Whilst Japanese mythology propounds the notion that all things supernatural try to avoid electricity like the plague, Hideo Nakata’s much revered psionic shocker, Ringu, paved the way for a torrent of Japanese technology-centric shockers. Capitalising on J-horror’s new-found glory, it wasn’t long before an inevitable US remake of Ringu was announced which went on to make an absolute killing at the box office in 2002.
Back then, Samara Morgan, the sadistic, straggly-haired spirit, only had archaic VCR units and cathode ray tube TV sets at her disposition to work her nensha powers on unwitting victims. But technology has made some serious advances since then, and if the trailers are anything to go by, Samara’s got all kinds of tech savvy for the impending sequel, Rings, having figured out how to work her wicked ways into all manner of state-of-the-art tech.
To celebrate this Friday’s release (February 3) of Rings, SCREAM’s Howard Gorman caught up with the film’s leading lady, Matilda Lutz, who reveals just how much the original film affected her and what audiences can expect from Javier Gutierrez’ modern day spin on the fear-inducing franchise…
SCREAM: Your first taste of acting came when you attended acting school in an attempt to overcome a bad case of shyness. How effective did that prove, particularly now that you are very much in the public eye given your rapid rise to fame?
Matilda Lutz: Yeah. The first time I did an acting course was after High School. I was really shy and my Mum kept telling me I should try an acting course to get over it and build my confidence. The thought of being in front of people scared me so I really didn’t know how I was going to be able to act. But when I finished High School, I went to New York for six months, because I took a year off from studying. I didn’t know anyone in New York and I wasn’t scared of people judging me so I decided to take an acting course. It was the first time that I actually felt very free because I was playing someone else and saying and doing things that wasn’t me and I wasn’t being judged.
Having said that, it hasn’t really helped me in my personal life. I’m still really shy doing interviews, especially on camera (laughs).
SCREAM: So I’m guessing you aren’t one for watching yourself on the big screen?
ML: No! I did that at the Venice Film Festival for a movie last September and it was an awful experience (laughs) and that was when I decided that I wouldn’t do it any more. I do do self-tapes and I watch them because I want to learn, but I’m over-critical so when I have people that I know are watching with me in the same room, I just get really anxious.
SCREAM: I’ve read that you are as methodical as they come and you love to really carve out the characters you play, but at the same time, you love a bit of improvisation. Did Rings involve the best of both worlds for you in that sense?
ML: Obviously, I adjust to whatever the circumstances are for each movie. For example, with Rings, I didn’t have the script until the very last minute so what I did was I prepped a back story and the character and the physical aspect and the accent. Then, once I was on set, I just played with it. And that’s what I mean by improv. You don’t think about the work any more and you just listen to you partner in the scene and you just play.
SCREAM: So how do you go about creating a back-story and the physical aspects for a character if you haven’t received the script?
ML: Well, I did have what was a first script so I kind of knew what the character was like and her back-story and I just went really specific on it. If you think about your own life, you have certain background so I started answering questions for her like that.
SCREAM: Julia is dealing with her feelings of guilt after a death in the family. Where did you draw inspiration from to develop that particular side of her character?
ML: I think there’s always something that makes you feel that certain feeling in your life so I tried to think about things that made me feel guilty. And then I built the whole imagery for the film so I imagined the accident and the last time I said goodbye and all those kinds of details.
SCREAM: You’re only young so had you seen the original films? If I’m not wrong, I hear you are a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to horror movies and it was quite the ordeal watching the original film again before you shot Rings.
ML: I did watch it once when I was little and I’m sure I must have been covering my eyes the entire time. But then I wanted to watch it a second time after my first audition. It was like maybe 2 p.m. in the afternoon and I had to turn it off after about two minutes because I just couldn’t do it. I called my brother to come to my apartment to watch it with me but he’s VERY scared of horror movies ….. so he wasn’t much of a help (laughs).
SCREAM: Funnily, you weren’t aware that you were auditioning for a horror movie when you sent in your first audition tape.
