INT: Brad Anderson

I remember my first experience watching Brad Anderson’s SESSION 9. I had all the lights out, and was kind of relaxing in bed. By the end of the film, I couldn’t sleep a wink. And very rarely does any kind of movie have that affect on me. But it was such a terrifying, yet subtle horror film that was unlike most I had seen. Since then, Brad has continued to make some interesting, and often diverse films including THE MACHINIST, NEXT STOP WONDERLAND and his latest TRANSSIBERIAN. It feels like an old-fashioned thriller, one which relies on the story and some incredibly strong performances more so than a typical Hollywood genre film.

It was very early in the morning when I talked with Brad. I really liked the guy because he is an all around nice guy. And he just seems like a filmmaker with something to say. His films have such a uniqueness about them as does he. He had taken the Trans-Siberian train ride and was inspired by all the passengers and just the atmosphere of the journey. He successfully brings that journey to life with his latest films starring the lovely Emily Mortimer. And starting July 18th, you will see a New York release. I strongly suggest you see THE DARK KNIGHT, but also check out TRANSSIBERIAN when it comes to your local theatre. It is a moody and fascinating film and it is very much unlike anything else out there.

Brad Anderson

First thing I want to start off with, it seems that thrillers as of late tend not to take time to develop. In TRANSSIBERIAN, the characters are very well developed in more of a classic thriller sense. What was your approach in taking on this idea and where did it come from?

Well I think when Will Conroy and myself set out to write this thing… you know, a lot of it was about… we didn’t even really set out to write a thriller as much as kind of a, I hate to use the word character study, but it was a bit of a depiction of this woman in our story and putting her in really dire situations to see how she responds. You know, we didn’t use the templates or the models for a typical thriller which is kind of like, a thrill every minute, you know. We weren’t interested in that. It was kind of going back more to, as you said, a bit of a throwback to kind of earlier thrillers like Hitchcock for instance. In which they spent time developing the characters and then, once you kind of got to know these people and you actually started to care about them, you invest in their situation. And then you throw them into the crocodile pit and like see what happens, you know. So part of our intent in this was to establish these people and their relationships and then kind of start to let things slowly unravel. So the movie is, pacing wise, a little different then what would be considered a typical studio thriller, where we wanted to kind of ramp of the action and the paranoia level in a kind of, slowly escalating way. Those are the kind of films that I like, I don’t like to be tossed right into the middle of the mousetrap. I kind of want to get to know the characters because I find myself more interested in what happens to them. And you know, the other thing is, I was just personally, just having taken this train journey and sort of met some of those strange people myself when I took the train. I was just interested in, kind of like, creating a little bit of the reality of what it is like to be on that train… to be sort of stuck in this train for days on end. And the weird, kind of odd characters you meet. And I just wanted to create this sort of reality in that situation, because that is sort of interesting to me.

How difficult was the shoot? It seemed like it might’ve been very uncomfortable with the weather and all that.

Well you’re right in that regard. It was not… well, because we were shooting in the middle of winter in Lithuania, which is very, very cold. And we were doing scenes on a moving train. The exterior scenes, the scenes outside were very brutal because of the cold weather. But then, even the scenes we did inside the train… we shot the interiors in a studio, on a set that we built. Those scenes were very difficult, even more from my perspective because… it was harder than anything we did outside because, you know, you’re working in incredibly tight situation and you’ve got to find a place to put your camera in the space the size of a phone booth and keep it interesting. You’ve got the platform moving constantly. And we shot the whole movie in that handheld sort of fashion to keep it kind of real. But those scenes are very, technically difficult. So yeah, it was not an easy shoot but the thing is, we were lucky. We had a great crew and the cast, even under those dire situations, were incredibly great and supportive. In the end it was actually a good experience.

Speaking of the cast, I thought Emily Mortimer was a really interesting choice, actually a really great choice. It’s a really complicated character. Was she the one you had in mind originally?

