When CHEAP THRILLS was screened at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, the film was preceded by a variety of dares. One woman ate a popsicle covered in bugs. A man had “Cheap Thrills” tattooed on his rear end in order to attain a 2014 Fantastic Fest VIP badge (worth it!) before ever having seen the movie. But those dares didn’t even compare to the challenges that were tackled in the new twisted, comedic thrill-ride from director Evan Katz. Pat Healy and Ethan Embry star as the reunited friends, embarking on a profitable, ludicrous journey, where they try to win as much money as possible through random games and competitions. I had the chance to sit down to do a roundtable interview for the film, alongside Robert Sims from “Lights, Camera, Austin”.
Kalyn Corrigan: First of all, congratulations on your film it was really great.
Ethan Embry: Thanks.
Pat Healy: Thanks.
KC: I was wondering, for people who haven’t seen it, is it a comedy or a horror movie? How would you describe this to people?
EE: I don’t think it’s a horror movie.
EE: I think It’s definitely funny.
PH: It’s a black comedy, I guess. It’s so hard, you know, because some of the best films defy a genre. It’s a thriller I guess, if anything, you know?
EE: But only ’cause it’s thrilling.
EE: It’s not a thriller in the sense of like, MARATHON MAN.
PH: Or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
EE: Where you’re on the edge of your fucking seat wondering what’s gonna happen, it’s not that.
PH: It’s really different. It’s it’s own thing. In a way, that’s great, in the sort of, like, artistic, creative sense. In the world of sales and getting a movie out there, it makes it a bit more of a challenge. Looking at the early drafts of the trailer that they’ve done and stuff, I think that it’s about selling what the tone of it is, which is that it’s dark and disturbing and thrilling, but it’s also fun, too.
EE: If there was like a section on iTunes movies that said “ride”.
PH: Right, right, right.
EE: It’s just a goddamn ride.
PH: Yeah, it’s a ride.
KC: That’s really true.
PH: There’s moments in the movie where people are screaming, laughing, yelling, all at the same time.
EE: You know the date that they’re gonna fuckin’ release this thing in theaters?
Robert Sims: January? February?
EE: Valentine’s Day. It’s a fuckin’ date movie.
PH: It’s a date movie!
EE: If you can get your date to go to this movie, and still make out with her after, it’s a date. What a fuckin’ date. You put a fuckin’ rock on her finger.
RS: So, you’re sitting there, reading the script, what’s the first thing that really struck you about this script? Perhaps it was one of the characters? What was it that really stuck in your head, and made you say, “I really like this film”?
PH: On a selfish note, just to get a role where I get to play every possible range of human emotion, from beginning to end. Sort of shoot it in sequence in that way is like, it’s just thrilling just to be asked to play a role like that and to do it. I think sort of, politically, socially, that the idea of it, you know, the sort of economic situation that we find ourselves in now, in this country, and around the world–
EE: It’s even worse than last year when we made it.
PH: Yeah, sure. And arguably, it could get worse again.
EE: It will.
PH: Yeah, so, that’s really interesting, but I like that it’s not polemic, it’s an entertaining ride that has that stuff in it. You know what I mean? You could not think about any of that, and just enjoy the story of the characters, and those are the movies that I tend to like the best.
EE: But that’s the identification. To be able to take the audience to the places that we take them, they have to identify with both of us. And, that’s what struck me, was that both of these characters, the idea of, “how low would you go for a couple of fuckin’ bucks in your pocket?” That is something I think everybody can identify with, you know?
PH: Or, you identify with David and Sara as an audience member, enjoying watching people debase each other, which people do when they watch reality television every week. Or, you can go back and forth in the movie.
EE: Even David is so much deeper than watching us debase each other.
EE: There’s this scene where I say, “Oh, that’s a great fuckin’ idea, get a couple of losers and watch them humiliate themselves for a couple of fuckin’ dollars”. But even that is a surprise. That’s not just what they’re doing.
KC: So, are these redeemable characters? Should we be rooting for them?
EE: Depends on who you ask.
PH: Yeah. I mean, I think the movie kinda asks that question, I don’t know if I want to answer it, you know? I’ve looked at it both ways. I think I’ve come down on the side that really, it’s the character that you don’t think. The guy that ends up having the real moral center is the guy that you don’t think has one (laughs) in the end, which is the character that Ethan plays, which is sort of surprising. But, we all get caught in these situations, we’ve all been in a relationship, or a job, or something that is just toxic, and we’re in the middle of it, and we get out of it somehow, and we go, “What was I doing? Why was I doing that? I must have been out of my mind.” But, everything happens so quickly that you’re just rationalizing, and you’re just in it, and it’s only when you’re able to step out of the situation that you realize that was crazy. So, I think we can all relate to that, and feel safe that we would never go as far as these characters do. But, really, would we or not?
EE: That’s exactly the same feeling I had. I spent a night in my wilder years hanging out with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, you know?
KC: Yes, I love them!
EE: I was with him the night before he woke up and wrote, um, “Nicotine, valium, vicodine, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol, c-c-c-c-c-co-caine”.
EE: That was my pocket! (Laughs) It’s a weird thing to happen, man!
PH: We’ve both had our share of weirdness, and ups and downs in our life, so we could definitely relate to that. And Ethan’s a father, he can relate to that, and I’ve been married, and divorced and I can relate to that. I’ve certainly been broke and continue to struggle, and continue to try and make it, so I can relate to just about all of it.
RS: You said you shot the film in sequence?
PH: Yeah, all the stuff in the house.
RS: So, I mean, when you’re shooting a film like that, in sequence, does it stay with you longer when you’re off set? The dark stuff that you’re tackling, is it something that you can put aside when you go back to your hotel room at night? Or, is it something that stays with you a little bit longer, because the next, two, three, four, five days you’re going to be shooting in that same apartment. Is it going to get progressively worse for you? Physically, emotionally, mentally?
