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SUBJECT: The Uninvited

Poster artwork and logo On location withÖ

David Strathairn

On August 28, 2007, I had the unique experience of being taken by water taxi to Bowen Island, a half-hourís ride from Vancouver, to visit the isolated set of The Uninvited.
Based on Kim Jee-Woonís 2003 Korean movie Changhwa Hongryon, the remake stars David Strathairn, Emily Browning and Elizabeth Banks. For Strathairn itís definitely a new genre; the actor, well known for such eclectic movies as Good Night, and Good Luck, Fracture and The Bourne Ultimatum has never done a Horror film.
He portrays Steven, a novelist, whose daughter Anna (Browning) has returned home after spending time in a psychiatric facility, following her motherís tragic death, to discover that her motherís former nurse, Rachel (Banks), has moved into their house and become engaged to her father.

During the productionís lunch break, I spoke with David Straitharn about his venture into the Horror genreÖ

Q: This is far from the kind of genre that weíve seen you in before.
A: Yes, I had never been involved in a psychological thriller/mystery script, so itís new to me.

Q: In a larger sense, do you have a degree of self-awareness as an actor when you're in a movie where there are Supernatural elements or do you just give yourself over completely to the material?:
Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn and Emily BrowningA: Well, itís interesting, in light of your question of it being a new terrain for me, Iím finding that you do have to give over to the material, because ultimately in something like this the story is constructed for the audienceís journey. So, more often than not, our responsibility as actors is to play the moment so that it can be used as a point along the journey. But to try to play the mystery, to play the thriller in more of a omniscient way, in this case, Iím finding itís not something Iíve concentrated on. Itís more moment-to-moment.

Q: Over the years, have you received a lot of scripts for thrillers or Horror films?
A: They haven't come to me.

Q: Does your character have moments of horror in the film?
A: Yes. He's confronted with quite a shocking moment.

Q: Is it shocking in that it's supernatural?
A: No, what happens to him is very real.

Q: Does being in an environment like this help you get into the mindset of a writer who's kind of isolated?
A: You mean, being out here on the island? Yeah, this feels like more Science Fiction than anything. You feel potentially isolated. But this feels more like I'm on a kayaking trip or something, to be in this beautiful environment is pretty special.

Q: Does it help to have that kind of sense of the geography?:
The exterior landscapeA: It's very interesting that the script is quite an interior landscape because of Anna's journey and what each character is having to navigate, because of the event. It's an interesting contrast to have this extraordinary landscape around what is an interior journey of the characters. I think that'll probably add context for the audience when they see that it is an isolated place.

Q: What kind of a writer is Steven?
A: He's a very successful writer. I wouldnít call him a John Grisham, or Thomas Wolfe, or Norman Mailer, he's more like an Ian McEwan kind of writer.

Q: But this is set in Maine, right? And he's writer, a Stephen King Horror-like writer?
A: Well, a Stephen King Horror movie. I guess it is set in Maine. Although we havenít made any concessions to that in terms of the accent or maybe a license plate here or there, but I'm not sure how site specific it needs to be because it's such, as I said, an interior world. I donít think the event is colored or not colored by where it is. It's just an isolated place somewhere at the edge of a continent.

Q: Could you talk a little about working with Emily, because she doesnít have a large film career?:
David Strathairn and Emily BrowningA: The script is structured in a way that there's a lot of little moments. So the nature of the story is it's not a heavy dialogue scene. It's a sequence of what's going to happen based on what may have happened. And so, there's less discourse than one would expect. And working with Emily has not been one of those things where you engage in a lot of subtlety in the dialogue, or exploring that. It's responding to the ripple effect of an event that comes in upon the characters at any given moment. It's a little frustrating not being able to get into it in lengthy scenes because I find her instincts really good. And I think she understands her character and it feels like there's something very palpable there, which is really a lot of fun to work with. But because of the nature of this, the structure of the script, that's not happening.

Q: Were there any aspects of the character, to Steven that are more difficult for you to tap into than others?
A: Good question, yes, his disconnect with his daughter. My instinct was to be as connected as possible, given the circumstances. But the disconnect, having a sort of an abyss between him and her how to bridge that at the same time as honor that. That was tricky.

Q: Is there any guilt to being remarried so soon after the death of his first wife?
A: There's trepidation. Yeah. He's juggling, probably what is this next love of his life, although it's characterized and it's made up of a different kind of cloth, but nonetheless, he's in love with this woman. She has brought him back from grief and he's writing again and she, in his mind, has been very good for him.

Q: Since this is a new territory for you, are you aware of how this film's challenging? Are you aware what you're taking away from the genre?
A: Taking away from the genre! Well, what I'm taking away from the experience of doing this is there's probably going be a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, you know, shoulda-coulda-woulda kind of thing. But, actually, I won't know until I see it, as to whether I've succeeded or failed in helping them weave together this story. My task is to be in the moment and be in the scene and be attentive to what they need. I'll probably learn more after the fact.

Q: Is that the same with every film?
A: Every new experience, yeah. It's tough. This isn't like the theater where you get to do it again every night, and where you can make your adjustments and awareness somehow evolves. Film is sometimes very unforgiving that way, because you don't have time to do it again. And that it exists in a finite form. And so, you are very often learning from your mistakes. Not that this is a mistake. Maybe you can also be learning from your successes too.

Elizabeth Banks, Arielle Kebbel and Emily Browning

See also on-location interview with Emily Browning & Arielle Kebbel

Written by Judy Sloane
January 2009. Back to top

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Images above © Paramount Pictures
Feature © 2009 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #701, December 2008 cover

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