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Garret Dillahunt Interview

MoviesOnline sat down with Garret Dillahunt to talk about his new film, The Last House on the Left, directed by Dennis Iliadis and produced by masters of horror Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham who revisit their landmark film, one of the most notorious thrillers of all time that launched Craven's directing career and influenced decades of horror films to follow.

The Last House on the Left explores how far two ordinary people will go to exact revenge on the sociopaths who harmed their child. The night Mari (Sara Paxton) arrives at the remote Collingwood lakehouse, she and her friend are kidnapped by a prison escapee and his crew. Terrified and left for dead, Mari's only hope is to make it back to parents John and Emma (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter). Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter at the one place she could be safe. And when her family learns the horrifying story, they will make three strangers curse the day they came to The Last House on the Left.

Inhabiting the villainous character of gang leader Krug is No Country for Old Men’s Garret Dillahunt. After auditioning dozens of actors for the role, Iliadis
was impressed by Dillahunt’s sly approach to embodying evil incarnate. It helped that he had done a television pilot with Paxton several years earlier, so there
was a friendship between the two. “We were auditioning for Krug, and everyone was trying to play him like a typical bad guy,” the director recalls. “That’s always a big mistake; even the most sadistic criminal will smile. You need to see him smile and his eyes change. Garret brought this whole ambiguity and subtleties.”

Dillahunt felt he had to humanize Krug if he would ever hope to understand the psychopath and his despicable actions. As he prepared for the role, he read several books about serial killers and their conjectured motivations. The actor describes his character as “an escaped convict who is not a very good father,
although he loves his son very much. He’s bitter that things haven’t worked
out better for him. He’s trying to preserve the bond of his little twisted family. He’s the leader of this pack, and he’s trying desperately to hold on to that position.”

The year 2007 exploded for actor Garret Dillahunt with breakout roles in two groundbreaking films. First, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men proved to be a prime showcase for the talents of Dillahunt, who portrayed Tommy Lee Jones’ hapless deputy, Wendell. The film landed on numerous critics’ 10 best lists, and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Proving that lighting can strike twice, Dillahunt again scored rave reviews in Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which also included Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. Here, Dillahunt played Ed Miller, a member of the infamous James Gang, Dillahunt’s first feature was The Believer, with Ryan Gosling.

The actor has also worked extensively in television and is perhaps best known for two roles on David Milch’s award-winning HBO series Deadwood: Jack McCall and Francis Wolcott. Milch liked Dillahunt’s work so much that Milch brought him back as Wolcott after his McCall character was killed off the show.
Currently, Dillahunt plays the title role (the Terminator) in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. He was a series regular on John From Cincinnati, The Book of Daniel (playing Jesus Christ, opposite Aidan Quinn) and A Minute With Stan
Hooper, and also had recurring roles on such shows as Damages, ER, Law & Order, Leap Years and The 4400.

A native of Washington state, Dillahunt studied journalism at the University of Washington and went on to the graduate acting program at NYU. Dillahunt has
numerous Broadway credits, including his portrayal of Bertram Cates in a revival of Inherit the Wind, opposite George C. Scott, and The Father, with Frank Langella. Dillahunt can next be seen in the star-studded theatrical film The Road, co-starring alongside Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy
Pearce, and he recently completed the films Burning Bright and Winter’s Done.

Garret Dillahunt is a fabulous guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new film:

Q: What did you think when you got this script? Is it just another day at work?

Garret: I guess it was another day at work, but the kind I like because it’s different from the last thing. I really try to make it as divergent as I can. That will be a good career for me, if I can do that.

Q: When you found out that Sara was playing this role, how did you feel?

Garret: I was very relieved. I went back and forth, at first. I was like, “Oh, great, I know her.” “Oh, no, I can’t do that to my friend.” “Oh, that’s good.” “Oh, no, that’s bad.” It was a real see-saw, the whole trip, and it probably got annoying to her. I kept trying to make light of it or assure her, and she was just like, “Okay, just do it and shut up.”

Q: How do you go about playing such a dark, twisted character without dehumanizing him? As an actor, how do you approach that?

