Yeah, there were definitely some scenes, like when we'll all hanging out in the van and driving, that were just a ball to shoot. We'd been through all of this really hard stuff, and then we'd be able to just hang out, while dry, and have some fun. Those days were a breeze. And everybody was wonderful, so there was a lot of laughter and joking around, but there were definitely times when you had to focus and put yourself in a certain head-space, where it's like, "OK, I actually have to go someplace emotionally here. Maybe I need to take a few minutes to myself and not be joking around with everybody."
One of the things I learned from working on this movie was that you have to be responsibility for your own work, to make sure that you're where you need to be, because nobody can do that for you, even if it means that you have to stop joking around for a few minutes.
There's one specific in the behind-the-scenes special feature where you're all shooting the scene in the basement, and you're trying to read from that doomsaying diary but aren't able to stop laughing at how ridiculous it all sounds.
Oh, is that in the DVD extras? That's so funny! I haven't seen the DVD extras yet, but that was, I can tell you, the absolute worst day for laughing. We ruined about a million takes. [Laughs.] Every time, somebody would lose it. When I was reading, and Chris shoves my arm, I would lose it. There were just so many points during that scene where we would have to stop and start again, because we couldn't get through it. We were laughing so hard.
I think it was because there was a dialect coach on set, who was working with Anna and Chris [who are both Australian] to help them with their American accents. And she gave me a note on how to read the Latin, and it sounded so ridiculous when I read it that way. Nobody could get through the scene. I was like, "Dana wouldn't know how to read Latin like a Latin professor does. This is ridiculous." [Laughs.] To top it all off, it was about a week of night shoots, so we were all exhausted, on top of being punch-drunk.
Especially in the over-the-top climax of the movie, there's so much insanity going on, and you have to play it all seriously; but, at the same time, you have a clown and a unicorn running around killing people. It must be tricky to maintain that sense of fear when there's a unicorn walking by you on set.
[Laughs.] Definitely. I don't know if any of this is on the DVD, but they did this sort of gag reel to show at our wrap party, and most of it is people laughing and breaking character. Fran and I had such a terrible time in that elevator, because the elevator itself wasn't shaking; we would sort of pretend that it was shaking, which, of course, was embarrassing to do in front of another person, and then we'd stop, look at each other, and have to appear to be terrified and out of breath, and almost every time we had to do that we'd just laugh. Drew was like, "You guys just have to find a way not to laugh here." [Laughs.]
Because it's so absurd, and there's a huge hallway totally covered in blood, and Drew is showing everybody how to properly eat guts as a zombie, everything was so ridiculous but also required some level of seriousness. They were worried about the zombie guts in the corner of the elevator to make sure that there weren't any continuity errors from the day before. It's so absurd but you kind of have to look around and say, "What's happening here?" It was insane, but we managed to get through it.
The footage in the behind-the-scenes featurette where we can see every single set-up from the film's climax, with all of the monsters and creatures getting their own big moments, it makes the set look like the coolest Halloween costume store imaginable.
Oh my god, yeah. There was one day where I got to set and somebody said, "Did you see the unicorn running around in the parking lot?" I was like, "No, I didn't, but I would like to have my picture taken with it." [Laughs.] The lunch line was ridiculous, too, because it was all of these people in crazy costumes getting catered food with everyone else.
Drew and Joss are huge horror fans, and The Cabin in the Woods is, amongst other things, a love letter to the entire genre and all of its classic tropes and elements. Being that your character is the film's version of the "Final Girl," that beloved female protagonist who makes it through to the end, did Joss and Drew have you watch any old horror films to take any pointers from classic final girls?
They didn't give me anything specifically as a final girl, but they did give Fran and I Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to watch for the last scene, which was kind of cool. When you watch that final scene and have Butch Cassidy in mind, it's pretty interesting. But they did also have us watch The Evil Dead and some other movies, and I think we were all hungry to do the proper research for this. We all knew that this movie was really special and that the script was really good.
So we all ended up watching a ton of horror movies. I watched The Descent by myself, which was a mistake. That movie is so scary. [Laughs.] Even in the hotel, where I knew I was safe, I was absolutely terrified. That movie has really great performances, and part of the reason why I think they wanted us to watch The Descent is that the performances are so real, and they feel so real, which is part of what makes the movie so scary.
Prior to The Cabin in the Woods, your acting experience came largely from soap operas, where the scripts don't seem to be closely adhered to or dialogue-driven as the stuff that Joss and Drew write. How was that transition for you?
It was wonderful. I went to Yale's drama school for theater, so we did tons of Shakespeare; then, I got out of school and said, "OK, it will be Shakespeare," and it was like, "Or, it will be commercials and soaps." [Laughs.] And I loved working on the soaps. It was wonderful, and I met such wonderful actors. But it was crazy, because the script would change everyday, and you learned that once you got to set, even if you didn't say the lines right, nobody would care.
Cabin was such a different thing. Every word was so carefully chosen, and it felt really great to have something to take home, work on, and really sink your teeth into. I hadn't been able to do that since I was in school. It was really exciting to get to do all that work again, and to know that, the more work you put into it, the script was so good that you would just keep finding new things the deeper you went.
Something that's really cool is that the script that we read when we all first got the job is really close to what you see on the screen. There were a few scenes that were cut out, but that wasn't because the writing didn't work.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)