A/V Room









The Grudge - Sarah Michelle Gellar Q&A

Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. How difficult was it for you working in Japan with a director whose English was not fantastic, and I'm told that many of his words and sentences he had at his disposal were based on watching Star Wars?
Actually, what was worse was the words that we taught him. They'd probably get him arrested in America. It was one of those things that, at first, I was really excited about, and then when I got there I panicked and thought 'there's no way this could possibly work, there's no way...' I mean, I listen to people speak other languages and I think there's no way I could possibly helm an entire film and direct it.
But it was just this amazing education for me in communication. And what I learned is that you really don't need language, that certain things transcend languages. We used a translator in the beginning but by the end she would joke that she was afraid she was going to be fired because you just learned to look into people's eyes and listen to loops in their voices; you learn their body language, when they sit, how their hands move, and you wind up being able to communicate so well that you realise that you don't necessarily always need language.

Q. How did you adjust to the whole thing about being in Japan where it's so different from the customs of the west? You mention in the notes walking onto the set carrying food...
I had a few faux pas, I'm not going to lie. You know, it's learn as you go, but I think I had so much great respect for the culture and for the traditions that it makes it that much easier - and they were pretty tolerant of the few [coughs], many faux pas that I did worry about making because they were made just out of not understanding, not out of lack of respect for them and for their culture.

Q. I don't suppose you can be disrespectful at all?
I can be at times! But, you know, I tried not to be in Japan. I save that for America!

Q. Did you buy a kimono?
I didn't buy a kimono - they're so complicated (I'm sure most of you men have, at some point, had to put on a kimono), but they're so complicated to put on that you really need a professional person to tie you in. We used to wear those kimono pyjama type things, but I don't think they actually really count as kimonos.
One of my cast mates did, though, go to one of the traditional places and got to put on a full, antique kimono and they are unbelievably expensive. To me, I don't know if I could actually wear it to the supermarket.
And I had trouble with the shoes, because they wear the sandals with socks, so the whole waxing thing was a little complicated.

Q. Japanese horror films are a culture and a genre all to themselves, so how did you approach it as an actress looking at the script? Did you make changes yourself to change it away from the Japanese culture?
No, it was really important to all of us... the reason that I made this film was because it was Japanese; because it was being done, in my opinion, in the right way. This is the first time that a Japanese film has ever been remade for an English-speaking audience with the original Japanese director and it's what I loved about it. I think it's one of the reasons why this genre works so well in Japan because it comes from such an emotional place; it comes from these very serious beliefs that they have on existentialism and life and it was really important to us that we didn't American-ise it. It was only where absolutely necessary for the purpose of understanding the film that we did it.
I love the non-linear aspect to it. You know, American horror films - and films in general - have a beginning, a middle and an end and this does not work within that realm, but I loved the ambiguity of it; I loved that it doesn't spell it out, even specifically with the music. You know I think we're so used to in America (and I'm sure here as well) that the music starts, it starts to crescendo, ok, here comes the scary thing. And I think that takes away from it and detracts. There, there's so much silence and you don't realise how eerie it is. American film-makers are petrified of silence, I can tell you that one. Someone's got to say something every scene, and I think it was those aspects that formed the reason why I did it.
Had it been done in America, with an American director, I don't feel that it would have had the impact that I feel that the movie actually has. It's not gory, it's not bloody, it's not about that.

Q. When the script first arrived, what was your first reaction? And when this opens in Japan, does it strike you as a deep irony that you'll be dubbed into Japanese?
It's kind of funny, isn't it? With American subtitles. But that would be kind of redundant in Japan, because the movie already is there. I had seen the original movie some time ago and I just thought it was such an interesting film. The visuals really stuck with me; it was one of the things that I remember how innovative I thought that the shocks were - specifically the shot in the elevator with the little boy, kind of the more specific shots, like the shower scene, things that you could identify with the original film.
I heard that they were going to remake it and I don't even think I turned my head. It wasn't, like, oh that's interesting. I just assumed it was an American movie, shot with an American director, and then they told me Sam Raimi, so instantly you sort of perk up, and then when I found out that they were going to shoot it in Japan with a Japanese crew, I thought this is a once in a lifetime, literally, opportunity, because it's never going to be the first time this was ever done again. So, I jumped at that chance.
As for being dubbed into Japanese, I think it's kind of strange. Maybe they won't, maybe they'll just let it play and see if it plays globally, I don't know. I wonder if the same woman willl... because in Japan they always have the same people that dub specific people.

