Drew Goddard & Jesse Williams

Drew, you have got a huge backlog of in-genre work, could you give us a summary of how The Cabin in the Woods ended up on screen, and how you ended up in the driver’s seat?
Drew Goddard: I wrote The Cabin in the Woods with my partner in crime Joss Whedon, I sort of started my career working for him on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We had honed our technique of working together over those years. We just enjoyed working together, so after those shows went away we were just calling each other saying “let’s find something else to do”. We thought doing a feature would be the easiest thing to do for us, just in terms of our lives. So we started kicking around ideas of what we wanted to do, and we just love horror movies, and we love cabin movies in particular. He had this spark, this initial idea for Cabin with this upstairs, downstairs quality of it. As soon as I heard it, I went “oh yeah, that’s great let’s do that”. We just started meeting, and over the course of about five months we fleshed out the story, and once we had that we said, “alright, let’s write this”. We’ve learnt with Buffy that we never had much time to write because we were always behind schedule and we’d have to write scripts over the weekend constantly. But there’s a real energy that comes about when you do that. We wanted that energy, so we said let’s lock ourselves in a hotel, and we’re not allowed to leave the room until we’ve got a script done. It was very much an experiment, but it worked. We found this nice hotel and just kept writing, from like 7am to 2am every day, round the clock, passing pages back and forth. And in the end we had Cabin. We sensed we’d written it, but it was every much what it was. It was very much a labour of love; just two guys trying to entertain each other.

Do you think this film will have the same impact on cabin films as say Scream did on slashers, do you think this will be the film that other films will be referenced and compared to?
Drew Goddard: I don’t know, I try not to worry too much about how it will be perceived in the pantheon. We just tried to make the best movie we could. The rest of that is for other people to decide.
Jesse Williams: I think it’s hard to say right now, I mean it hasn’t even come out yet. We’ve seen it in a couple of theatres with people in it. Sure, that’s going to be a by-product, if it makes an impact, that people will make reference to it, so therefore it will have a lasting effect. We’ll start with one, and see if the math continues down that road.

Who came up with the idea for the merman?
Drew Goddard: Obviously, we’ll have to be very careful because we don’t want to spoil anything. This in particular is a great thing audiences don’t see coming. I’d ask all of you not to give that away! I remember saying that it would be great if one of them wanted to see something, it would be great if a guy wanted to see a wendigo, because he had never seen a wendigo before. And as we were working on the script, we kept talking about how it would be great that this guy wanted to see a wendigo. Then we realised that neither Joss nor I were sure what a wendigo was! So we were like, “well, that might be too hard, let’s switch it”. Then we switched it and it became a merman. But at a certain point we realised that we didn’t even know what we were doing…
Jesse Williams: Do we know what a wendigo is now?
Drew Goddard: It’s a Native American myth, sort of like a sasquatch.

There’s a movie called Wendigo actually, which is about it.
Drew Goddard: See if you guys had been there when we were writing…
Jesse Williams: The movie would have been changed forever!

How would you guys describe the film to somebody in a non-spoilery way?
Drew Goddard: I would just talk about the genre itself, and how this is our love letter to the genre. It is very much about making the ultimate horror film, or at least what we knew how to do. We just love that horror experience. This came about because we love sitting in the theatre, and feeling that energy when you’ve got the type of horror film that’s fun. And you’re screaming as much as you’re laughing, and when you’re sort of doing both. That can only happen in certain types of films, and we very much wanted Cabin to be that. It’s tough, because we can honestly say that the less you know about Cabin the more fun you are going to have, but you also want to tell people that it is worth their time. So it is finding that balance. Luckily, one of the things that has been nice is that we’ve noticed that people who see the movie understand, and they sort of know what not to do. They sort of do that without us having to ask. I think it’s true of most people,  I think most people don’t like being spoiled, and want to spoil, they just want to talk about the things that excite them. I think that is true of not just this movie but of all movies. I feel like we are definitely seeing that happen here, which is refreshing.

Jesse Williams: Yeah, and I think also, the word spoiler is kinda lost, its meaning is kind of amorphous, some people mean it “don’t spoil the ending of some sitcom” it doesn’t even matter, it’s like little pieces to a story where they’re not dealbreakers, whereas this I feel that the audience is really, people who’ve seen it are coming out and saying ‘we don’t wanna not spoil it for the sake of the director or the writer or the actor, we’re not gonna spoil it for the audience, we want you to have the best experience possible’ and just throw back to before twitter and the information age when everything was just fun to show off, to flex how much information you had ahead of time. Not “Oh, I got to see it before you, and now I’m gonna fuck it up for you.” It’s just a little muscle flex, and that’s not what this is about, you see that  people wanna… Less is more. The first thing about The Cabin In The Woods is don’t talk about The Cabin In The Woods.

