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The Cabin In The Woods - Jesse Williams interview

The Cabin in the Woods

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JESSE Williams talks about his passion for The Cabin in the Woods and why he feels it’s a different take on the horror genre and a genuinely unique voice.

He also talks about developing more of his own projects in between seasons on Grey’s Anatomy and where some recent horror films have gone wrong.

Q. How much did you know about The Cabin in the Woods before joining it? Had you seen a script?
Jesse Williams: I didn’t know much about the full script but we saw some slides, some audition material… much of it was not actually in the movie. It was written by Joss [Whedon] and Drew [Goddard] to get what they wanted out of the process to kind of figure out the right characters. I was also impressed by how prolific these writers were. They were writing these amazing scenes that they had no intent of even using! They were throwing aside their talent and it was spilling out of the side of the script.

But as to what I liked about it? It’s the fact that it was this genre-bender. It was hilarious but it was also a horror, but it was also really, really creative. It was a multi-dimensional kind of world and there’s no rules and it was imaginative. All these things were happening at once, so that really jumped out from the type of scripts I was reading. Also, the character… I think being able to play this kind of straight and narrow kind of square guy, who is a socially awkward person… a misunderstood person and somebody who is not quite comfortable in his own skin yet, that was fun.

Q. Where did you go to draw on that?
Jesse Williams: There’s a little bit of that inside all of us, I think. I’ve certainly… in school and I was also a public school teacher for some time and I spent a lot of time in that junior high/high school phase of people coming of age and figuring out who they are and who they’re not and taking on or appropriating other people’s style to try to figure out what fits best for them. I think all of that fed and informed the process of this character. I was a friend of Curt [Chris Hemsworth]… I think we were all these archetypes but even from the beginning there was a twist on them. I was the bookish square guy but I was also the star athlete and Curt was a star athlete but also an incredible student.

Everybody was both of these things at once. Anna [Hutchison]’s character was a pre-med student, so we’re playing with all those. And it’s also modern, it’s current, it’s contemporary that nothing is that simple, and nothing is what meets the eye, but we can still take the best from that in order to feed a story. You don’t need to be rudimentary. These things can still co-exist and we can still squeeze the juice out of it.

Q. Given the delay in getting the film released, following MGM’s financial woes, were you ever worried that the film might not see the light of day?
Jesse Williams: Yeah, I was anxious to see the work but I was never worried that it wasn’t going to come out. My concern was when and I hope it falls into the right hands because I could see that so much work had gone into it that I hoped they would meet Joss and Drew on the other side. You do see a lot of cool projects that aren’t marketed well at all and they’re promoted for a week before they come out and then disappear. But you see it and go: “That was a f**king awesome movie, how come nobody else got to see it?”

It’s the same when fans come out of the theatre and see this, they’re so excited… they didn’t expect to want to watch horror in the first place. They’re like: “I would never go see a horror movie. But this was amazing and I loved it and I was laughing.” They’re also very protective about not ruining it for other people and encouraging them to see it in its old school form and let the story-telling do the story-telling, which is kind of rare nowadays. So, that’s a similar feeling to the one I had – as long as people get to see it in the right context and given time and space to not have it ruined.

Q. Joss Whedon has described the film as something of a reaction to the torture porn genre where kids are just seen getting slaughtered and nothing else. Had you noticed that about the genre and, indeed, had you been sent scripts asking you to be a part of those type of films?
Jesse Williams: Yeah. I had. I got sent a couple while we were shooting this. But it’s just not interesting because, as Drew has pointed out before, you can tell that the characters just aren’t important to the writer, or the author, or whoever that is. They are there to be knocked down. And if I don’t attach to them as a viewer, or a reader or an actor… you can’t just have a character that’s just ‘the jock’ because who cares? You want them to get punched down. But if you don’t feel you’ve lost anything when he does go, then what was the point? So, yeah, you read a lot of stuff that feels like it is a re-tread of a teen movie, or of a horror movie, or of a camp movie, or a whatever, and that’s fine too.

Luckily, there is enough stuff coming out that there is always a diversity… one doesn’t kill all. But this just stood out heads and tails above all that. And that’s another reason why I wasn‘t worried about it never coming out because it’s not like something else. It’s not like someone could say: “Well, we have two other ones coming out.” You can’t even come close to saying that about this project, so I didn’t need to read anything else to know that.

Q. How much of a collaboration is there between writers, directors and actors on something as well written as this? Can you bring your own ideas too?
Jesse Williams: You stick to what brought you in the first place but they were having so much fun on set that they’d make sure to come up and be very communicative. They wanted you to have a great time but also say: “For the right spot, we can make it real whatever that takes.” So, somebody might change their mind in the moment or we’d tweak some scenes. But otherwise, it’s written in such an authentic voice. In some movies, you wonder: “Did they ad lib some of that? Because it felt like improv because it fit so perfectly into that?” But that’s where some of the chemistry kind of happened because it’s written so well and so cleanly and in the way you normally speak. Sometimes, you’re put in a position to read and it’s just not how people talk. When you say it out loud it feels funny and you need to tweak it a bit. But that really wasn’t the case with this. These voices are so clear and you’d get a sense of the character at its core.

Q. Obviously, being attached to something as big and time-consuming as Grey’s Anatomy for much of the year you have to pick and choose your projects carefully in between seasons. So, how do you feel your career is progressing on the film front as you inevitably try and make that leap?
Jesse Williams: Exactly. It’s tough because we shoot Grey’s 10 months a year, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for doing film stuff. But it’s a huge gift to be able to be on the show, so that’s part of the deal. But we’re finding a way to make it work. It gives me time to do some things on the production front 0- to do some writing but also I’m going to co-produce a film that I’m going to star in this hiatus… kind of a drag racing, ‘70s biopic that we can squeeze into that time. You get two months off and you’ve been working for 10 months, so you want to either try to figure out something new and fresh to do or just take a break to see your family.

So, it’s the gift and the curse of being on something that occupies a lot of time. But it’s all a gift. This has all worked really, really well ever since Cabin. And it’s really great to be able to come out and do press for it now because it gets us all back together. We had such a great time shooting it and everybody is now doing so many cool things, so to watch your work in front of people and watch the fans watch the movie is a really fun process. This was months and months and months of us being at a cabin in the woods, literally, so it was really an authentic experience.

Read our review

Read our interview with Drew Goddard