Between his turns as
“Star Trek: The Next Generation”s Captain Jean-Luc Picard,
“X-Men”s Professor X, and his tremendous
Twitter account, Patrick Stewart is
a widely beloved star with a playful yet prestigious persona. But the English
thespian who got his start doing Shakespeare loves to mix things up, whether
that means playing a sanctimonious yet silly anchorman on the comedy series
“Blunt Talk,” or portraying a merciless and murderous white
supremacist in the critically heralded horror film “Green Room.”
Saulnier’s much-anticipated follow-up to “Blue Ruin,” “Green
Room” follows a little-known punk band (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe
Cole and Callum Turner) through the darkest night of their lives. After their
set at a neo-Nazi night club, they stumble across a murder in the titular
space. As outsiders and witnesses, they can’t be allowed to leave. And so the
club’s manager (“Blue Ruin”s Macon Blair) calls in the club’s owner,
and the skinheads’ leader, Darcy (Stewart). What follows is a game of cat and
mouse that has had critics and film festival audiences from Cannes to Sundance
screaming with terror.
With “Green Room”
expanding nationwide after an impressive limited run, Stewart spoke to
Indiewire from an undisclosed set (more on that later) over the phone to discuss
what drew him to this twisted tale, how he sunk into the skin of its vicious
villain, and why exactly he was dressed in drag last week.
Congratulations on being totally terrifying in
Thank you. I’m delighted
that’s how you regarded me. That’s exactly how you were meant to feel.
What attracted you to the script?
The script. I mean, that’s
my answer. What attracted me to the script was the script, because it was all I knew. I’ll tell you what happened.
This is literally how this whole project came about for me. The script arrived
as an e-mail. I have a policy that most
scripts arrive as e-mails these days. If I think its something that’s probably
not going to interest me, I just read it on the screen. I don’t like reading off the screen, but I do it
because I don’t like to waste paper. If I think something is going to be very
interesting. I print it out, and that’s what I did with “Green Room.”
I printed it up. And one evening I sat down in my house in Oxfordshire to read
Now my house, it’s right in
the middle of a very beautiful area, but kind of stands all alone. There’s
woods around and so forth. And 30 pages into the script thereabouts, I closed
the script. And I went all around my house, checking the doors and windows to
make sure they were locked. I put on the perimeter lights on my property, all
the way around, which I don’t usually do. And I set the alarm mode to
“stay.” And then I poured myself a large glass of whiskey. And then I
went back to reading the script.
Within 30 or 35 pages, the
script had so unsettled me, made me nervous and apprehensive, that any
little noise in my house – because it’s an old house – set me on edge. That’s what the script had done to me.
And of course as I read on, that
unease grew into feelings much, much stronger. And by the time I finished it. I
was very excited by the cleverness of the script and by the way that it dealt
with what is a fairly classic – not to say conventional – situation in movies of
this kind, which is the growing sense
that something really bad is going to happen. And then it does.
Part of what I found so effective and scary in
“Green Room,” is how it breaks from a lot of horror today, where
violence is anticipated with music or something. Instead, the violence is
abrupt and graphic. We see it when the characters do. Was that sort of shock
apparent in the script?
Oh, yeah. You turn a page,
not knowing what’s going to happen on that new page. And suddenly, you’re in a
world of unspeakable violence and
pain and of terror. And I’ve never read a script that had such a profound
effect on me. When I think of other movies that I’d compare it to, John Boorman’s
great movie “Deliverance” came to my mind actually while I was
reading this, as well as Hitchcock’s great movie “Pyscho” with
Anthony Perkins. (They have) the same sense of growing horror, but not to do with zombies, or “Walking
Dead,” or vampires or any of that shit,
but real people, recognizable people. People you’d pass
in the street and never look twice at.
But in the case of those two films and
“Green Room,” (these are) people you quickly realize you cannot reason with. You can’t say, “Let’s
sit down and have a cup of tea and talk this over.” You can’t resolve it.
No! They are not accessible to that
kind of approach. So, as the band learn, their only option – their only option! – is to counteract
horrendous violence with horrendous violence.
Your character Darcy, he seems like a very composed,
very rational guy. But his pragmatism is absolutely ruthless.