Q. Did you find it hard to act scared when you've previously been so used to being kick-ass?
No, that's the amazing thing about [Takashi] Shimizu, again, is that there's this man who speaks no English but who is able to create this mood and this feeling on-set that you're able to deal with, specifically because a lot of his stuff isn't there.
And, you know, the interesting thing about Japanese film-making, and on this film in particular - this has nothing to do with your question, but I'm gonna tell you anyway - American films are so used to CGI.
Everything is - this has a relevance, I promise - CGI. You just assume the hand in the shower is CGI. Everything they do is real. There was another woman, the woman that played Kayako, was in the shower sticking her hand in my head, or that scene where she comes down, that wasn't CGI, that was a rig, and she bent down and got right in my face.
So because of the way they make films, in that sense, and everything is long, long, long takes. It's so interesting because as an American actor, you're always, like, 'I want it to be real, can't it be fluid? Can't we just go all the way through the scene?' But because of, usually, technical aspects, you can't; you get to Japan and they want to do everything all at once and you're like, 'what'? It's so different.

Q. The little boy, who has been in two or three versions of the film over the years, what's he like? Is he slightly scarred by the whole experience?
Well, uh, he's an interesting boy! You know what, he doesn't care. The only thing is, he hates cats. So whenever we did a scene where there's the cat, he freaked out and gets really ratty. He's definitely - and I'm trying to say this politely - but he's definitely an odd child, but there were questions I wanted to ask him that you just didn't want to ask through a translator, or with his mum around, like 'what do the kids at school say to you?' Stuff like that.
The only person that I think the film was truly difficult on, actually, was him because, obviously, I didn't speak Japanese fluently and the Japanese actors didn't speak English, but you know we had ways of communicating. But as a child, you're still learning how to communicate with adults in your own language, so I think the only person that it was hard on was him, because when he had scenes with me, obviously, there was a lot of English spoken and, from that point of view, he had a little bit of a difficult time.
And what's really odd is we have such serious child labour laws in America, and Japan doesn't have these child laws. So all the American actors were working under our union contracts, so we could only work 12 hours a day, we had to have 12 hours of sleep, and all this stuff, but they don't have that, so what they would do is work the American actors til midnight, and then at midnight this poor little kid would come in and, like, work in his little underwear until 3am, while they drowned him. You know, I'd be a little bit... if I was this kid too!
So if anyone is bored and wants to unionise Japan, it's a market ready for it..

Q. Was he familiar with Scooby-Doo and did he think Daphne was going to ride up to the rescue?
I don't know what that child was familiar with! I know it's a really horrible thing to say but....

Q. Given the success of Buffy and things like that, have you actively tried to find projects that, while not completely different, played to your strengths without being a copy?
Well that's interesting, the show was so amazing, I mean it was eight years and an incredible run, and I finished that show and the next day I went for an interview and then I had no more professional obligations and it was sort of the first time where I just picked projects mainly because I wanted to do them.
When you make a television show, especially when it's Buffy The Vampire Slayer and you're Buffy, you have a three month hiatus, if it's even three months. And you can only do a film in that period, so you're sunk. The best way to look at a film is 'can I do a film in that period of time?' You know, you can't do independents, because the financing doesn't come in and then you're pushed, and it's not like I can disappear for two weeks and people won't notice on the show, so that was how I picked projects.
But I got lucky it was something I got really passionate about and when I finished it - it was like September of last year - I said 'I don't want to work until I'm really passionate about something', until it's something that I really want to do both personally and professionally, because I don't have to work to work, I have to work because I love it.
And no one's going to out-Buffy Buffy because it was so wonderful, I wouldn't try to replicate that. So I was looking for something that challenged me, because that was the reason why I left the show, because after eight years it wasn't challenging in the same way that I needed. And this is the first time, in that time period, that I was actively passionate about, and that I actively pursued, that I went after.
And it's been so rewarding on every level because of that, I've realised that's how it has to go from now on.
I don't have a set plan where, you know like I have to do a comedy, or have to do this, the only thing for me is I actively seek out strong female characters, or female-driven pieces, and it's difficult to find those films.
Television is driven by females, but films aren't, so this was a lucky find for me.

Q. Buffy was a lucky find for you because it's made you a global phenomenon. Everywhere you go, you get recognised. What is it about it, that made it so special, do you think? I can remember that it was originally a movie that didn't do well, but then became a phenomenon on TV?
[Journalist walks out]
I guess I offended him! Maybe I should take that personally!
In terms of the movie, it gets a lot of flack, but it's really not a bad movie. It just, it didn't work at the time, and it wasn't tonally correct - they hadn't quite balanced the humour and the metaphor side of it. I think we learned that Buffy works better as an arc, it works better when you follow this girl's story versus, again, beginning, middle and an end, because you care much more about this character.
And it's nothing against Kirsty Swanson, I think she did a great job and was incredibly funny, but in a short period of time the character of Buffy can come off a little flippant, it comes off, you know, a little harsh where if you really realise her plight, you feel a little more sympathy.
But I think it was time, I think it was time for female empowerment, it was time for young girls to have these role models. When I was growing up all the television shows, the girls always wanted to be popular, there were always growing pains, the girl would never... she was always a kind of nerd, was never popular, that's what television shows were about. Now you watch television and women are superheroes, and spies, and lawyers, and surgeons and judges, and that's just been in the last ten years, and I think Buffy was one of the first. But I think society has to be ready for that.

