James Gunn, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion sit down to talk about the horror flick
There's horror and then there's comedy horror. Two separate genre's, yet they all seem to blend together. Well, the new film, Slither is definitely in the comedy horror genre. The basic plot is an alien asteroid crashed into a small mid-west town, it infects one guy (Michael Rooker). He then goes on a killer rampage trying to infect the rest of the people who live there.
I was lucky enough to be invited by Universal to the premiere of the film in Los Angeles; afterwards, we attended the after-party where we all got to mingle with the stars of the film, and some of their special guests, like Eli Roth and Joss Whedon.
The next day, we were treated to a whole panel of the cast and crew, including writer and director James Gunn, Elizabeth Banks, Nathan Fillion, Gregg Henry, and Michael Rooker. It was kind of a fun atmosphere, however when you asked one person a question, they all started answering the question. Each one kind of gave their own spin on what they thought.
To split up what they said wouldn't make sense, and it's just really fun to read. You can tell we only got in a few questions, so here's the transcript from the cast and crew of Slither:
James, how much fun was it to sort of create your own set of rules?
Nathan Fillion: And then break them.
James Gunn: I had to map out the whole biology of the creature, which I did pretty early on - but I still think it's something that only I understand. You guys made fun of me on the set all the time, because I'm like 'No you can't do that because the guy doesn't think that, because he doesn't have that knowledge, because he's got this guy's brain, doesn't have this guy's brain, and you don't know da, da, da, da.' And you're like, 'This only makes sense to you.'
Elizabeth Banks: He gave me an entire exposition line in the car about the disease is conscious or has a consciousness, or has the conscience.
And I couldn't figure out what the...
James Gunn: You said it!
Elizabeth Banks: But I still don't think it makes any sense to me.
James Gunn: I know, every time I see that line I'm going 'I should have cut that!'
Elizabeth Banks: The minute she goes 'It's from up there.' I'm like, 'That's good!'
(Michael Rooker came in the room late)
Michael Rooker: Ok, we can begin now; I have arrived
James Gunn: I like the scene in the car because it's really funny and it's like it's an exposition scene which is actually really fun to watch. Then Nathan says his things about they're all part of one deal, and I'm like 'Stop it there. Stop it there. Why do I keep going?' Then you say that line and you're so dramatic about it.
Elizabeth Banks: No! I'm like I don't believe a word I'm saying. I don't even know what I'm saying!
James Gunn: If you'd stop giggling. I mean, right after she says a line she starts giggling.
Elizabeth Banks: That entire car scene, we were all like, 'This is getting cut.'
James Gunn: That was you!
Elizabeth Banks: It's not going to be in the movie!
James Gunn: That's because you didn't have any funny lines in it! Those guys didn't want it cut!
Gregg Henry: That was great that it didn't get cut.
Elizabeth Banks: I mean the bathroom stuff with his mom and that was all; we improvised that.
James Gunn: The beginning part I wrote the night before because my wife
(Jenna Fischer - Pam, from NBC's The Office) who plays Shelby, that role was supposed to be played by a man who backed out on us two days before shooting to go do this TV pilot. My wife fortunately was in town and I'm like 'Thank G-d,' because we'd already shot a bunch of his sides of the conversation with Shelby which fortunately could be a man or a woman. So I rewrote the scenes to fit my wife, to fit a woman; one of the scenes was 'It's what you've done in there last night that caused a back up.' And then he went from there and took his own little thing talking about trying to explain it away.
Michael Rooker: Well, you know that's true you know; that happens all the time with the trees and the roots getting in there.
Nathan Fillion: To you?
Michael Rooker: You know I've had to Roto-Rooter the hell out my pipes. I've got a 1927 home and my pipes get stuck all the time.
James Gunn: Mine do too after every time you visit me. What are you eating?
Michael Rooker: You have a septic too?
Can you talk about some of the influences that went into this because there's obviously packed with references.
James Gunn: Yeah, I mean well, the biggest influence, single influence would be (David) Cronenberg, who I grew up with, loving his movies. One of the things I like about Cronenberg is his movies aren't always scary, but they're creepy as hell. So I just wanted to bring some of that creepiness back. Then movies like The Fly are actually quite humorous, and the characters are great in the playing. And Jeff Goldblum, I mean I think he deserved an academy award for Brundlefly. So it's Cronenberg and then all those movies of the eighties: Re-animator, and Basket Case, all Frank Henenlotters films, which I'm a big fan of and I think he's an undervalued guy. John Carpenter's The Thing was a huge, huge influence.
