In Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, a punk band dubbed The Ain’t Rights (played by actors Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner) travel to a remote venue in the Pacific Northwest to play a gig, only to stumble upon a violent crime that the concert’s skinhead organizers are desperate to cover up.
The skinheads, led by a fearsome Patrick Stewart, trap the band in the titular green room along with a couple of inadvertent stragglers (such as Imogen Poots’ Amber). Thus the stage is set for a deadly siege which takes the film all the way to its bloody end.
For our Spring 2016 issue’s cover story on Green Room, we spoke with the film’s trio of young stars—Yelchin, Shawkat and Poots. As often happens, conversations spilled over the confines of the main story, so we’ve collected the highlights of those interviews that didn’t make the final cut. The three actors talk about their relationship to punk music, the joys of shooting the film in Portland, Oregon, and the tremendous impression that Saulnier (and his prior feature, Blue Ruin) made on them.
On His Own Experience in a Band:
“I think that Jeremy’s experience was a lot more authentic than mine, because I never gigged around in a van. I mean, we played a few shows in Santa Barbara, so we put all our shit in my truck and drove up, but we never did a tour where we were living out of a van [like in the film]. The people that you’re playing with, they’re usually your best friends, and it’s an incredibly emotional and moving experience. Some of the most fun I have had with my friends is that time when we would play shows together, and we would suck together or we’d be OK together, get hammered, stop being able to project the lyrics, forget what we were doing. There’s a real beauty to that feeling when you’re all together and sharing that, especially in punk music, which is very aggressive. There’s a lot of commonality between who’s on stage and who’s in the audience—you’re just all in it together. We all had shows we played like that, where we really were only inches away from people moving around and throwing themselves around.”
On Why He Wanted the Part:
“I read everything, of course. I can’t make the decision if I don’t do all the reading. I don’t let other people read for me. I’m a really big fan of film history and a wannabe movie historian, a wannabe nerd, so I really respond to filmmakers that are making their own kinds of cinema. I watched Blue Ruin and I thought Blue Ruin was moving and somber, and then I got this script about a punk band, and I love punk music, and that was pretty much it. I instantly wanted to do it. It was really that simple. Jeremy is just the most stand-up human being, and he’s such a good man, and that comes through in the way he talks about life and about cinema. I just wanted him to want me to do it. I wanted him to want me in the movie.”
On What He Loves About Jeremy Saulnier’s Films:
“He’s meticulous about the conditions that humans are in, and that’s what I really like about his films—there’s a really meticulous approach to how humans do everything and how they try to figure everything out, and how they try to compartmentalize. There’s that wonderful shot in Blue Ruin with the trunk of the car, when you see how [the protagonist] has arranged his whole life to live in a car. It’s the same thing in Green Room: He’s meticulous about the details of how the band is arranged, where they sleep, how they sleep, how they leave the phone in the room to go to the bathroom, where the charger is… I really appreciated watching Jeremy craft that world. Taking time to figure out how the specific act of siphoning gas is going to work. All the details come together, like how many cartridges there are, where are the things that they’re using to fight the Nazis, where do they find weapons, how are they trying to get out. Thing come back. Little material objects that you might discover in the first part of the film come back later in the film. You realize that humans use this material reality to try to combat the sublime experience of being alive, which is beyond us… You see people planning and figuring out and doing this and doing that, all these attempts at making sense of something that is beyond us, and it’s terrifying in a sublime way. You spend the whole of Blue Ruin trying to figure out what’s going on and you learn that it was an idiotic mistake. And it’s the same thing in this film; it’s just a mistake. There’s no explaining it, it just happened.”
On Preparing for the Role of Sam:
“When I was younger, I tried to act a lot older. I’d know the references to keep a conversation [about punk music] going, but I never had my own time in the punk scene. Jeremy sent us all these huge documents, like record after record of Bad Brains and Dead Kennedys, all these pictures and references and documentaries, and then the whole time we were shooting and leading up to it, we’d all just listen to punk music.
Anton is a really talented musician; he can pick up any instrument and really get it. Joe Cole had never played drums before. Then we all went down to the rehearsal space and really hit it off! It was so great! Not that punk music is easy, but the musical structures are kind of stricter and it was all about keeping the rhythm and the style, looking like we were playing. We would [write] our own songs and by the wrap party, we played the songs we learned for the whole crew, and then played two of our own that we made up.”