Garret: I guess you can’t think of him as that. I thought he was just a guy who’s had some bad luck in his life and it really makes him angry, the way the world has treated him. He’s just not responding to that bad luck, in a healthy way. He’s not seeking therapy or retraining. He’s blaming everyone else, and he really can’t let it go. He’s physically incapable. It’s everyone else’s fault, and he gets obsessed with punishing them. He’s mete-ing out his own twisted justice.

Q: Does the material tell you when it’s important to bring that characterization, as opposed to just letting him be the monster?

Garret: Maybe sometimes I should do that, but I feel like that’s easier. I have to be careful how I sound because it sounds like I’m good at doing it, but what I want to do is bring humanity to things. I feel like it’s more interesting if there’s a little complexity and, in a way, more monstrous because it could exist in the world, like Ted Bundy or the BTK killer or the Green River killer, where you’re just like, “What? How can you have that stamina, to do this over decades, and still wake up and dress yourself, or think you’re all right?” I don’t think Krug is a serial killer. I think he’s a spree killer. He’s just got some wrong ideas about how to exist.
Q: What was the most valuable thing you learned about these types of guys that you brought to the role?

Garret: I found unexpected inspiration from Andrew Cunanan, who killed Versace. He went on this cross-country spree. I don’t think he’s really anything like Krug, in everyday life. Krug is not a cross-dresser or confused about his sexuality. But, there was a murder he committed that so horrified me and left so much more of an impression than anything I had read. He had killed this older gentleman on his way across the country because he needed a car, which I understand. He had done that before, but it was very merciful killings. But, with this one, he had bound him, burned him, shot him, drove over him several times with the car. It was this ridiculous amount of rage and overkill, to torch someone he didn’t know. The FBI guy who wrote about him said that that was so unusual because usually that kind of rage is directed at someone that the perpetrator knows, and there’s something personal going on. But, he was able to project something else, from his own life, onto this poor guy, who was no shrinking violet. I think he was ex-military. They suspect he probably called him a punk and was like, “Screw you, you’re not getting my car.” He was a tough old bird. He was not going to lay down for this kid, and it just sent him into this fit. And, I just thought, “That’s kind of the guy I’m thinking about.” He goes crazy on Mari because she has a spine and resists him. He punches his own son. Who does he terrorize? He terrorizes these two cops, who have just been in a head-on collision. They can’t really defend themselves. He terrorizes these teenagers, and his own family. The first adults he meets, even though they’re untrained and unprepared for this calamity that’s about to come into their home, they take him out. It’s interesting. He’s a bully. But, at the same time, I had sympathy for him. I thought, “You’re smart. You’ve got a good kid here.”
Q: Did you do an entire backstory for this character?

Garret: I think it’s helpful to. I don’t think it matters, if the audience knows what it is. It’s probably better, in this case. You can be that monster. It doesn’t really matter, does it? He’s come to your door, for whatever reason. But, it was helpful for me, yes.
Q: On Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you play this guy who is a machine and he’s detached. And, there is a little bit of that in this character that makes him a monster. Do they have anything in common?

Garret: I was hoping to be completely different from that. It was refreshing for me to play someone that’s so emotional. The machine doesn’t care. He’s almost not a bad guy. He’s just doing what he’s programmed to do. He doesn’t hate the Connors. He doesn’t have any feelings for them, whatsoever, which is what makes him scary. “I’m going to do this thing ‘cause it’s what I’m programmed to do, and I can’t be reasoned with.” But, this guy has rage and feels some kind of release from what he does. He needs to feel like the leader from the pack, and powerful. That’s what rape is. It’s a power game, and Mari won’t give him that. She keeps trying to escape. She wrecks the car and she burns Sadie. Those girls are something else. They do not stop fighting. From the moment we come into that motel room, they’re trying to get out. It’s pretty impressive. They’re impressive girls.
Q: Krug looks different than you’ve ever looked before. How much of that look was you, and what was ordered by Dennis?