Do you think, as a horror director, clichés are necessary for the horror genre to exist?
Drew Goddard: I think clichés happen for a reason, they happen because they work, things become clichéd not because everyone doesn’t like them, they become clichéd because everyone likes them, and then they start to wear out their welcome. So much of Cabin is about how we deal with mythology, and not just in a horror film, but mythology in general and what it is we do, and how we compartmentalise this and analyse things and then destroy it. It happens over and over and over, and that’s what happens with clichés, and I don’t… this movie comes from a place of love. We’re celebrating a lot of the things that we’re also poking fun at, I don’t hate these things, I’m just fascinated as to why we do this, I’m fascinated as to how things, through the action of storytelling, how things become rote, how archetypes take on a presence that’s larger than the sum of its parts. It’s interesting to me.

How do you feel about the casting, as you’ve ended up with a doctor and Thor?
Drew Goddard: Its nice to be proven right, as we definitely, at the time, we had the future of Hollywood in our cast. It’s nice to see that come to fruition before we even came out.
Jesse Williams: You had that spec script, “Dr. Thor”.
Drew Goddard: We couldn’t get that made, so we made Cabin. It’s nice, it’s gratifying, it’s what you always want for your actors, you always want them to do even better than before they  met you. It’s nice to feel justified.

Was using the Angel and Buffy actors again a nod to the fans?
Drew Goddard: Not really, it’s just because we love those actors and we wanted to use them. Joss has always… this is an energy he has created, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like you’re getting your friends together and having a party and just sort of ‘let’s put on a show’. That’s the energy we like to feel, we like to feel that we’re this roving band of misfits, we just pick and pull and mix and match as we go, and I hope we keep this energy going forward.

The big spoiler of Sigourney Weaver, she’s not credited, did you write it for her?
Drew Goddard: That’s a spoiler, so I’d ask you not to give that away, because that’s a big one. No, we wrote it a-sexual, the part is just known as The Director, but we were thinking of a man because that’s just what we  do ourselves being sort of sexist about it, but we weren’t excited. When we talked about names, nothing excited us, and one day we just looked at each other and said “Let’s just switch it, let’s make it a woman” and as soon as we said that, Sigourney’s name popped into our head. “Oh, she would be perfect for the genre, and she’d be so good at this” and just that day called her up, and she said “Yeah, I’m in”. We’re like “Really? Are you sure?” but she was “No, I love you guys, let’s do this” which was exciting. She knew Joss from the Alien days, and it was nice. She was so fun, the first question every day when she showed up on set was “When does the Werewolf get here?” “First of all, Sigourney, it’s not a real Werewolf” But she was just so excited. It was nice to see someone whose done what she has done still have the enthusiasm for her job, it gave us all a tremendous burst of energy to have around. But don’t say any of that until after.

In reviews we’re trying not to write about the connection of people underground and the people in the Cabin, how was it writing that, and of course the big reveal?
Drew Goddard: We sort of reveal it at the very beginning of the movie. That was one of the things I loved about it, when Joss first pitched it to me. “I’ve got this idea for a horror movie but I want to start in the break room with two guys talking about getting pregnant.” As soon as I heard that, ‘Oh god bless you, that’s great, I’m in, let’s do this’. That’s the sort of reveal that normally everyone’d save until the middle of the movie, you would parcel it out, but that’s not interesting to me, the thing that was much more interesting to me was to say to the audience, “No, right up front, we’re doing something different” and then it forces you to get even more creative as you go, you can keep escalating from there if you start everything much earlier.

With you directing for the first time, did you find there was a big change in perspective from writing and producing?
Drew Goddard:Well, I certainly can’t blame the director anymore when things go wrong, which was the hardest part. Luckily I was really fortunate in my career to work for people like Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams who very much have a feature mentality to the television shows they’re working on, and they’re very much empowering the writers, and writing in general. Television is a writer’s medium. I was very comfortable doing things like talking to actors and working with guts and looking at budgets and all of those things but there is something rather harrowing about stepping on set the first day and realising there’s no one else to turn to, that all eyes are looking at you. And that takes a lot of getting used to, but there’s also good in that, it’s nice when you realise you’re in charge.

Jesse, have you ever considered doing a role with a little less blood?
Jesse Williams: Kind of a running theme here, I’ve dabbled in non-blood films, the non-blood genre, early on in my acting career, and it just wasn’t as satisfying. I mix it up, sometimes I do blood with gloves, sometimes without gloves. Sterile and non-sterile field. In and outside of an institution, I’m mixing it up. Could I possibly do another film near this genre again? I don’t know. Cabin has kind of destroyed some of that because it’s so fucking awesome. The bar we set very high.