On the Fact That Her Character was Originally Written Male:
“They had had the offer out to someone a while before and it didn’t work out, and then they were searching for someone. I had worked with Neil Kopp and Anish Savjani, the producers, before on a Kelly Reichardt movie, and they’re friends of mine, so then I just get this email about putting myself on tape for this part. They were like, ‘It was written for a guy, but we think that you would be so right for it.’ I sent it off and then I got the part and in less than a week, I was in Portland… I loved not having the character’s goal have to do anything with her sexual powers. A lot of the roles I played, luckily enough, are strong women who’re not necessarily about ‘this guy, I have to get this guy.’ So it was really refreshing.”
On the Intensity of the Shoot:
“There were definitely moments where I’m looking at Anton and he’s just losing his shit, and I’m crying looking at him, like, ‘We got this, man!’ and we also laugh, because it’s so ridiculous, like—our jobs. But you get tired. We’re supposed to be so fucking drained in the movie, so it all was part of it. Jeremy was such a badass director; he wasn’t soft with us at all. He was just like, ‘Get there; we need you here.’ It was the perfect dynamic to create that kind of intensity in the room. I think we all were able to give these great performances ’cause we were genuinely at that point.”
On Being More Involved in the Process as an Actor
“I remember talking to Anton and being like, ‘I feel like this is my first real auteur film.’ And having a bigger role in it [was important]. I had worked with other directors whom I really respected, but I was not really part of the whole filmmaking process; I would show up for a day. The Green Room crew was the best of the best, and everybody was giving it their all, and it’s a very different feeling. Because I have in the past been on a set where nobody gives a shit about the product, you know? They’re all just there, trying to get by.
I’ve been on sets more than I have any other professional environment. So my perspective and my desires, my goals, have changed several times. When I was a kid, acting was something that was natural to me. My parents are very supportive but I had a very normal life, and I was lucky enough to do really great work. Then by the time I was 18, I was bitter about it. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be this young ingénue type,’ and I was not being picked as the ‘pretty girl,’ so I was like, ‘I don’t want anything to do with it,’ so I took a break. Approaching it as an adult these last six years, it was a choice for me to go, ‘OK, if I really wanna do this, if I really love it, then I really love it and I’m really gonna do it.’ Because of that, I’ve met people on films that I really respect, and I’m continuously working with them. It’s all about those relations, where we know each other’s work and we know each other personally and it’s about bringing people together. And it has changed the way I approach my work so much.”
On What Green Room is About:
“I always considered it as something along the lines of Lord of the Flies. What happens in that group setting is a leader will emerge and a victim will emerge, and it’s that architecture that will always grow, despite the types of characters involved. And even though we never really understand how old any of [the characters] are, but you watch them become children again. You’re thrown back into the politics of a playground: whose opinion do you listen to, and the way the backgrounds or the political, social opinions of the characters have to adapt. So I think there was a lot to work with, despite the fact that on the page you might consider it just a genre film.”
On Deciding Whether to Work With a Director:
“If it’s someone who’s already done a film, you can obviously check out their work and see if it’s something that intrigues you. But if it’s a first-time director, you are inevitably taking a risk, but there’s some sort of intuition within you, like an instinct, where you say, ‘I know what this person is about.’ Perhaps it’s a short they made; perhaps it’s a lookbook or the way they speak about something. And it reveals how are they going to be as director on set, and whether it’s going to be a collaboration.
Jeremy has no ego, which is extremely rare for the age he is and the success he’s acquiring so quickly. He’s just very, very normal, and thrilled to be there, and cares deeply about the project and his family and people involved. That is a stunning thing to find in a movie director. You look at the fact that he brings back Macon Blair again. He’s all about his people, and I know that everyone on that set would jump to work with him again. As a director, he has great insight into people and I don’t think he’ll ever lose that.”
On Shooting Green Room in Portland, Oregon:
“I remember very clearly a moment with Jeremy, Macon, Anton and myself: We were waiting in the forest in the middle of nowhere, just waiting for complete silence to start the scene, and I remember being, like, ‘Wow, I really believe in this project with these people.’ I remember one night we went over to Macon’s and we had a big dinner and everyone cooked food, so it was very communal. You get spoiled being in a location like Portland, having your days off there. In Portland, you’ve got great coffee, it’s very luxurious. You get excited about getting a latte—you become that unfortunate. We were next to this incredible bookstore, Powell’s, and we’d all go in there and buy all these books. I loved it.” MM
Green Room opens in theaters April 15, 2016, courtesy of A24. For more on the film, read our Spring 2016 cover story here.