Garret: I wanted some kind of facial hair. Oddly, Aaron Paul, who’s fantastic in this movie -- he plays my brother, Francis -- has similar coloring to mine, in real life. We’re even from the same part of the country. But, for some reason, Dennis said, “We’re going to dye your hair black.” I was like, “We look exactly alike. Why would you want to do that?” But, I dug it. I thought it was weird and off. And, we came up with this weird beard, which actually looks exactly like Tony Stark’s beard in Iron Man. I was like, “That’s my beard!” We watched it in Cape Town and I was like, “No way!” I couldn’t believe it. His was really neat, of course. I did find it helpful. Dennis didn’t want it to be too iconic of a look. We didn’t want to make a brand for Krug.

Janie Bryant was the costume designer. She is the same costume designer from Deadwood, so I knew her really well and she’s great. She’s an Emmy-winning costume designer. But, she has a tendency to put you in just slightly small clothes. I’m a 44 or a 43, and she always loves to put me in size 40 jackets. I was like, “Janie!,” and she’d say, “You can do it, y’all. You can wear this. You look good, don’t you?” I’d be like, “But, I can’t move!” She likes that look. I knew what she was going to do and I saw that she had all these clothes, so I was like, “Janie, don’t put me in clothes too small for this. I need to move for this.” And, she was like, “We’ve got the whole gamut, y’all.” At the other end of the rack was slightly oversized clothes, which is where we ended up.
Q: Do you feel that in his own weird, warped way Krug loved his son?

Garret: Oh, absolutely, he loved his son. He tries to teach him to be a man. Why do fathers love their sons? They’re their sons. Krug obviously doesn’t get it. He has different ideas about what it is to be a man and how to treat women, obviously. The scene prior to Krug’s assault of Mari, when he forces his son to touch her, is worse almost -- what he’s doing to both of these children. He can’t understand it. He doesn’t get that his son would actually do that to him, until he pulls that trigger in that final scene. He’s surprised. He thinks it’s a joke, and that it’s great he plays with guns, but he doesn’t think he’ll pull the trigger. He would have killed him.
Q: You spent some time in the film without a shirt on. Did you do any physical training for that?

Garret: I was worried about it. I’m actually a closet gym guy, anyway. I don’t like people to know it because it types you. So, I didn’t really change anything I was doing. I was just afraid it would be too Hollywood. But, I think I’m old enough that I have enough bags. They don’t look perfect. It’s okay to have a little bit of gut. I’ve gotta say, it takes me out of movies when people peel down and are like, “I’m a math teacher,” but they’re totally ripped. I had better reason than most, I suppose. He has just come out of the clink and he seems like a fairly physical dude, but I don’t think he goes to the gym, necessarily. But, I think he’s a fighter. It didn’t throw me out. I thought it was okay. I’m pretty boring in my real life. I’ve never been a drinker, I don’t smoke, and I’ve always gone to the gym. I just tried to maintain it. I tried to gain a little bit of weight because they kept describing him as “hulking,” in the first script. I was like, “Hulking? I’m pretty fit, but hulking?”
Q: Are you the type of actor that can go in and out of character?

Garret: I think so. I’m not going to scoff at anybody’s technique, but you do what you have to do. For me, it’s almost necessary. I don’t plan it. I’m a goof. I like to goof around on set, and I’m sure part of it is a knee-jerk reaction to the material. We really need to let go, and I need to be reassured that we’re all still pals. My wife (actress Michelle Hurd) would argue with you, if I was to say that I’m never affected by the characters I play. She’d be like, “Oh, please!” I’m sure it has some unconscious effects. I like feeling like it’s what I do, and that I don’t need to ask you to do something special for me because it’s my job.

Q: Did anything funny happen on set?

Garret: Yeah, lots of funny stuff. Aaron Paul breaks his nose, early on in the film, when he hits the inside of that truck, and fake blood is just sugar-based. It’s Karo syrup and coloring, and other stuff, and he was covered in it for the entire movie, pretty much. At the end of the day, I’d look over at him and he’d have pine needles stuck to him. He’d try to get his shirt off, and he’d be waxing himself because it would be stuck to him. He’d try to smoke and it would be stuck to his fingers. It was hilarious. He didn’t think it was hilarious, but we laughed at him a lot. He was the butt of a lot of our laughter. I’m afraid. Janie got him to wear the skinny-legged pants and they were so tight. It was hilarious.
Q: What was the hardest thing, emotionally, for you to do in this?

