A Thanksgiving meal is one good way to define the eclectic cast of Dimension Films’ Grindhouse – the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino-directed double-feature. While we’ll leave it to you to decide who’s the stuffing, the turkey and the pumpkin pie, check out this hearty rundown: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Marley Shelton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, Naveen Andrews, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms and Sydney Tamiia Poitier.
ShockTillYouDrop.com caught up exclusively with three members of the Grindhouse crew – Jordan Ladd and Zoe Bell of Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” and Josh Brolin of Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” – to reflect on their respective roles, talk candidly about their careers and working with two powerhouse directors.
Jordan Ladd never forgets a face. She makes this quite clear at the beginning of our interview remembering when this writer and the petite, genial actress (daughter of “Charlie’s Angel” Cheryl Ladd) had crossed paths while out promoting Eli Roth’s 2003 hit Cabin Fever in which she was the film’s face-peeled publicity picture pet. A victim of superficial friendships that corrode when a flesh-eating virus whittle away at her group. In “Proof,” she’s Shanna (that’s “Shanna Banana” in case you need help in pronunciation) just one of the girls who falls under the voyeuristic gaze of Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike.
Ryan Rotten: From “Fever’ to “Club Dread” and “Madhouse” and now this, you don’t mind the genre so much, do you?
Jordan Ladd: I’ve become a convert, I feel all of the talent director-wise is showing up in that genre now. I think they give more freedom to actors who get chances to do these kinds of movies. Since working in the genre I’ve found an affection for it that I didn’t know was even there.
RR: Plus you’re working with collaborators who are allotted a certain amount of freedom that many crave.
Ladd: The thing about working initially with Eli is [“Cabin Fever”] was as low budget as it gets without being illegal and we might have been illegal just to make it happen. Then he was afforded the freedom after that to make what he wanted to make because he had proven himself. Tarantino makes his own rules, he’s his own boss. To be able to fulfill one’s own vision, especially these days, so many people go into the decision-making process that it becomes unpure and nobody has a real gut reaction to anything. Quentin really makes movies with his guts and instincts.
RR: What kind of terminology did he use to explain what “Death Proof” is? Did he describe it as a slasher picture?
Ladd: He didn’t speak “genre” with us, he showed us [Richard Compton’s] “Macon County Line” which is a really interesting movie because it takes so many different turns you don’t expect. Also, the brothers [Alan and Jesse Vint] in the movie give such realistic great performances that are very grounded and not very campy or poorly acted. That was why he showed us that because he wanted us to maintain relationships in the realm of reality. That was helpful, plus that dialogue sings and it’s otherworldly in a way, I almost wish I sounded like that
RR: There is a powerful feminine connection that acts as the glue in “Death Proof.” At the screening I attended, I think every woman in the audience was grinning ear-to-ear eating up Quentin’s dialogue. I’m sitting there wondering: Is this what women talk about when the men are away?
Ladd: That’s been extraordinary doing these junkets and interviews. Not having seen the movie yet, but hearing that we get every woman walking in cheering for us. Quentin has said women are saying thank you for making a female empowerment movie. One guy today, said, “I saw the movie last night with my girlfriend and she said that it was unrealistic.” Well, you’re friend might be one kind of woman but at this stage in my life, being single and independent and calling my own shots, making my own rules and drinking my own shots, buying my own shots, in terms of that, it’s astute on Quentin’s own part to write women very well.
RR: He’s an incredible observer
Ladd: And an impeccable listener. You’re having drinks with him and you can’t remember sh*t, and you have these long conversations and then a month later he brings it up to you. And you’re like, “When did I say that?” “Oh, over drinks at such and such ” It’s like a he’s got a tape recorder in his head. He’s got so many women friends, too. I felt like he really captured how we talk about men – at this particular age, too, late-20s, early-30s – we’ve been beaten up a little bit. We’ve had break-ups and things like that. You are calling your own shots and your girlfriends are your support, your guy friends are your support team, your friends are your support team. I’ve never seen material that represented young women so well, at that particular age. One day I had been giving myself a hard time about my legs and the short shorts I wear in the movie. I’m not big on “the working out” and I was panicking about wearing the shorts – I don’t want “old lady” hanging on my thighs. Quentin says, “Whoa, you’re not an old lady.” And I’m like, “I’m Hollywood old” and he said, “No, I think women only start getting interesting at your age.” I felt so appreciated to hear a man say that, especially a man who has seen every hot piece of ass there is. It’s cool and the women he’s chosen I worked really close with – these girls are ballsy and such individuals, they inspired me as well. I went into the film one person and I left a fuller person, creatively and as a woman.
RR: Then you went directly into your role in “Hostel: Part II.”
Ladd: That’s what I’d call a palette-cleanser, just to get rid of Shanna.
RR: Did you notice any remarkable change, creatively, in Eli since his “Cabin Fever” days?
