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Feature: Cloverfield

Monster Mysteries

Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) trying  to escape underground from deadly creatures

We speak to actress Lizzy Caplan about her role in JJ Abrams’s new monster movie

Carefree party-goers, an explosion in the middle of New York City, the head of the Statue of Liberty crashing to earth and rolling along one of the city’s streets, scenes of public mayhem, US Army troops firing on an unseen enemy – these were among the images in a trailer released in theatres last summer for writer/producer JJ Abrams’s feature film Cloverfield. Watching the trailer, it’s not exactly clear what is going on in the movie, which is typical of Abrams (whose credits include Lost and Alias). He likes to keep people guessing, even the actors who auditioned for the film, as Lizzy Caplan, who plays Marlena Diamond, explains.

“The first audition was fairly basic, but then during the callbacks we were asked to read scenes that weren’t in the movie. It was so secretive,” recalls the actress. “None of us knew what was going on. We were doing scenes where we were in France and plunging syringes into each other’s hearts. It made no sense at all, and then we found out later that it was material from [the TV series] Alias.

“We spent several hours at the callback, and halfway through we were paired up with different actors. I did my scene with TJ Miller, who plays Hud in the film. He’s a Chicago-comic-turned-LA-actor, and the two of us tried to bring some levity to the injecting-adrenalin-in-the-heart scene. At least that seemed to be what they [the producers] wanted from us. It was actually a fun audition, and at the end they sat us down and asked us what we thought the movie was about. We thought it was a coming of age, reality bites-type film, which, clearly, it’s not,” chuckles Caplan. “They sort of laughed and even then wouldn’t tell us if we were right or wrong.”

An online plot synopsis for Cloverfield reads, ‘Five young New Yorkers throw their friend a going-away party the night that a monster the size of a skyscraper descends upon the city. Told from the point of view of their video camera, the film is a document of their attempt to survive the most surreal, horrifying event of their lives.’

Having made the teaser trailer, the party sequence was the first thing filmed for the actual movie. Like the cast’s audition, it, too, was done in an unconventional manner.

“The party was shot from the POV [point of view] of one character’s video camera, so there was no break in the filming,” says Caplan. “Normally with a film you get 20 minutes while the crew turns the camera around and lights from the other side for your close-up, and then 20 more minutes when they turn around again in order to shoot the other actor’s close-up. There was none of that here, though. We filmed that entire sequence without a break, and we did it a number of times just to get the shot that looked right. That scene had to appear jarring enough and as if it was shot with a handheld camera, but at the same time it had to have everything in it that we needed."

by Steven Eramo

Read the full interview in
Starburst #359

Photo © Paramount Pictures
Feature © Visual Imagination 2008. Not for reproduction

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Starburst #359
February 2008
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