The Caller, starring Rachelle Lefevre and Stephen Moyer, is set to be released in the USA on August 26th. This supernatural thriller was written by Sergio Casci, whom I interviewed previously and you can read the article here.
Director of The Caller, Matthew Parkhill, calls me on Skype from his London home that he shares with his partner Rachel Shelley (The L-Word) and their daughter.
Matthew grew up in Leigh-On-Sea in east Essex, not too far from where Stephen Moyer spent his childhood. They had never met before The Caller, but used to hang out in a lot of the same pubs in their younger years. “Being both from Essex gave us a connection, right at the beginning of the process, it gave us a short hand”, Matthew says about Stephen. “I felt at ease and relaxed around him. We know a lot of the same people, he went to drama school with several friends of Rachel’s and mine.”
Matthew studied history at Cambridge University and later moved to Paris for a Ph.D while teaching at the same time. But what do you do when you’re young and living in Paris? You write a novel.
His debut novel And I Loved Them Madly was published in the UK in 1995, the book is based on his experiences working in a USA summer camp for the mentally challenged. A film company optioned the book and Matthew was subsequently asked to write the screenplay. “I didn’t know anything about screenwriting and I tried to convince them not to hire me.” He ended up writing the script any way; it was well received and the door for Matthew’s career in the film industry had been opened. He directed several short films for which he had written the screenplay, commercials and in 2003 his first feature film, Dot the I.
“I’ve always loved movies, but growing up I didn’t know anyone who worked in the film world and I never had that understanding that you could make a living with making movies. I was a teacher for four years before I started writing full time. When I decided I wanted to try directing, the thing that scared me the most was telling my friends, because I was afraid they would say: “WTF do you know about directing?” I remember thinking: if I don’t try it, I know that I’m going to become an old man and I’m going to be bitter because I’ve never tried it. I didn’t mind trying and failing it, but I was scared of not trying and that’s how it started.”
For Matthew the beauty of writing is going from project to project and immersing himself in the material and making a story out of it. At the moment he is working on a project about the 2012 London Olympics. Other recent projects include a feature script for Mickey Rourke about the life of gay Welsh rugby icon, Gareth Thomas and Killing An Arab, a political thriller about the 1956 Suez crisis.
“It’s very hard to get a film made, especially an independent film. I don’t want to whine because I have a very lucky life and I am very grateful, but within any job where you are self-employed you don’t know where the next paycheck is coming from and nothing is sure in the film industry. The Caller for example, was an incredible experience but we had so many ups and downs in that movie that I thought it would disappear and collapse.”
The Caller was shown at several film festivals. How was it received by the public?
“So far it has been received really well. We finished it in December because we had a long post-production period. It was shown at four or five festivals and some more dates will be announced soon. We’ve got a fantastic review on Screen International magazine, which is very important because a lot of people from the industry read that.
With movies you can never tell what people will like, all you can do is make something that you are proud of and I am very proud of The Caller for very many reasons. I don’t go online that much to look at reviews but Sergio [Sergio Casci the screenwriter of The Caller] keeps sending them to me, which is really cool! So far it’s been very successful.”
Matthew gives me the scoop that The Caller has been sold out worldwide. To Sony for the USA, Universal for the UK, Village Roadshow for Australia and many, many more. Theatre release in the USA is on August 26 and the DVD in October,for the UK a September cinema release and a DVD date yet to be announced. So we can expect many more announcements of release dates (theater and DVD) from Asia to South-America in the near future.
What attracted you Sergio’s script that made you decide to take on this project?
“I’m not interested in movies where people go around killing people, that is not my thing. Sergio’s script stood out to me because it was very smart and intelligent, it was full of fantastic surprises and it kept me on the edge of my seat. But it had also an emotional journey for the character and roles that the actors could really sink their teeth into, especially Rachelle’s role, which you don’t always get in genre movies.”
With the exception of The Caller, you wrote the screenplays of all the projects you directed. How is it different to work with someone else’s screenplay?
