jeremy saulnier interview

Green Room is like your previous films, Blue Ruin and Murder Party, in that the characters are often incompetent, which leads to both tragedy and comedy. They can’t survive in the ways that most normal movie characters can.

In Murder Party, they’re certainly a bunch of goofballs and I was making fun of them. In Blue Ruin, Dwight is certainly an inept protagonist, but he’s not stupid. He’s just inept. And tragically so. So it’s heartbreaking and these moments of comedy arrive naturally out of situations. In Green Room too. The band members are not idiots. They’re just real people. When you see a wrap-up of real life news stories or incidents where there are humans trapped in pressure cooker environment or things go wrong where there’s chaos, people behave in very stupid ways. We’re used to having our cinematic selves, the characters we watch, having some kind of skill set. They take some kind of leap and evolve so rapidly to our traditional heroes or heroines. We’re used to that. But when you just let people be people, it’s a flailing clusterfuck. That’s really kind of exciting, not only can you be more truthful, but there is more comedy and there is more tragedy. There’s a deep sense of relatability when you see yourself on screen as an audience member. It doubles the impact when you put the characters through the wringer. I definitely have a thing for putting characters way out of their depths and watching them flail. [Laughs.]

The characters we love and the characters we hate suffer such incredible violence in this movie. How do you find that fine line between being shocking and upsetting while also pleasing the midnight audiences who are going to gasp and cheer every horrible moment?

In Green Room, the gasps are real. People are sort of white-knuckled watching this movie. That’s what I love. The involuntary response their bodies create. It’s pretty hard to do, to make people actually terrified. It’s about making the characters relatable. It’s about breaking a few rules, not just to break them, but to keep things off-balance. Let people know that they’re not going where they’re supposed to go. You go where the characters take you, which is terrifying because these people have no fucking idea what they’re doing. As for the violence, because there’s so much brutality in Green Room, and there’s some full-frontal gore, it can be perceived as sensational. But the way I treat it, if you look and scrutinize every moment, it’s very reverent. It’s about these characters. It’s about these kids, these band members, transition into killers. It’s a gut-punch every step of the way. I make it hurt. It’s important that when you see someone die in a movie, for me, there’s some kind of reason behind it, whether it be motivated by a character or serving a definitive narrative purpose. It’s never just for entertainment, but the overall effect is to entertain.

There’s nothing sadistic in Green Room. There’s brutal indifference and self-preservation, but there is only one act of unmotivated violence and that’s what sets off the whole film and sets the whole plot into motion. Everything else is brutal, pragmatic, and reluctant. If anyone could just erase what happened that night, they would. They would all just go home quietly and resume their own pursuits. This is about a clash. This is about a war. It’s more responsible and more impactful when we show these kids becoming killers. There is a full-frontal shot of that happening and it is, without fail, the most shocking moment in the movie. But it’s also quiet and reverent and disgusting. If you watch it two times, you’ll notice there are no gratuitous close-ups when there’s a death. We definitely have a little fun with make-up and the non-fatal wounds though. I have certain rules and I break them. I don’t let them govern me. But I tend towards that deep respect for characters. When life it lost, the impact must be felt. Otherwise, the characters weren’t there and the actors weren’t doing their jobs.

Speaking of actors, we have to talk about Patrick Stewart. How’d he get involved in this? It’s not the kind of role we normally see him taking on.

The thing about someone like Patrick Stewart is…when you’re doing an independent, punk rock genre flick, Patrick Stewart has to choose you. [Laughs.] He got involved because he was looking for something fun, something adventurous, to shake things up a bit. It just so happened that he had just joined the same management company that I was part of. The name got tossed around and after the initial barrier of “Wait, Professor X? Seriously? That wouldn’t work!” I started to get text messages with photos of him with this beard and not in his normal superhero get-up. The thing about Patrick is that he has such a long career, but he’s known popularly as a couple of these characters in science fiction franchises. He was excited about doing something different.

Anyway, he got his hands on the script, really responded and was deeply affected by the tension. This was late in the game. We were in deep shit, actually. We were trying to cast the movie and he just swooped in and saved the day and lent his support and his craft and his dedication to the film. He was just a huge asset. Also, once he was on board, everything clicked into gear. We had reached a new level of legitimacy. Not that we were all worshipping his star power. We were just excited that he was interested he just kind of melted into the cast and crew. It was really exciting. We just had another great actor who was really invested in his role join the ensemble. I was expecting something different and I was very much comforted by his presence. We had a rapid-fire ramp-up to establishing this character. He basically signed on the week before we shot him, so he was on a plane to Portland from England [very quickly]. His first day on set, we shot his big finale. We had to work backwards with his character, establishing his character from act three and backtrack to act one and his big intro. He really classed up our otherwise sleazy movie. [Laughs.]

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