PH: It was physically and emotionally challenging, but I found the more emotionally draining stuff to be as painful as it looks, and extremely cathartic. ‘Cause there are feelings that you have somehow. When I do the thing in the movie that’s very intense, I just didn’t know what was inside of me and I just trusted that it would be there and I just let it out, and I was feeling, you know, everything painful that’s ever happened to me in my entire life comes out of me there. It was surprising, even to me. And in the moment, that feels awful, but it’s amazingly cathartic afterwards. Amazingly cathartic. And then they lost it, it actually got erased, so we had to do it again a couple of days later (laughs), but it was still there. Some sort of valve got opened up and has remained open so I’m really grateful.
EE: It ended up a blessing, because reshooting that, what it led into…
PH: Yes. But, looking at the movie, like when I saw it the first time, I forgot that that ever had happened, even though at the time it was the worst thing that ever happened to me (laughs).
EE: Yeah, because of that, we then led into the next scene…
PH: Yeah, that’s the point about us shooting in sequence is the next scene is a very quiet, emotional scene, which was sort of read as kind of a throwaway scene to lead to the next scene, but became a very deeply emotional, resonant scene between the two of us. We wouldn’t have been able to get to that place if we had not done what we just did before, so, if you can shoot in sequence, it’s great.
KC: So, do y’all believe money affects people’s morals? And if so, like, what’s your price? What would you be willing to do for a certain amount of money?
PH: I couldn’t say until it was offered to me, but I do believe that everybody has a price.
EE: Of course, man. Money definitely affects your morals.
PH: I mean, there’s times when I say, “Well, If I had this much, could I walk away from all of this, this thing I’ve spent my whole life doing?” And that’s a yes. Morally, could I live with it? I don’t know. I haven’t been put in that situation, and it’s only when you find yourself in that situation, like you said, that you’re in the middle of it, you have to make that decision, you know? I think, we have this discussion a lot with COMPLIANCE and people would say, like, “How could these people have done that? They’re so stupid.” And I’m like, “Well, it happened like seventy times, so, they’re not all stupid. There must be something there.” And what I think it is, is that, if you are the kind of person who says, “That would never happen to me, I would never do it”, it’s much more likely to happen to you. Whereas, if you say to yourself, “Look, I realize that there’s something in me, some darkness, something, you’re going to be much more vigilant about it not happening and not getting yourself into a situation like this, and we can say that about this movie too. If you’re the kind of person who I sort of pretend to be, and just like, “I’m moral, I’m doing this for my family”, and all that stuff, rather than being a guy who’s honest with himself about who he is, then I think worse things can happen.
EE: It’s sort of the perfect storm, too. Where Collin and Violet meet Vince and Craig, that day. The day before, Craig wouldn’t have been capable of doing the same things in life. But, because the things happened to Craig that morning, at the place that he was at, when they meet him, (snaps) it’s the perfect storm.
PH: You almost start to wonder if, like, they orchestrated it from the beginning (laughs).
EE: Yeah, and that’s the answer to that question for me, is, it depends on where you find me. Like you said man, it’s amazing what people are actually capable of doing if they’re completely honest with themselves. If you ask yourself that question, “How far would I go?” And you honestly ask, it’s actually kind of a fucking dark place that it takes you to, in my opinion. Maybe I’d go further than the average bear.
RS: Well, we have to wrap this up, so let me ask you what you’re working on next. Pat, I believe you’re working on KITCHEN SINK and DRAFT DAY?
PH: Yes, I just did both of those and I have a little bit in CAPTAIN AMERICA too. A movie with an old friend of mine, Adam Goldberg, who is directing a movie that I may be in, we’re gonna shoot in October called NO WAY JOSE, and then a couple of things that I’ve written. I wrote a movie for HBO films, and I’m actually writing a movie with Evan Katz, we’re gonna write a movie together for Keith Calder, who produced YOU’RE NEXT and ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE and a couple of movies like that, so we’re working on that now. It’s a weird heist movie that we cooked up.
EE: Today I finish, uh, the reason why they’re telling you we’re done is ’cause I gotta go to work, uh, I finish working on a William Forsythe and James Badge Dale thriller and that’ll be out next year and then, gonna start, uh, did you guys see THE LOVED ONES?
KC: Yeah, it’s great.
EE: Yeah, so we’re doing that next year. It sounds fucking great (laughs), it’s so fucked up.
RS: More so than CHEAP THRILLS?
EE: It’s different. It’s very different. But, along the same lines as, ‘what would you be capable of?’, but out of protection. How deep do you dig to protect the ones you love?
PH: Seems to be a recurring theme in a lot of movies now. Like, I haven’t seen PRISONERS yet, but I guess that’s what that’s all about, too.
EE: Yeah, it’s such a beautiful fucking love story between a father and his daughter, and then, he literally pulls the devil out of himself to protect her, and it gets so fucking thick.
KC: Were there any dares on the set?
EE: I think the whole fucking thing was a dare. I dare you to show up to work tomorrow!
EE: I dare you to do one more take motherfucker.
PH: I did think he was gonna hit me in the face at one point. Yeah, remember the moment when we were in the kitchen and it’s like, “Get your fucking finger out of my face”? Yeah, that was the moment when I was like, “Oh, no” I didn’t know if it was real or not (Laughs).
KC: He’s so good, he even fooled you.
EE: Yeah, well, I’m a method actor. I don’t know if I’m good or not, but I do fall into my characters a little too deeply sometimes.
PH: It was good. Whatever works for the movie is good by me. As long as we’re fine now, it’s fine.
KC: Cool, well thanks for the interview.
RS: Thank you very much guys.
PH: Thank you guys.