Michael Rooker: If you love it enough, you can't give it up. You know, give up that love buddy, you'll be fine. You'd be able to take over the world, eat everybody, impregnate everybody and make the other people your slaves. So they're all dead and gone and you move on to another planet right? But no, no, I've gotta love. Jeez! That was definitely the through line. When I read it I thought - you know what? This is really a wonderful love story. If you know anything about my career, you know this is as close as I'm ever f*cking going to get to having a love story.
Nathan Fillion: You kiss two girls! Nobody gets to kiss a girl in the movie except for you!
Michael Rooker: I know! I kiss two and I don't even kill them! Well, I kill one. I don't really kill her. She splits, right. It's not my fault.
James Gunn: Rooker would come to me with these notes on the page and he'd be like 'This is beautiful, this is beautiful,' he says and 'She gives birth in a manger, just like Mary.'
Michael Rooker: What, I grew up Baptist, ok? All of the sudden there's cows and there's -well they're dead - but there's cows and sheep and all these and they're gutted and everything and I have this image, there's hay, and wow, she's like in a little manger. She's giving birth you know. She's giving birth, to the new human race. It was wonderful... Did you get it?
James Gunn: Oh yeah, totally; I did. One of the weird things when you talk about how I wrote the script - a lot of the script, I switched back and forth from these guys' point of view (Banks, Fillion and Henry), to seeing it from his point of view (Rooker). So part of the time during the script I think of him as the hero because to me he's just doing what he needs to do and you kind of f*ck him over. So it's like you're the hardest hearted person.
Gregg Henry: Bitch is hardcore.
Michael Rooker: She's a country music song. I mean, it's always the woman, you know; it's always her fault.
James Gunn: Yeah, if it's survival of the fittest, you're the fittest.
Elizabeth Banks: That's it!
How was getting into make-up every morning and what was like staying in that the entire day?
Michael Rooker: Well I didn't have to do it every morning; they gave me a break. They really scheduled it quite well, I was very pleased by that. There were some times when I got in about four hours, five hours before any of these other schmucks even cracked an eyelid. You know I'm there literally in the middle of the night, it's 3am and I'm coming in there and I sit down and we're working for five hours before anybody else gets on set. It could be rough, and you can't sleep either cause I snore and stuff and Masters would go like this (lifts his chin up), and I'd go 'Oh, was I a sleep?' 'Yeah, you were asleep. Stop talking. you're going to break the seal.' But we had varying levels of make-up and some of them weren't so bad. Taking it off ended up being the worst part cause if you go too fast you'll rip your skin off, and if you go too slow you're like 'come on, I want to get the hell out of here!'
James Gunn: He put up with a lot of pain; I mean the guy is amazing. He's truly amazing because not too many people would have put up with what he had to put up with; he really deserves props.
Elizabeth Banks: Very impressive professionalism.
Michael Rooker: It was a little bit painful at times, you know but it wasn't. Well, it was; ok, I mean my neck hurt a little bit.
James Gunn: You've still got a bump on your shoulder.
Michael Rooker: My shoulder was dislocated because I had to hold the arm back all day long. When I swing the prosthetic arm around, I swung my shoulder out of place. One time I went so hard that I heard a crack and I broke my shoulder.
James Gunn: He worked for another four hours after that, and he never told me until the other night!
The film is full of really great one-liners and really great moments like that that people will be quoting for years. How much of that is improv and how much is in the script?
Nathan Fillion: Whatever you liked and thought was the funniest, those were mine.
James Gunn: And I wrote them for him. You know, most of the lines are scripted but there is quite a bit of improv. Then there is quite a bit of stuff that we would do back and forth on set. We would yell lines. Nathan and I did this a lot where we would yell lines back and forth. I'd say, 'Say this!' and then he'd say that. In fact, when he's looking at the monster getting attacked and he goes 'That is some f*cked up sh*t,' you can hear me two seconds before hand saying that because it was something we had thought up. So we would do what was scripted, and then we would kind of throw out a bunch of other ideas. 'Looks like something that fell off my d*ck during the war,' I told that actor to say that like five minutes before we were shooting. He didn't have a line in the movie either so he was really happy!