Do you find you wash off the blood very surgically?
Jesse Williams: Yeah, you get very into it. There’s something about having blood on you, and it happens on Grey’s [Anatomy] too, after doing a surgery or spending long hours covered in blood in Vancouver when it’s done, you feel very accomplished. When you’re finished and scrubbing it off, like “Hell yeah, we showed them! Stupid zombie.” That’s on Grey’s, obviously.
Drew Goddard: Right, yeah, love that zombie episode.

My wife’s a huge fan of the sexy beast, does that mean anything to you?
Jesse Williams: That’d be the Hotness Monster from a little show called Greek,.
Drew Goddard: I don’t know what the hotness monster is.
Jesse Williams: It was a name they gave me.
Drew Goddard: They gave you?
Jesse Williams: I may or may not have had it written on the grill of my car, who can remember?
Drew Goddard: How I wish I had known about that.
Jesse Williams: Totally could have been a creature at the end. “Oh no, it’s the hotness monster! I’m enjoying it so much!”

You started off in academia and shifted into acting, was that always the plan?
Jesse Williams: No, there was no plan. I was a public school teacher, film was one of my majors in college so I was writing films and shooting student films and going back and forth between Philadelphia and New York to shoot films with NYU students and Columbia students. So I wrote a film that I submitted to Sundance for the screenwriters’ lab, and it made the final list there, whilst I was teaching. I was writing it during my lunch-breaks whilst I was teaching and it just kind of made it real, like “Oh shit, maybe I can do this, maybe there’s a place for this”, it made the goal kind of realised instead of just throwing it out into the ether. And that motivated me to go to New York and just try to pursue my creative goals before I wake up and 40 years have passed and I’m yelling at teenagers still. Which is fun, it’s actually pretty fun, but yeah, I moved to New York and tried writing, that doesn’t pay any money. I just kicked around odd jobs and boring stuff, worked in a law firm for a year and a half, but then I dug up this old agent, I did a couple of commercials in college, I dug up this guy, said “I’m here now, wanna give it a shot, don’t know what I’m doing, quarter-life crisis”. He sent me an audition for Law & Order or something and just started acting, doing theatre and something like that.

You talk about writing, is that something you may continue with?
Jesse Williams: Yeah, I’m doing some writing now, writing a couple of projects now, and co-producing a film after we finish this season of Grey’s. Just kind of figuring out ways to be creative and using my time. Anything you’re doing, you do one show 10 months a year, I love the show, I love my job, but you just wanna kind of mix it up. So I produced a project that was at Sundance this year, just trying to mix it up so you don’t go insane.

What was it called?
Jesse Williams: That project was Question Bridge: Black Males, it was an video installation that was at their New Frontiers lab, and it’s now in 5 museums around the States, and it’s gonna do a 20 city tour and the LA Film Festival.

Who came up with the idea for the making out with the wolf scene?
Drew Goddard: That’s a really good question, there were parts of this that I don’t remember who came up with what because they all just run together, because of the way we did it. I actually don’t know, but it definitely feels like both of us. I wouldn’t put it past either of us to come up with that scene, I don’t know.

And why?
Drew Goddard: If I answer that it’ll take some of the fun out of it, but I feel it’s crucial to the movie. It really was. It’s one of those things that’s not just there because it’s off-putting, it is about the progression of the story.
Jesse Williams: Was it always a wolf, was it ever a moose?
Drew Goddard: It was always a wolf, the wolf was very important to the horror film mythology in general.

As a fan, every time we heard about The Cabin In The Woods we’d get really excited, then a couple of weeks later the release date would change. How was it on your side?
Drew Goddard: It was definitely frustrating but I was just concerned about protecting the film. Every time there’s new management, you’re never sure what’s going to happen. Very early on the other studios, they started screening their products. Because what happens when something goes bankrupt, they screen their assets and other people buy them. That’s why it took so long for The Hobbit and James Bond, they were all dropping with us as well. We were in good company, it felt like. The studios saw the film and started loving it and there was a bidding war, and Lionsgate called me, said ‘we love the movie, we’re gonna do everything we can to get it, we’re not gonna change a frame’, and once I knew that, it just became a matter of the red tape getting untangled, and that was fine. There’s worse things in life than having your film come out slightly later than you thought it would. Joss and I joke, but it’s been the best thing that could possibly have happened to us, we love Lionsgate, they’re wonderful to work with, our actors have gone on to become stars. Be careful what you worry about, because it ends up working out fine.

A question for Jesse, what was it that attracted you to The Cabin in the Woods in the first place?
Jesse Williams: A couple of things I think, first it was the material – you know, you are reading 6 scripts a week, looking for work right. Desperately trying to find a place for yourself in some of these screenplays and this just stood out to me.

We didn’t even get the full screenplay, we just got a couple of audition sides, and I got a couple of different sets 2 pages here, 3 pages there of things that they had just cooked up,  that they had no intention of putting in the film.

