EXCL: Michael Stahl-David Talks Cloverfield Experience

ON

The lead actor of Paramount’s upcoming monster flick!

Like the rest of the world, Chicago-born actor Michael Stahl-David was introduced to J.J. Abrams’ furtive disaster movie Cloverfield wearing imaginary blindfold. “Man, I had no idea what this movie was going to be. I thought it was something I was going to be completely embarrassed of,” he confesses to us with a laugh.

In director Matt Reeves’ return to feature filmmaking (after 1996’s so-cute-it’s-sickening The Pallbearer, starring David Schwimmer), Stahl-David plays Rob Hawkins, a 20-something prepping for a big move to Japan. And as Cloverfield‘s trailers have shown us, a going away party for ol’ Rob at the beginning of the movie is rudely interrupted by the introduction of something huge, something “alive” and something that essentially bends Manhattan over and gives it the ass-reaming of the century. Stahl-David is joined by co-stars Mike Vogel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’03), Odette Yustman and Lizzy Caplan; altogether, their respective characters careen through the city trying to avoid its latest monstrous resident and the Army in an attempt to find a friend. This dangerous journey is all told through a hand-held video camera.

“They didn’t even tell us about the cinema vérité thing,” Stahl-David recalls of his audition experience. The script sides he received when he went in required him to pretend he was filming a love interest. “I remember going into the audition and I brought a video camera with me because it made me feel shy and meek to be hiding behind this camera. That was a way into the character for me. I didn’t get that nervous about it because I didn’t know what [the script] was. When you know the story before the audition, you’re like, ‘Oh I’d do anything to be in this movie!’ and that can put a lot of pressure on you. For this, I was like, ‘Whatever.'”

That apathy immediately changed once he signed on board and a complete screenplay was presented, however. With Reeves leading his troupe into the thick of Cloverfield‘s giant monster melee, filming began in the former half of ’07 in Los Angeles and, later, in New York. “It felt like we were on a search for truth together,” the actors says commenting on the film’s natural slant and the wiggle room for improvisation that opened up as a result during principal photography. “[Reeves] wasn’t going to make me do something I didn’t feel was real. If there was something on the script I didn’t feel quite like it would happen in that moment, we wouldn’t do it. I would say something else, do something else. It wasn’t about trying to be clever and come up with your own stuff. It’s not a very talky movie, it was more about questioning what would you do in this situation? What would I do?”

“I think in some ways it’s as much a survival movie as it is about the monster,” he continues. “The monster is definitely the problem, but you’re seeing it the way we would, we don’t pan back and watch it perfectly. It is going to be exciting. It is contemporary film vocabulary – this kind of first-hand account, something that could’ve been on YouTube or something. Someone just holds up the camera and starts filming, there are probably other accounts, [our footage is] just the one the government happens to find.”

Cloverfield‘s challenges on set arrived, Stahl-David says, when he was asked to react to a creature that would later be added via CGI. He was privy to the beast’s guise through early conceptual renderings, still, “Shooting that stuff was not easy. Honestly, the camera work helped sell the [monster stuff] ’cause the camera’s going crazy too. I was always trying to get specifics about what the special effects were going to be. When I saw the teaser [trailer], you see me look down the street and I see something way in the distance coming. I was like, ‘You know, I don’t really buy that. That’s not how I’d react to something that far away.’ You just try to get something specific about what they were going to put in there.”

Did the palpable public hype nearly suffocating the film make him feel like he was a part of something extraordinary? “We were speculating [ourselves] and wondering what the hell were we doing. We had never seen anything like this, it was weird and that made us uncomfortable at first,” he says. “Then when we started filming and working with Matt – seeing he was open to us, then seeing the teaser, it gave us a boost from that. The style of what we were doing, seeing how the vision was being executed and how it was going to be cool and different and also the reaction we got from the public was exciting. It was the fruits of brave marketing.”

Cloverfield opens on January 18th. For our full interview with director Matt Reeves, click here!

Source: Ryan Rotten