Elizabeth Banks: A lot of it is also that you get there and suddenly you have a visual, you have a situation, you just have a lot more information. You can discover something fun to say.
James Gunn: 'That's some f*cked up sh*t' actually came from seeing that tubby guy in there -
Elizabeth Banks: With his ass hanging out!
James Gunn: With his ass hanging out, rubbing his body into the thing.
Elizabeth Banks: He was the inspiration for the line.
Gregg Henry: Almost all of my lines were written.
Michael Rooker: And you have some great lines.
Gregg Henry: I have some great lines, and they were all scripted; that was James.
Elizabeth Banks: James Gunn - funny man.
When you watched this with an audience were you surprised by the reactions? Did you think everything worked the way you wanted it to?
James Gunn: I was happy with the reactions - I'm always afraid of screenings like last night. We screened the movie last week for horror movie fans in Chicago and it played very well, but it's always scarier going into a screening like last night because there are a lot of industry people there - and a lot of guys like you folks, frankly - who watch it and enjoy it, but you're also watching and saying, 'How is this movie good? How is this movie bad? How am I going to write about this?' And then you have directors there, who may have something to prove and may not. And then you have a lot of industry people coming, people's agents and managers and all these people who would probably much rather be seeing Capote. But I was very pleased with the way it played last night.
Michael Rooker: I thought it was great, man. I think we forced you guys to stop thinking about those thoughts and maybe just be grooving on the situation up there on the screen, because I heard a lot of hoots and hollers and screams and laughter. I saw some eye covering.
Nathan Fillion: My mom.
James Gunn: I got to sit behind Nathan's mom, and she was hilarious. All I did was watch her the whole time. She was so scared; I was so afraid.
Nathan Fillion: Me too! I thought she was going to drop dead from a heart attack. She wasn't feeling well earlier in the day, she was feeling light headed, so every time something scary was coming up I would squeeze her hand and say, 'OK, here comes blood. Something's going to drop down and fall in front of her face.' And then actually, I got scared. One time I jumped, and I felt like an ass, because it was during one of my scenes.
Michael Rooker: What did you jump at?
Nathan Fillion: At the deer.
Michael Rooker: That's what I jumped at! You know what it reminds me of? Throw Mama From the Train, where he smacks the guy with the frying pan. I saw it fifty times, I get there, I know it's coming, and then smack! - and I pee my pants.
James Gunn: I am so sick of this movie being compared to Throw Mama From the Train.
Nathan Fillion: People laughed at all the right spots. If anything, they laughed over a lot of jokes.
Elizabeth Banks: We lost a lot of laugh lines.
Nathan Fillion: But that will bring them back.
James, how did your experience with Troma affect how you made this movie?
James Gunn: Lloyd Kaufman, who is the president of Troma Studios, people think of him as a schlockmeister, but he loves what he does. I think the only thing that's kept them alive for 30 years now is the fact that he puts his heart into something, and you may hate it, but there are people out there who obviously like what he does, and it keeps him barely able to scrape by because he loves what he does. He taught me a lot about passion and perseverance and how to just keep going for what I want and following what I believe in. I am really grateful to Lloyd. And Troma gave me a ton of practical - I didn't go to film school, but I was able to work at Troma and make a movie from pre-production to how to location scout to how to cast to how to release a film in the theater, how to deal with the MPAA, how to do all this stuff. It was a very practical education.
Michael Rooker: And you don't learn that in school.
James Gunn: You learn certain things in school, but a lot of that you don't. You don't learn how to deal with the MPAA.
Speaking of that, what was your experience on this film with the MPAA?
James Gunn: My experience was very good, because we didn't have any problems with them. Eli Roth, who's a great friend and a great guy, gave them Hostel right before we gave them this movie, and I'm eternally grateful to him. If you watch the actual amount of gore, we have more, but because we're more surreal, we get away with more.
So does that mean there won't be extra material for the DVD?
James Gunn: We have tons and tons of extra material because I tried to cut Rooker out of the film as much as I possibly could. So we have tons of Rooker.
