A Chat with Joe Anderson, Joe Anderson interview, "The Ruins"

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Joe Anderson had a pretty damned good couple of years. He wowed the art house crowds by playing Joy Division bassist Peter Hook in the Ian Curtis bio-pic, “Control,” scored new fans from old Beatlemaniacs by playing Max Carrigan in “Across the Universe,” and even got in on the horror genre via his role of Mathias in the film adaptation of Scott Smith’s novel, “The Ruins.” Bullz-Eye had a chance to speak with Anderson in conjunction with the DVD release of “The Ruins,” and we took advantage of the opportunity to ask him about all three films.

Bullz-Eye: How’s it going, Joe?

Joe Anderson: Good, buddy. Where are ya?

BE: In Chesapeake, Virginia. Right next door to Virginia Beach.

JA: Wow, okay. Huh. I’m heading over there soon. I’m going Wednesday…no, Thursday. My girlfriend’s from that neck of the woods, so we’re going to visit her folks.

BE: Well, if you want a beer, give me a call. I’m buying.

JA: (laughs) Yeah, I’ll do that.

BE: So are you generally a horror movie kind of guy? I mean, I know your first couple of films were thrillers, but horror’s another genre entirely.

JA: Yeah, it was…I went through sort of a bizarre phase of renting scary flick after scary flick. I went mental, in fact. I think I watched every single one there is. It was weird. I had this obsession. As I was slowly being desensitized to it, I was, like, “Come on, I want to find something that really fucks me up!” So I just went mad, buying endless DVDs. But it’s a hard one, I think, to pull off. Especially now, unless you’re going to go into extreme gratuitous violence…which we kind of do, but there’s a story there, as opposed to just some guy getting drilled.

BE: Yeah, at least there’s something creative to the story.

JA: Yeah, and it was a hard one to pull off, so it was intriguing in that way. It was, like, “Killer vines? Are you kidding me?”

BE: Had you read the original Scott Smith novel before you signed on?

JA: Well, that was the thing: I got it, and then I got the script, saw the differences, and I was, like, “Okay, I’m going to stop reading this right now.” Because it’s quite different. Different things happen to different characters…like the Greek…so it wasn’t useful. And I came on board quite quickly, so it was just, like, jump on a plane and you’re out to Australia! And the script was evolving so much, anyway. I think the first 20 pages we jumped in and were improvising stuff. There’s a four-way conversation at the pool that was pretty much improvised. One of the writers came in and just sort of listened to us, really, and recorded us. So it was changing quite a lot. The book, after awhile, had no relevance to what we were doing.

BE: It was definitely a strong ensemble cast of actors…rather than, say, disposable performers. If you hadn’t read the book, you couldn’t immediately guess who was going to die first.

JA: Yeah, and it’s weird…it’s strange watching it and watching the time frame it takes place in. It goes by so quick, even though we were doing it for five months. Keeping that level of intensity in the acting, it was quite hard to keep a through-line on the peaks and the troughs. You had to really be on it, to try not to play the result as if you know this guy’s gonna get whacked, or this guy’s gonna get shot in the face, or whatever’s going on. Is my leg gone? How dead am I? It got confusing after awhile.

“Dude, there are scenes in (‘The Ruins’)… they’re something. Some horrible stuff. People were walking off set when I got my leg chopped off. I took one of those home, by the way. You can imagine trying to get through immigration with a foot.”

BE: You mentioned the changes between the book and the film. I have to say that the ending, at least the one in the theater, made me angry enough to throttle someone. I know (director) Carter Smith has said that leaving the original ending from the book would’ve left people dumb and really unhappy, but I still couldn’t believe they changed something that dark and made it even vaguely optimistic.

JA: Yeah, ‘cause there was never really…I mean, they left it with the Greeks discovering the vines, but there are so many endings, ‘cause I know they shot, like, four.

BE: And there’s an alternate one where it’s quite evident that Amy is indeed infected by the vine. But the way it ended in the theater, the implication is that she got away safely.

JA: Was the alternate one where it came through her eye?

BE: Yeah, right around her eye.

JA: Okay, there’s that one, and there’s one where she gets back to the hotel. I mean, it’s kind of cool, and I kind of wish they would’ve put more on there. But that’s the thing: do you want to be left with that ending? I mean, that’s why I like movies, anyway: they’re a package. They can leave you a bit empty, a bit unfulfilled at the end, but at least it’s a rounded experience, as opposed to something that doesn’t quite get you all the way. So I dunno. But also, dude, there are scenes in that movie that…I don’t know if they’ve been included as extras, but they’re something. Some horrible stuff. People were walking off set when I got my leg chopped off.

BE: That was pretty intense, to say the least.

JA: I took one of those home. You can imagine trying to get through immigration with a foot.

BE: (laughs) “No, it’s mine, I swear!” So what’s your favorite horror movie? Do you have a specific favorite?

JA: Yeah, I do. I like “The Shining.” But, also, “Rosemary’s Baby” is…it gets there, at least a little bit. Although I wish it had been done a bit later. But I love that idea of the dark, demonic weirdness surrounding the creation of life. It’s bizarre. Yeah, and I liked…do you know what’s a really good movie? The third “Exorcist.”

BE: With George C. Scott?

JA: Yeah!

(On “Control”) “We weren’t even supposed to play the music. Nobody ever asked me if I played the guitar or any of that, so I don’t know how they were hoping that was going to work out, but they decided two days before principal photography that we were going to do the music.”

BE: Dude, I really like that, too. The book it’s based on (Legion) is even better, but I really liked the movie, too.

JA: Yeah, I just thought it was in keeping with the first one, and the performances were great, and it wasn’t shock value the whole time. It was kind of classic in the way it was filmed, and I thought it was a really great movie. But it’s interesting that it’s sort of crossing genres, in a way, the way they did with “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” where they turned a horror film into a courtroom drama. Or even “The Devil’s Advocate.” (hesitates) Was it “The Devil’s Advocate?”

