This week, Radio Silence’s contemporary take on Rosemary’s Baby is unleashed on the big screen. In anticipation of one of horror’s most controversial ‘reboots’, FilmJuice chatted to Zach Gilford, who plays newly-wed Zach McCall, whose life takes an unexpectedly dark detour when he discovers that his new bride’s pregnancy may actually be the Devil’s work…
What did Radio Silence do to convince you to take the part?
They talked me through what the script was going to be, and I got to see the Radio Silence segment from V/H/S, and they just seemed cool and fun to work with. Going in, you think it’s either going to work and be scary or it’s going to not work: you have to roll the dice and take that risk. But based on everything they were telling me and the vibe I had for them, it seemed like it was worth doing.
Did you know beforehand who Radio Silence were?
Just from V/H/S, and I was confused at first. It says ‘directed by’ and it had four guys’ names there! You’re like, ‘What?’
How does that even work?
Well you don’t want to go in saying, ‘OK, who’s the director, what’s going on here?’ You want to play it cool and try and suss out if one of them is the actual director. You’re playing this weird game where you’re trying to act real savvy when you’ve no idea what’s going on! But they’re all awesome guys and it was even clear during the audition process that they all work together; giving notes and suggestions – and they were all good suggestions and clear. The way they work together as a group is pretty amazing. I never saw a single ego throughout the whole process. And they trust each other: if it’s three against one, the one person just shuts up and goes with it.
Bearing in mind that Radio Silence started out making films online, was there any reservation on your part about their experience?
Not at all. I’ve worked with a lot of first time directors before and sometimes it works out amazing and is a pleasure, and other times it’s an awful experience. You never really know, but these guys had a lot of work you could look at. It’s so easy to make a movie now and just put it online. I tell students who ask me, ‘Just do it.’ That’s exactly how these guys got to where they are. They just started shooting stuff together and made good stuff. Fox found them and asked them to make a movie.
What did you think of the YouTube movies that the guys had done previously?
They were fun. Some are better than others, but you definitely can tell these guys were enjoying what they were doing. Even over the course of this movie, they would always take a second and look around and start laughing … they were so thankful to be doing what they were doing. There’s no sense of entitlement. Every step of the way they were like, ‘I can’t believe we get to do this!’ Which is how I like to approach my work as well.
Devil’s Due is filmed as a home video, made by your character, Zach. Were you familiar with this sort of Point Of View (POV) movie?
I’m definitely familiar with it and, again, some are good, some seem like a gimmick. The thing for us throughout the shoot was trying to make it realistic, where you’re not going to be watching it going, ‘Why is this guy filming right now?’ So we found this way to justify it: early on in the movie a friend gives me this clip-on camera for our wedding, so later on when crazy shit’s going on it makes sense that I try and get proof by using it. That way my character doesn’t have to run around with a camera in his hand and we buy that things are being filmed. I was very happy that we were conscious of not making things seem forced.
The Radio Silence guys said they gave you basic camera operator training ….
They didn’t give me any training! They put a camera in my hand! That was it! I guess maybe at the beginning I would do the scene with the camera and just shoot it and they’d look at it, and then a few times Tyler would step in and he’d film. When that happened I’d stand right behind him so he’d be shooting and making it look the way he wanted it to, and I’d act the scene right behind him. It was this funny awkward thing, but after a couple of days I think they realized I came up with good shots and understood where the camera should be, so in the end they let me shoot most of it.
What it hard to be in control of both shooting and acting?
Well, the character is supposed to be filming, so that’s true to the scene, but there were times I’d feel bad for Allison (Miller) … she’d have a scene where she’s supposed to be breaking down and I’m trying to act with her and film at the same time.
On screen, it looks like you and Allison have a lot of natural chemistry. Did you know her beforehand?
I didn’t know her at all. They cast her first and then I had to do a ‘chemistry’ read with her, and any time you do a chemistry read it’s so awkward. You really have to turn up the charm in the room and make her like you. Then you get the job and you meet as normal people. But it’s funny – she has a lot of similarities to my wife, like being into the cartoon artist Edward Gory – random stuff. By the luck of the draw we just got along really well and have similar work styles.
A lot of what you were doing looks like improvisation – was it?
Yeah – the majority of it. We weren’t making up scenes but we were making up a lot of what we said in the scene, and that’s because of the nature of these POV things. It’s hard to have a super-scripted dialogue. I kind of worked a similar way on Friday Night Lights – we got the freedom to improv a lot but it wasn’t like we’d show up on set and they’d say, ‘Make up a scene!’. It was more like, ‘OK, in this scene, this needs to happen.’
Devil’s Due may be a horror movie, but you and Allison almost play it like you’re doing a rom com, then this stuff just happens to you. Did it feel tense or spooky when shooting, or did it feel like you were just doing a romantic drama?
I think we were conscious of that the whole time. We didn’t think this movie worked unless you really liked this couple, otherwise it’s just another horror movie. But if you charm the audience into caring about them, then when all this crazy stuff starts happening it’s not just freaky, but heartbreaking. You don’t want this to happen to these people.
There’s clearly a Rosemary’s Baby element to Devil’s Due. Where you conscious of it, and what do you think makes it different?
I was totally conscious of it. It’s funny, as I’d only seen that movie a couple of months before this project came up. This is like a Point Of View Rosemary’s Baby – they all said it and everybody knew it. It was even part of the pitch of it. So it’s a similar story, but it’s not the same story: it’s 40 years later… so it’s inherently different. And there was never a moment where they attempted to make an homage to it.
What’s next for you? Would you work with Radio Silence again?
I would work with these guys again in a heartbeat. I told them that whatever they do next I’m in. I told them I’m the honorary fifth member of Radio Silence. ‘I filmed enough of this movie, I should be part of your group!’ It was such a good experience… I can’t wait to see it.
Devil’s Due is in Cinemas from 16th January 2014.