When I first strolled up to the Sony Pictures lot on Overland Ave. in Culver City, CA, I had to take in the sheer immensity of it. This was my first set visit and it was only my second time doing an in-person interview, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew it wouldn't be like that stupid Coke commercial you see before the trailers in the theater, with every street of the lot filming a vastly different movie. Walking through the lot on my way to Stage 23, for my set visit to The Stepfather, all I really saw were a few people with headsets on driving golf carts. When I got to Stage 23, everything I was told about these set visits happened in reverse.
I was told that you get introduced to everyone, the publicists and other journalists from other sites, and then they show you around the set for a little while and you watch them film a scene. Then they bring you in a room and start to usher in the talent, one by one, for a big roundtable interview for each interviewee. When I got there, I met everybody and maybe 5 minutes later we were all met by producer Mark Morgan and after everyone introduced themselves to him, the digital recorders were out and the red lights were on. Here's what he had to say about The Stepfather.
Producer Mark Morgan
How long have you been on this project? I know this remake has been circulating for awhile.
Mark Morgan: I'd say about three years or so. It was a project we found when we were going through Granada's library and they had The Stepfather. They owned the rights to the movie, the original Stepfather that starred Terry O'Quinn. We found the rights were available and we shopped it to several studios and found Sony. They seemed to get it the most, especially with our take on it. Divorce rate is escalating almost near 60%, there are many women out there who have children and they haven't been remarried yet. They are sometimes... I don't want to use the word manipulated but they are almost easy prey in a sense that they don't necessarily check someone's background. They're not really finding out who they're letting in their house. It's more that I think they're actually happy to have someone, they're sort of young again having a new life again and someone who liked the kids. That is sort of how we crafted the character of David in this project. Out of all the people, it was Sony that loved it and we went with them. That was maybe a year ago or so, maybe.
(Screenwriter) J.S. Cardone said that this was going to be more extreme than Prom Night. So, with that said, is this playing to the 30 and above crowd, the wife who falls into this trap, or the teen audience?
Mark Morgan: It's interesting, because I'm not sure how he's defining extreme. We're definitely dealing with a serial killer here. We get in his mind and we see him when he's turning it off, when he's being a normal person, which is especially done well with Dylan Walsh, who as you guys know from Nip/Tuck, is a particularly nice person. Just the slightest sort of twinge in him, it's scary. It is more extreme in the sense that it's more calculated. It's more 'it could happen to you,' that there are these guys out there somewhere. I almost get the feeling that when people leave the theater, especially people with stepfathers, are going to be weirded out in the car on the way home, or second-guessing things.
It's playing to a little bit of both (the older and teen angles). The audience is taking the journey more with the son, through Michael. He just returned from military school, he'd been there for approximately two years. His real father, played by Jay Tenney, had actually left for a younger woman. He's been rebellious, he's never wanted to accept it. He was a problem kid and his mother had really nothing else to do but to send him to off to military school. So, when he comes back, he's bitter, he still wants his dad in a way. It's not like he misses his father so much, as subconsciously, he wants them to be together. He's still distant with his father as well. So you have the children here, you have Michael and a younger sister and a younger brother and then you have the mother, but Michael is the one who's suspecting things the most. What's interesting is they're not taking Michael's suspicions so seriously because they feel he's negative too begin with. They feel he's trying to mess up this situation that his mother has a good thing now with a new man, and he's just bitter and should be going with the flow. It's through him we take the journey through, it's through his eyes, so the younger audience will be appealed there. I do think it will cross over though, as far as relationships or older women, because it is such a prevalent thing in our society, divorce in general and The Stepfather is sort of a broad contrast.
Is Terry O'Quinn going to make a cameo?
Mark Morgan: We thought about that. In fact, we discussed it internally and we approached him and his people who, we thought, seemed open to it and then there was sort of a change of heart. It was a change of heart and sort of a change of... it was almost like, 'Give us this amount of money,' which is an absurd sort of number to do a little cameo. I don't know. I don't think he seemed as excited as we hoped he would be and that his focus was, 'That was then and now I'm doing Lost.' He's sort of a different Terry O'Quinn. We thought it would be especially intriguing for fans. There is a scene in a hardware store where they're asking where certain things are and we thought about putting him there where he says, 'Oh, it's right down the aisle.' If we can change his mind in any way, shape or form coming up, we'd like to do so, but at this point, no. It doesn't look like it's going to happen.
