Interview: John Gallagher Jr. On 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
The name John Gallagher Jr. has meant something to theatre geeks for quite some time, but it is only recently that the actor is making into the mainstream. After playing a lead role in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom Gallagher went on to star in HBO’s 2015 masterpiece Olive Kitteridge and the Netflix chiller HUSH. Gallagher’s latest role is as Emmett in Dan Trachtenberg’s JJ Abrams produced 10 Cloverfield Lane. A “spiritual sequel” to the 2008 film, this installment takes place almost entirely in a fallout shelter where Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett have either been saved or are being held in captivity by Howard (John Goodman). To welcome the film’s Blu-Ray/DVD release we spoke to Gallagher from New York City, where he is currently starring opposite Jessica Lange, Michael Shannon, and Gabriel Byrne in a Tony-winning production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Scene Creek: It’s pretty strange how the film began as Valencia and along the way become a Cloverfield movie. What was the film when you joined?
John Gallagher Jr.: When I first got the script it was the end of August 2014. I checked my email one day and my agent sent me this screenplay called “Valencia…AKA The Cellar”, I think they had been going back and forth between these two titles. Of course my interest was piqued by seeing the list of credits of who were involved. JJ Abrams’ name jumped off the page immediately as a producer and the fact that Bad Robot and Paramount would be producing it, I was intrigued by that. I started reading the script and I totally fell in love with it. I got all of the references and the things that I thought had inspired it; it immediately reminded me of a classic episode of The Twilight Zone. I didn’t know what was coming. By the time I got to the end of the script I had totally fallen for it. Then I found out that John Goodman had signed on. I met with the director, we Skyped and talked a little bit about the movie and the character. That was when I found out that Mary Winstead had signed on. The deal kept getting sweeter as more and more people I admire were getting involved with it. It was a fantastic script to begin with. I had no idea that it was going to become this spiritual successor to Cloverfield, which was a film that I really liked and saw in the theatre years ago, upon it’s release. In a way it all kind of worked out great. I’m almost glad that I didn’t know going into it. There was no pressure or stress or awareness of what we were doing. I just wanted to make this movie the best that we could and to do justice to the great script that we had. It’s just so funny now that when I think about what it has evolved into, which I think happened so organically. JJ Abrams said so himself that it rolled the dice on it was wanted to try the experiment. I think it totally paid off. I just feel lucky that I got to be part of it without even knowing that I was going to be part of it.
SC: Were there changes to the screenplay or reshoots when it became a Cloverfield film?
JGJ: It was mainly just the kind of blanket that went over it, that feeling. Obviously you have little moments in the movie they kind of put in – there’s a little gag with the mailbox at the end where you finally see the address – little moments like that. There were no rewrites or script changes or character changes to make it more of something that it wasn’t. Everything that’s in the film really was in one of the original drafts that we had.
SC: At times the film feels very much like a piece of theatre. It takes place mostly in this one location with three characters, who for the most part are just talking to each other. Excluding the ending of course, this could all work on stage. What was that like for you as someone who comes from a theatre background?
JGJ: I loved that about it. You don’t see that in a lot of movies these days. Even in low budget character movies you don’t see a six-page dialogue scene pop up in the middle of the film, especially not in a genre movie. You rarely get that amount of time to sit with the characters; mainly because there are more explosions and action. Because we were doing a movie about people who were trapped – there’s only so much action that we could put in. Everything had to be tension as opposed to action. We learned that you could keep the tension alive in a long scene like the one at the dinner table. Which is just three people talking for several minutes. We thought that if we could pull this off where we could make these interesting scenes with the characters that also keep the tension going upwards the whole time that that may be something interesting for an audience. For me I just love it because it gives you more of a chance to layer the characters and give them a chance to interact with each other. I love that stuff. That might come from the fact that I’ve been doing theatre for so many years that I’m used to that type of scene. I’m used to scenes of people just talking and reacting to each other. It’s funny because a lot of people who see the movie say that it’s one of their favourite parts of the film. You are allowed to just have these moments where the characters open up and talk. The scene with Mary and I in the latter half of the film where we both talk about our biggest regrets – I love that they took the time to keep those moments in the film because it does make the film stand apart.
SC: Was there a lot of secrecy surrounding the film during production?
JGJ: The funny thing about it was that I’m sure there would have been so much more secrecy if we’d known from the get go that were making a secret sort of Cloverfield sequel. We didn’t’ know that and because we were shooting in Louisiana on a soundstage, it was very insulated and protected. It never really felt too intense like we were making this top-secret film that we couldn’t talk about. It really was just a fun experience making the movie. When I think back on the memories of actually shooting it all I remember is having a good time. The set was a really fun place to be and everyone was in a good mood. When you have a group of people that are as lovely as John, Mary, and Dan Trachtenberg and all of the people from Bad Robot – there was never that intense feeling that we were making this top secret thing that we couldn’t talk about. That never existed on set. The only thing for us that we felt about not wanting to say was that we didn’t want to spoil the experience for anybody that was going to see it in the theatre. Thankfully JJ and Bad Robot are masters of that. They were dolling out these trailer that weren’t giving away too much. We wanted to have surprises for when people go see it. They were so mindful and mastful about that. It paid off. People were able to buy a ticket for a movie without having seen eight trailers that basically if you cut them together you’d see the whole movie.
SC: What was it like working with John Goodman? It’s certainly a very unusual role for him.
JGJ: When the cameras were rolling it was awesome. It was such a pleasure and an inspiration to watch John play into the work the way that he does because he’s so committed and so fantastic. In between takes he was hilarious. He’s such a naturally sweet and warm person. He’s really funny without trying too hard to be so. It was a joy. When I got to set and met him I was definitely star-struck. I’ve seen him in so many fantastic things and admired him for such a long time, so it was incredible to be there in person with him and to be on camera with him. Working with John and Mary was one of the most positive experiences I’ve had in a film.
SC: Now that you’ve worked with JJ Abrams, is there any chance we could see you in a Star Wars movie in the future?
JGJ: They just have to name the time and place; I will absolutely be there. I’ll be anything. I’ll play a droid or a storm trooper. I’ll be like Daniel Craig in The Force Awakens. There’s no talk of that in my future as I see it right now, but I would jump for joy at such a chance.
10 Cloverfield Lane is now available to own on Blu-Ray and DVD. It is also available to rent on demand.