Q. Given that this is the fifth variation of the film, were some of the actors already anticipating scenes?
I think just the little boy [laughs]
Q. But was he anticipating things that you hadn't got to yet?
That's interesting. You know, I think they did everything as their first take. Even the scene in the elevator, which was one of the first things when I got the job, I was like 'please tell me you're keeping that scene', but he was able to do it on a little bit of a grander level, because he had a little more money to do some of the stuff. I think he was excited about the prospect of that.
I think everbody, in any job, everyone says they would love to go back and do it again but better, because you know more. And he sort of felt that too.
The Japanese actors, the other actors, were so excited to be in an American film, and they were just thrilled and excited, and, again, there were differences.
The house was a set, we built that house from scratch. In the original film, that was a real house, so you could imagine the difficulties of shooting and Japanese houses are so small and it was complicated.
So I think they were more excited for the challenges that being repetitive, or at least I hope so.

Q. You've done a lot of stuff that involves the supernatural, so how do you feel about the supernatural? And did you give up a lot of roles to play this one?
Well yeah, they were banging down my door for all of Nicole Kidman's roles, so I said 'I've got to do something, so let me do The Grudge!' [Laughs]
It's been a long trip for me, I'm a little jet-lagged and a little nuts!
You know, in terms of the supernatural and stuff, there's two aspects to this question.
One of them has to do with female roles, and that is this is a genre where women really do get to be at the forefront. You look at our last couple of Oscar winners. Halle Berry, her next movie was Gothika; Charlize Theron took Aeon Flux, or Julianne Moore's biggest solo hit now has been The Forgotten, or Naomi Watts in The Ring, or Nicole Kidman in The Others. It's one of those genres where women really get these great roles, so part of my attraction to it in particular is that, is that women do get to drive the story, get the meaty aspects of the story.
But what I loved about this was the sort of law that it was based on - and the idea that great emotion can carry through life and death. And I think that most people, even if you're not open to that kind of stuff, have walked into a room, maybe it's a hotel room and you have kind of an odd feeling, or even when you go to someone's house and they've just had an argument, and it kind of lingers in the air. Just the idea of emotion and how such great emotion can effect other people. I just sort of loved Shimizu's whole take on it, and I asked him in the very beginning why he made this film, because it was not Japanese custom by any stretch of the imagination to write films about women, it's just not. But he said that he had spent so much time thinking about the oppression of women, and how, specifically in Japanese society, women are oppressed and what happens when all that builds up? And what happens it if all gets let out and how that then affects everyone around them? And I thought it was interesting that it was something that he had already thought about.

Q. What was the first film that had you almost under your chair with nerves and fear?
The Exorcist. Just the music scared me; you hear it and it's creepy.

Q. Do you get more scared or fewer nightmares from working in the genre you do?
You know they're not real, right? I don't know, my nightmares are a little more reality-driven than, say, demonic-driven. But I can still get sucked up into this movie. It's really funny, because I hadn't seen the movie all finished - the first time I saw it was at the premiere and all my friends were, like, 'I'm going for you, but I'm watching it like this [puts hand over her eyes], and I don't want to see it'. And I was like, 'guys, it's fine, it's fine' and I found myself even jumping - that I was able to let go enough that. If something is good, then I can get sucked up into it. If it's not, then I'm like 'look at the wires, right there', and 'that's obviously a weird cut'.

Q. Have you had any freaky experiences that have put you on this whole Buffy track? Are you working through personal demons?
Am I working through my personal demons? All actors are working through their personal demons!
I mean, nothing specific where my dead cat from my childhood came back and talked to me. I didn't have a cat as a child, so maybe that's why! Nothing specific. But when of the questions I regularly get asked is 'was there anything weird that happened on the set?' And one of the amazing things about working in Japan is that they do this thing called a purification ceremony, because they so believe in spirits and you have to be blessed. They brought in a Japanese priest to come in and we did a whole ritual where we blessed the set and everybody had a part to play... all the American actors and the producers, and we basically asked a spirit to watch over us and make sure that nothing happened.
And it was such an amazing idea - we did sacrifices, not of the virgin kind, like food and drink.

Q. You're on such a role now. Where do you think you'll find yourself in ten years time? Where would you like to be? And do you have any ambition to direct?
. I have no desire to direct right now. That may change, but right now it's not something I have the desire for. I'd love to write, I don't think I'm talented enough, I'm not that good, but then again there's a lot of other writers out there that aren't that good [laughs].
I do have a desire to produce, though. I think that being able to find something in its infancy stages, and see it develop and really create it would be an amaxing experience, so that is something that I would definitely like to do.
And as for looking ten years from now, I have trouble looking ten days from now, but I would like to still be doing work that challenges me, and hopefully still loving what I do the way I do now.

Q. What's next for you?

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