In the original, the stepchild was a teenage girl and in this one it's a teenage boy. Why did they change the focus on that?
Mark Morgan: Besides the fact that the standard is sort of the female angle, we did want to go different, but on this one you're also dealing with Michael the son is sort of the father figure. He's the 'man of the house,' so to speak, because when Jay, his real father, is gone, he IS the man of the house. So, him going off to military school and coming back, there was something territorial. It was his house, his family, who is this guy that all of the sudden came in, sleeping in the same bed as my mother, who has changed the basement into his (David's) own place with padlocks. That used to be his father's place, so not only is that from a personal pride standpoint but also we thought seeing this other person was just the nail in the coffin of any hope of getting his parents back together. But, to answer your question, it's also because there's bonding that occurs. In the script, David asks Michael to be his best man and there's a relationship there that's almost like a father-son bonding, that he wishes he had with his own father that isn't happening. Dylan Walsh's character, David, is smart enough to know that he needs to get in with him. There's a scene where there's a surprise party for Michael - 'Yay you've come home' - and Dylan Walsh says, 'Hey, meet me in the basement' and he has tequila. This is a 16-year-old kid so drinking tequila, it's not like any adult would ever give it to him but he's like 'Hey lets do a shot.' He's a little worried but Dylan says don't worry about it and they have the shot. He's trying to befriend him and that's much easily done with a male as opposed to a female of that age. It would just be too creepy I guess. It wouldn't work.
What sort of a release are you aiming at for this?
Mark Morgan: I'm not sure, at this present time. Are you talking about date, or size?
Well, both, yeah.
Mark Morgan: It's a good movie. It's going to have a decent release. What we've got is brilliant. As far as date, I'm not quite sure yet. I think it depends on what else is in the lineup, what else is going up that weekend, especially given our target. So I'm not sure.
After Mark said his good-byes to everyone, we were told that they were bringing Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl) out, who plays the soon-to-be-stepson Michael. Just as we were about to start up I hear, "We have everyone for you," and in come walking Sela Ward, who plays the mother, and Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck), who plays the title character David Harris. The good old three-for-one special, as it were. So we all resituated and our roundtable for one turned into a semi-press-conference for three. Here's what this trio of talent had to say about the film, and more.
Actors Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward and Penn Badgley
Have any of you seen the original movie, and can you share a little about what attracted you to do this?
Penn Badgley: I know that I, personally, did not watch the original. I believe in the original, my character was a girl. There are enough differences that I didn't want to have any predisposed ideas about it and anything that would mess with what I wanted to do with the character and the development and the arc. So I think, when we wrap, I might watch the original with a bottle of whiskey or something. I haven't had a drink in two months because I've been getting in shape, so I think it'll be nice.
Dylan, does The Stepfather go in knowing that he's going to be doing evil?
Dylan Walsh: Oh, not at all. By the way, let me just weigh in on that I didn't watch the original, so if you have questions about the original, I don't know about it. For the same reason, I didn't want it to interfere. We talked about it, there's a part of this movie that's a genre that you can't escape, but there's this whole section of the movie where you can just forget about the violence and imagine that this is almost like one of those Hallmark movies. They're just trying to make this family work and it's such a common thing nowadays. So many families are sort of patched together. No, he's just trying to do good by these people.
In the original, he has this archetypal family image. He wants the kids to be this way and the wife to be this way. Does he have a similar mindset?
Dylan Walsh: Yeah. In this one, I feel that it's kind of like David Harris is sort of caught in this 1950s family dynamic. He's the captain, he's the king. He sits at the head of the table and he tells them what to do and they do it. This whole new thing that's going on, with grey areas and negotiating back and forth, he' s not very good with. It's almost like a clash between two different ways of going about being a family.
Sela, can you talk a little about your part and what attracted you to this person?
Sela Ward: Have you looked at him? (Laughs) Those blue eyes...
Dylan Walsh: ... and my fake neck (at this point Dylan swivels his head so we can see the prosthetic neck bunching up his skin in a weird way and we all laugh).