Actually, she was one of our top choices but initially we had cast this other British actress, Samantha Morton, who was also great. What happened was, a few days before we were supposed to start shooting the movie she had an accident. You know, nothing life threatening, but she was hospitalized with possible head injuries. Fortunately she was okay, but the doctor said that she couldn’t get on an airplane and fly to where we were. Essentially, we were told that she had to drop out of the picture. And this was a few days before we were supposed to start which is really kind of crazy. So we ended up scrambling and figuring out who we could go to next, and next on our list was Emily. I’d always liked that idea. She was great in MATCH POINT, and that movie she did, DEAR FRANKIE was lovely. She’s a really good actress across the board. So we took a chance because we were basically asking her, read the script in the morning… you know, sent her a script in the morning, read it that afternoon and she was on an airplane that night on her way to Lithuania. Not a lot of actors would jump on a project like that. But she did and she was totally gung ho throughout the whole movie. She never complained once amazingly. And I agree, she turned out a really great performance. Samantha Morton would have done something different and good too, but I’m totally happy with what she did and I think everyone ultimately was totally satisfied. But yeah, it’s not an easy character to inhabit because it’s a bit of… everyone’s character, everyone in the story is holding back a secret you know and is not truly up front with their motivations and such. Except for maybe Woody Harrelson’s character, who’s an open book. And the whole idea of playing this woman who had this sort of former, lurid kind of dark, bad girl past, and then be in a situation where she is still trying to resist those temptations. You know, actors love that kind of stuff. It was difficult but really good for her, good material to just sink her teeth into. And she was especially good at portraying the kind of paranoia in the last half of the movie. Emily is really good at sort of, portraying that dread and paranoia of getting caught. So yeah, it was not an easy character but she did a great job.

You always take these actors and make them… I mean, to be fair you certainly helped revitalize David Caruso’s career with SESSION 9.

[Laughing] Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with really good actors. Many of them have sort of, after my films… I’m not saying I’m responsible for this, but they’ve gone on to bigger and better things. Like you look at Christian Bale, Josh Lucas from SESSION 9 and Hope Davis from NEXT STOP WONDERLAND. You know, I hope with this movie, Emily… it really is Emily’s first, well not really first, but one of her bigger starring roles. And I think that, hopefully it’s the kind of thing that will get her more in the public eye. She’s such a good actress. I’ve just been fortunate to work with, not necessarily big names, but just good actors. And that’s always been the most important thing to me, just getting people who can inhabit the roles. I think because I write, or co-write the scripts I did… you know, it gives them a comfort level knowing it’s my thing and they can talk to me directly about it, you know what I mean. Like Ben Kingsley, he wanted to do it because he liked the writing and liked what I was talking about.

Well again with the writing, it really is refreshing. And it did remind me of Hitchcock. I know that word is going to be thrown around a lot when the reviews come out. Was it ever a case of looking back at his work and saying, that’s the kind of film we should make? Was that your intention?

I don’t think it was a conscious intention, really. More just maybe… and I like those, I like Hitchcock’s films. You know, I always kind of have. I think when we were setting out to write this, we kind of liked the idea of doing… ‘cause I haven’t seen a movie set on a train in a long time, you know, beyond like SILVER STREAK or something you know [Laughing]. We liked the idea of trying to dabble in that kind of genre which back in the Thirties and Forties, was kind of a bigger deal because that’s how people got around… on trains. And you had all those great Hitchcock stories set on trains, like THE LADY VANISHES and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. And it just seemed like a cool type of genre that hadn’t been utilized in awhile. And really, the Tran-Siberian is one of the… you know, maybe there is another train in India or something that is equally kind of exotic. But there are few train rides you can take that is kind of like a throwback to another era. You know, old trains, you meet really weird, shady characters on the train. It’s not like some modernized bullet train. It seemed like a good opportunity using that train, as a way to kind of tell an old-fashioned story. Which is kind of what it is. We weren’t sitting there trying to pay homage.

Now your film is opening up against THE DARK KNIGHT.

It opens in New York.


I don’t think there is going to be that much competition [Laughing].

Yeah man, you’re going to be number one [Laughing].

Right, I mean we’re going to kick ‘em out of the water. Gimme a break, you know [Laughing].

Now you were attached to THE CRAZIES remake for awhile?

I was early on, when they were first developing it. Because Scott Kosar, who wrote THE MACHINIST, had the script but that sort of fell apart a few years ago.

Okay so what’s next for you at this point?

Well I’ve got this other sort of darker… not horror, but sort of paranoid thriller which would be a better description of the kind of movies that I’m making, that I’m trying to get off the ground. As an independent filmmaker, you’ve got to have five or six irons in the fire, you know. So I’ve got a few different projects, a couple of them are sort of more in the vain of Machinist or Session 9. But I also have a musical, oddly enough, that I’m trying to get off the ground which is completely different. It’s like a sweet, romantic musical. So I’ve got some other interest beyond the dark, thriller, horror thing that I’m sort of curious, having done the last three movies which have been sort of dark and forbidding. I’m kind of interested in maybe taking a breath of fresh air…

Like going back to HAPPY ACCIDENTS and such?

Yeah, well NEXT STOP WONDERLAND really. I haven’t really gotten anything one-hundred percent off the ground, but hopefully pretty soon.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to [email protected]

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