“The truth is that I prefer it, I find it easier in the sense that with my own stuff I am so close to it that I can’t always tell what works or what doesn’t work. With someone else’s screenplay I have more distance. I found directing The Caller easier than directing my first movie [Dot The I], partly because I have more experience, but also because I was able to have a bit of emotional distance from it.”
The Caller stars 3 actors who played vampire roles: Rachelle Lefevre in Twilight and Stephen Moyer and Ed Quinn in True Blood (Ed played the role of Stan in season 2).
Matthew assures me that it’s pure coincidence.
“It looks like really cleaver marketing: True Blood meets Twilight. But it isn’t, I wish I were that smart.
We were casting and I got word that Moyer was interested. Originally he was interested in the role of the ex-husband. I remember thinking that he would be much more interesting in the role of the boyfriend John Guidi, because he has this dark baggage from True Blood you would expect him to play the ex-husband.” During a telephone conversation both Matthew and Stephen agreed that the boyfriend would be the better part for him.
Considering the type of roles Stephen has played in the past, the role of the abusive ex-husband would fit him well, but I am glad he took on the part of John Guidi, so we get to see yet another side of his talent.
“Ed came in and read for the part and I really liked him”, Matthew continues telling about the casting. “Rachelle stepped in at the last moment. It wasn’t as planned as it looks like. I couldn’t be happier now because they are amazing together, particularly Rachelle and Moyer have such amazing chemistry. There is a love scene in the movie that I am very proud of as a director. Together Rachelle and Stephen take the movie to a much more psychological place than it originally would have been and they lifted it to a higher level. I really got lucky. They had never met each other before. Rachelle arrived on the second day and went straight into filming and they started scenes together. We were rehearsing blocking a scene and I remember that I had one line in my head that had to be said a certain way and Moyer said it in a different way. I saw them working together and stepped back and watched them work. That is a director’s dream: when you have actors coming together and bringing the script to a deeper, stronger place, that is heaven for a director.”
How much freedom do you give your actors? Can you sit back and just let them do their job?
“I am better at it than I was. A lot of first time directors have the feeling that they have to be in control. But the more confident you get as a director, the more you can step back and the more you can allow good people to do good work. Part of the job is to get people on board with the same vision, but giving them space to do their best work. One of the reasons I feel stronger as a director now than I used to, is because I have the confidence to step back.”
How do you know you found the right actor for the part?
“For me it’s just a gut feeling. I can’t always explain it; I have a feeling in my head, more than an image. With Rachelle’s character Mary originally I thought she was much more vulnerable. Because Rachelle is such a strong person and actress I thought maybe it wouldn’t work here, because the character needs to be vulnerable. But when the part became hers I realized that I was wrong, because the vulnerability is now played beneath the surface, it’s all behind the eyes and that makes it a much more interesting performance than when you have an actor who is more openly vulnerable. You have to go with your gut but also be open to question your gut.”
Have you ever made a colossal mistake in casting? Matthew looks away and thinks before confirming with a single “Yes” that he has.
But this is not the case with the casting of Rachelle and Stephen. “You can see in the photos of the movie that they look amazing together and she is such a distinct beauty. With them as actors I feel that we got lucky.”
What kind of an actor is Stephen to work with?
“He is a very easy actor to work with actually. He is very professional; he thinks things through and makes his decisions before coming to the set. On a technical level he is obviously amazing because he’s got a lot of stuff. When your actors have a strong feeling about something you should always listen to them because a lot of the times they are right. Good actors have good instincts. Moyer makes his choices; he follows his instincts and is very professional about it. He comes in and does his thing. He just hits it straight away.”
Clip of The Caller shown at Jimmy Fallon Live
What was the biggest challenge for you in this project?
“Practicalities. We had a very limited schedule, only 23 days, which is not a lot of time to shoot a movie. We had a small budget, 2 million dollars, which has its own challenges. We had a lot of challenges. The set was built in a warehouse that wasn’t a sound studio and it got very hot in there during the day. On a creative level it was an incredible experience, but on a practical level it was tough because of the limited amount of time that we had and other problems we ran into. It was a real challenge, for me this was the biggest struggle I had ever had making a movie, but it is the thing I am most proud off.”