Sela Ward: Well, you know, she's recently divorced and had an ass for a husband. It's been awhile, and here's somebody, you couldn't make a list of what you'd want in a guy any better than you'd get with him. He's very tender, great about the family and the kids and he wants everybody to be together. All those things that women just get hooked into and she falls for it. Also, trying to raise those kids by herself, it's difficult. I'd look for a guy in the grocery store too.
I'm curious to know how you make her grounded and sympathetic without being stupid, like 'How could she possibly fall for this guy?' How do you bring that sort of gravitas to the role?
Sela Ward: Dylan and I talked about that a lot, to make sure there is a lot of non-verbal stuff between the two of them and, also, to carefully see what it is about him that she's falling for, so that she doesn't look stupid. That's a tricky fine line, always. We're trying really hard to establish that.
How has (director) Nelson (McCormick) been challenging you on the set?
Sela Ward: He's great.
Penn Badgley: Yeah, he's great for that.
Just in developing that language of fear?
Penn Badgley: Yeah, well he's definitely well-versed in this genre. Yeah, like what you said, developing that language of fear, he's good at that. I think there's a part of him that leaves us to our own devices for a bit, to see what we've got and then, by take 2 or 3 he'll come in and say what's wrong or what's right.
Dylan Walsh: He's been great about details. That's how we do it. The more details we can figure out, even in the rehearsals. We just talk about logic.
Penn Badgley: Yeah, there are certain jumps of logic, things like the hand on the shoulder. You have to wonder, I understand that this is a genre film, but you have to just think about if these were three real people, four real people, just wandering through a house and one of them is a murderer. You have to figure out, physically, what's right. What would make sense for that to happen. We've added certain beats that aren't in the script. We've taken out certain beats that are in there. He's completely sympathetic to us as actors and our struggle with that. It's hard to ever know what you would do in this situation, or what anyone would do, short of being in it. He's very good at working with all that stuff.
Are you allowed to say anything about your neck?
Dylan Walsh: Sure. What do you wanna know about it? (Laughs) Well, there's a place in the movie where I'm after them and Sela's character gets back at me, I won't say exactly how. I get a little wound and I have a whole prosthetic on my neck.
Your character is searching for the perfect family, but is there a certain set of parameters he's looking for? Is that really revealed in the movie?
Dylan Walsh: Well, I think it's kind of hinted at. It's kind of what I was saying earlier with the 1950s thing, but hopefully it doesn't hit you over the head. Hopefully you start to piece this together, from his behavior and from what he wants. The first couple of things he does is pretty great, in helping this kid out, getting him back on the swim team and these various things that make him look really good. He's well-meaning, it's just that he wants to control every facet of it and there's no back-and-forth.
Producer Mark Morgan was telling us how you were able to turn on and turn off the evil side. One minute you have this great smile and the next you just lose all emotion, which we occasionally see in Nip/Tuck. Sometimes you do have your outbursts. So with a film like this is it nice to tap that throughout?
Dylan Walsh: It's bigger knives.
Dylan Walsh: Honestly, I'm having so much fun doing that. With Nip/Tuck, you're never going to betray what that guy is, hopefully. But here, it's almost like in a moment you can go back and forth between the two, the genre film and the part of the film that's just this family story. It's fun. It's liberating.
How does the girlfriend dynamic work with The Stepfather and the family?
Penn Badgley: Obviously, Michael is a very troubled kid. It's never very specific in the script what happened, but he was on a downward spiral ever since his parents divorced. He's been in military school for maybe a year, so when he comes back the dynamic between his mother and his new stepfather and even his brother and sister is still a little awkward. He feels like an alien in his own family, his own house. The scenes between Michael and Kelly (Amber Heard), his girlfriend, I think that's' where you're seeing Michael at his best. He smiles the most in those scenes because he's so comfortable with her. He feels like she's his confidant. They can really trust each other, but then there's that line to walk that once he becomes suspicious of David, the only one he can only talk to is her, but he doesn't want to alienate her as well because it sounds fucking crazy, for him to be saying that. It has to be believable that he wouldn't tell his brother and sister, so the dynamic between the two of them has to be very close. I think they've probably been friends all their lives and they started dating in high school. It's a sweet relationship. There's an element of it that has that 1950s, Leave It to Beaver feel, because they're just so wholesome.
