Senior HTF Member
- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
10 Cloverfield Lane, a “spiritual successor” to 2008’s Cloverfield is a clever, superbly executed and crafted movie with a delicious mystery wrapped inside a tight, claustrophobic thriller, and features three actors at the tops of their game. One of those three actors, John Gallagher, Jr. (Short Term 12, The Newsroom) spoke to Home Theater Forum about the film, understanding the movies influences, working with first-time feature director Dan Trachtenberg, and the joy of making a character-driven thriller.
The film also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard) and John Goodman (Rosanne, The Big Lebowski), and was produced by J.J. Abrams.
10 Cloverfield Lane is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital HD.
HTF: I've got to tell you, 10 Cloverfield Lane has to be one of my favorite films from the last year. It's a masterful thriller and is really very really good!
John Gallagher, Jr.: That's great. Thank you! So glad you liked it.
HTF: Yeah, killer ending. It's almost Hitchcock-like in its expression of tension, and how it's framed, and the escalation…
John Gallagher, Jr.: Totally! I think Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone were huge influences on the template for this movie
HTF: Well I was going to ask if that openly discussed, some of the influences?
John Gallagher, Jr.: You know, it was and it wasn't. A lot of it, really, was just very present in the script. When I read the script, I thought-- because I'm such a movie fan, one of the first things I do is start thinking about what are the influences? What led these filmmakers to want to tell this story? It was clear from the script that that was a point of influence. I was like, "I can feel the inspiration coming from things." It felt like a great Twilight Zone episode or something. It really did. A lot of those Hitchcock thrillers back in the day, they were more contained, and smaller, and a little bit more claustrophobic, so I felt a lot of that going into it. But then once I realized that J. J. Abrams was producing it, and once I talked to Dan Trachtenberg the director a little bit, it was clear that they wanted to make a stylized character-driven thriller that took place in one room but had a ton of tension at the same time. On paper that sounds great, but it's not always an easy thing to pull off. But it became clear that they had all of the ingredients in place to make a really interesting movie like that.
“But it became clear that they had all of the ingredients in place to make a really interesting movie…”
It's not every day that you're making a movie where you get to do a six-page scene at a dinner table; there's normally just not time in a film for that. But because we have this film that was so contained taking place in this bunker, we could afford to open it up a little bit and have long, drawn out, silent, intense scenes like that, where there's a ton of tension and a lot of awkward pauses, and characters tiptoeing around each other. So there wasn't necessarily like a, "Okay, this is what we're doing, and go home and do your homework and watch Lifeboat, and Psycho, and this episode of Twilight Zone," but there was just a sense of like-mindedness, that everybody was on the same page. We all found the tone and were able to all lock into it and become these characters and tell the story as it went. So there wasn't any direct discussion, but everybody kind of got it, I think.
HTF: I think you're right. I think that's what can be missing from a lot of films today, is just taking the time. Conversations can do a number of things other than just exposition or a little bit of character detail - it can enhance tension, or it can deflate tension. It can do a number of things, it's just the opportunity is often missed because the movie is running at such a fast click. I love that 10 Cloverfield Lane is predominately three people, that’s you working with John Goodman who is incredibly good, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and she's a terrific actress. She has shown before how she embraces smart, capable individuals that happen to be in extraordinary situations - I'm thinking particularly of The Thing sequel from 2011 - she was terrific in that. But I wanted to ask you about your character, Emmett. He’s not the smartest or the brightest, but he comes through when he needs to. Did you find yourself playing off Mary's strength and then John's peculiar, unsettling character?
John Gallagher, Jr.: I think it's one of those things where I always imagined that Emmett is a person who's clearly played it very safe all his life; who has taken himself out of confrontation; he's run away from things that scare him; he's kind of regressed into just like, "I'm just going to stay in one place all my life, and work a meaningless job, and I'll be fine.
John Gallagher, Jr.: I think in that sense he doesn't want to make waves. He's kind of a peacekeeper, and I think that he's a little bit in denial for the first half of the film. I think he's just kind of like, "Well we're down here, and let's just try make the most of it because what else are we supposed to do?" And I think he has blinders on a little bit to just how dangerous Howard (John Goodman) could be, and it's only when he starts actually really seeing what Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) starts [realizing the situation] that he say "Oh okay, we actually might be in a lot of danger here." And I think it's huge for him and Michelle to [try and do what they do]. I think that is so not in his character, so not in his DNA to make waves, or to stand up. And so I think that's what ends up being the great shift in that character, is that he does get a chance to be brave, and he does get a chance to face his demons, much as Michelle gets.
