It's not often that a remake can successfully capture the spirit & tone of the original, yet bring something new & unique to warrant a different interpretation of the same story in the first place, but in the case of 'Maniac,' director Franck Khalfoun and producer Alexandre Aja did just that. 'Maniac' is not only a technical achievement, but one of the rare horror movies that serves as a great companion piece to its source material and quite frankly would make for a fine double feature with the original. While lead Elijah Wood (as Frank) makes his presence known through out the entire duration of the movie despite barely being on screen, it's equally important that we feel just as strongly for his victims as well. And one of the more prominent in this new movie is Lucie played by Megan Duffy. FEARnet had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Megan about the audition process for 'Maniac,' the technical challenges of shooting a movie in P.O.V. and the early positive buzz the film has been receiving.
How’d you get the role of Lucie in ‘Maniac?’ Was it through the traditional audition process?
I was working with a manager at the time who got me the audition. I read it and originally the character of Lucie was supposed to be this kinda punk rock chick and have huge boobs and I remember saying out loud, well this is ridiculous, I’m definitely not what they’re looking for. I remember there was a line in the script where she’d open her shirt and it read “she may be petite, but her breasts are not.” (Laughs) And I thought, well I’m not getting that job. I had heard of Alexandre Aja and thought with his involvement, it was going to be a cool film, so I went in to audition anyways. The scene they had me do was the dinner scene. Usually when you’re auditioning for a horror movie, they have you do the death scene. It was a little strange that they brought me in for that, but they brought me in several times and wanted to make sure I read the whole script and was OK with it. Once they cast Elijah, they brought me in one more time and I officially got it. For me, it was over the course of several months.
I assume you knew the title ‘Maniac.’ How familiar were you with the original and who Alexandre Aja was?
I knew Alexandre Aja because I thought 'Piranha 3D' is genius. The sense of humor behind that movie, on top of all the gore was amazing, it’s great. I was a big fan. I hadn’t seen the original ‘Maniac’ as I was auditioning but I got it from Netflix and watched it, and I actually thought it was an interesting film. In addition to the special FX which still hold up, there were 2 scenes that stuck out for me. There’s the subway chase, which goes on forever and is so, so tense and I just felt like you’d never see a scene like that in a film these days because people just don’t have the attention span for something with that much tension. And then there’s the bathtub scene, where she gets in the tub, takes a bath, and just gets out. And the whole time, you’re just waiting for her to die in the bathtub, but it doesn’t happen and I thought that was brilliant!
And I think that the versions of those 2 scenes while different are fantastic in the new movie and fans will be pleasantly surprised by them. Now regarding casting, one of the things that people remember about the original is the portrayal of Frank by Joe Spinell, who was always known for being this great character actor in things like 'The Godfather' and 'Rocky'…
Well, I had seen the original ‘Maniac’ before they cast Elijah Wood. At the time I had no information as to who they were looking at for the role. I did have a lot of friends going in to audition for Frank and they were nothing like Joe Spinell, so I do wonder at what point they brought Elijah in.
People heard Elijah’s name and were surprised, but I immediately got it. He did a fantastic job as the creepy character in ‘Sin City’. Obviously no one can recreate what Joe Spinell did in the original, but then you hear it’s Elijah Wood and I thought that was interesting.
I wasn’t surprised really, because the guys that I knew that were going in to read for it were skinny, hipster looking guys, so I had a vague idea of what they were looking for, which made sense for a modern Los Angeles setting. Because you look at Joe Spinell and you think well this guy is obviously up to no good! (Laughs) But someone like Elijah makes it way creepier. In this day & age of Facebook and MySpace and how casual people are about meeting people, I thought that was perfect. That could be the guy that you’re chatting with.
The audition process was lengthy, but what about rehearsal? Was there much time to prepare?
Zero. We had no rehearsal time.
So you didn’t really have time to meet up and work on stuff with Elijah beforehand?
None of that happened. We didn’t have time. I just showed up and we figured it out and (director) Franck (Khalfoun) trusted me and if there was something he didn’t like or if he wanted me to do something else, we’d figure it out. A lot of scenes were about 6 takes and that was it. For me, it was really amazing, because I’m used to doing commercials where they’re giving me lines to read.
Was the movie fully scripted? Or was there improvisation? The conversations felt natural as if they were improvised.
It was fully scripted. There was definitely a script we followed. When Lucie was in her apartment, there was a little bit of improv, but I don’t know how much of that was used. It was more about using the space we were in to our advantage.
I think the most impressive thing about this movie is the technical way it was made; shooting the entire thing from the P.O.V. (point of view) of the killer. Did you know early on that that was the plan? Was it scripted that way?
Yes, it was in the script. And the information about the P.O.V. was there. I assumed as I read it ‘well that’s going to change’!
One of the first rules of being an actor is don’t look directly into the camera! So you get on set and they’re shooting this P.O.V. gimmick. How difficult was that as an actor to get used to?
It definitely felt really strange to interact with a human but all your actual interaction is directly at the camera-lens, and it was a little distracting because I would see my reflection. The “sex scene” was tricky, because I had to climb on Elijah and at that point you’re seeing it from the ceiling mirror and at a certain point I had to be aware of when he would look down and I’d have to switch to addressing the camera again. That was a tough shot.
Was it hard to coordinate between giving a performance versus the technical aspects of each scene?
I wouldn’t say that it was difficult. As an actor, you want to be present in a scene, but it’s like remembering your marks and staying present. I didn’t find it more difficult than usual.
The first time you saw the completed film was in Cannes?