They had some extra imagination and wrote up really elaborate crazy monsters, I had a molesting Jacuzzi in one scene and you have to act this out in a little office space.

I was a New York actor at the time so often it has to go on tape to be sent off to Los Angeles, right, so you don’t get the feeling of being in a room with a person you kind of have to pull it together and on top of that, I had to be, you know sexually assaulted by a Jacuzzi in an office and fake that it felt like I was going to be on candid camera, it felt like I was being set up for a reality show or something.

But what I loved about it was that it was really appealing to me and the voice was very clear, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, right. It’s hilarious, but it’s terrifying but there is monsters and the imagination is making it so that I can’t even really tell if this is the real world or where is it. It was really genre bending but really engaging and the voice was just so clear to me that I didn’t feel that I didn’t feel like it was forcing itself. It’s not a comedy that’s trying to scare you and it’s not a scary movie trying to get a couple of laughs in, in order to break the tension, it’s all of these things in a really honest way.

And then once I came out to Los Angeles and met with these guys and we worked it you could just feel in the air how excited they were about it, how passionate they were about it. And we just really kind of got on well I thought building this thing kind of together. It was just the excitement around it. It’s not common for everyone to be this genuinely excited. Like it’s really, really passionate and excited about a project but also the creativity. – You know this is a world of remake and sequels and 3D and all these other different tricks. Horror movies now are just kind of remakes of put yourself into a high school and have a girl have her shirt get ripped off and these things are done to death. And this was just really original.

And it’s really nice to have an original story that has room for a character to grow and change and play some square guy was different from what I had just done in Brooklyn’s Finest playing a cop or theatre this was something different this was a guy who is two different people who is new to a group, and he is socially awkward and sexually frustrated and that was fun.

Kind of the complete opposite of your Grey’s Anatomy character?
Jesse Williams: Yeah, very, very different from Avery who he is a very confident gentleman.

Is it hard for you to balance Grey’s Anatomy with films, as it takes 10 month of the year to film Grey’s?
Jesse Williams: It’s very difficult to balance Grey’s with films. You not available to do much of anything and it would be a pain for a studio to try to make that happen and fight with the Network to make that happen. That is the business side of it. That is the gift and the curse of one job is going to prevent you from getting other jobs. But 7% of actors work so I’m very, very grateful among the few that right now to have a job. So no complaints, but it is a balancing, act for sure.

In Cabin in the Woods you define 5 stereotypical roles, which would you both be in real life?
Drew Goddard: I was definitely the virgin. Boy I wish that wasn’t true.
Jesse Williams: I was somewhere in-between Marty & Kirk. I was, you know back at that time an athlete and wanna be tough guy but I was like 90 pounds and smoked a lot of weed though. So somewhere in there.
Drew Goddard: High school’s hard.
Jesse Williams: Yeah I was not Holden that is for sure.

Drew, why such an extreme ending? It kind of closes the opportunity to make sequels to it which is usually the opportunity that any Director would take. But you really close it. It is a really radical and extreme ending as well. Is it because all films are actually focussing on the end of the world now.
Drew Goddard: You know, at least with this, I feel like, that these days everything is just – Part 1. And you feel like I watch a movie and that the director is saying, well no, no the good stuff’s coming when you watch the next one and wait till you hear what we have planned for the third one. And I’m like give it to me now! I want it now!

So we didn’t set out to hold anything back we wanted to tell a complete story. So that people don’t have to worry about doing your homework ahead of time or reading the tie-in or doing all that crap. Just come in and sit down, we’re going to give you a great time and that’s enough. I miss that. You know you want that sort of energy of a movie. And so I don’t know I just felt that – let’s do it all, do everything we ever hoped for and we’ll worry about later, later. You know it’s all about making one good movie.

Jesse Williams: I would add that to the list of things that really attracted me to the project is that it is not trying to sell you anything. It leaves it all out on the table. Especially in the third act it’s overflowing with opportunities to make all types of other, all those things are really fascinating and it’s like you can make 12 movies out of what they just felt like throwing in there. 17 movies come out in a 2 week period that don’t have as much creativity on their finger nail as a 3 minute segment in the in the third act.

I have a twofold question; can you tell us a little about the reference in Cabin in the Woods about not trusting the Swedes and there are some wonderful references & homages in Cabin in the Woods are there any favourites that didn’t make the final cut?
Drew Goddard: To answer your second question – No I got away with everything. I really did. Shockingly so, but I got to do everything I wanted.

Regarding the Swedes and you see this play out over the course of the film there are other scenarios going on and if I had one thing to say I think if you are a teenager and trying to avoid the worst case scenario avoid Sweden at all costs as that’s clearly the most fucked up of all scenarios.

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