Director Jeremy Saulnier has followed up 2013’s hugely acclaimed revenge thriller Blue Ruin with Green Room, a tense, gruesome chiller starring Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, about a punk band who find themselves at the mercy of a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads led by Patrick Stewart.
How did you get Patrick Stewart to play a neo-Nazi psychopath?
He’s up for an adventure – he was looking for something like this, something dark and unsettling. He really responded to the opportunity to step into a role that would require a downplayed, quiet authority, to be part of an ensemble, in contrast with this very young cast… just, I think, to take a break from studio franchises or TV shows and get his hands dirty on an independent film… it didn’t take much to convince him actually.
Did you have him in mind for the role?
I’m not that presumptuous… I certainly just wrote for authenticity for characters based on research or from my youth. A lot of the band is referring to real life friends I had growing up that were in the punk rock hardcore scene, but I definitely didn’t envision someone of Sir Patrick Stewart’s stature stooping so low as to be in our movie! So I was delighted and he had a really good time playing someone so nasty.
Was it all ‘Sir’ Patrick and bowing when he turned up?
He was like anyone else, he just showed up on set, did his work, came prepared, asked all the right questions. Very much on the same page. I vet all my cast by enthusiasm too – I just want to make sure that everyone on set wants to be there because that creates this wonderful energy, that’s just supportive. You know, we’re all very vulnerable making movies and oftentimes it’s just exhausting, so when you’re surrounded by people who actually want to be there you feed off that collective energy – it’s great. And Patrick Stewart was one of the ensemble, and also at the same time commanded so much respect it translated to his character, and all his skinhead underlings were really sort of impacted by his presence in a perfect way - which achieved the dynamic I was looking for.
After Blue Ruin’s tremendous critical acclaim did you have actors queuing up to be in your next film?
It certainly helped having Blue Ruin as a reference, as actors can see how much I care about performance, how much weight I put on their shoulders. Blue Ruin is very bare bones, it’s so much based on Macon Blair’s central performance. They say there is a certain amount of loving care that goes into the movies I make… and you can’t do that having a toxic relationship with an actor. I guess you can but I don’t want to do that. Blue Ruin also served a very important purpose for Green Room, which is a tonal reference – because if you read Green Room on the page and you don’t quite get what I’m going for, this could be discarded as a typical horror/slasher movie. But having Blue Ruin really helped actors understand what I was going for. They felt a lot safer going in.
What was the thinking making your heroes a punk band – it’s not a typical thing is it?
For me it is – I was in a hardcore band in my youth, I was around a lot of punk music, heavy metal… so these are the kids I knew growing up. The key was to not get too bogged down in punk ideology and what have you, but to pull from experiences. They’re scavengers, like kids out of a Mad Max movie – the busted van, trying to siphon gas from parking lots. It has nice on-the-road, almost Road Warrior feel to it, of course downscaled into the real world - but I thought aesthetically it would be perfect. And I wanted to archive the music, for me and my buddies growing up.
By the end of the film you feel like you’ve been put through the mill – but was it one of those films that it was great fun to make?
The cast and crew had a blast. I think it was exhausting for the cast because of the physical nature of the performances, but as soon as we called cut and wrapped our days it was a lot of fun. Everyone loved each other. Having to do twenty days of non stop crying and mayhem and action – but we all genuinely liked each other, which is very rare, from what I hear… we benefitted from having a tough shoot but with very like-minded, invested individuals who made it more an insulated comfort zone.
You’ve got Blue Ruin, Green Room… is this going to be your Three Colours trilogy?
It is not. I’ve got no more colours in me right now.
So what is next for you?
I’m waiting to hear on a project that will be an amazing step up for me, visually and tonally. It’s in the process of casting, which will trigger off the money. I’m flying to LA tomorrow to have a meeting about a studio movie, and eventually I’ll write something for myself. I think it’s good to keep writing because I need a insurance policy to have my own script that I control. Because for so many reasons films fall through at any step in the process.
Do you have any particular films you watch before you start a project to inspire you?
I certainly watch movies before I start writing movies… because it’s hard, I have three kids and a busy life and I’m always doing so many things, and it’s had to get back into that headspace where your brain and your creative juices are aligned and it’s quiet enough to actually write. I’ll definitely binge on a few movies, more to get excited about cinema, to remember why I make films, to get these feelings back circulating in my system. For Green Room I watched Straw Dogs and Robocop. I watched a bunch of cool Seventies and Eighties movies that had a lot of texture and grit to them. Some Coen brothers movies. For the next one I write, it might not start for two years, who knows… It’ll be more of an adventure movie I think.
Both your films seem very unique – often reviews just say ‘it’s this film meets this film meets this film’ – and with your films it’s not so easy to do that.
The intention is certainly not to just mash a bunch of films together. When I write there’s no intentional references – other than the atmosphere and feeling some of my favourite films create. It’s never trying to do this typical Hollywood pitch: X movie meets Y movie.
Have you got a favourite punk movie?
Ahh man – Repo Man. Because it doesn’t try too hard to be punk. It’s just in there. It’s really cool and it’s bizarre and irreverent and lovely.
By the way, the bit with the box cutter in Green Room is one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen, in a film.
[Laughs] Well, you’re welcome.
Interview conducted by David Hayles