Capone Interviews Michael Stahl-David... The Star Of CLOVERFIELD!
Published at: Dec. 18, 2007, 4:57 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with my second CLOVERFIELD-related interview (after director Matt Reeves). So who the hell is Michael Stahl-David, and how did he get to be the star of the CLOVERFIELD? Strangely enough, that's the first question I asked him. I know that he was a regular on the short-lived NBC drama “The Black Donnellys,” and that he comes from a theater background. Oh, he was born and raised in Chicago, so that makes him a touch more cool in my book. But beyond that, the man is a mystery, and that's kind of the point of CLOVERFIELD: cast largely unknown actors to heighten the sense of realism. Join me, please, in meeting Michael mere weeks before his career gets a lot more interesting.
Capone: Hey, Michael, how are you?
Michael Stahl-David: I'm good, man. How are you doing?
Capone: Good, good. So the obvious first questions are, Who are you, and how did you get to be in this awesome movie?
MSD: Yeah [laughs]. My name is Michael Stahl-David, and I'm an actor whose been kind of slogging away like every other actor. And this was another audition that I went on. I made a tape in New York, sent it to L.A., and didn't necessarily expect to hear anything about it. Although I did feel like the character was an easy fit for me. Sometimes you go out for stuff, and you're like, “Really? Me? Okay.” And this was something where I was like, “Yeah, okay, I can do this.” Then I ended up flying myself out, paid for the flight for an audition, and then got flown back out to audition again. So it was arduous process, but that was how I did it.
Capone: For the audition, did they give you scenes?
MSD: They had a couple scenes, and then they had this fake scene from “Alias” that was totally convoluted and impossible to act. It was like, “You wake up and you're a spy and you're in another country and you're going to die.” And I think every actor they brought in there was like “Ahhh!” So they needed to see what you would do in an intense circumstance. So J.J. Abrams was like, “Hold on, I'm going to go write a monologue, and he literally went to his office down the hall and typed up a monologue, which I had 10 minutes to look at and went in and went for. So that was in the last phase of the auditions.
Capone: Someone told me you were from Chicago. Is that right? That's where I'm talking to you from.
MSD: Oh cool. Yeah, born and raised in Chicago.
Capone: During the course of the making of the film, did J.J. or Matt Reeves or any of the production types allow the actors to be aware what was going to be happening around you? I'm asking about specifics.
MSD: Yeah, they weren't interested in keeping us in the dark. That wasn't going to serve the movie to have us totally clueless. But also the special effects people were working as fast as they could, but they were going to do most of their work after the movie. So we would see little sketches and renderings of what the idea was of what it would be. Or, “There's an explosion over there.” Or we would sometime see what the actual creatures would look like.
Capone: Other than the clips that the general public has seen up to this point, do you have some idea of what the final film is going to look like? You're in a unique position having made it to know just how off the beaten monster movie path CLOVERFIELD actually goes.
MSD: Basically, I've seen what the public has seen. But I've seen…I've done some ADR [automated dialogue replacement], so I've seen some little scenes, but I really haven't seen the whole film together at all, so I don't know what that's like. From what I hear, it's like a survivor movie, you know? It's a movie about a group of people in a crazy situation and trying to make it through it. And yeah, that involves a monster, but you're absolutely right, it's not the typical monster movie at all because you are a witness in it. You're along with us.
Capone: Tell me something about your character Rob that we don't know yet.
MSD: [long pause] Um, he's afraid of heights. [laughs]
Capone: The film starts of at a going away party for Rob. Why is he leaving New York?
MSD: He's got a job offer, and really what it means is that he's finally got the opportunity to do something with himself. And he hasn't really been an overachiever in his life, not as far along as people would have thought that he would have gone at this point. So, he's making a choice between trying to figure out…staying with a girl that he's always kind of been in love with but never really acted on until recently and being a responsible adult, and taking this job. And he takes the job, which is kind of the safer choice.
Capone: So he's not happy with that choice.
MSD: No, I think he thinks he has to do it. I don't think he sees it as a choice. One of the things that we talked about was what happens when a disaster strikes. Petty things drop away and the things that are really important to you become really clear: survival and the people that are important to him.
