On Sunday night, director Simon Rumley premiered his new film Red White & Blue at Austin's premier film festival, South By Southwest. Costarring Noah Taylor (Almost Famous) and Marc Senter (Cabin Fever 2), the film follows a troubled girl named Erica (played by Amanda Fuller) who seems determined to sleep her way through the entire male population of Austin, TX – that is, until she meets Nate (Taylor), an Iraq War veteran who sees right through her callused detachment. The two begin a tender romance, but when Frankie (Senter), one of Erica's former conquests, returns to her life with some troubling news, circumstances rapidly devolve into a series of devastating and irreparable acts of brutality.
FEARnet's inestimable Scott Weinberg is working on a review of the film, but, in the mean time, I was lucky enough to catch up with Rumley, Senter, Fuller and Taylor in Austin for an exclusive chat about the tough challenges they faced bringing this terrifying story to life. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Simon, How did you figure out what the structure of the film was going to be?
Rumley: I've always enjoyed messing with structure, and I'd say probably four out of my five films have had a relatively nonlinear or unusual structure. Certainly The Living and the Dead, which was my last film, was really kind of almost a few different composite structures built into one. So I guess it's always something that fascinated me, and it very much came from… I wrote like 20 pages, and I just felt like it wasn't really working, so then a couple of years later I just decided that the only way it was going to work as a film, especially with what Erica perpetrates and what happens to her, I felt like the only way the film's going to work is if we actually build up the character and people empathize or there's some sort of feeling from the audience. So I decided that was the way forward and I started writing with that in mind, and then after a while I [realized] yeah, this is kind of working, so what I'm going to do is I'm going to get to the end of the first part of the story and then re-strategize in my own mind.
By the end of the first 30 pages, I was like, okay, and I knew I also wanted to do a story about the guy who she, uh, interacts with, shall we say, so I decided I'd do his third. By the time I'd done his third, it was like, okay, I need to do another third with a lead, and it happened that it was Nate. Sometimes you just write and everything's straightforward and you just do it, and you do a few rewrites and you're there, and this was very much a writing process I was making it up as I go along. The story actually does proceed from A to Zed, but instead of being through one character, it's actually through three equal characters in terms of length.
Amanda, how tough was it to get into the mindset of this girl who's so callused over that she uses sex to sort of retaliate against the world?
Fuller: I think as human beings we are all made up of the same material, and despite what we've gone through in our past, there's always something deep within us that speaks on that very human level and I still connected to everything she was going through even though I don't have the same things in my past. The loneliness, the fear, and the feeling of wanting to be accepted, and wanting to be a good person but battling with ego, we can all relate to that in some way. She was a girl who was living it to its fullest, because she's built this cage that she's trapped in because of this past. I think it's very important for me to approach any character without judgment, especially one of this nature where [what she's doing is] questionable whether it's kind of intentional, and I think it's up to the audience. Simon and I didn't even agree on that; we kind of talked about it, but then kind of left it on our own opinions of it. So it was important to have her connected to my soul and let my soul breathe in that even though it made me go to places that maybe I've locked away.
I also did a lot of research on characters that have gone through that sort of thing; in the past I've actually played characters that were molested and had sexual addictions and whatnot, so I kind of luckily had a little arsenal from the past of what to relate it to because four days after I met Simon, I was in Austin and we were getting ready to shoot. So I didn't have the time to do the research I normally would, and it made me trust the storytelling and Simon so much more. I don't think that [for her] the sleeping around is enjoyment; I think it's sabotage, and it's something where my perspective is that it's her way of being numb and staying safe in that cage. It's not until she meets Nate and feels that connection and sees that maybe there's someone else out there that might understand who she is and what's she's going through that she's able to think, oh, maybe I can fly away from this. Maybe there's another way and I don't have to resort to all of the bad decision-making that has numbed me and made me live my life up to this point and yet I hate about myself.
Marc, what was involved in the process of creating a fully-realized portrait of this character?
Senter: Basically I think it's something important to say, and Simon's said this numerous times, that all of these characters are good people, but they just end up in sh*tty situations. I think my character is the freakin' king of that. What I love about him and something I really identified with and kind of my starting point, was that he was just a good old Austin boy. I saw him as just a good Southern boy, like a mama's boy – that's totally how I saw him, and that's kind of what I built off of. He loves his mom more than anything and he's doing everything he can to take care of her, so I really of course empathized with him, but just knowing off the bat that he's a good guy, and really, he's just a guy – he's not some crazy guy, he's not a sociopath, he's not some crazy drug-addict rock star. He's just a guy. He wants to make it with his band and he wants to give whatever money he earns to his mother, and maybe have a couple of good shows in between. Then, of course, life happens, and that's what kind of sets him off.
Noah, what do you think it is that draws him to Erica – that in terms of the anecdote he tells about his childhood pet, what makes her his "new kitten," so to speak?
Taylor: Pre- the internet, where I guess now serial killers or whatever sort of weird fetish you're into can hook up via a shared website or chatroom… Pre- the internet though, like in England there was Fred and Rosemary West, these horrible serial killers that were husband and wife, and you think, "How on earth do these two people meet?" Like, "Oh, I'm into serial killing and torture too!" But like recognizes like, and the sort of idea behind that little speech is, "Hey, I wear a little mask and pretend to be normal but I'm quite a bad, scary motherf*cker, and I can see that you're wearing a mask and pretending to be normal. I know you're up to [something]; I don't know what it is exactly, but I know it's something, so I'm telling you up front this is what I am and it's okay. You can lie to everyone else and I'm not going to blow your thing, but I just want to make you aware that I know what's going on."
