An Interview with Dylan McDermott
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In The Messengers, a thriller starring Kristen Stewart as Jess, Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller as Jess’ parents Roy and Denise Solomon and John Corbett as field hand John Burwell, the Solomon family has left the fast paced life of Chicago for the secluded world of a North Dakota farm. Amidst the tranquil sway of the farm’s field of sunflowers, Jess, 16, soon realizes how terrifying seclusion can be when she and her brother Ben, 3, begin seeing ominous apparitions invisible to everyone else. When those specters become violent, Jess’ sanity is questioned – a double jeopardy for the tormented teen. Her troublesome past comes face to face with the past of those who once lived in the house, a perilous confrontation that leaves her believability in question with those she desperately tries to warn before it is too late.
Had you seen any Pang Brothers films before going into The Messengers?
Dylan McDermott: Yeah, I had seen the Eye. They sent that when I got the offer and I was really impressed by it. I love that Psychological horror stuff. So I thought they would do an interesting job with this movie. Certainly with Sam Raimi involved I thought it would be a great combination.
How pleased were you that it wasn’t just a remake of another film?
Dylan McDermott: That’s a great question because so much of entertainment in general is derivative and nobody has an original idea anymore. I mean, you know, it still has to do with a haunted house so everything’s derivative to a point. But it was nice that it wasn’t a remake.
What surprised you the most about the differences between the Pangs’ work and work by American directors?
Dylan McDermott: Well I think the horror market is so saturated that I think the Asian directors somehow bring something else to horror that the American audiences haven’t seen. So they’re embraced. But, you know, next year it might be Danish directors.
Did you know how to tell the brothers apart? I understand they’re identical twins.
Dylan McDermott: They’re identical twins but they aren’t “identical.” One wears glasses and the other doesn’t. Sometimes they trade glasses, you know, to trick you. But they have a good sense of humor about it all. We had fun ultimately. I think where they placed the camera and what they call “Pang Vision” really works for this movie.
Have you had any personal experiences with anything supernatural like in The Messengers?
Dylan McDermott: I actually have. I don’t really believe in this shit. But I’ll tell you the truth, in 1999 when I was doing steel magnolias I was driving in the car, it was Louisiana, and a figure jumped in front of the car. Everybody saw it…but nobody talked about it. It was one of those. And then in my house there’s a ghost cat, a white cat that I first saw when I moved in. I never told anyone about it. But then my daughter said, “Dad did you see a white cat in the house?” And I’m a skeptical person and I don’t really believe in this stuff but, you know, the fact that two times it’s happened to me…
Do you have a ghost litterbox?
Dylan McDermott: No, I have a ghost dog to take care of it all.
How was it being way out in the middle of nowhere with the crew? Weren’t you in Regina, Saskatchewan? Did that ever get to you?
Dylan McDermott: Look, making this movie was creepy. It’s a creepy movie. Number one, there’s the crows. I think there were twenty Czech crows and ten of them died. That scene, I think that scene took six months to make overall. They used CG, hand-puppetry and real crows and mixed it all together. Six months for that one particular scene. And there were ghosts wandering around in outfits, you’re in Saskatchewan in the middle of nowhere. The whole setting’s very creepy. You can’t help getting affected by it.
What was the shoot schedule like?
Dylan McDermott: Because were there kids, it was four months.
Did that include Kristen Stewart?
Dylan McDermott: Yeah, it did.
How was it working with her?
Dylan McDermott: I think she’s great. She’s a big star. I think this movie’s going to be very, you know, helpful for her. She’s got a great presence and she’s very soulful.
I understand the script went through a few incarnations. What kind of changes were involved?
Dylan McDermott: I don’t know how many drafts of this thing they had. They brought in writer after writer to try to polish this up and make it better because, you know, you have the story and most horror films don’t have a story. They rely on scares. But because this does have a story, that will separate it from other horror films hopefully. So I think everyone was pressing for the same thing. How do we make this story better? Is there a way to put the family in more jeopardy and to make us more invested in this family to make the scares scarier? Hollywood movies are made this way…they bring in writer after writer to try and make it better. They bring in teams of writers…it’s just, how do we make it better?
