Imagine waking up in a deep pit full of decaying, dead corpses, but with no recollection of who you are, how you got there or what the hell transpired. That’s John’s (Sharlto Copley) horrific situation in the creepy thriller, Open Grave. To make matters worse, he stumbles across a group of strangers suffering from a similar amnesia. As their memories slowly return and events unfold, they realize the truth is far more frightening than anything they could have conceived. Among the group is Brown Eyes, played by Asian actress Josie Ho. Ho spoke to me about her mysterious character and ramping up the intensity for this film.
There are a flood of horror movies every year. What grabbed you about the script and made it stand out from the pack?
The script is built so well on fear and miscommunication. That’s what makes it so interesting, as well as how human beings would react. And trust becomes such a true reflection in life. That’s why it caught my eye so much.
Introduce us to your character. Who is she and why is she in this situation?
My character is called Brown Eyes. Just the name sounds so attractive to me. She happened to be the key to the situation. With her angelic personality, she tries to help everyone during the chaos, while the rest of her friends have lost their memory and forgotten who they are. Unfortunately, when basic humanity rewinds back to zero, nobody trusts each other. Plus, Brown Eyes is a mute China girl. Tons of miscommunication right there.
Can you talk about the dynamic between the strangers and how they handle the pressure they are under?
The strangers in the film just go nuts the entire time. Some are in packs, like Joseph Morgan and Erin Richards’ characters [Nathan and Sharon], that are more laidback and willing to start trusting small things step-by-step. But Thomas Kretschmann and Sharlto Copley’s characters [Lukas and John] are in the hardcore group, who are on high ground and in states of paranoia, while Matt Wrottesley’s character, Michael, is in-between. He feels like he should be the hero and go out to find other zombies for us. Whereas Brown Eye basically knows the whole environment and tries to explain it to them with body language, but that doesn’t help the situation. No one believes me. The situation is intense because no one knows who can really be trusted. That’s why no one listens to Brown Eyes.
As everyone’s memories begin to return, how does that shape their decisions and actions?
I think as memories begin to come back, some groups, such as Nathan and Sharon, become calmer. But there is still one thing that always lies at the bottom of the truth that no one can completely trust. It makes us more united for a short while, but then the real humanity of the characters comes out, as well as more things attacking at all sides at the same time. It confuses peoples’ decisions and actions. That is why this film is so exciting.
Where does the found footage aspect fit into the story?
The found footage appears later in the film after another shocking and violent wave. Just when everyone thinks they’ve gotten a hold of who they are, suddenly, some shit goes down. Only half the truth shows on tape, so this really irritates Lukas because it creates a massive miscommunication with John. Then chaos quickly creeps in.
Open Grave kicks off with a big moment and never seems to slow down. What was it like maintaining that intensity throughout the movie?
I think as actors, we just do our jobs according to each scene written, especially since it’s a superb script. And yes, in these kinds of films, people would be concerned with how much intensity was on set. Regarding maintaining that intensity, I didn’t think of it like that because it is such an actor’s protocol for each and every script. Everybody does it well. Myself, I just go with the flow. I follow the script’s emotion and play pre-rehearsal with the other actors. They always inspire me.
How did filming on location in Hungary help create a certain vibe?
It was my first time to Hungary, so I think that alone helped me with my character. Hungary is a mysterious place compared to many other parts of the world. We stayed at a huge golf course inside the forest. All of the forest scenes were stunning, so I was already psyched out. Since high school, I’ve seen a lot of forests and they always give me these beautiful, creepy feelings. The first day I checked in, I was totally in character already.
What kind of director was Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and what was it like working with this cast, especially Sharlto and Joseph?
Working with Gonzalo was very straightforward. He is a very kind director and at one point, I almost started understanding Spanish. I think he is a super-sharp director who is capable of giving us some freedom to play our roles. I’m so honored to be working with him and our whole crew. About Sharlto Copley, he seems to be a very reliable actor who knows all about productions, inside out. I like his Method way of acting. He does it for real. The energy he projects is very powerful and special. Working with Joseph is different because we became friends the first day we met at the dorm and we were already playing cards. Joseph is a very patient actor. He is also a very gentle and funny guy at the same time. I know Joseph has spent almost his whole life training as an actor, so when he gives a suggestion, it’s usually good for people in the scene to listen, myself included. I would love to work with Joseph again anytime.
At the end of the day, how brutal a shoot was this film? What were some of the challenges?
In the end, shooting the film wasn’t that brutal because it was my first time getting a trailer van. For me, it was heaven on set already. I guess it would have been a lot worse if the vans weren’t there because of the freezing cold weather in most parts of the deep jungle. I do believe in positive vibes a lot. After all is said and done, I felt that I had great fun shooting this film. We even had young producers who were willing to hang out with you and the cast after work. It was so much fun.