I think instantly, he sees something in her eyes that he recognizes is a dangerous animal, but something that he wants to care for as well. Like he recognizes that she's a bit of a predator, but she's kind of blameless for it, and he's okay with that and he immediately tells her that. Fright at the start, it's an interesting thing to do because it sort of sets it up for much later on; you go, "Okay, he is a nut." But it is a testament to the construction of the script more than anything else.
When you play a guy like Nate, are you thinking about creating a character who has a sort of self-imposed normalcy? There seems to be a line within him, and if someone crosses it he is capable of some terrible things.
Taylor: Partially because it was set in Texas and things like that, in a strange way it reminds me of a western, this film, and in particular you couldn't get a more different film but there's a slight similarity to Shane and the Alan Ladd character who is sort of forced to pick up his guns again. I saw him as a sort of old school Southern gent whose woman has been messed around with, so it's sort of his manly duty to step in there. So I think he either reacts without thinking or it's very calculated, and he can sort of vacillate between the two, but if he hadn't been put in that position he could quite happily be a nice guy that you live next door to for 22 years and then you do the wrong thing and he's a nightmare.
Marc, how difficult was it to find the throughline of this guy's spontaneity, his capacity for committing these terrible acts, and yet his ability to know instantly that he messed up?
Senter: It was difficult, man. It was tough. Especially since we were moving fast; I remember like every day I'd look at the call sheet and see what I have to do, and one minute I'm breaking down and in the next minute I'm screaming, and then I can't believe I did what I did. It's just true – I think you nailed it when you said spontaneous – his decisions aren't calculated at all. Nate is Mr. Calculation; he's the discharged Iraq vet and he's got the whole thing down. Frankie just gets thrown in these situations and so it is totally spontaneous how he's going to react. I truthfully believe his reactions, and certainly what I intended to do, was make them as realistic as possible. Like when you have a bad day, you know – you do stuff, you punch the wall. Well, what if you found out, instead of just having a bad day, your mother who is dying of cancer – you just found out you're giving her AIDS, which is your fault. It's like if you think about that, any person is going to do something totally drastic. Obviously it depends on the person, how far they will take it, but it's like, truthfully, if you put them in that situation and they're going to freak out, they're going to act out of fear, and whatever.
Noah, no matter how a movie like this is described, after you sign on to participate there is a potential that it could turn into a gorefest. What did Simon say to reassure you that this was not going to be about pointless brutality?
Taylor: That was an obvious question with me, and I read the script and I loved the script, but as you say it could have easily gone down that path – and I don't want to have anything to do with that. The combination of the torture and sex could easily be exploited for a particular market. But I watched The Living and the Dead and after that I [knew] it's fine – I know where the guy's at now, and also the making of that film is very sort of helpful to watch. And also, too, that they could accomplish a film like The Living and the Dead in such a short time frame, once I saw [it] I was a huge fan of that film and said, yeah, the guy has got serious intellect. He's an original filmmaker, so great, let's go for it.
When you're subjected to some of the film's brutality, how did it affect your performance that each segment of the film was shot from a different perspective, and in the case of some of these scenes, specifically someone else's point of view?
Fuller: I don't think anything makes that easier. You know, we shot all of that as if it was happening in real life, so regardless of thinking of it as a film or from what perspective it was, it was just like Erica in that situation. And when it comes to being hog-tied and all of that, it was difficult. After a couple of weeks of crazy shooting, exhaustion and heat, to be hog tied – have you ever been hog tied?
Fuller: Neither had I, and I was like, sure, do whatever. Because they honestly had me tied in a different way at first and they thought about it, she could get out – this isn't real. I was like, if we're going to do this, then do it right, so whatever you're going to do, do it! So they did the hog-tie thing and within a minute, your limbs go numb. Ten minutes of it, I started to think, "I'm actually in danger." So [I said], "We really need to stop and break," but the point is that by the end of that night, I really felt like I really went through that. A lot of it was taken out of the film, which I think was good because we didn't need to show too much of it, but we shot a lot of it.
Simon, as a director, ultimately, where do you draw the line between creating an intense scenario and just documenting pure brutality?
Rumley: I think with [Red White & Blue] it's not so much a horror film as it is a terror film, and it's very much about the threat of violence. We don't see terror in the cinema very much because you either see some guy running around with a chainsaw or baseball or you see the quick stabbing action with blood squirting everywhere. So for me, what I wanted to do in this film was just hone in on people's faces; if I'm holding a knife to your neck, you're going to be scared, and for us as a viewer, watching other human beings be scared about what is possibly going to happen with their life – you know, are they going to die – I don't think you see that very much in the cinema. So it was something I wanted to explore with all of the characters, and it was very much about exploring that terror and just the great faces and expressions that everyone was able to pull rather than seeing the violence itself. In terms of the on screen violence, it's actual not that violent at all, but there's a lot of stuff going on off screen which is pretty harsh.