The movie was originally set in New York and moved to Puerto Rico for practical reasons. Because of the location and because most of the crew was Puerto Rican it gave the movie a more distinct identity.
Rachelle and Stephen haven’t seen The Caller yet. Matthew tried to set up a private screening for them earlier this year in Los Angeles, but it didn’t work out. “We’ll sit down sometime and see it and I’ll throw popcorn at them. A lot of the reviews talk about their great performances and they are happy about that and they should be. I am proud that they will be proud.”
How do you make a scary movie scary?
“It depends on the movie. What I liked about this movie is that it is kind of more old school; it’s not about chopping people’s heads off, but it’s about atmosphere. Roman Polanski said: “fear is in an atmosphere that you create.” Like in Rosemary’s Baby. Atmosphere is all about what you don’t see and it’s a lot about sounds as well. If you see The Grudge without the sound, it’s not half as scary. For me it’s about creating a certain tension and atmosphere. An example about what you don’t see is that we had these amazing corpses made in London and they were flown to Puerto Rico in a suitcase. In the movie you only see them for a couple of seconds and that way the image stays in your mind a lot longer than when you see them longer. The more you see something, the less scary it becomes. Look at the movie Paranormal Activity, apart from the ending you don’t see anything at all, it’s all in the imagination and a lot of the scariness in a movie comes from that.
It all comes back to the script, The Caller is more a supernatural or psychological thriller than horror, it has horror elements like old school movies that creep up to you, building the atmosphere, it’s more that kind of movie rather than people running around screaming chopping each other’s head off.”
From all the different movie genres, I think sound is the most important in thrillers and horror movies. How did you approach sound for The Caller?
“It’s hard to tell where the score starts and the sounds end, the line is quite blurred. There are a lot of background sounds like babies crying through the walls, footsteps in the apartment above, a bumblebee in a jar, the sound of a telephone dial and a nursery rhyme played backwards. Even if you’re not aware of them there are always weird and uncomfortable sounds going on which add to the creepiness.
A good score is important to a movie, but if you overuse it, you can kill it. There are a couple of scenes in this movie where originally I wanted no score at all. During the editing process the composer came up with a score and I thought it was really interesting and we added it, although in the beginning I was determined to have no score in the scene.”
Can we expect The Caller 2 The Sequel?
“Sergio has come up with some ideas for The Caller 2, so who knows…”
“Mmmm”, Matthew takes a few seconds to think it over. “In the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep: yes.” And phone calls from the past? “No, but it makes a great movie”.
Matthew turns his webcam so I can see the desk where he keeps the original phone from The Caller. His partner Rachel is not so thrilled with it and commented “There is no way we’re having that in the house”, when he brought it home with him.
If you watched the L-Word you will know Rachel as the uber sexy Helena Peabody who got it on with several other female characters on the show. I tell Matthew that I totally could see his lady on True Blood, she’d be fantastic as Pam’s lesbian vampire lover. Matthew will bring it up to her over their salmon dinner that she is preparing in the kitchen while we are talking.
Are you a True Blood fan?
“I am very behind, I still have to catch up on season 3. Don’t tell Stephen that or he’ll never talk to me again.”
Would you like to write or direct an episode for True Blood?
“I would love to. Alan Ball is a hero of mine. I would jump at the chance to work with him, I think he is incredibly talented and I really love his work. Six Feet Under is my favorite TV show of all time.”
Would you like to write a scene for Bill or for Eric?
“I can only answer that question one way, can I?” Matthew answers smiling. “What do you expect me to say? Eric of course! No, Bill all the way! Team Bill! Go Bill! I am Team Bill, you know that. He is the original. The first time I saw Moyer in True Blood, he really just blew me away and this was before he was involved in The Caller. So definitely Team Bill.”
The Caller will be shown at the Frightfest in London at 6.00 pm Saturday 27th and 11.00 am Monday 29th August (followed by a Q&A with Matthew Parkhill).
For more info visit the website of the festival.
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