Michael Rooker: I was gonna butt in and say that all my best stuff is on the DVD (deleted scenes). All my favorite lines that I ended up writing -
James Gunn: That didn't even make it into the extras, my friend!
Elizabeth, out of all the disgusting things you had to put up with in this film, what was the worst?
Elizabeth Banks: Rooker.
Michael Rooker: You set me up for that!
Elizabeth Banks: Honestly, we shot this movie at night, in winter, in Vancouver. It rained all the time and it was freezing, but even still, somehow we were like, 'This is so much fun!' Sometimes you look back at a movie and it kind of sucked, but this was so much fun. It was a great environment to work in, so it didn't matter what was being thrown at me or the KY jelly that was being smeared on me - my main problem, to be honest, is that I had to walk around on that set in bare feet, and the floor was covered in fake glass and blood and splinters. My feet would just be caked with a whole layer of things on the bottom.
Michael Rooker: That was intentional - that was for your protection.
Elizabeth Banks: It did begin to protect my feet after a while.
James Gunn: It just shows you how much it has to do with how pleasant a movie is. You hear people complain about doing movies all the time - well, our movie was extremely physically rigorous, very difficult stuff, and yet it was so pleasant, and it was 100% because of the people. It's these people here who I got lucky with, but also our crew was awesome. Our crew was so committed. We just got lucky with a huge group of people who were inspired. Frankly on most movies you have an actor who is a nice guy, who treats everyone on set like a human being. Then the other actors are like, yeah, the director and the producer and the screenwriter are human beings but everybody else is just an object moving around. On this movie we had all of our stars who 100% treated everybody equally. It just created this tremendous amount of energy. I honestly got really lucky.
Michael Rooker: You know what? I think that what it was that we couldn't go back to our trailers. So we were forced to be nice to everybody, because we were all in the same muck together.
James Gunn: Wait, who else couldn't go back to their trailer?
Elizabeth Banks: I couldn't go back.
Nathan Fillion: It was too far.
Michael Rooker: It was ten miles away!
Nathan Fillion: It also helped that it was freezing and always partly raining, so we were all under these tents with these furnaces blaring, all huddling together for warmth.
James, what's the last time you tried to guess the speed of a bird?
James Gunn: I don't think I ever did. The last time I did was when I wrote that line and I went on the internet and tried to figure out how fast birds actually go.
Nathan Fillion: There's a Dick Cheney joke in there somewhere.
Nathan, you're doing White Noise 2. The first one was a real surprise hit; how are they going to recapture that?
Elizabeth Banks: Well they're going to have Nathan.
Nathan Fillion: Yeah, they have me. You know, I go to work every day and I say, 'How do I save this movie?' With White Noise 2, I'm saying, 'Guys, the name. Let's go with Whiter Noise. Let's go with White Noisier. Still White Noise After All These Years.' What was the question?
Michael Rooker: How are you saving the movie?
Nathan Fillion: Here's the idea - the first movie we were trying to receive messages through detuned televisions from beyond the grave. In this movie, I have a near death experience and it allows me to be the detuned receiver. I can see now the white noise. I don't need a receiver of any kind, and I can see it, but nobody else can. So now I'm all crazy!
So no radios or snowy TVs.
Nathan Fillion: It's there, but I'm the only one who sees it!
Michael Rooker: Nathan Fillion is the transmitter.
Elizabeth Banks: It's still every day objects.
Nathan Fillion: It's still the same thing but I'm the only one seeing it and everybody else is going, 'Cuckoo!' Which adds for tension, tension, tension, drama, tension.
James Gunn: You're going to do well on Mr. Mom 2 as well. Night Shift 2.
Elizabeth, Spider-Man 3, Betty Brant, are you back?
Elizabeth Banks: Yup!
Do you have a bigger part this time?
Elizabeth Banks: You know, I learned my lesson a long time ago that everything can be cut, so I don't know.
Were you aware that Betty was Peter's first girlfriend?
Elizabeth Banks: I am well aware; you should maybe write Sam Raimi a letter and make him aware.
James Gunn: Tell them how you become Venom.
Elizabeth Banks: Exactly.
James Gunn: What, was I not supposed to say that?
Elizabeth Banks: Start spreading the rumors, kids!
Is there a chance for Slither 2?
Gregg Henry: I'd prefer a prequel.
Slither slides into theaters March 31st; it's rated R.