Ladd: He’s still the same Eli. It was interesting because there was a time where both of our lives changed after “Cabin Fever.” It has been remarkable to have been his buddy from then on and to see him go from a one-man band and just believing so much in his own project without a lot of support to making number one movies and having fanatics. He takes it in stride and I’m just it’s not my place to be proud of him, but I am. When we were working together on “Death Proof,” he couldn’t have been more supportive of me and doing this role.
RR: What about him? He’s a non-actor yet he quite convincing in “Death Proof.”
Ladd: Oh, he’s a schticker. He’s an actor. Quentin’s the best director in the world because he can see Eli knows the beats, gets the jokes and understands where to go. But, Eli will take it somewhere. He’d take it from hammy and hysterical to hysterical because he’s one of those guys who is one thing with the girls and talking sh*t with the guys. This will be, with [the faux trailer] Thanksgiving, our third time appearing on screen together.
RR: Let’s talk about shooting Thanksgiving, briefly. That was an on-the-fly production while you were off shooting “Hostel”?
Ladd: Oh yeah, fast and fun. We got everyone without an accent to do it. I mean, that’s the way Eli wants to make movies, that’s the way Quentin wants to make movies, that’s the way I dreamt of making movies. I read that book “Easy Riders and Raging Bulls,” I mean pre-“Jaws” – that’s the business I wanted to be in, working on my friends movies, doing this favor here and there and being part of a creative community.
RR: You had some significant downtime over the last few years. Is that just because you’ve been choosy about your roles?
Ladd: Yes, I had some downtime, I didn’t work for a while between “Waiting” and this movie. I was really losing faith in the business and my place in the business. That’s really tough on young women.
RR: It’s also encouraged that you continue to stay in the limelight, continue working even if it’s roles you’re not keen on.
Ladd: Right, and some people jump ship on you, truly. I went through some personal problems, I didn’t go to rehab or anything chic like that but I had a break-up and got divorced and it took a lot more out of me than I expected. I didn’t have the confidence and I thought, “My God, should I start at an entry-level position in this business?” All I know is movies, I went to school, but movies are my reference point for everything. I figured I’d have to P.A. or intern in the art department. Because the filmmaking process is so many people creating to make one piece of magic, so I’ve always wanted to be involved. With the acting, I doubted it. The roles for women my age are just not there and the ones that are, everybody is a fighting b*tch for that. To get a script like “Death Proof” and to get cast in it just affirmed that I want to do character work, that’s where my heart is. Maybe I will get to it again, maybe I won’t, but it’s what I like to do is play something a little outside of myself. This solidified the desire certainly for me.
New Zealand stunt gal Zoe Bell made her mark in the Tarantino universe in both volumes of “Kill Bill” playing Uma Thurman’s double. So enamored by his experience with Bell, Tarantino wrote her into “Death Proof” as herself. In the film, Bell plays, er, Zoe Bell, a Kiwi stunt woman in America jonesin’ to get her ass behind the wheel of a fine American muscle car.
Like Ladd, Bell knows how to set the tone for a comfortable interview. Her hotel room is the sweetest smelling one this writer has stepped into. A mixture of lit scented candles flickering on the coffee and side table. Fruit and bottled water nearby. Bell has slipped out of the dress she was wearing all day during the roundtable interviews and into something that, presumably, fits her tomboyish nature: a tank-top and sweat pants.
Ryan Rotten: This project had to have been incredibly daunting – switching sides and working right alongside actresses who have been at the game forever.
Zoe Bell: Definitely, it was one of those things like Christmas where you’re a young kid. That has been the whole experience for me. I had a lot of emotional ups and downs, like, when Quentin was showing me some of the audition tapes and he showed Tracie [Thoms’]. There was panic – I’m gonna be acting opposite really incredible actors! Professionals who know what they’re doing. I freaked out, there were definitely moments of that.
RR: But you had a safety net, so to speak. You’re surrounded by friends.
ZB: Exactly, and as it turns out I was surrounded by people who were really gifted and talented and supportive. People who happily gave me comments and feedback.
RR: So, you get the script for “Death Proof” and it reads Mickey Rourke [since replaced by Kurt Russell] and Zoe Bell on the cover what was your reaction?
ZB: My initial response was, “Oh my God! My name’s on the cover!” I thought it was a joke and I showed by brother, mom and dad. I was in shock, I was not expecting that. I couldn’t believe Quentin trusted me. When I finally read the script it was the first time I did it for the dialogue. Normally, I would just go through and look at the action sequences. It was interesting this way because, at first, I saw it as a bunch of girls talking and then a cool action sequence, my brain couldn’t picture it as a movie.
RR: Because he’s writing for you, were there are any parts of the script that didn’t ring true to you?
ZB: Minor, minor pieces. Like words I’d use or, as it was in the script, mom was spelled “M-o-m” and I was like, I know you don’t want me to say “Mom”, I say “mum.”
RR: How much prep did it take for the final chase?
ZB: Mechanics were working on those cars for a while, so I know it was a long process. It terms of the choreography and all that stuff, there was a week where I got on the car for a couple of days going 23 miles per hour, getting a feel for it, what I can do for the wire work and basically testing out to make sure the rig we were using was sufficient. In terms of the choreography, it organically sorta happened while we were shooting because there’s one thing to do it in a car park with your vehicles and then having to do it on a country road with the two cars, the camera car and then the camera operator and Quentin watching. You’ve got the elements altogether and two are now one – you’ve got the stunt woman as the actress. There was a lot of discovering as we went.
