Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are sitting on top of the world at the moment. Following on from the critical and commercial success of genre mash-up You’re Next, their latest film, The Guest – a wonderful homage to 80’s B-movies featuring an incredibly brilliant performance from Dan Stevens – has just premiered at Sundance to widespread acclaim.
Amidst the furor, I was fortunate enough to have an exclusive sit down with the new-age kings of indie horror. During the interview, we discussed their newest film, Joe Swanberg, boring Roman Polanski movies, the casting of Dan Stevens and much more.
Check it out below and enjoy!
Dan Stevens was absolutely brilliant in the film, did he take to the role naturally?
Adam Wingard: Yeah, I mean going through the casting I always try to cast people that I feel already embody a certain amount of the character without even having to try, and one of the most important parts of this character is that he has to be trustworthy enough for this family to let him into their lives and be an endearing factor.
So, I knew that it had to be somebody who was naturally charming and likable and you know. Also, there’s the element that his character has to have, a very calm and cool quality to him. Dan just already naturally has those things. The funny thing though is (his Downton Abbey character) is the British version of that, where this is a Southern character. That was the only question going into it, could Dan realistically be a Southern guy? The first Skype meeting I had during the casting, the first discussion I had – it was immediate. He was the character and I could just tell. He seemed like the right kind of guy, very opinionated about accents and stuff, so I was never really worried about that.
Simon Barrett: Adam’s from Alabama and I’m from Missouri and we both have a very specific pet peeve when we hear bad Southern accents in movies, like when someone’s doing a Texan accent when they’re meant to be from Mississippi.
Adam Wingard: So many people give it the whole “I do declare” thing, nobody talks like that (both laugh).
Simon Barrett: But Dan is a master at accents and I also would say that one interesting thing that I learned – Adam mainly worked with Dan and I just got to hang out with him on set – but Dan’s sensibility is really kind of strange and fun. When I went to Toronto this year just to hang out, and he was there with The Fifth Estate, he ended up coming to a bunch of the Midnight Madness movies with me and really enjoyed them. And it’s like, this guy who made his career doing these historical TV dramas had a really mainstream sensibility. I took him to the premiere of Gravity and he had no idea what it was and was completely bewildered when they handed him 3D glasses and then was as happy as I’ve ever seen him. He loved it. So I think Dan himself is figuring out what he wants to do, and it’s really cool watching him.
Yes, when I saw the film it was like watching a genuine movie star.
Adam Wingard: That’s what I felt whenever we were shooting, every step of the way I was like “this guy, you can’t film him wrong.” And I mean, he’s always entertaining and he was always willing to go in whatever direction felt right in the moment. If the scene was going too dark all I had to do was just say something very simple to him and he was very excited to try something else. He’s never fully satisfied with the scene but he’s not going to complain about it. He’ll just always do more takes and he loves getting more and more involved and that’s the type of actor I really like working with.
So were there any other names that you guys had lined up? Or was it just Dan Stevens straight off the bat?
Adam Wingard: It was a very expedited schedule in terms of the casting, so there were never really any other serious contenders. It was pretty much only Dan or bust.
Simon Barrett: I remember one of our very first casting meeting, when we were listing our dream names, he was in our top 5. He was one of those names that came up right away and we were like “Oh, that would be amazing if the myriad of weird factors that has to happen before we can cast someone actually fell into place.” And it did. He just got the script and he and Adam clicked right away.
He reminded somewhat of Matthew Goode’s character in Stoker.
Adam Wingard: Stoker was actually a good starting point in some ways and I actually encouraged Dan to watch that character mainly because I actually didn’t like Stoker, and I didn’t like Matthew Goode’s character in Stoker – mainly because he wasn’t a real human being to me. And I actually suggested it – I don’t think Dan ever actually ended up watching it – but that was one of those things where I was like “You should maybe consider watching Stoker just to see what I don’t want,” because I didn’t feel like that character was ever making decisions as a character. I felt like he was making decisions based on a screenplay that was telling him to say weird stuff. I never got a fully-rounded feeling for him and that was something that was a danger for the character he’s playing in our film, which is even more fantastical than that. That’s why I wanted it to be grounded in something real. I felt that casting someone like Dan had that. Not to say that Matthew Goode’s not a good actor…
Simon Barrett: He’s great.
Adam Wingard: I think it’s just that whole film in general that I didn’t really get into, but there are similarities. We were already in the process of getting this movie going when it came out, and I actually watched it kinda nervously the first time.
Simon Barrett: Like “Are they doing the same thing as us?”
Adam Wingard: But (Stoker) has way more in common with Shadow of A Doubt. Almost a lot in common with that.