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Interview: Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins of 'The Cabin in the Woods'

Bradley Whitford's favorite horror film? '"The Iron Lady" scared the @$&* out of me ... she's a killing machine ...'

By James Rocchi Apr 6, 2012 11:58AM

Starting as five college students head to a, yes, cabin in the woods. a journey intercut with clean-cut technicians working hard on ... something ... that clearly figures into the five's getaway, "Cabin in the Woods" shouldn't, and can't, be explained much more than that. co-written by Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard, it's a crazy-fun carnival of smart, silly and surprising scares. The film's fun turns make for a cagey interview --  talking with co-stars Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, who play two of those clean-cut technicians behind the scenes, felt almost more like a debriefing than an interview at SXSW last month. You know Whitford best from snappy Aaron Sorkin projects like "The West Wing" and "Studio 60"; Jenkins, Oscar-nominated for "The Visitor," has also lent his presence to films from 'Step Brothers" to "Let Me In." The two actors and gentlemen were good enough to not spill any secrets as they talked about working on the film, how they got roped into its bizarre vision and their favorite horror films.


Was finding this film a circumstance where somebody sent you the script, and you read through it, and discovered its delights page by page? Or did somebody drunkenly or caffeinatedly sit down with you and go, "Alright, there are these kids…?" Was it reading it page by page or was there more a narrative approach?


Bradley Whitford: It was reading it page by page. It was as fully realized as a script could be, and it was clearly the sort of unpasturized vision of a couple of lunatics, which is so rare to read a script that hasn't been storyboarded into submission. It was a very fresh script to read. Pitching, I don't understand pitching. If somebody came to me and said, "We should to a TV show about people who work in the White House," you got to read the script. The idea isn't enough.


Same experience for you, Mr. Jenkins?


Richard Jenkins: Absolutely. It's not something that I was really interested in, horror films, and my agent said she'd read it, and she said, "You should read this." I read it and the next day I said, "I want to do this." It's all in the writing. The writing is brilliant. It's smart. It's written by guys, who know what they're doing. It was cool to be a part of. I didn't know what to expect. Drew had never directed before. I didn't know Joss. Bradley knew Joss a little bit. I didn't. I didn't know either one of them, and God, was it fun. I was just saying, that at this point in my life to be apart of a genre that I never considered ...


That's also a pleasure? I've been referring to your characters as 'The Technocrats.' In the press notes they've been calling that set you're in "Downstairs," but I've been calling it "Dilbert's Inferno" in my head -- you're kind of these short-sleeve-and-tie "Apollo 13" laborers, who nonetheless are working on inhuman cruelty. Mr. Goddard said a lot of that was acquired by his growing up in Los Alamos. How do you prep for something like that?


Jenkins: Well, the hints are there in this script that these guys deal with it. They're working stiffs that happen to have the most important job in the world. I think I always thought, "Yeah, they're dying up there, and we're killing them, but what's the alternative?"


You've got to make a mortgage payment.


Jenkins: You've got to make a mortgage payment ...


How much room is there for messing around, for going off book, for having fun with it?


Whitford: In what I consider to be a very secure way, we're very interested in how we were going to do this, and (director Goddard) wanted us to be comfortable. If you truly believe in that, then you're going to get some verbal spillage. It happens. Its just part of the messy process. The relationship was all there on the page. The humor was all there, but they let us play around.


When the two halves of the film come together, when certain characters ... descended did that change the tone and tenor of the film for you? Did you feel not quite so sealed off?


Jenkins: We didn't see anybody. We were sealed off.


Whitford: Very abstract. We’re, like, meeting these kids is this week.


Jenkins: I only saw Kristen (Connolly) once. We don't know any of these guys. I went out to eat with two or three of them for one night, because our schedules overlapped, but it was all patchwork. To see it, because I couldn't figure out how they we're doing it --you have it in your head like, "Oh yeah, this is going to come here," and then you see exactly where the scene does show up and how exactly they get into the scene.

Whitford: It was abstract, but to see how clearly these guys had structured the story and how kind of tight it was was impressive, for me.


The film is one of those great horror movies about watching horror. What are your individual favorite horror films, or is it a genre that doesn't register for you?


Jenkins: Well, mine are so old; I think they might be sci-fi. I don't really know how you distinguish the category, but I always loved the original "Thing" from Howard Hawks. Funny, smart dialogue. They never shut up. Nobody stopped talking. People talking over each other. Every door they opened, trapped in this big igloo, I just thought it was really great.


And James Arness as the monster.


Jenkins: James Arness, right. It was very terrifying for me. Oh, and "Them." I loved the first five minutes of "Them," with James Arness going through the trailer. That's where the scariest --


And the little girl screaming?


Jenkins: Oh God, that's terrifying in black and white in the desert. Those are the moments I recall


Whitford: "Iron Lady" scared the s**t out of me.


The Margaret Thatcher film?


Whitford: That's a crazy monster.


That's the performance capture monster of the year.


Whitford: Yeah, just talk about horror.


Wigs and latex and teeth.


Whitford: She's a killing machine.


Just ask any Argentinean sailor. Seriously though?


Whitford: I love "The Birds." I love "The Shining." I loved a lot of the Hitchcock stuff.


Is it safe to say that reading the script there had to be a moment of, "Okay how exactly are you going to get that on film?"


Whitford: Oh, yeah.


Jenkins: That’s kind of all it was.


Whitford: It really is amazing to me how these guys pulled this off, because they obviously sort of made it an exercise of "If I can write anything, what would I write?" so they weren't writing to make an inexpensive movie. Part of the joy of the movie is the excess of it. That’s a very tough thing to pull off.


You folks I believe had the pleasure of seeing the film here with an audience, or rather taking a Q & A. How great was it to be there with an audience as they were coming out of the credits?


Whitford: That was great. I always say that rehearsing a play, you feel like the story's right there, but you feel like you're recovering from a stroke. Trying to get back to a place where the story just happens after you take it apart. This, you read the script, you see it very clearly, you start to work on it, and to see it just come together and to have an audience with every moment of it following it is just incredibly exciting.


Jenkins: It's not finished until they see it. That's when it's finished. That's why you do it, to sit there to see in a dark room how they can make it work for twelve hundred people like that. That's an incredibly difficult thing to do. To make a movie that works is so hard, and this movie works.


("Cabin in the Woods" opens April 13th.

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