Yes, and that was the
principal thing about the character that interests me. I had that feeling when
I first read it. That here is somebody who is not going to get emotional. He’s
not going to get angry or upset. Oh, yeah, he hammered poor Macon Blair’s head
against the wall once, which wasn’t very nice, but then he apologizes for it!
There’s so much about him
that seems reasonable and anxious to do the best thing, wanting to
help these kids out, wanting to get them away so they can get on with their
tour and their lives. But of course, all that is a façade. As indeed is the
electrical repair business he apparently has, because it says so on the side of
his truck that he shows up in.
Besides the political aspect to his life, and
the music venue that he runs, and the income from the bar and charging all
these skinheads for the music and so forth, his real concern, his real
anxiety is about what’s under the floor, as we discover in the movie. And I can’t talk about that because it would
be a spoiler. So, he has profoundly
important reasons for determining that these fine young people cannot walk away
from the venue.
You did a lot of research on white supremacist groups
for the part. How did it inform your performance?
thing about research is that it fills out those areas of ignorance. It doesn’t necessarily directly impact what you do
on camera, but it gives substance to
what you do. I think actors do it because it brings authenticity to what
they’re doing. The one thing that really intrigued me when I began looking into
this was to discover the heartland of
the American white supremacy movement is in fact in the Pacific Northwest,
which is historically known as one of the most
liberal corners of the United States, Oregon, Washington the state and
Is that part of why the film shot in Oregon?
think it was, yeah. I think Jeremy wanted to locate the movie in that landscape. And that landscape
was authentic by the way, those buildings in the story, they were there. Whether they’d been an old barn
or an old industrial building, who knows? They were just way up in this mountain, in the forest, and very little was done
(in the way of set dressing). (The production team) would decorate a little
with swastikas on the walls and such. The buildings, the loneliness, the
isolation, and very deep in the forest (was real).
You’ve described Jeremy’s directing style as directing the edit. Can you
expand on that?
This was something that I
came to realize the longer I worked with him. He was so specific about what he wanted, the tone of a scene, even the emphasis of a line, exactly where the
camera should be, where the actor should be relationship to the camera.
to think that Jeremy Saulnier already
had a cut version of the movie running in his head. He knew exactly how it would be when it left the
editing room. And that’s an interesting way for a director to work. There have
been others who have worked like that. But his didacticism and determination to get something exactly the way he wanted it, I think made an
enormous difference in this because he is able to regulate the way the tension and the terror builds as the movie
How I pulled the look
together? I didn’t! It was pulled together by brilliant designers and make-up
people and hair people. They made me look so gorgeous. It really had nothing to
do with me at all. It was the first time I’d ever done it though. You know
British actors love getting into drag and women’s clothes, they do it all the
time. It’s part of our tradition, the dames in pantomime, you know? But it had
never happened to me.
I had never worn high heels in my life before.
I had never had long, sexy hair and huge eyelashes. And I have to admit that I
got a great deal of fun out of it. I
was dressed like that for three whole days. This was last week, by the way. I
wrapped the second season of “Blunt Talk,” and got on a plane and
came down here to Louisiana to start my next project.
Did you have any input on a fashion icon you’d like to look like or anything?
There is a reason why Walter Blunt gets into drag, and why Harry – played brilliantly by Adrian Scarborough – gets into drag. (Walter and Harry) are going to a fancy dress party, where we hope to meet someone who has some very important information they could give us. But there are other people at the party who don’t like us, so we have to be unrecognizable. And it was my manservant Harry’s idea that we should go as women. Also, secretly he’d always wanted to dress as a woman.
But we could be unrecognizable – and indeed I think were – when we were in outfits like that. Because (Walter and Harry) knew very well a movie director of pornography, he had all the stuff we needed. So it was relatively simple and straightforward to get into that.
And I have to tell you, I enjoyed those three days immensely. My feet didn’t. I was actually looking at my feet this morning. The blisters and the holes in my feet are now just beginning to heal from wearing four-inch high heels.
Was that the biggest takeaway from dressing as a woman for three days?
It definitely was, yes.
What are you working on?
I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.
We are all sworn to secrecy. It’s a
big studio movie, but we’re not allowed to talk about it. Even to give you the
“Green Room” opens nationwide today.