Colin and Greg Strause's Skyline (opening this Friday, November 12th) may look like a big-budget sci-fi epic, but beneath it's glossy surface beats the heart of an underground film. Independently financed, Skyline was created in less than a year by the special-effects supervisors turned directors. In assembling their garage band of players, the brothers enlisted Scrubs star Donald Faison, Dexter's David Zayas, and Eric Balfour, who may be best known to genre fans these days for his lead role on SyFy's Haven (based on the Stephen King novella The Colorado Kid). Balfour, who's also starred in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot, plays Skyline's reluctant hero. But as he tells me in the following conversation, he was anything but reluctant when he first signed on to the Strauses' apocalyptic tale of alien invasion.
This is kind of a unique production in that it's a large-scale sci-fi thriller that was conceived and developed like a much smaller film. Can you talk a little bit about how you got involved in the project?
I was invited to come down to the Hydraulx office. And the guys… We did a small reading and we went over a couple of scenes. Then they showed me the trailer that they had cut for the movie with their friends. They basically said, "So you want in?" After seeing the trailer I was like, "This looks amazing. I'm totally in." It happened pretty organically. I was lucky that I fulfilled what they were looking for in a lead actor, and they took a chance on me. I'm just really grateful.
How would you describe your character?
My character is a struggling artist from New York. He's a painter. He comes to Los Angeles to visit his best friend, who has become this very successful animator, this visual animation guy. He is really at a crossroads in his life. He's sort of trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He's not had a lot of success as a painter but he has passion. The alien invasion is really a catalyst, for my character at least, to decide if he wants to remain a boy or if he's ready to become a man. That's what all of this does. It forces him to make a choice. But you'll have to wait and see what that choice is.
The film looks pretty intense, but it's not rated R, with buckets of blood. As an actor in this situation, did you find you were called upon to an even greater extent to convey the horror, since it's not made too explicit visually?
I think that because the story really is about what's happening to this group of people we didn't have to sort of go for buckets of blood and gore to create this horror. I mean we definitely had to fight for the PG-13 rating, because this movie is not a Disney movie. It doesn't have happy ending. But we did have to be crafty, because there's still a lot of things in the movie that are really gnarly. They definitely tried to put an R rating on us.
There seem to be an interest on the part the brothers in expanding this into a franchise. Do you see the potential for a series of films here?
I already know what the story of the sequel is, and I actually think the sequel could be cooler than the first one. [Laughs.]
Can I ask if they signed you guys for more than one film up front or if that is to be determined?
Everyone's deal is a little different. I honestly can't speak for anybody else, but I can't tell you what mine is because it might give away of what happens in the first one.
You've done a couple of thrillers now, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and this one. Did you grow up a horror fan? Were you always fond of the genre?
Oh, absolutely. I mean two of my favorite movies growing up were Poltergeist and The Exorcist. Yeah, I am a huge fan.
You've got a couple of other thrillers in the pipeline, too, with Silver Cord and Do Not Disturb.
Yeah, those are projects that we had been trying to put together for a while, and we're still sort of waiting on start dates for those. Yeah, it was honestly just coincidence. I mean Do Not Disturb is much more of a sort of art house, indie piece. This is much more of a big huge mainstream action movie.
Can you describe your characters in those films?
They are really different. Silver Cord, there's not a lot I can say right now. We don't even know when or if it's happening. Do Not Disturb was a piece I did because I directed a segment of it. It's five directors and five different stories that take place in the same hotel room.
So now that you've gone behind of camera, are you looking to do more of that?
Absolutely. I love directing, writing and producing, and I definitely want to do more of it. To have creative control is the ultimate experience in what we do.
In real life, what's your biggest fear?
I guess, honestly, failure. Failure's my greatest fear.
Can you comment a little bit about working with the brothers? On how they collaborated with you?
It's awesome working with guys who are passionate, and these guys put their money where their mouth was. This was all made out of pocket from them. It was just amazing to be a part of that. These guys are living and dying by this movie. That's just awesome.
How do you think the film differs from your typical sci-fi thriller?
Well, we've seen alien invasion movies, but what the writers did a really amazing job with was taking the biology and the physics of what this is and taking it into a whole other level. That was really the coolest part.
As for the cast, can you talk about the dynamic? In its range of actors, the film seems like a throwback to some of the ensemble thrillers of the 70s.
You had all of these really unique personalities in some ways, because we all come from very different places. Obviously Donald is primarily known as a comedic actor. And this is a really good opportunity to spread his wings outside of the way people know him. Then you have David Zayas, who brings this really sort of natural reality to the situation, because here's a guy who was a real life cop. He grew up in rough neighborhoods, so he brings an authenticity to it. Scottie Thompson is incredible. She's one of the smartest women I've ever met. She's pretty amazing.
Were there any moments that stood out during the production? A favorite or least favorite?
I think my least favorite moment was being covered in alien blood and guts on the roof of the building all day. Because it was this weird mix of gelatin and black kids' paint. It was awful and painful, and not fun. My favorite moment was the day we were shooting in a stairwell. We were sort of stealing the location. We weren't supposed to be there. At one point we heard security coming and we literally had to take the camera, take everything, and run. We were, the whole crew, running to hide from security. It was one of the funniest things ever.
It sounds like there was a nice guerilla mentality at work.
Exactly. This movie is a testament to not being cynical. And not giving up. And believing that if you want to make something happen you can, and we did. That's amazing. To go from this little guerilla film project… Yeah, we had these amazing special effects guys behind us. But to see it then turn into this huge machine, with the likes of Universal and Relativity and Brett Ratner behind it, and posters everywhere. It's amazing. You feel like you really accomplished something. I mean, this is a big deal for me. This is my first starring role in a big studio movie. I get to be the guy. It's a really amazing experience. I'm excited. Because I really think that the movie doesn't disappoint. And even with what people have seen in the trailer, there's so much more going on in the movie than what you see there.
Apparently there's a lot more that happens after the nuke.
Yeah, I mean that's the thing. We didn't want to give it all away in the trailer. We hate that. You basically see the whole movie in the trailer. And what was really cool about the trailer is that it gives away what the world is that the movie exists in, but it doesn't give away any of the plot points.
One last question for you, can you talk about what you will be working on next?
I am getting ready to start up doing our second season of Haven.
Can you give any hints as to the direction that season will take?
I think what you are going to see in season 2 is it's really going to get ramped up. I think we really figured out towards the end of the first season what really worked and what made the show drive and what made it fun. And now that we've sort of figured out that sort of keyhole, I think the second season you're going to see the show just really ramp up and take off. We're all really excited about it.
Thank you so much for your time, Eric.
Awesome, man. Thank you so much. And thanks for all of your support so far. It's been amazing.