RR: Can you appreciate a brawny muscle car from time to time?
ZB: I can, but I hate to disappoint people out there. I appreciate a car for the practical purposes of getting me from A to B. It’s one of the things that Quentin is most disappointed about me. That, and I don’t know sh*t about movies. It was funny because he’d tell me, “Okay, in this film, you’re you but you’re perfect.” And I didn’t know what that meant! “You’re all of you and you’ve got a passion for cars and movies!” That’s the God complex coming out in a director.
One thing to be said about Dimension Films: It’s a studio loyal to its actors. Josh Brolin’s relationship with the “the genre house Bob Weinstein built” with Nightwatch in 1997. That same year he co-starred alongside Mira Sorvino and some giant cockroaches in Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic. Now he’s Doc Block (“His prescription pain!”) in “Planet Terror.” But Brolin’s career traces back farther than the late-’90s beginning with, yes, The Goonies, and continuing through to the offbeat comedy Flirting with Disaster (from Miramax), Hollow Man for Paul Verhoeven and last year’s The Dead Girl.
Like his father, James Brolin, he doesn’t mind taking on a horror film or two. In fact, he’s a big fan (as you’ll see in this interview) and we began our talk sharing our mutual affinity for his father’s film The Car – the 1977 “Jaws on wheels” thriller that’s ripe for a remake. “This is me just riffing with you, now,” younger Brolin says to us. “But wouldn’t it be cool if I played my father’s part in a remake?” Yes. Yes, it would. We tell him that Universal is considering a redux. A big excited grin crosses his face. Now on to business
Ryan Rotten: “Planet Terror” is a kooky endeavor to sign up for, don’t you think?
Josh Brolin: I love all material as long as it’s good and I don’t say that pretentiously. I don’t think you should limit yourself, I’d love to do a comedy next. I’ve done a few comedies in the past, a few serious dramas. Now it would be fun to do a Will Ferrell film, ice skating or something like that. The horror genre is a great, even though I don’t know if I’d say “Planet Terror” is complete horror because you’ve got the zombie thing, a mix of exploitation, the sexploitation, it’s in homage of these movies that were so low budget and didn’t have the greatest actors necessarily. Quentin would take us to his house and show us these films like “Zombie” and “Cat in the Brain,” it was fun.
RR: Robert is a multi-tasker on set wearing a variety of hats from director of photography to editor to director, how does that affect you as an actor?
JB: It actually gives you great confidence because he’s done his homework to such an extent that he basically knows what he’s going to do so securely. He’s got such confidence of himself as a filmmaker, and knowing the audience embraces his films, it allows him to be more collaborative. He’s so open to collaboration because his motivation is what’s going to tell the best story instead of, “Look at what I did because it was all me.” I don’t think that’s his motive at all, I can’t say that for other directors who don’t delegate because of their ego. There’s something about him starting that way and staying that way that allows him to keep his ego in check as opposed to the opposite.
RR: And his approach to filmmaking is rubbing off on Quentin, too. “Death Proof” is the first film Quentin has acted as a cinematographer himself.
JB: I know, Robert convinced him to that and Quentin came really close to shooting his film digitally. Right at the last moment, he decided not to because he loved film so much.
RR: Is Doc Block’s gradual corrosion the heaviest makeup bit you’ve ever done?
JB: I think there was another movie, but I’m not even sure what. On this, we had 4 ½ hours from KNB EFX – Greg Nicotero who, to me, is just the genius of all geniuses of makeup prosthetics. It was 2 ½ hours for the first stage of makeup 4 ½ for the second stage. A two-piece process, I was doing another movie and I only had a mustache so they had to put a goatee on me. Some type of wig so it looked like my hair was coming out, melting and all of that. Tubes underneath that so the blood could come out and the blisters pulsated. It was great.
RR: Are audiences ready for a double-feature like this?
JB: Sure, you have two movies that you can watch in the cinematic time that you would watch one movie that was out there. Plus, you have these fictitious trailers in between and what I think will happen is the one or two people who attached themselves to one of those trailers will make a movie out of them. It’s going to create this strangely surreal snowball effect. These “horror” films are so much more interesting to me than the modern horror film because, to me, the modern horror film is terrifying as opposed to horror being what it was which was more fun, tongue-in-cheek, you get scared but you can also laugh at it, there was more splintering reactions as opposed to one terrifying reaction.
RR: Your father has done his share of horror
JB: And my mom was a huge horror buff. I saw too many of these movies too early in my life, like “I Spit on Your Grave.” “Maniac,” I saw a lot of movies like that. So I have a great reference for those movies and I actually like them because back then they were truly scary, but in retrospect just because where prosthetic technology was back then, it was kinda funny, like the exploding head like Scanners.
Grindhouse hits theaters April 6th.