BE: The one with Pacino?

JA: Yeah, where it’s a “Temptation of Christ” type thing. It’s nice when they do that, I think. (sighs) But, yeah, man, killer vines. It could’ve been like “Little Shop of Horrors” on crack, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I thought they managed to make it work quite well.

BE: You know, the big reason I wanted to talk to you was that I did an interview with Peter Hook a few weeks ago.

JA: (starts laughing) Hooky!

BE: He admitted that he had not met you during the production of “Control” or anything, but he told me this great story about going to the bathroom during a screening of the film and ending up at the urinal next to Sam Riley and James Anthony Pearson. He said, “Where’s the bloke who played me?” And they said, “He’s in Hollywood.” And Hooky looks over at Anthony Pearson and says, “See, if you’d played me, you’d be in Hollywood now.”

JA: (laughs) That’s hilarious! No, I’ve never met him. I was kind of a bit afraid. I thought, “What happens if I played him wrongly and he’s pissed?” But, no, he was all right, apparently. So I’m yet to meet him, and I sort of want to, because I’ve played his guitar. But I haven’t met him. Which is a bit weird.

BE: What was your knowledge of Joy Division, or even New Order, before you did the film?

JA: Very, very little. It was more of New Order than it was of Joy Division. I didn’t really know Joy Division. I knew “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” but that was about the extent of it. But, again, it was sort of early days, and you don’t know that you’re doing a project until the minute before, and you’re jumping on wherever…we were filming up north, so it was only a train ride away for me, but it was still one of those projects where it was, “Get on the train, get up there, go, go, go!” We had a week’s rehearsal, and we weren’t even supposed to play the music, but…nobody ever asked me if I played the guitar or any of that, so I don’t know how they were hoping that was going to work out, but they decided two days before principal photography that we were going to do the music. So there was no backing track or anything, so we had to record in the wide shot, and then with every punch-in, we’d mime to the recording that we’d just recorded in the wide as we came in closer and closer. So the whole thing felt off-the-cuff, trying to get it right. And there’s not much video footage of them, either, nor too many interviews. There’s a lot of literature, but there’s not much in terms of actually being able to see these guys perform. So physicalities and movements and stuff like that, it was kind of interesting. But, again, there wasn’t much time to think about it. You just had to do it.

BE: How was Anton Corbijn as a director? Clearly, it was more of a labor of love than an intent to make a big blockbuster.

JA: But it’s funny, because you can do a huge movie…well, I say a huge movie, but a movie with $70 million behind them, and you can watch a really experienced film director just flounder…well, not flounder, but run around like headless chickens, or be aggressive or be loud or bark. The stress gets to them. And Anton, who’s never really done a movie before. He’d recorded a couple…well, quite a few…music videos, but he just knew the people and knew the time, and that was the reason he came over in the first place. To shoot those guys. So it was very simple. He stuck so tightly to the script as well. I was so impressed. If you watch the movie and you have a copy of the script that we shot, look at how close it is. And it’s refreshing that someone who doesn’t know that much about filmmaking puts so much faith in the structure of the writing. The ego doesn’t get in the way. He didn’t say, “I want to change this at the last second,” and find himself wondering why it didn’t work. He was a very sweet, soft man. I liked him a lot. He’s a good guy.

BE: With “Across the Universe,” how did (director) Julie Taymor describe the film to you as far as her vision of what it would look like? And how did you feel about how it was received by audiences, given that it was such a unique vision?

“Yeah, man, killer vines. It could’ve been like ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ on crack, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I thought they managed to make it work quite well.”

JA: I think the way that it was marketed had more to do with the reception of the movie, how they distributed it and how they promoted it…or lack of it. But it was one of those things that, again, was very theatrical, very improv-based…although the design of Mark Friedberg, the production designer, he had things mapped out months and months before. But I think from pitch to the first day of shooting was only a year. It wasn’t as if this thing was in development for a long time. It was constantly changing. I remember we had already…I think we were a week away from shooting, three weeks into rehearsal, and the Statue of Liberty idea came up. So things that were quite big and quite symbolic moments in the movie were thought of quite late in the day. But I liked that, because we went to drama school and training in theater, and it was a musical, so you can get away with improv and craziness and stuff that didn’t have to fit or have too much meaning behind it. It was fun to shoot, and Julie works a hundred miles an hour. The original pitch was…I dunno, I was going in to play Jude, I think, because I was English, and they wanted someone from Liverpool, so naturally my agent was, like, “Well, you’re English, so you might as well do Liverpool.” And then she just pitched this sort of crazy love story and this brother who goes to Vietnam, and I thought, “Oh, that sounds interesting! I want to do that one!” So I met her again, and that was that. But the pitch…it was osmosis over four months. You know that so-and-so is going to be doing the music, and T-Bone Burnett’s going to be involved, and Bono’s going to have something to do with it…

BE: I’d think that just being one degree of separation away from Bono has gotta be weird for you.

JA: Yeah, that’s kind of bizarre. And, ironically, I did a movie with his daughter. Separately. His daughter’s not really an actress, but…

BE: (laughs) I’m sure you mean that in the best possible way.

JA: No, no, no, I didn’t mean it that way! I just meant she’d never done anything before! (laughs) No, no, God, no!

BE: I’m just kidding! I absolutely understood what you meant.

JA: No, but, seriously, she was good, and she was sweet. Very wonderful. But, yeah, Bono… I dunno, it was weird.

BE: I’m sure. Okay, I’ll let the next person have a go, but thanks for chatting me with today.

JA: Oh, yeah, you, too, pal! Thanks a lot!

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