The stars of The Cabin in the Woods were the toughest interview of SXSW just on a purely physical level. It was 9AM, Daylight Savings Time so we’d all lost an hour, after the secret midnight screening started 45 minutes late. But it was legendary actors Richard “The Visitor” Jenkins and Bradley “West Wing” Whitford. They play lab techs observing the horrific events at the cabin in the woods and enjoying the show. Despite the early call time and sleep deprivation, we got into the process and riffed on horror movies, and all got a bit loopy.
CraveOnline: You both are very committed distinguished actors. What process do you have for getting into these characters?
Bradley Whitford: It all comes from reading the script and you can tell when something’s really fresh and original. That’s it, certainly more than genre, certainly more than a particular character. When something’s written and it doesn’t stink like development.
Richard Jenkins: Ooh, ooh, this odor.
Bradley Whitford: That’s what I think it comes down to.
Richard Jenkins: Yeah, you just jump into it. Just jump into it and see where it goes. It’s a big help when the writing’s really good. Really big help so we got along immediately, had fun immediately. That’s kind of the relationship these guys have so it was pretty easy actually.
Are there things you can do when a character has a physical condition or issues that compares to these roles?
Richard Jenkins: Yeah, you just deal with what’s in front of you and what’s in front of you in the script. That’s where your clues are. Everything is there. I mean, should you limp if your character has a limp? Yeah, I think so. If I read “he limps” then by God, I’m going to limp.
Bradley Whitford: But I think it would be terribly distracting if - -
Richard Jenkins: If you did it and didn’t mention it?
Bradley Whitford: If I acted as if I had a stroke because my personal biography had dictated that. But you might get an acting award for that.
When you first read the script, did you have any sense of where it was going?
Richard Jenkins: No. Uh, no.
Bradley Whitford: No, you mean where the story was going? I certainly didn’t and I thought that was one of the most striking things about the screening the other night. First of all, you never hear audiences simultaneously laughing and recoiling with horror. Audiences unfortunately are usually ahead of where the movie’s going to be. I didn’t know when I read it where the hell it was going to end. It becomes fascinating when you get 3/4 of the way through, you begin to think, “How is this going to end?”
Richard Jenkins: When I saw it the other night I didn’t know how it was going to end and I was in it. You just see how they put all the pieces together and this movie was in their heads, in their minds as they were directing us. It was amazing to see the finished product. I knew the story but the script was amazing. The movie’s even better.
Joss and Drew have a unique way of writing dialogue. Does it feel comfortable to deliver?
Richard Jenkins: Mm hmm.
Bradley Whitford: Yes.
Richard Jenkins: Very.
Bradley Whitford: Bad writing is like bad sex.
Richard Jenkins: No, it’s worse.
Bradley Whitford: Oh yeah, it’s worse. It’s worse. It just lasts too long and it’s hard to get out.
Richard Jenkins: It’s really very helpful when the script is amazing.
As actors, was a good old fashioned monster movie the sort of thing you always wanted to be a part of?
Richard Jenkins: Yeah, kinda. It’s fun. I mean, it really was fun. We didn’t see many of them but for me it was. I always loved when I was growing up watching sci-fi, horror films. I kind of stopped. You know, I hadn’t seen any. When’s the last horror film you saw?
Bradley Whitford: The Margaret Thatcher movie.
Richard Jenkins: I set you up.
Bradley Whitford: Thank you. What’s it called? Iron Lady. Scared the sh*t out of me. That creepy monster. No, I know horror addicts. Do you go to horror movies?
Yes, I see everything.
Bradley Whitford: But if it were not your job, would you go to Saw 4?
Absolutely. I love the Saw movies.
Richard Jenkins: What’s your favorite horror movie.
The People Under the Stairs, Wes Craven.
Richard Jenkins: When was that made?
Richard Jenkins: Cool, well, I’ll see it.
I liked Freddy and Chucky too.
Richard Jenkins: My son was terrified of Chucky.
Bradley Whitford: Chucky’s the doll?
Richard Jenkins: Yeah, Chucky’s creepy.
But see, they’re the funny ones too.
Richard Jenkins: How many did they do of Chucky and Freddy?
There’s been five Chuckys, nine Freddys. Or 8 ½ if Freddy Vs. Jason is one of each.
Richard Jenkins: Are they making more of them?
I haven’t heard news, but I’m sure they will.
Richard Jenkins: They’ve only made nine.
Bradley Whitford: They never die.
Since this was made two or three years ago, would you guys keep in touch with this banter, or were there things to be done on the film like ADR?
Richard Jenkins: No, Bradley won’t answer his phone so I stopped calling. We haven’t seen each other since then.
Bradley Whitford: No, it’s very odd. It’s an odd condition of being an actor that you’re thrust into this kind of pressured intimacy, and then it ends. But I needed space.
Richard Jenkins: You did need space. I was crowing a little bit. But you pick right up when you see each other. Yesterday, “Hey, how you doing?” Film is weird that way. Everybody comes together for a few weeks and because you spend all these hours together you get to know these people, you separate. Sometimes you don’t hear from them for a while. Sometimes 10 years I’d run into people and just pick right up. That’s kind of the way the business is.
What were your thoughts as the movie took years and years to find its way out?
Bradley Whitford: I was anxious for it. I didn’t have my usual self-loathing pessimism about a movie I had in the can. I was anxious for this to come out. I thought it would be interesting and it was just a frustrating process that it got caught up in this bankruptcy thing.
Richard Jenkins: And Drew, it’s his first directing and he’s an amazing director. The chances of it coming out were not good so it’s a great story. It’s almost great that it happened this way now for this film. Every time one of these movies is on the shelf, it’s always because they’re bad they say. I knew it wasn’t bad.