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INT: Erica Leerhsen

10.04.2003by: The Arrow

The Arrow interviews
Erica Leerhsen & Jonathan Tucker

I had the pleasure of attending the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" junket in New York City recently. First up to spiked baseball bat was: Erica "Oh shit she's hot" Leerhsen and Jonathan Tucker. I've been a fan of Erica since "Blair Witch 2" which I loved and it was a pleasure to meet her in person. She was genuine, charming, passionate and definitely not corrupted by the system. As for Jonathan (he was in "Sleepers"), he was also a pretty nice guy, but the fact that he's a self proclaimed "non-horror fan" kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Here's what went down between them, me, the Lord above and of course, the other journalists at the table. 

(note: the writing in yellow was my interior monologue at the time)

How was it working with R. Lee Ermey?

EL: He just kind of came on set and I hated him at first. He was such an obnoxious character, so sadistic. He was improvising all this stuff and it was so offensive and inappropriate (what a great man!). We were sort of laughing, but then we felt so dirty for laughing at him and that’s the part he plays in the movie. Then I got to know him as a person and he was the most wonderful, sweetest guy in the world, but I was glad he did that to me and I learned a lesson as an actor. I mean, we all do that, we lend ourselves to our characters when we first meet each other. It was very easy to act with him.

JT: I think Ermey taught us that you come up to a set for like two weeks and steal the show. The guy did such an amazing job. He just carved out his character so vigorously and I was like “Wow, this guy is great!”

So did he improvise the “cop a feel” line?

JT: Yeah, almost everything he’s done in there is improvised.

EL: I thought that was just his personality until I got to know him. I think that’s what you should do when you come on set, it’s not your job to be friends with everybody, and it’s your job to get your character out there.  

How was your relationship with the guy who played Leatherface on set?

JT: The guy was super “method” to the point of “Yo, you can't drop me to the ground with my handcuffs on, my wrists are going to break”. You know, we got 9 more takes of this pal! We’d be at lunch and he’d sit and squeal because he was so much in character. And it looks great, he does a great job, I had no idea how important it was. 

EL: Yeah and he’s such a huge guy and he was asked to do all of his own stunts, jumping off things with all that stuff on him. It’s not exactly the safest thing for anyone to be doing. It took a toll and we were dealing with someone who was exhausted, who didn’t have the energy to make it safe for you all the time. I felt like I had to defend my own life when I was in a scene with him. Like if I didn’t get that barrel down in one scene, he was not stopping. (Man, Erica is so sexy when she tells an agitated story)

JT: She‘s not kidding.

EL: And that barrel weighted 80 pounds and it was thrown at him at the last minute. I’m not that strong and I had to constantly pick it up and throw it back. Before every take I’d hear the chainsaw roar and I was like, “Ok I’m going to die.”

So I guess the movie was more taxing for you than Blair Witch 2?

EL: Yes, much more taxing because the character in that movie was completely in denial about what was going on. That’s why we have denial, so we don’t have to feel beat up by life so much in a way. In this movie, I think the hardest thing for all of us is that the first thing that happens in front of our face, that terrible thing, was having to face the worst trauma and that’s just the beginning of what we have to face.

How coarse did you get screaming all the time?

EL: So coarse. There’s one shot where there was such a highly technical move in the van, one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and we had to react to that for like 40 or 50 times and by that point you can’t even scream anymore. It was the third day of shooting and Jessica and I both lost our voices because we had to scream over and over and over and at any moment they can get the camera right and it would be in the movie, that’s your reaction. So it had to be as intense every single time. It was really hard.

Did you find yourself judging your characters’ behavior based on the people that you are?

EL: I kept trying to be stronger and Marcus kept reminding me that my role wouldn’t stand up to Jessica, wouldn’t question her and would be very kind of insecure and very sweet. I wanted her to be a tough ass; she definitely was the opposite of that. (God, I want to ask her out! Would that be out of line?)

JT: I feel the first thing you do when you come to a character is to ask yourself how his life is, how is it not me and how do I shift accordingly? 

Was it really that hot and sweaty in Texas?

JT: I was miserable.

EL: It was about 130 degrees inside the van.

JT: The rest of the movie we were kind of matching how sweaty we were in the van because we set this level of sweat that was very high.

So you guys got sprayed a lot I assume?

EL: Yeah, a lot of oil and a lot of spray.

Anybody got sick? I mean, it’s raining, you’re sprayed, and it’s hot…

EL: I got sick by the end. I was so nauseous constantly, I couldn’t eat. I don’t know if I ate something weird, but I was so sick and it took me like a month to recover from it.

JT: We could be doing a lot of other jobs though like laying bricks or scraping concrete, so we’re very fortunate. It was hot in the van, but we were happy to be in this movie. Really, it was such a great experience with a fantastic team behind it. I feel that we really took the horror genre and the confines of it and elevated it a little bit by tackling the story like we would any other drama or any independent film or any other movie.

Erica, how did you get the job in the Woody Allen movie?

EL: He offered it to me based on “Hollywood Ending”. I was in the film for a short time, but I was on set for a long time, for like three months. But my part wound up being very small, most of it was improvised. So I got this call “Do you want to play Connie in “Anything Else” and I was like “Sure!” He really likes to work with the same people, if he likes someone. I was really excited to do it.

Was that a highlight for you?