In the original there was sort of a pervy kind of element between The Stepfather and the daughter...
Penn Badgley: There's a touch of that between The Stepfather and the girlfriend.
Dylan Walsh: We're working on that.
Penn Badgley: It's only week three.
Sela, what made you take this on, doing a horror film?
Sela Ward: I read the script and I thought, 'I can't get hurt, I don't think.' I kept reading and thought, 'I don't think I can look too stupid in this movie.' I'll try something different. I think if I were in one of those slashers, I couldn't do it, but this was so grounded in something that could truly happened. Plus, Dylan is so great. I love Nip/Tuck, oh my God. I've been watching Gossip Girl with my son, just to try and censor it (Laughs) and Penn is so adorable, I thought this would be fun. Why not? Something different.
What about the ex-husband? Is he still in the picture?
Sela Ward: Well, Jon Tenney plays the father. Jon's a great actor.
Penn Badgley: He's a lot of fun.
Sela Ward: Yeah, he's definitely in the picture.
Is he one of The Stepfather's victim's?
Dylan Walsh: Maybe...
Penn Badgley: He's not here today, so...
After that all wrapped up, we were all led through the set by the unit publicist, Andy Lipschultz. It was kind of weird walking through the set. Every time you walked past a room and looked in it, there was a perfectly normal room... even though we were walking across a bare wooden walkway. It was going into a house where the only thing that is finished is the individual rooms. Cool stuff. As we were walking, Andy told us that the film was set in Portland and they were just setting up for one of the big climactic scenes in the movie. With our little cavalry rolling about 12 deep including the publicist, there wasn't enough room for us to get in the little room where the director, Nelson McCormick, producer Mark Morgan and other people were working in, so we ended up going back downstairs to watch them film a scene on a few monitors on the ground floor.
After waiting around for a little while, we all were introduced to Amber Heard, who has been seen in numerous high-profile films like Friday Night Lights, Alpha Dog, her title-character role in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, the new film Never Back Down as well as the upcoming Pineapple Express. Here she plays Kelly, girlfriend to Penn Badgley's Michael, in this film and as she took a seat, we all gathered around to hear what she had to say about her role and this film.
Actress Amber Heard
Have you seen the original movie?
Amber Heard: No, I have not.
Was that a choice?
Amber Heard: Yeah, because it's hard when an actor takes on a project that's literally already been done before. It's too hard to identify with that, as opposed to the impression you got from initially reading the script itself in the first place. I didn't want to emulate it subconsciously, so I preferred not to see it. I hope we did a better job.
What's the dialogue been like with Dylan in playing the pervo parts?
Amber Heard: Yeah, it's kinda nice, kinda kinky. (Laughs) Dylan Walsh is an amazing actor. He's very creepy. I mean, I don't know where the character stops and he starts. I can't tell. He's very committed to his role and he kinda walks around as the character.
Was there any particular aspect to the script that struck you for this?
Amber Heard: I think it's more of a drama, or more of an art-form in the sense that this is so based in reality. I play the girl next door, sweet, innocent, I'm wearing a hot pink top and flat shoes and a pony tail. Michael and I have a really innocent, cute relationship. I don't know how accurate that is with 16 year-olds. I don't know if it was when you were 16, but it wasn't so much for me. He (J.S. Cardone) created this picturesque family that eats together, sure, they have their discrepancies with being divorced. I think it's neat that the writer created this picturesque little world, this happy little family that gets interrupted and perverted by this psychopath. It made it more dramatic, as opposed for him stepping into to a really dysfunctional family.
How long has your character been with Penn's character, Michael? Was it way before he was sent off to military school?
Amber Heard: Yeah. That was important for Penn and I to establish in the back story, for our characters to have a really long-running relationship with each other. The girl next door, childhood sweetheart. You really get the feeling that Kelly is a really strong aspect of the family, as opposed to Kelly just being the girl he's dating. Therefore, when the family is dismantled, it's a little bit more heartbreaking. They really love each other. We've changed a lot of the scenes around to make them more sentimental and to empathize more on the back story that we have with them. It's a little more powerful what happens at the end. So, apparently we've been together forever.