ML: Yeah. I was shooting a show in Italy so I didn’t really have much time to read everything so I just grabbed the scenes and saw it was a goodbye scene and I was diving off a cliff so I just thought I should be super happy and excited. I broke it down very quickly and very technically and I did the audition and it wasn’t until the second audition that they sent me the first version of the script. But I was really interested in doing a horror movie when I found out. I thought it would be a lot of fun. And it was my first U.S. movie so I was really excited.
SCREAM: Your co-stars said that you brought quite a lot of ideas to the table. What aspects of the film and your character were you particularly meticulous about and that you thought needed that little extra something to take things to the next level?
ML: Julia goes through a lot, both physically and emotionally, so I just wanted to make sure that it was the right moment for the character, because we weren’t shooting in sequence. Also, Alex [Roe] and I lived in the same building. We didn’t have time on set to rehearse so we would rehearse for the next day the night before and that really helped because we were talking through details about their relationship and character and the point which they are at emotionally and physically.
SCREAM: And I believe Vincent D’Onofrio was a bit of a father figure for you during the shoot.
ML: Yes. I found out that he was born a day before my Dad and that he has a daughter my age so we really got along. We talked about a bunch of things and he gave me a lot of tips on set. I remember him telling me one thing which was, “It’s great that you trust the director, and it’s great that you want to be directed. But, at the same time, you need to know how to bring it on the table as an actor too.”
SCREAM: Going back to how easily scared you are, I think you got your fair share of frights during the shoot.
ML: (laughs) Yeah. There’s one moment I remember specifically. There’s one scene in the film when I’m locked in a bathroom and one character is dead in a chair. That dead body was a mannequin for that scene but no one told me that it was motorised. When we were doing the rehearsals, the head suddenly moved so I was like, “OK, Matilda. Just calm down! You’re just seeing things.” But then we did a second rehearsal and the head moved again and I just freaked out and told the crew, “I’m starting to see things. The head just moved over there. I think I need a break.” It was pretty freaky.
SCREAM: The film is obviously special effects-ridden, as were the previous entries. In the trailer we see how you have to pull Samara’s hair out of your mouth and how you peel away skin. Was that all as physically demanding as it looks?
ML: Those shots were very technical to shoot and it was a lot of fun to see how they did it. All the special effects were really fascinating for me, but the hair scene you mention, that shot was SO technical.
SCREAM: Something that made the previous entries as frightening as they are was the fact that they revolved around the use of older technology. Rings embraces all kinds of cutting edge technology but I’m guessing Javier Gutierrez and the rest of the team involved were careful not to overdo that side of things because it can be so easy to go too far. Do you think die-hard fans of the previous films will appreciate this new technology-centric take on the franchise?
ML: I do think they were really concerned about not going too far. I think it works better thanks to the fact they introduce an underground group of students that are using it more as a kind of experiment. At the beginning, before a certain death, they don’t really know what’s going to happen. They say that you’re going to die after seven days but no one has died up until then so it’s more about the hallucinations that you have and the creepy stuff that starts happening to you. I think they were more concerned with that side of things than the technological and digital dimension.
My biggest concern is what you just asked about die-hard fans because I don’t know the answer. But I do think that it’s a great fresh story and Samara is still there but this is a new take that is different and I hope people enjoy where it goes.
SCREAM: To wrap up, aside from Rings, what else have you got in the works that you are able to share with us?
ML: I shot a film called The Divorce Party in October/November and I’m also currently shooting a French thriller in Paris and Morocco with a woman director, Coralie Fargeat, which is called Revenge. And then I have Ecstasia, which is with Scott Eastwood. That film has been announced but we still don’t know just yet when it will start shooting, but I’m told it will be shooting in California anytime soon…
We’d like to thank Matilda Lutz for speaking with us and we’ll leave you with the latest trailer for the film. Rings crawls out of theatres around the globe this Friday, February 3rd…
A young woman finds herself on the receiving end of a terrifying curse that threatens to take her life in 7 days.
Words: Howard Gorman – @HowardGorman