Garret: I suppose it would have to be the assault. I would almost feel bad, saying anything else. But, it was oddly focusing as well. It was one of the most focused days I had because I was determined to do it right and do it on time, and bundle Sara off to a hot bath.
Q: How was working with Dennis?

Garret: I liked Dennis very much. He’s only done Hardcore, which was a really good movie. He handled the sexual stuff in that really well. It’s about teenage prostitutes in Greece, who go mad and go on a killing spree. But, it’s so sensitively handled and so believable, I thought he could do this well. I had absolute faith in him, in short order, because we have similar tastes. We like things messy, and we like things believable. He wasn’t going to let anything cheesy, on screen, and that’s a really freeing feeling, especially doing a horror movie, although I don’t know if it is pure horror. That he wouldn’t put anything dopey up there was great. How many times have you screamed at the screen, “Don’t go there! Why? That’s stupid. Now, I’m out of this movie.”
Q: Have you seen the original film?

Garret: I saw it after we were done. I didn’t want to watch it before, out of respect for them as well. I didn’t want to steal from them, but I also didn’t want to avoid an instinct I had because I would think, “Oh, that’s too much like what David [Hess] did.” I spoke to David once. I tracked him down, and I left a message with his people and hoped he’d call me back. I’d given an interview and I didn’t like how I sounded. In print, you didn’t get my joke. I joke around a little too much maybe, and I was afraid it would sound like I was disrespectful and I wanted to assure him I wasn’t. We had a great talk, actually. He’s an interesting fellow.
Q: What do you think about Wes Craven as the Master of Horror? Are you a fan of the horror genre?

Garret: I am. I almost like anyone who’s good at their job, if it’s legal. It’s interesting. He’s Wes Craven. He’s like a brand. It’s like a seal of approval. When I met him, I was nervous. I wore this padded shirt, so I’d look as big as I could, and I grew some whiskers. I was like, “I hope he thinks I’m good.” He’s so calm. He’s just so mellow, it’s almost disturbing. You’re like, “What? What’s the secret you know?” But, he asked why I wanted to do this, and I was like, “Wes Craven.” I said, “Every actor has a checklist, whether it’s unconscious or not, of things they want to do in their career and people they want to work with, and you’re on my list. There’s the Cohen brothers and Wes Craven.” And, he was like, “How far down the list am I?,” and I said, “It’s in no particular order.”
Q: What are the feelings on the Terminator set, three weeks into the Friday night timeslot?

Garret: We’re done with the season and I haven’t spoken to anyone yet, so I don’t know.
Q: Are there feelings that you’ll get a Season 3, or is there disappointment because of the Friday night ratings?

Garret: I don’t know. I always feel like shows are going to be canceled. That’s probably a knee-jerk response as well. I prepare for the worst and start looking for another job, just in case.
Q: Do you have a satisfying resolution for John Henry, if this is it?

Garret: It’s never satisfying, is it? I’m usually dead when series end, so this will be my first time living.

Q: Do you have children?

Garret: No, I don’t. I have godchildren. I have a goddaughter and some nephews, and we might have some children, some day. We have to get on it, if we’re going to, or maybe adopt. But, I do always joke about that stuff. It would be hard, particularly with a daughter, maybe because I’m a guy. I know the lies we tell. “He said what? No, no, no. You’re staying home tonight. Let me show you the handbook.”
 Q: Have you seen a cut of The Road yet?

Garret: I did. I saw one about three weeks ago. I think it looks great. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy, so I might be an easy audience. But, I think that kid is something else. Kodi Smit-McPhee is his name. He’s an Australian kid. Talk about clicking in and out of character. He was like, “It’s fun, I reckon,” and then they’d call action and he’d be a little American kid, all intense and sad. They called him “the alien” on set because he was so good. It’s annoying, really. I was like, “I’ve studied for years. You can’t just show up and be good.”

“The Last House on the Left” opens in theaters on March 13th.

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