The Massie Twins recently got to chat with six of the stars from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ new double feature film “Grindhouse” (consisting of “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror”), in which the dangerous duo pay homage to all things exploitive, gritty, and fun.
The Massie Twins: How does it feel to have yourself immortalized with your own Grindhouse action figure?
Marley Shelton: (Laughs) It is very flattering. To have an action figure in a Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino movie, well it doesn’t get much better than that.
MT: Other than Valentine you have typically worked outside the horror genre, what attracted you back to it with Grindhouse?
MS: Personally as an actor I am obsessed with suspense and what creates it. I have studied suspense and I love the old Hitchcock films for that reason. I was really delighted to be in the hands of two masters of their craft, both Robert and Quentin, playing with the ideas of building suspense. I modeled my character Dakota off of the old Hitchcock, ice queen blondes. She is very put together and precise, but as the night unfurls, she unfurls. The costume was also designed to accentuate this. She gets stripped down to her tank top and the slit in her skirt continuously creeps up. Also my breasts seemed to grow a size or two by the end of the night, which gave the character that classic exploitation, grindhouse look.
MT: On the subject of suspense and the master of it, what is your favorite Hitchcock film?
MS: Psycho. After we shot the scene in the hospital where my evil husband, played by Josh Brolin, is stabbing my wrists with anesthetic needles, Robert played back the footage on the monitor. He then laid the theme from psycho over the scene, it was really cool. Actually, I just watch Dial M for Murder; I hadn’t seen it in ages. I just love all of Hitchcock’s pictures.
MT: What was your initial reaction upon seeing Grindhouse?
MS: It was so cool, I had butterflies. It was the first time all the cast had seen the finished product. You quickly forget you’re in the movie because both films are so good. The audience responds so enthusiastically that you can completely escape into these crazy worlds Robert and Quentin have created.
MT: How was it working with Robert Rodriguez again?
MS: I am so indebted to Robert, because he has identified this potential in me, both in Sin City and Planet Terror. I am deeply grateful because he has allowed me to be able to do things that I have never been able to do before on screen.
MT: Was shooting Grindhouse much different than Sin City?
MS: Well Robert is always doing something very unique and different with each project, however his bedside manner and approach is always the same. He is very consistent. He is a man of few words, but he makes you feel like anything and everything is possible. He is a guy who writes, directs, DPs, scores, edits and mixes his own movies, so when you are around him you feel that the sky is the limit, that if he can do it, I can too. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he learns how to do it. It is nice to be around that atmosphere.
MT: What were the grindhouse pictures that influenced Planet Terror?
MS: While Robert is obviously a fan of films like Escape From New York and The Thing, he is also a big fan of the 1940s Screwball comedies, like the old Howard Hawks pictures. He told me once that he had always wanted to do a Screwball comedy and a zombie movie, so he decided to marry the two into what he dubbed “Gore-Ball” comedy, and that is what he was attempting with Planet Terror. This is especially the case in the scenes with El Ray and Cherry. The dialogue is rapid fire, with witty banter that plays off each actor’s words, which was a classic staple of Screw Ball comedies. With Planet Terror Robert has done his own version of that with zombies.
MT: Did you have any scenes like that?
MS: I had more physical comedy. In the sequence following the scene where Josh Brolin has shot up my hands with anesthetics, I have to try to escape from zombies without the use of my hands. Robert directed me to play this scene as if it was from a silent movie.
MT: Rodriguez is known for his love of digital technology, while Tarantino is more of a classical filmmaker. After working on both segments in Grindhouse, can you comment on the differences between the director’s styles?
MS: They both definitely had a different way of working, but what is so great is how they are so egoless with each other. There is this fantastic collaboration and cross pollination. Robert is must more of a visualist. He is extremely cutting edge in terms of his knowledge of technology. He likes to create at the speed of thought, which is actually something he said to us on set. The minute we would shoot a scene he would already be cutting it together and laying in music. He had a color timing mechanism that would allow us to see what the shots would look like once they made it look like a bad 1970’s print. It was very cutting edge. As an actor he could show us what we had just done and direct us by literally pointing out what we were doing on the monitor. As an actor we had to get over ourselves and any sort of self consciousness pretty quickly, which I enjoyed.
Quentin is very old school and he prefers to shoot on film. He doesn’t even have a monitor; he stands next to the camera and watches the scenes with his naked eye. Quentin is also a much more verbal director. Whereas Robert is a man of few words and would prefer to show you, Quentin would want to talk about it. I loved both, that was the beauty of this project, to have two totally different styles coming together and working.
MT: How involved was each of the directors on the other’s film?
MS: We shot Planet Terror first, then we shot Death Proof. It was largely the same crew on both movies. We shot everything at Troublemaker Studios, which is where Robert has his permanent setup. He converted the old Austin airport into his own permanent sound stages, so everything was shot there. When we shot Planet Terror Quentin was on set the whole time and really had a lot to say. He really helped in co-directing the movie. Likewise, Robert was very involved in Death Proof and helped DP it. There was just a ton of cross pollination.
MT: What was the craziest thing that happened on set?
MS: The craziest thing that I was apart of happened when the character Joe, the first zombie victim to come into the hospital, has his arm amputated. When we shot the scene we of course had retractable, prop needles ready, but they had accidentally gotten swapped with real needles. When we began shooting the scene I was literally puncturing Nicky Catt’s skin with needles. There was a thirty second delay before we realized what was actually happening, because we were in the middle of this dialogue and we looked down and he was bleeding from his arm! It was horrific. It was one of those strange, surreal moments when art imitates life.
MT: Planet Terror is essentially wall to wall action. How physically demanding was the picture? Did you do any of your own stunts?
MS: I think that the biggest stunt that I did was running in high heels night after night (laughs). Some of that made it into the movie, but it certainly felt like I did more running than what actually made it up on screen. My character is in a constant state of trauma and duress. When you are fooling your body like that you find yourself coming home from work feeling incredibly spent, crashing from all the adrenaline and tears. As far as stunts, Tracey Dashnaw was my incredible stunt double. She did the scene of Dakota jumping out the window, so I have to give her props for that one (Laughs).
MT: What genre is next?
MS: I have a movie coming out called The Fifth Patient. It is a thriller, but it is an independent film. I am not sure what the plans are for it, but I know it will be playing at CineVegas. When it comes to picking projects though, I genuinely mean this; I love all genres of film, as long as the material is good. I have to respond to the storytelling. It has to be interesting and intriguing for me. My number one aim is to work with directors who are extremely talented because at the end of the day, it is the director’s vision that you are seeing on screen. You have to really trust the director and appreciate his vision. More than anything when signing onto a project it has to be the director that appeals to me.