Capone: What can you tell me about Rob's friends? There's obviously this very beautiful woman who he may or may not be leaving behind. What are the relationships among the friends?
MSD: You've got my buddy from college who's always been loud and getting me to doing stupid stuff but is always a lot of fun to be around. He isn't always the most tactful guy. That's Hud (T.J. Miller), who's holding the camera. And my brother (Mike Vogel), who's always been more of a partier and reckless guy than I have. And then, yeah, there's Beth, who's the girl you were friends with, and if you single she was dating somebody, and if you were dating somebody she was single. And it never really got to happen, but you always felt like there was something there.
Capone: You're about to star in the first major event film of next year. Is it frustrating not being able to talk about it as much as you'd like to?
MSD: I think I've come to really appreciate the value of saying less. Even now, I'm thinking, “I need to come up with some shorter answers to these questions.” I tend to blab, but withholding is a very effective way of generating interest.
Capone: Tell me about seeing the teaser trailer for the first time. What was your reaction?
MSD: It was pretty exciting. It was like, “This really feels real. It's crazy” And when it actually came out, it was a big boost to all of us who were working long hours on set. It gave us a lot of confidence in what we were a part of that we didn't necessarily have before. We weren't really sure how it was going to work. It seemed like a cool idea, but it wasn't until we saw that cut together that we were like, “Oh wow. Okay, now I get it.
Capone: Is it tough to appear more natural and spontaneous in a film like this than you would in a more conventionally shot film. You can't really worry about whether the DP is getting you from the right angle with this one.
MSD: The tough thing isn't worrying about whether he's getting your good side; it's about worrying about whether or not he's getting what you're doing. If Hud is behind me then subtle stuff that I'm doing with my face that you would do to make it feel very natural, so that's what you would naturally would do, isn't going to get caught. The camera isn't there to catch your reaction; the camera is there as a witness. That was hard. It was kind of a different venue. I think that's where my theater background actually helped because sometimes you really had to do something bigger for it to even read on camera.
Capone: Are you excited at the prospect of seeing this with an audience for the first time?
MSD: Yeah. I mean, I'm not going to see it until the premiere so that's going to be the first time I'm going to see it, and yeah, I'm very excited. I've very self-critical, but I'm just going to try and enjoy it. You know, this is not the last movie I'm going to do; I'm going to be an actor for life, so hopefully this will be the first of many. But yes, I'm very excited, and as the date gets closer, I'll probably get a little nervous too, but I just want to have a good time with it.
Capone: Have you been amused at the misinformation that been out there about the film?
MSD: Yeah. It is funny. It's interesting to me how much people like to solve a puzzle, and how much you can make something about something that it's not and find evidence to support it. You can prove anything almost. I think it's great; I think it's fun. Interactive stuff like this is maybe the future of the way marketing will be done and also the way that entertainment will work. If the audience can be a part of it, it's a more engaging experience.
Capone: Where do you go from here? What have you got lined up next?
MSD: I've got an independent movie that's getting screened Slamdance in Park City called THE PROJECT, and there's a trailer for that on YouTube. Then, I don't know. I'm taking some meetings with people and hoping to line something up. I'm in a play right now; I'm going to be performing tonight, and it's been running for the last couple of months called “The Overwhelming,” which was just named the Number 4 play of the year by Time magazine. That's been a lot of fun, and it's been a very valuable experience for me. I want to continue to be a part of stuff that I feel like is important and has a story there about what's going on in the world. This movie is not the sort of thing that I thought I would necessarily do or necessarily would do this sort of movie again, but I'm really glad I did it and I had a great time doing it and I'm proud of it. But I'm not sure I want to do these kind of movies over and over.
Capone: What's THE PROJECT about?
MSD: It's actually shot in a similar style [to CLOVERFIELD]. It's a fake documentary. And it's about two film students--a boyfriend and girlfriend--who move to New York and decide to make a film about kids from the projects and cops, and then film themselves as they try to edit it together and their relationship dissolves. The fun of that was also trying to get that very realistic feel to it, and doing some improvising.
Capone: Well it goes without saying that I'm dying to see CLOVERFIELD and good luck with it. Thanks for talking to us.