What was the scariest film that you've ever seen?
Amber Heard: There was this documentary called Jesus Camp.
(Laughter) OK, what was the scariest horror film that you've ever seen?
Amber Heard: I'm thinking in my head... I don't know, I liked The Sixth Sense, but that's more thriller, and it tapped into more of a psychological fear rather than an adrenaline-based physical fear. When you're running from your alter-ego or subconscious, that's a little more interesting than when you're running from a killer with a knife. But hey, I like the genre more every time I see anything in it.
Have you seen Pineapple Express yet? We've heard really good things.
Amber Heard: No, I haven't. I'm hoping to see it this week. I saw the red-band trailer.
Yeah, they just released a new trailer, a regular trailer.
Amber Heard: Oh, they did? Because the one I saw was amazing. The one I saw was fucking hilarious.
Are you in the scene we're about to see now?
Amber Heard: I think so, yes I am. It's where Dylan Walsh he kinda snaps and he's going after Sela Ward and he finds her in the bathroom and she stabs him in the neck. He is chasing her through the house and she reunites with myself and Michael. He just kind of catches us and we're just trying to escape up into the attic, at this point, where the rest of it will go.
She then went upstairs to get ready to film the scene we were about to see... and not long after that, our little circle of reporters started to diminish. There were no more interviews to be done and they were still setting up the next shot, so our little herd of journalists was thinning. By the time they were ready to film the scene, it was just yours truly and one other reporter, whose name and affiliation escapes me at this time (sorry, man). The publicist Andy came by again and, since there were just the two of us, we were led back up to the room that it was too crowded for, which was dubbed the "Video Village" because of the bank of monitors the director Nelson McCormick and others were watching from. Ground zero, where all the magic happens, so to speak.
When they started filming the scene, it was pretty much how Amber Heard described it. The scene starts with Sela Ward staggering in a haze of confusion and fright into a hallway where she's met by Penn Badgley and Amber Heard and they all hug for a second... until Dylan Walsh makes his entrance, with aforementioned shard of mirror glass protruding from his fake neck. Penn steps into action trying to defend his family and then quickly pulls down the attic door and leads Sela and Amber up the stairs while he goes after Dylan with an end table. Then he tries to rush up the attic himself, with Dylan giving chase, only for Penn to kick him off and close up the attic door. "CUT!"
The "Video Village" starts to get more populated with various people and the actors taking a look at the fresh footage. At one point, Nelson McCormick thinks there's an awkward silence during part of that exchange, where Penn says "Let us go!" and there is nothing said from Dylan. A trillion lines went racing through my head, but I figured I should keep my mouth shut so my first set visit wasn't my last. After flipping through the script for awhile, McCormick finds a line that he thinks would fit well in that beat. He calls Dylan Walsh in the room and he comes in, with the fake neck and glass sticking out of it and a knife in hand. They discuss the new line and go back to try it again. "ACTION!"
The scene goes exactly like it did before, until Penn says, "Let us go!" Dylan creepily replies, "That would be sloppy of me." The rest of the scene plays out in carbon-copy fashion and, "CUT!" It's so odd how just one line can add so much to a scene, as it worked perfectly. The "Video Village" was flooded once again with cast and crew and, when they started to bring in a big cooling duct to cool down the immense amount of machinery in there, Andy ushered the mystery reporter (sorry again) and I out of the room. It was almost 4 PM, and they were almost about to wrap for lunch and the mystery reporter decided to stay for lunch, which Andy said we could, but I elected to take off. It was a Friday, after all (which was surely a factor in the early exits of my colleagues) and I figured it'd be wise to leave now, with Friday traffic and all, so I could get back to my place in Hollywood sometime before last call (that's a joke... kinda). I shook hands with Andy and the other reporter and made my way out of the lot and back into the concrete jungle of the world outside the lot. It was quite the experience, my friends, and I wish you could've been there with me.
Well, that's all from me, folks. The Stepfather should wrap sometime in April and we'll keep our eyes out for any other information coming from this movie. Peace in. Gallagher out!