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SXSW Interview: The Stars of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, Jesse Williams, Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchinson

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Kristen Connolly, Jesse Williams and Anna Hutchinson star in wickedly fun new horror film, The Cabin in the Woods.

From the minds of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the film (also starring Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) is about 5 friends who, on their college break, travel to a remote, yes, cabin in the woods. Once they get there, well, bad things start to happen. Really, really bad things.

Jesse graduated from Temple University started out as a high school teacher in Philadelphia. From there, he moved to New York City and began acting where he appeared in off-Broadway shows and films like, Brooklyn’s Finest and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. He’s can currently a series regular on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.

Kristen went to the Yale School of Drama and as soon as she graduated, she booked guest star roles on television shows Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Life on Mars and Nurse Jackie and recurring roles on soaps Guiding Light and As the World Turns. She was also in both several productions at Shakespeare in the Park in 2011 and then starred as ‘Cordelia’ in King Lear opposite Sam Waterston and Kelli O’Hara at The New York Public Theater last fall.

Anna is a hugely popular young actor from New Zealand and has appeared in several Disney Channel shows here in the US.

The three are great in the film and even if you aren’t a fan of horror – like me – I promise you’ll really get a kick out of the film. I talked to them at this years SXSW festival about their first auditions for the film, the stage combat class they had to take and geeking out with Joss on Shakespeare.

When you guys first heard about the film, did you know how complex the script was when you were auditioning for your parts?

Jesse Williams: Our sides, the audition sides were totally fake.

Kristen Connolly: None of them were in the movie.

Jesse Williams: There’s no script.  They are not in the movie.  I think Joss wrote them to fuck with us. Because they are such good writers, they can make stuff up in two seconds and have us jump around like animals to get the part. I didn’t read the script until after I agreed to do the movie, I don’t think.

Kristen Connolly: Yeah, they sent me the script I think in between, like, they offered me the role but I hadn’t read it.  I had an inkling of what they were up to because I read one of the later scenes in the movie with Fran [Kranz].  He was already cast and so I read the scene with him I guess to see how, if we were able to…

Jesse Williams: If you would make a lovely couple.

Kristen Connolly: Yeah, yeah, spoiler alert! But yeah, so then I finally got to read the script and I knew it was really special right away.  It’s just mind blowing and it’s amazing. It’s awesome and rare to read something that makes you really want to keep reading, and that you really don’t know where it’s going to go. So it was awesome.

Anna Hutchinson: You kind of have a bit of a blind faith if there’s a project with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard because their previous things have been so rad. You’re kind of like “I think this might be awesome” and you guys didn’t have much of an idea going into the film, right, but you kind of knew that it might be good, and it is.  They have done cool stuff before and I think that that’s kind of why I was just like, ‘Heck yeah, get me on this bad boy without even reading it.

How difficult was it for you guys not to sort of head towards the path of over-acting?

Kristen Connolly: I think we just played it as truly as we could.  The characters don’t know that they are in a horror movie, unlike some of the spoofs like Scary Movie, it is like really winking at the camera. That’s not the movie that we were making. So I think what Joss and Drew really did very well with us was to keep us fully invested in the characters and in the world and in the circumstances as they were happening, just taking it as the reality. And I think that it really paid off in the way that our scenes sort of juxtaposed with Bradley [Whitford] and Richard [Jenkins]’s stuff.

Jesse Williams: Yeah, it really didn’t cross my mind to be honest, ever, with the performance about coming off spoofy and I really didn’t see any similarities. I mean, I anticipated that that will be, you know, if we were doing a movie that was about baseball, some of you are going to ask questions about MoneyBall or whatever is of the time, right?  So it’s totally appropriate and I understand it, but in the process of rehearsing and developing and spending time with each other, it was able to really feel organic. 

We were five people who were brought together to go on a trip so we came together on a trip. So we came together and did that together and we shot it fairly chronologically and I think it was important that, it certainly was to our benefit that we didn’t spend time with Richard and Bradley.  We didn’t go to the control room.  We left that be a faceless kind of ominous effect on us. We don’t’ have relationships with them. It was nice to have. We’re responding to the moment when the air gets blown out of the vent in the room.  We’re not responding to knowing that there’s an all seeing eye or anything like that.  We really tried to play it as organic as possible so therefore, there was nothing to spoof. 