EL: Yeah, I mean it’s almost too intense. I learned a lesson, I idolized him so much when I was younger and I actually wrote a play in College based on a dream that I had where I met him in a supermarket. So he’s like this intense person, and when you put a person on a pedestal like that, it makes it harder when you have to meet them. He was such a huge idol of mine. My sister had this memory of me as a teenager, never without his biography, I was always carrying it around. It was definitely a surreal experience.

Did both of you see the original film?

EL: I saw it right before my first audition.

JT: I saw it afterwards…I saw it like two months ago.

Did it play into you wanting to do the remake?

EL: Yes, when I thought Texas Chainsaw, I thought more of the sequels, I thought it was going to be more of a slasher, gore movie, but when I watched it, it was such an intelligent psychological thriller (No honey, it's a horror movie...really...) I loved the way it used real dead bodies and that’s so much scarier than showing some fake prosthetic thing. I loved it and saw why it had such a place in film history.

JT: I wasn’t into it. When I got the script, I read the title “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and I said to myself, you’ve got to be kidding me (It's a great title to me Taco, should've given me the part instead) And then they said just look at the sides, I read them and said, “Wow, this is really interesting, this is high stakes, this is real, this is good.” Then they said Michael Bay was doing it and this guy Marcus Nispel is an amazing director and we’re going to put a great cast together as if it wasn’t a horror movie... (Huh? How does that work?) I said, “Well, all right.”  

EL: It’s amazing when we all saw Marcus’ reel we were like, “I want to be in that.” We didn’t even see an acting scene, we saw images from videos and commercials. We saw place and we just wanted to go there.

JT: Marcus sees the world differently. It’s fortunate that we have cameras to be able to capture that. Some people express in poems, writing, acting, but he sees the world differently, puts a camera behind his cornea and says this is the world and it’s awesome to be included in that.

Erica, how did you feel about the reaction to “Blair Witch 2”?

EL: At the time, it was such a rollercoaster. I had gone from waiting tables to being a lead in a movie and then I did all the press. It was a great experience for me actually. I keep saying that there’s no question that could ever upset me, because it was the ultimate hazing process (Maybe this is the right time to ask her out...) I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but now I really value it and it made me into a stronger person. The people say something, but it’s not you, it’s a movie you were in, but it’s not personal. It was really a great learning experience.

Would people criticize the movie at the junkets?

EL: Oh yeah, people would say, “I really don’t understand how it relates to the original” (morons) and things like that. And I was like, “I didn’t write it ok! I’m just in it!” I did my character.

JT: She’ll make up for that with the box office returns of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.

EL: But it was great, Joe Berlinger is such a fascinating filmmaker and I loved working with him. I also really liked my character; I thought she was really cool. And I impressed myself because I had never been in a movie before, I had only been in student films and it was cool for me to see that I could do a whole full arc of a character. But the negative reactions were tough. It was a rough time.

Have you seen any of the other horror films that came out this year? Do you feel that the genre is back?

JT: I’m not a horror guy, it’s not my thing, but I respect it a lot. I know how hard it is to make, especially to make good. I haven’t seen any of them but I’ve seen that they’ve done very well financially and that’s great. I think from the reactions we got so far, we made a successful one, maybe even more successful than the ones that came out in the past few years (How do you know if you haven't seen any of them?)

What were the hardest scenes for you guys to film?

JT: I think all scenes in a horror movie are hard places to go where you have to bring out real fear. But with the running with the handcuffs, I was like, “How am I going to do that truthfully?” Let’s see how far my character has been beaten up, let’s see, he has this gash in the back. So how is your body going to fall and how much should he be able to do? And then I have Marcus telling me “Push the couch” and I’m like “I can’t, I’ve been lying for like 10 minutes, she’s holding me up, I can’t now get up and push the couch on him”. So how are you going to make that as truthful as you can within that realm? That was hard for me.

EL: You had to make your own safety calls a lot of the time. It’s not every day that you have to deal with a chainsaw that has sparks coming out of it that is getting this close to your face. Of course, it always gets closer than you planned. You have to make that call. That was the hardest thing for me; you have to be emotionally in the scene, the state the character is in, but at the same time, make sure that you wouldn’t get hurt. And that wasn’t what the character was thinking, she’s thinking, “I have to save my life”. So it was like bouncing those two things and keeping it adreanalized. To have all that fear and that adrenaline can be dangerous when you’re dealing with that sort of stuff.

Do you do any quirky on-set rituals to get into a scene or into character?

EL: I remember the day of the suicide, I was just like crying all day, I was listening to Jeff Buckley, getting into my zone, staring at the scenery and getting into the feeling of the whole of where we were. What I loved about the set is that nobody gave me a hard time. The producer walked right by me, I’m sobbing and he didn’t even say, “Are you ok?” because he knew that it was an intense scene. It was as if someone had died that day.

JT: I’m like MR. Crew. I like buying gifts for everybody, and I like buying beer at the end of the day. But in the same hand, you can’t really care what they think about what’s going on. If you gotta run around and spit on yourself (ok...) or jump through hoops, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is what you see onscreen. Even though you become friends with people, you can’t care about what they think. If you gotta do some really awful stuff you just have to do it and get to that place emotionally (Dammit, there's no opening to ask Erica out! ARRRRGH! I missed my shot!)



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