“…then you start realizing there's actually a little bit more going on beneath the surface there. So yeah, I loved everything. I had such a good time playing him.”
I think that's his great shift is that he steps it up in a way that he hasn't in a long time. Then you start to realize like, "Oh right, perhaps some of his simple-minded qualities, some of that might actually be a little bit more put on than we thought." That he actually might have a little bit more intellect than he displays and might actually be a more connected person than he would have people think. It was cool to see a character that was, on the page, so simple, but then when you started getting into it, being like, "Wow." So you can really play with some expectations about what this kind of character is. Because at first, it just seems "Oh, this is the stock comic-relief character of a thriller," and then you start realizing there's actually a little bit more going on beneath the surface there. So yeah, I loved everything. I had such a good time playing him.
HTF: And it's par for the course for the film, which is classic direction, misdirection. You become unsettled because you think you may have a sense of what's going on - what it is and what it isn't - but then you are met with something that shakes that within you. It's the same thing with Emmett, you think he's one thing, and then he evolves into another, and then he surprises you by being something different, so I think you're spot on.
John Gallagher, Jr.: Yeah. The whole movie takes those shifts into such delicate and fun considerations
HTF: I love movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane, not just because of their embrace of the genre in the Twilight Zone sort of sense, but they come out of left field. No one really knew this was being made. Everyone had wanted a sequel to Cloverfield, and while this isn't strictly that, one could argue that there is some DNA connection and that's fun to be able to do. But when a film comes out like this, and it's got superb performances, tight refreshing direction, the script is there, Bear McCreary's score was just top-notch.
John Gallagher, Jr.: The music's so good!
HTF: It ends up being a terrific piece of filmmaking, and it's highly entertaining at the same time. I'm surprised, and I imagine others are - this is Dan's first feature film; you do not get that sense.
John Gallagher, Jr.: I know, isn't that incredible?
HTF: Yes, so talk about working with Dan
"Oh, Dan [Trachtenberg]'s amazing. It doesn't surprise me at all that someone like J. J. Abrams saw him and said, "This is the guy..."
John Gallagher, Jr.: Oh, Dan's amazing. It doesn't surprise me at all that someone like J. J. Abrams saw him and said, "This is the guy," because there's a real like-mindedness there. Dan is a product of Amblin Entertainment, and Paramount, and of a lot of the great Spielberg adventures of the '80s. I think that Dan was weaned on that as a young man. And now, growing up into becoming a filmmaker, he's taking all of these influences and things that he's been watching for years and channeling them through to his own style. You would never have known on set that this was this man's first feature film. I know he had made some shorts before this, but he is so capable, and unflappable, and a total leader.
HTF: I agree with you. And I have to ask, had you seen the Matt Reeves directed original, Cloverfield?
"I feel so proud to have stumbled into the Cloverfield legacy, which is something that I didn't know I was doing when I got the part..."
John Gallagher, Jr.: I did. I went to this theater in New York by myself [chuckles]. I used to live in Astoria, Queens in New York City, and in 2008, when that movie came out, I had been seeing the mysterious trailer for months before it came out. I just remember the trailer with the image of the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling through the streets, and I thought, "Well I have no idea what's going on here, but I definitely want to go see that". I bought a ticket to the movie theater around Queens where I was living at the time, and I went by myself, and I loved it. And it's funny to me because when I signed on to do [10 Cloverfield Lane], I didn't know that it was going to be a spiritual successor to that movie. I had no idea. I just thought I was signing on to do a J. J. Abrams-produced thriller that was going to probably be called The Cellar or Valencia - those were the titles that we were kicking around at the time. But I feel so proud to have stumbled into the Cloverfield legacy [chuckles], which is something that I didn't know I was doing when I got the part, but I feel very lucky to be involved.
HTF: Perfect. Well thanks for taking time to talk to me today. It's a terrific film. All the best for you in the future
John Gallagher, Jr.: Thanks, Neil.