What was interesting was watching each other change.  So I’m changing not by my own devices but I’m watching these guys change.  So do I notice to what degree they are changing because I’m also being changed.  When she says, “We should do that,” is that her doing that or is that odd?  Is it out of character. So yes, we got to kind of stay out of the spoof territory, I think.

So, the blood. How messy is that?  I mean you’ve got to keep the blood on from take after take?

Kristen Connolly: It’s very sticky. It’s very specific, like they take loads of pictures because of the continuity, you know, you can’t watch the movie and it’s like “oh, she has a cut here and then the next time it’s over there.”  So it’s really…

Jesse Williams: Right, and it’s dry, it’s darker, it’s pink.  It’s staining you, it’s not staining you.  You’re outside, we’re in the woods. You get leaves and crap on. I mean, we really are in the woods of Vancouver. It really is 4 a.m. and it really has been raining for the last 17 days. Yeah, if so rain alone doesn’t make you depressed, having the shit beaten out of you for three months will.

Kristen Connolly: But also, you know, it’s like if the wound is fresh, it looks different than it does if 20 minutes have passed.  So, there are all different kinds of things and we have such amazing make up people that did such a great job with it all.

How’s the physical aspect of the acting process?  I mean, the Yale School of Drama doesn’t necessarily train you for being beaten up by a zombie.

Kristen Connolly: Well, we had a workshop in zombie fighting. No, we didn’t. [laughs] Yeah, we didn’t but we did a stage combat class which was pretty cool. So I learned to like fire a gun and to wrestle and all of that stuff.  It was wonderful.  It was so much fun.  It was so physical.  It was exhausting at times and it was hard at times but it’s so much better I think than coming home from work and being like “Well, I sat at a computer all day.”  It’s like, “Well, I wrestled around in the mud with a zombie all day,” that’s pretty awesome. So it was fantastic.

Joss has this stable of actors that he brings back again and again.  Have you guys sort of been angling to be one of the exclusive members of the Joss Whedon Club?

Anna Hutchinson: You know what, I feel lucky enough to just be part of one. And I know there are so many actors out there who would go all of themselves for just like to feature in maybe an ad that he directed or something. So to be in a feature film, we’re pretty lucky.

Jesse Williams: Yeah, it would be great and we’re in one so if he wants us, he knows how to find us. On top of his loyalty to his cast, also the fans’ loyalty to the him and his casts. I think we’re in for a ride that we can or can’t predict what that’s like and Fran’s kind of had a little dose of that coming from Doll House.  So yeah, that’s great.  Anything like that in our business which is just so finicky and turbulent, is welcome.

Anna Hutchinson: Yeah, that’s speaks to how much Joss’ work has touched people and how much it means to his fans that they are so loyal and that they are so supportive of him and of all the people that he works with so it’s pretty awesome.

You all have theatre backgrounds, is that something that you guys talked about at all or did it help you?

Kristen Connolly: Oh yeah, well Joss and I would geek about Shakespeare all the time. I did Shakespeare in the Park in New York last summer it was just an awesome experience. But anytime that it’s  a Shakespeare thing, I always think of Joss because he loves it.  He is so smart and he is so knowledgeable about all of it and he’s a person whose brain I’d like to pick, like “What did you think about that?  What did you think about that role and that line, what do you think?”

Jesse Williams: I saw Fran who is doing theater, speaking of theatre in New York right now, and he did Much Ado and talking that experience and it sounds like it was really outstanding. Joss is such a student of the process as much as he is a creator so no matter what he touches, he certainly treats it with reverence.  So that’s something that is really a treat for actors.

With the long gap in time when you guys finished shooting until when it was released,  were you guys anxious that it might never get released? It seems like a project that I think when people heard about it, they were like, “Why is this not getting released?”

Jesse Williams: Yeah, there’s confusion. It really was. I couldn’t imagine it just being on the shelf. It’s too unique for that. It’s not like anything else so people are going to see it. But we always knew that it wasn’t about the material. It’s about just the structure of the business and that’s corporate entities dealing with each other, it doesn’t have anything to do with creative.

Anna Hutchinson: So what you can really do is, I find as an actor, is just be awesome on the day, have an amazing time, do what your director wants from you and stuff like that. Because, once you’re wrapped, anything could happen, which stuff did happen.

Kristen Connolly: Yeah, it really did work out perfectly and it’s perfect that the film is at Lionsgate and it’s perfect that it premiered at South by Southwest and even if there was a wait, I think it was well worth it. I mean just this weekend was amazing.

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