Into ’The Cabin in the Woods’ with Kristen Connolly & Fran Kranz
Come next week, "The Cabin in the Woods" is all anyone will be talking about. The film, that opened this week to mostly positive reviews (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), turns the complacent horror genre on its ear with a combination of sly satire, visceral violence, and an absolutely fearless aim towards providing the definitive statement on the formulas, archetypes, and process behind our favorite scary movies. Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written by cult hero Joss Whedon ("Serenity," and the upcoming "Avengers" on screen; "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on television), "Cabin" is a film so fresh and surprising that I hesitate to outline even the broadest of plot details.
But I will say that much of the fun comes from actors Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz, who inhabit the eternal archetypes of ’the virgin’ and ’the fool’ in Goddard’s debut film. As perhaps the two most prominently featured actors of the film, the two had undeniable chemistry; they have a friendly rapport that made this interview almost as entertaining as the movie. There won’t be spoilers in this talk, but for once, I promise it’s worth it: because "The Cabin in the Woods" is the rare film that doesn’t adhere to a studio formula, and these surprises are far too grand to ruin.
Converted into 3D?
EDGE: So this film has been a long time coming. It’s been on the shelf a few years, and if I remember correctly it was converted into 3-D at one point.
Fran Kranz: I guess so! I don’t really know the whole story.
Kristen Connolly: We’d hear little things from Joss and Drew but we weren’t really involved...
Fran Kranz: We’re definitely not behind the scenes. We all heard about the 3-D thing, but I think this movie ended up in the right place, with the right people. Lion’s Gate gets it. The poster alone is so different than the first poster I saw - the movie is where it’s belongs.
Kristen Connolly: Plus, if you’ve seen the movie you know it’s not all action. So who wants to watch that in 3-D? It’s silly.
EDGE: Exactly, the movies not a straight genre film, it’s a lot more than that. So, when you first read the script, did that blow your mind?
Fran Kranz: I hadn’t gotten the offer when I got the script. I’m not sure, some of the other actors didn’t get the script until they got the offer.
[Kristen points at herself and mouths ’me’]
But for me I got the script, and still had an audition left to do, I think. I read once for a casting director, and then again for Drew, then I got the script, then I went in for Drew and Joss. Meanwhile I was working with Joss, so all the waiting and the anticipation... it was like the elephant in the room on the "Dollhouse" set. It was like, "Please God, give me the part."
And Joss came up to me one day and said "You did a really awesome job with your read; and we want you to read for Drew." And then I read the script - and it was painful! Because it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read. And I realized what a major opportunity I had. So the idea of not getting the part was so scary; I’d never get over it. I was a mess. But it worked out!
Working with Drew Goddard
EDGE: You mention Drew Goddard, who made his directing debut with this film. What was he like, was it like working with a kid in a candy store?
Fran Kranz: You would never know he’s a first time director because he has such an encyclopedic knowledge of horror, and of film in general - he just knew what he wanted. Which is the most important thing. It was never a question of experience with him. He had it, he loved it. That was inspiring, to be around people who cared.
EDGE: SO he surely made you watch a lot of movies for preparation beforehand.
Fran Kranz: Yeah. I wish I had the full list, because he gave us a LOT. But it was like, "The Descent," "The Evil Dead," "Evil Dead II" - I’m not sure he had "Army of Darkness" on there but we watched it anyway - "Halloween," maybe "Friday the 13th."
Kristen Connolly: The first one, it was. Or maybe I just watched that myself.
Fran Kranz: But he gave Kristen and I "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." And I thought it was a great idea, to highlight friendship in the face of adversity. But "Evil Dead" - we had to watch it. "Cabin" takes so much from "Evil Dead" -
Kristen Connolly: Hell, our DP shot it!
Fran Kranz: Yeah, our Director of Photography shot it. But when I watched it, I was like, "Oh my God." I hadn’t seen it before, and it’s the exact same cabin. I was like, "what are we doing?"
Kristen Connolly: It’s such a weird movie. With the evil raping tree. That tree... is upsetting.
A great genre
EDGE: And does this stuff actually help your performance or is it just fun to go through all these great films?
Fran Kranz: It was fun just to see them, to get into that mindset... and there’s this great history of horror films. It’s a great genre; it’s a part of film. So to get pumped up about what we were doing, about our place in horror... because I think "Cabin" is unlike any other horror movie, it’s sort of raising the bar, I think it kind of transcends the genre. It’s all over the place. So to go back and see classics right before the shoot was really inspiring.
EDGE: Drew’s direction certainly did impress me. I notice he went for mostly practical effects over CGI; how does that change the dynamic on set?
Fran Kranz: There were a lot of people walking around in insane costumes. A lot of that. The lunch tables were bizarre. There’s like a photo, somewhere, and it’s crazy - you’re like "what the hell is this movie about??"
And there was some CGI, not a lot, but that was kind of fun too. Because I had never really worked with that technology, and there’s a lot of new things to learn: there’s the balls, the green screen guys -
Kristen Connolly: There was about a million of those guys.
Fran Kranz: But there were these silver balls they use to register 3 dimensions of space - and this is way over my head...
Kristen Connolly: But there were also moments when Drew would just point at us and be like, "and.... Pretend it’s shaking!"
Fran Kranz: [Laughs]. Yeah, but for the most part it was the real costumes. And I think that stuff plays better.
Played as real people
EDGE: And we obviously have to talk about Joss Whedon, who is primed to have his biggest year ever between this and "The Avengers."
Kristen Connolly: In a way I’m glad I didn’t know the whole breadth of his work [when I auditioned], because I’d have been really really nervous. I knew of "Buffy" and that stuff, so I knew some of it. But it was a blessing to not know of all of it, because I’m sure I would’ve panicked and failed at the audition.
EDGE: Especially when he’s asking you to play these big meta-commentaries on archetypes that are hundreds of years old.
Fran Kranz: I was saying earlier, I was trying to articulate it... Drew encouraged us to play [the roles] as real people. He didn’t want us to get caught up on archetypes or stock characters or anything. He wanted us to play them as real people, and to love each other, and play the situations honestly. That the rest of the work is in the script, is in the story. But I felt with my character, that I could be a bit broader - because he is kind of the fifth wheel, everyone else is coupled off. So I felt I could enjoy the character a bit more, and be a bit bigger than the other characters.
EDGE: The minutia of this script is pretty insane; there are tiny details and easter eggs everywhere.
Fran Kranz: It’s funny because the story goes that they wrote it in a weekend in a hotel. Two floors: one of them up top, and one below, and they got it done, cranked it out. But you’re right, this world is so complete - I don’t think they ever stopped working on it. They embraced the challenge, constantly - they went with it. It was tough on production - I believe we were over-schedule and over-budget - but yeah, it was so ambitious in scope, but I think they followed through with it. It would be easy to cut corners, but they didn’t.
Kristen Connolly: There’s so much stuff in there, it’ll be so fun for people to go back and watch it again.
Fran Kranz: The art direction and props, everyone did such an amazing job. It’s such a good script, I can’t say that enough, and they found the right crew. I can’t talk about it a lot, but the last 20 pages of that script... [shooting it was] a dream come true.
Kristen Connolly: SO much fun.
Fran Kranz: Just as a movie fan in general, I felt like we were making something no one had ever seen. Getting on that set was so inspiring, and so special. I know it’s a cheesy answer, but every day was special.
"The Cabin in the Woods" is currently in theaters.
Watch the trailer to The Cabin in the Woods: