Jeremy Saulnier is a colourful director. I mean this in more ways than one – his breakout feature was the bloody and brutal Blue Ruin (a favourite here at THN) and he’s followed that up with Green Room, which takes the spectrum of violence to a whole new level.
The action horror thriller sees a group of disaffected punk rock youths (including Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots) fall foul of a neo-Nazi movement at a gritty venue. Their gig takes a nightmarish turn when they stumble on a murder scene, putting them squarely in the firing line of an army of skinheads, led by the surprising choice of Patrick Stewart.
Praised by critics for its unflinching use of ultraviolence, it’s left its mark on gore fans and further established Saulnier as a helmer to watch. That’s if you haven’t clamped your fingers over your eyes against the carnage. We got on the phone with him for a chat about the distinctive cinematic thrashing…
Where did the scenario for Green Room come from, and what made you decide on skinheads versus punk rockers?
The idea was gestating for a long time, it felt very natural. A lot of my films sprout from environments and I figured I wanted to do a movie set in the punk rocker hardcore scene, just because it’s such a part of my youth, I knew it very well and I don’t see it done in an authentic way very often. You set a film in that world and it often takes place in a venue. What if I could have my cake and eat it too, where I’m in a punk rock world and there’s a live performance happening, and it converges with a traditional genre movie, and to fuse those worlds together? So I thought the ideal place would be the green room backstage. It has a little access. It’s part of the world yet separate. And it’s the same reason I had skinheads as adversaries, because they’re part of the punk rock world. They’re natives, you see them at a show and it’s believable, but they’re also at the fringes and separate from the subcultures within punk rock. I saw them as soldiers. They would be the most likely to be organized in criminal activity, the structure and hierarchy – they take marching orders, they actually wear combat boots. It lined up pretty easily for me.
The film is incredibly violent. How did you work that out in terms of the choreography?
I’d pre-visualized the concert venue and we actually built that as a soundstage set, constructing the whole thing from scratch. Being able to design the environment meant a lot less of a translation problem when I went from script to screen and did the choreography. The blocking was already halfway there. I covered the action and make up because I grew up making movies that way, my partners and I were big into action and horror and zombie films and whatnot. That was really fun for me. I’ve used that skillset for twenty years.
Obviously it’s intense to watch. What was the atmosphere like on set?
The days were intense as we had to keep that level of emotional continuity. There were a lot of very intense exchanges, pleading and crying and screaming. So it gets to that level between takes, over and over to cover the whole scene. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting for sure. From the very beginning we cast the movie in a way where we knew we’d feel safe and comforted by each others’ mutual respect and investment in the characters and story we were telling. So it was really quite nice and supportive! We’d wrap a work day and we’d all be covered in dust and snot and tears… even some of the crew members would start crying because it was really intense to watch. Very harrowing and very real. But then we’d have a nice little decompression session and they’d get a bite or a drink. It’s a rare thing I imagine where every single actor is incredibly gracious and great to be around. It was a treat for me.
Tell me about Patrick Stewart’s involvement. Did he have much input into his character?
He came to the film late in the process, he kind of swooped in and saved the day for us. We wanted a real presence for the role of Darcy Banker and he was looking for material, and it was perfect for us in terms of the timing and our mutual intentions. He loved how dark it was, and the intense atmosphere. He just kind of jumped on board, it was very high risk. The only thing he wanted more of was a little insight into his backstory. He did his own research, which was great and we also gave him a narrative history of his character based on a lot of research I had put together. The great thing for me was he asked for nothing to be done to the script to accommodate him, he just needed to get his bearings and have a little more to dig into, so once he had that he was on a plane to Portland and he was making the movie, it was crazy!
How did you go about realizing the female side of the film in this testosterone-driven environment? Imogen Poots’ role for example…?
For Imogen’s character it was really about experimenting with the traditional female role in this kind of movie. At first we don’t pay her much attention. She emerges from the shadows and develops, becoming a lot more present, and that was really good to go there and have her take on a traditional male role. The thing about Green Room is that estrogen is just as powerful as adrenaline… or testosterone rather! (Laughs) But they can be joined together through adrenaline! And doing that in a pressurized scenario was really fun.
This interview first appeared on THN.