Yeah. And I had no idea what to expect!
What surprised you the most about seeing the completed film for the first time?
I had seen my scenes during the ADR process and I was really impressed. At some point, I had seen some of the dailies and it weirded me out a little bit, especially some of the “sex” scene which out of context came off a little like porn, so I decided I didn’t want to see anything else. But when I saw it assembled, it was really beautiful. It was shot beautifully, the colors are really great. And then the soundtrack. Wow.
As a fan you’re always a little skeptical walking into something that you have a pre-determined knowledge of or a previous movie that you’re inevitably going to compare it to, but man – I thought that opening scene was so effective that by the time the title card came up, I knew this was a rare exception. The soundtrack by Rob is amazing.
I think the entire style of it is very hip and cool. I love the way they make downtown LA look.
I remember New York in the 80’s and that’s so pivotal to the original ‘Maniac.’ Now as a modern present day story, Los Angeles definitely seems more appropriate because present day New York is not what it used to be.
It’s like Disneyland now!
What was the general vibe from the audience seeing the movie for the first time at Cannes? Obviously, fans were curious, but I remember a flurry of Twitter posts coming out that were all predominantly positive & saying the movie was really good!
I know horror fans were really upset with the casting choice of Elijah. But at Cannes we got a standing ovation when it was over, which I don’t think any of us anticipated. There were a couple of moments where people gasped and stormed out. I read somewhere that it was the most “walked out” film at Cannes, which Cannes is famous for. But it was a cool energy. People seemed really into it. They giggled at the right moments and by the end, the scalping’s were getting applause.
They get more and more intense! That’s for sure. Speaking of the scalping’s, KNB EFX worked on this and the work they did is impeccable. I can only assume that most of it is practical, because that’s how it looked. How intricate was the FX side of things for you?
Oh, mine was a full prosthetics. We all had scalp fittings, so it was a prosthetic scalp. The only thing that involved CGI was I think they just made my face look a little redder and I had X marks on my forehead just to blend my forehead with the scalp a little bit more, but the gore you see on screen is pretty close to what we shot there on set. It was horrific. At the Cinefamily screening, one of my friends fainted right after that scene. She went out into the lobby and passed out.
Mission accomplished! (Laughs)
I’m sure the producers probably thought that because of the P.O.V. angle of the film, they could cast someone like Elijah Wood and he didn’t have to be there for the majority of the shoot. Yet, in the Q & A at the Cinefamily, he said he was pretty much there for all of it. You definitely feel his presence even when you don’t see him. How much did you work directly with him? Was he there right next to the camera the entire time you did your stuff?
The schedule I got originally had me working with his double Steven Williams for half of the time. I showed up my first day, and the producers said that Elijah was going to be there and wanted to be there. So every scene that I do, Elijah is there. Even in Lucie’s apartment where I’m interacting with (cinematographer) Maxime (Alexandre), Elijah was there too. Elijah was right there next to Maxime for everything, even if it was just to see his hands. He was definitely there for all my scenes.
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie, excluding yours of course?
I actually really like the scene where Anna (Nora Arnezeder) discovers that Frank is who he is and she’s crying and trying to defend herself in the kitchen. It’s a great vulnerable moment and it’s my favorite of her performance. The subway stuff is beautifully shot and looks so gorgeous. I also love the opening scene/first scalping.
What’d you take away from the whole experience?
Well, I really got to challenge myself, because I usually tend to play characters that are quirky and nerdy. I’ve never been looked at previously as a “sexual object”. So it was funny, it was everything I said I wouldn’t do when I first came out to LA is in this movie from the nudity to the violence to the fact that it’s a horror film. For me, stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something totally different that people wouldn’t expect from me.
Your career in film actually goes all the way back to your history in dance and as a producer. Can you talk a bit about that?
I had done dance for years as a teenager and was approaching that as a career, but had injured myself and couldn’t really continue and I started thinking about other things I wanted to do with my life. One of the things I loved about dance, I would get to put on costumes and embody different characters. And so, the logical step for me was acting. I had about a year where I was working a lot of jobs and then a drought. But I had a lot of director friends who would complain about their producers not pulling their weight, or just looking for help in general with their productions, so I said what can I help with? So I found myself suddenly producing. They started to recognize that I had a knack for production and I continued to get asked to continue producing. And also, I was a really bossy kid, so it makes sense I would want to produce. (Laughs)
You had produced several prominent music videos. Which are some that you’re most proud of? Which ones should I and our readers go find on You Tube? (Laughs)
The Smashing Pumpkins video for GLOW. Billy Corgan’s really delightful. And we shot this video with this high definition super sleek looking lights and we intercut it with this weird rave-y party footage. The whole experience was really fun and I think the video turned out really cool. Music video budgets aren’t what they used to be. You look at “Tonight, Tonight” and that was a million dollar video back in the 90’s. People don’t have the money to spend these days, and even if they did, it’s just going to go on You Tube anyways. We had a small budget and I feel like we pulled off some cool creative stuff with that budget. I also produced a Boomkat video, which is a project with Taryn Manning and her brother Kellin. I did 4 videos with Taryn: Runaway, Turn It Up, Run Boy and Lonely Child. The Boomkat video was super tiny, but it was this big dance party with all of these extras and costumes. We found a group of really talented film school kids to be a part of that & they’re all working and have successful careers now, but that was another one I was proud of because it was fun. It felt like a party and we just happened to be working it.
Keep up to date on Megan Duffy via her official website, her Twitter account and her Facebook page. Read FEARnet's review of 'Maniac.'