big budget film. You might take three days to shoot a scene here. We shot one scene or a sequence of scenes that took four or five days. In Australia you try to knock that out in one day."
We followed up by asking the actor if preparing for the work was the same on a big budget film as it is on a smaller scale movie. "I find it more challenging because you have to keep your headspace for a longer duration of time," Edgerton explained. "I like the momentum you get from shooting a lot in one day. So I think there is a particular skill to slowing down and pacing yourself through a sequence. But its great, look doing something like this is cool. It's great to shoot on something that has more than one camera, cranes and scale. You don't usually get that on a local film in Australia." Since Carter is a helicopter pilot we wanted to find out if he was the helicopter pilot that was chasing the dog in the beginning of the first film? "No, no. There is one character and one canine that appear in the Carpenter film that you'll see in this movie but everybody else is a new character, Edgerton replied. "I play a character that runs a supply service and shuttle service, I guess with a helicopter from the outer, bigger stations. The trio of characters myself, Jameson and a character named Dregs, in any other given scenario we might be delivering food supplies out to the American base that you see in the Carpenter film."
While Carter is a brand new character, we wanted to know if Edgerton feels like he is kind of playing the Kurt Russell role in the movie? "Yeah it's sort of like that. You get a feeling that they are both cut from the same cloth. That the character I play is a similar character. In the film, I guess it is a similar part because he becomes a bit of a hero. Yeah, cut from the same cloth is probably the best way to say it but they are totally different guys in totally different stories." The actor continued to talk about his characters personality and role in the film. "He's sort of dry. He comes off as I guess in the hero mold but very much a reluctant hero. He's not enthusiastic about the situation. I don't think he makes any bones about being a sarcastic and straight up guy. I can tell you certain things bout Carter but I don't know that I really can sum him up for you eloquently. He's certainly dry and kind of softly spoken, observant and a bit cynical. I think what's interesting is we get commissioned to being with these Norwegian scientists. We kind of get stuck there over night and then we get commissioned to bring what ever this mysterious thing is that they have found back. We are the last to be brought into the loop. We are the last to be let in on this amazing discovery."
We asked the actor to describe his relationship to the original John Carpenter film and if he was a fan of that movie growing up? "Well I'm thirty-five and the film came out in '82 so I saw it on video the first time I saw it. My brother and I used to watch a lot and our film diet was horror films and action films pretty much. In fact I think before the age of twelve I had seen the entire Death Wish trilogy, which probably disturbed me a lot. I owe a lot of that to my Mom because we had like one little video store. I lived in a town called Dural, which was a small semi-rural town about an hour outside of Sidney. The first video I ever watched was on a beta system because everyone thought beta was the way but then it ended up being video so we backed the wrong horse," the actor joked. "But we watched An American Werewolf in London and I know that the second film I watched was The Evil Dead, which I didn't finish because I was so freaked out. So I watched a lot of action movies as a kid. I saw The Thing on video, then I saw it again like five years ago and then of course I've watched it a few times doing this. We often sit in the tent and watch pieces of it, whenever anything in our film matches up to anything in the Carpenter film, especially in the decimated Norwegian base camp. We look at how props are placed and how the set looks and all that."
We continued by asking Edgerton to explain exactly how watching Carpenter's film helps him prepare for his work on the prequel. "Those scenes are used as a practical element, you'll get to see how the axe came to be in the door in the Carpenter film. But for me watching the old film is more about the tone and the atmosphere of it," he said. "There is a really great serious tone to Carpenter's film where it's really treated like a drama and I think a lot of great horror movies are like that. It would have been a shame to do a prequel or a sequel to this and add a tongue and cheek element to it. I wouldn't have been interested in being involved in that case. I think Matthijs and Marc and Eric (Newman), the producers, the general approach that they've had with making this film has been pretty much playing that line, atmospherically, tonally, in the design that it really does feel like it can sit side by side with the Carpenter film and at the same time it is its always film. In the same way that Carpenter's film has elongated moments of dread and silences, you know kind of behavioral things, I think its good and to go the other way and try to fill it with too much exposition or anything too tongue and cheek would have been dishonest."
Since so much of the film's suspense is built on the fact that The Thing could be anyone at any point, we asked Edgerton, without giving too much away, if he gets to play both the hero and the villain in the movie and if we get the sense at any point that his character may not be who he seems to be? "Yeah, a little bit. There are a few of those moments going on. You know the interesting trick for Matthijs has been that he has worked tirelessly to make the film work. We had a conversation once that often if you get two different sets of humans together they will handle the same situations with similar solutions," Edgerton said. "After some time they may stumble on the same solutions so the trick is to not make those solutions so similar that there is no point to us even making this film. So we wanted it to stand on its own two feet. At the same time we play with the same rules for this science fiction so you do have those similar beats and definitely within the story at some point we as a group, you know myself and Jamison get separated and I wouldn't say are earmarked but are severely mistrusted. Being that the two characters histories extend all the way back to the Vietnam War, where they were soldiers, I guess to make enemies of us is a difficult situation. You don't want to make trouble with us; I'm familiar to it," he explained.
The actor went on to discuss working with the film's director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.. "I really love him. For starters, handing this project over to anybody would have been tricky. I think you need to have someone who's really passionate about it. In a way, I think you need to have someone who has been a fan of the old movie and he's a fan of that kind of genre of film. I know that he really loves the original The Thing and he really loves the original Alien. So his kind of enthusiasm for the project means a lot. I think it's really going to find it's way on screen. As a director of actors I think he's great. I find him very easygoing and he has the ability to kind of guide performances by not saying too much. Also, he's not afraid of actors, like some directors are. I just find him to be really great." Since we had just been given a tour of the alien spacecraft we asked Edgerton if his character ever goes inside the spaceship in this movie? "Why don't you just write down ... he nods," joked the actor. "Yes, I go into the spaceship," he confirmed.
We followed up by asking if some of the epic sequences in the film happen inside the ship? "Yeah, well what's cool is, again, sitting down with Matthijs and getting to imagine the world, even the rules that were already given in the Carpenter film. You see a spaceship in the first one. We see it arrive on earth, and then you see the Norwegians celebrate around it. So I just think it must have been cool for the writers and those guys to sit down and imagine the tools to tell this story. We're not doing anything that breaks the boundaries of what was set up, but I have a feeling they're doing it in the most imaginative way without taking too many liberties," he explained. Finally, as a fan of the original, we asked Edgerton if there were any moments that he shot for the movie where he totally geeked-out because of that scenes implications to the Carpenter film? "Well, there's a couple because I was really curious in the beginning about how they were going to do the axe, how they were going do a certain character committing suicide and where does the film end? Does it end with chasing the dog? So every kind of point along the way I was wondering, how are they going to explain this? Also, this is it's own film," he explained. "You don't want to put so much energy into tying those loose ends that you damage this film, as its own entity. I think they've done a really good job of it. I reckon the fans of the original movie are going to really like those moments."