Did you get to contribute to any of the rewrites to work on your character?
Dylan McDermott: Oh yeah. I wanted to establish with my daughter, Kristin in the movie, the relationship between her and I because it wasn’t there initially. I think that she and I came off with the relationship in the movie, to make it deeper and more interesting and more real.
How many scenes did you actually do with the crows? How did they control those? Are they even trainable?
Dylan McDermott: These crows were completely trained. The trainer directed them, you know, at will. What he did was, the stuntman put a meat vest on, with meat stapled to him or something, and they just swarmed him. The meat went everywhere.
Wasn’t there a concern that when they put that sequence together that people would say they were ripping off (Alfred Hitchcock’s) The Birds?
Dylan McDermott: Unfortunately, there’s a whole audience out there that doesn’t remember The Birds. Nobody cares, you know what I mean? The trouble with making movies is that every ten years it’s a whole new generation. That’s why there are always remakes. You’ll remember, I’ll remember. But the target audience is thirteen to eighteen year olds. It’s all about getting the teenagers in the theatre. The thirteen year old girl rules this world.
Did they film a more extreme version for the DVD release?
Dylan McDermott: No, it was always catered for thirteen year old girls. They know what they’re doing.
You’re a couple years off “The Practice” now…what are you looking to do in the future?
Dylan McDermott: I’m totally content driven. If the content is great, I’ll do what I’m told. I’ll do it in the movies, I’ll do it in theatres, I’ll do it in my bathroom. I don’t care. It’s all about content for me.
You also directed a couple episode of “The Practice.” Are you interested in directing at all?
Dylan McDermott: I’d love to direct. I wrote a couple scripts and would love to one day make them. I think every actor has that because, you know, as an actor you’re always being edited. So it’d be nice to have and set your own vision.
Are you interested in doing more horror?
Dylan McDermott: I like it. You can’t deny the horror market because it speaks and people go. Horror always wins, and I think you’re going to see more and more actors going to horror because the audiences are there. It doesn’t have the credibility of other genres. But there are some great horror films. Rosemary’s Baby to me is the greatest horror movie ever made. One of the greatest movies ever made period. So I think there’s a chance to make some really spectacular horror films.
Would you consider Hardware one of those great horror movies?
Dylan McDermott: Ahm..No. Absolutely not.
What do you remember from that?
Dylan McDermott: Pain.
In the making or the watching of it?
Dylan McDermott: Ahm…I don’t really remember watching it but I remember making it and it was like, “Oh my God.” That movie was so painful.
Dylan McDermott: Everything.
How much do satisfaction do you take in your work, as opposed to seeing how the movies do?
Dylan McDermott: I used to get caught up in all that stuff…when’s it coming out, how many theatres, how well it did. None of that made me happy though. The only thing that makes me happy is when I’m doing it. I’m not even happy when I’m watching it. Acting, it’s in the doing. Everything in life, in the doing is where you extract the happiness.
Have you seen the finished film yet? What’s your take?
Dylan McDermott: I think it’s scary. I think there are some great scary moments. I also love the music. In particular, how it pushed you into a special psyche of horror. It’s Sam (Raimi). You know, he’s all over this picture. All over it. He was showing it to distributors and was so excited. He made a whole video of some stuff. The guy is so incredible with his excitement. It wasn’t just that he put his name on it.
I understand that the Pang Brothers are very visual directors. How does that work in crafting your character?
Dylan McDermott: I think that although they have their “Pang Vision,” most of that is at their end. They don’t get in your way in terms of acting. So most of the time they let you look at the picture, you see what that picture is, and they kind of leave it up to you to come forward with your performance.
Are both of them on set at the same time?
Dylan McDermott: No. One of them is on set and the other…I don’t know. I guess he take a day off, which seems like a pretty good schedule.
Do you work with one better than the other?
Dylan McDermott: Yeah, I think I work with Oxide a little differently than with Danny. I think they offer something completely different. Danny maybe is a little darker and Oxide maybe lighter in terms of his approach to directing. But they’re great together. Together is an interesting mix.
THE MESSENGERS Opens on February 2, 2007
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