Roundtable Interview With Mark Tonderai On House At The End Of The Street
This week marks the release of director Mark Tonderai‘s House at the End of the Street, which stars Jennifer Lawrence. The horror/thriller arrives with much anticipation, as Lawrence is currently riding high on her Hunger Games success and Tonderai, who gave us the impressive horror film Hush, is back with another entry in the genre.
Recently, we sat down with Mark at the film’s LA press day and discussed how he became attached to the project, what attracted him to it, which films influenced him and more.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: Your first big film in the US. You must be pretty excited.
Mark Tonderai: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. All my family’s flying in from as far as Africa and Luxemburg.
We Got This Covered: You have a built-in audience then.
Mark Tonderai: Yeah, I have 17 brothers and sisters. I’ve got 5 flying in.
We Got This Covered: Does having so many siblings pull you to the theme of the film, sibling relationships?
Mark Tonderai: Actually, the film is about a parent’s love and how a parent’s love can help or hinder us. That’s what I wanted to talk about. I just had a son. We became pregnant after a long time of trying. So, when I had a kid, it was a big deal to me. That’s how I choose my films. I don’t choose them really on the plot. I choose them on the theme. That’s what the film was about in the embryonic stage. It needed a lot of work to get to where it is, but that’s what attracted me to the film.
We Got This Covered: How did the film come to you?
Mark Tonderai: Well, it was an ODA (Open Directing Assignment). I was trying to break into the American market. I was doing a film in England called Hush and I always wanted to live here. I think it’s a special place. If you’re Catholic, you go to Rome. If you want to make films, you go to Hollywood. I came across here and I pitched it with a bunch of other people and I won it. There were a lot of hoops I had to jump through. They liked what I wanted to do and I had a great producer, Aaron Ryder, who produced Memento. Then, I cast Jennifer and we went on and on.
We Got This Covered: How was it directing Max with this complex character?
Mark Tonderai: He’s a really good actor. I think with good actors, you don’t direct them. You just tell them where they’re going wrong or if it’s too much. With really good actors, you don’t need to because they’re so good and they get it. With him, he got it so much. He knew just how to play it. I think he’s a really good actor and a really hard worker.
We Got This Covered: Were there parts of the horror genre that you wanted to play up at all?
Mark Tonderai: I thought of it more of a thriller than horror, although Stephen King says “Horror is just incremental fear that you know something’s happening.” So, I don’t know if by his definition, you’d cast this as horror. I looked at it more as a thriller. I didn’t want to have Jack-in-the-Box scares for nothing. The name of the film is House at the End of the Street, so you feel like you’ve seen this film before.
I tried to play on your prejudices of what you’d expect in the film. Then suddenly, it goes right ahead of your expectations and flips it on you completely and you’re in a different place. That’s why I think the film works. Suddenly, you don’t know what’s going to happen. In a strange way, we pour oil on the cliches and we take them all away. There’s a bit from Psycho and Close Encounters and my little homage to Citizen Kane.
We Got This Covered: When you first read the script, was Jennifer who you had in mind?
Mark Tonderai: Yes. I’d seen her in Winter’s Bone and thought this is the girl. She’s great. She’s different. I didn’t know what was going to happen, obviously. She wasn’t nominated when I saw her. When she read and she looked at me, I knelt down, because she was sitting when I read them. I remember when she looked at me thinking “Jesus!”. She just looks right through you. I remember thinking if I can get this girl, this is going to be great. You need actors that are really good. Unless they believe it, you’re really sunk.
Elizabeth and Jennifer were both nominated for Academy Awards. You realize how good these people are. I used to be an actor. I realize how bad I was compared to them (laughs). They could read the phone book and make it sound like it’s coming from their heart. We had such a tight schedule that you have to get the line right on the first take. You get one or two takes and then I have to move on. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right. There’s a lovely scene where she’s by a sink and she realizes what’s going on. She turns to him and he comes behind her and she takes a step. It’s all in her eyes. The fear, everything and you can see it. She’s an extraordinary actress. She can be whatever she wants to be.
We Got This Covered: How much did you collaborate with your cinematographer to obtain the look of the film?
Mark Tonderai: He’s a polish Director of Photography. They have great schools there. He was trained by some of the best in Europe. I hate that lighting isn’t natural. We’ll use the moon or a lamp, whatever it may be. We studied a lot of films that did hat, especially in that country. That country does it incredibly well. We knew that was how we were going to use our light sources. it was always something that would be in the shot.
I’m very proud of our driving stuff, because driving stuff always looks crappy. It always looks like it’s coming from under the dashboard. We did all of our driving stuff and there’s a trick I use. I never go on the road. I just get in a room and get a guy with a stick and just put lights around the car and we just move the car up and down. You can get lots of shots. You can talk to the actors. You don’t have that noise of the road. You don’t have that danger in your heart that someone’s going to die (laughs).
We Got This Covered: The locations almost serve as another character in the film. How hard was it to find the locations?
Mark Tonderai: It was extremely difficult. That house, when we got there, I knocked on the door and a woman came out. She just ignored us, which I thought was weird, but I really liked the house. We came back and we came back. Eventually, we got in. It turns out there’s a family living there. The house was exactly how it was, under construction and creepy. We shot there for 9 days. I got this terrible rash all over me. I got sick. It had this really weird feel to it. It took us forever to find this house. Those two houses are actually opposite each other. It’s not a visual effect.
We Got This Covered: The power of the film is in its surprises. Does that make it harder to promote?
Mark Tonderai: It’s hard. You have to suffer a lot of slings and arrows. A lot of people are dismissing your film and you’re telling them “You’re wrong.” But you can’t ruin the film, so you can’t say anything. It’s very difficult. I try to talk about the themes and the kind of feral girl nature. I’ve been promoting it as almost a feral girl film as well.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Mark for talking with us. Be sure to check out House at the End of the Street, now in theatres.