Pascal Laugier – the man who shocked audiences with the remorseless Martyrs – takes a decided tonal turn with The Tall Man, a sophomore effort that doesn’t deliver quite the punch of Laugier’s previous film, but remains a thoughtful, twisty-turny journey that offers no easy answers.
Jessica Biel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blade III) stars as Julia Denning, a woman who experiences a kidnapping in a small town when her son goes missing. Desperate, she attempts to chase down the one responsible only to unravel a much larger mystery tied in to the eponymous boogeyman supposedly haunting the town.
Shock Till You Drop participated in a press call with the actress to chat about the film which is opening in limited release this Friday (August 31st) courtesy of Image Entertainment.
Question: Had you seen Martyrs before this job and were you concerned what the content might be when you were approached for The Tall Man?
Jessica Biel: Is it weird to say, yes, I saw Martyrs, yes, I loved it and knew it was going to be torture and I did it anyway.
Question: What was your thought when you read The Tall Man?
Biel: I was completely surprised by the script. Every page I got further into it, I had no idea what was going on. Then, after the first twist, then the second twist, I just said, my God, I have to do this movie. I loved Martyrs and it was so hard to watch and brutal. But it was elegant, I don’t know if that makes any sense. I was so impressed by Pascal’s work, I had to work with him.
Question: You’ve been in genre films before that were high energy, here, the tables are turned a bit in your position of power. How did Pascal help you find that place?
Biel: It was incredibly challenging to get through this performance. Pascal and I were constantly walking this tightwire, because what was the right reaction for this particular woman – whatever moment we’re talking about – that is authentic for what she knows is happening. And what is authentic for what we want the audience to know – which was very different. It was super challenging to get that right every time. To find the character, I was really interested in the psyche of this woman who has… Basically, the back story we had created, she was part of an organization, like Doctors Without Borders, and was able to experience all of these different clinics all over the world dealing with underprivileged children and families and the Bureaucracy bullshit and red tape of the bullshit she deals with and it overwhelmed by the inability to help everybody. And she broke a little bit and has become obsessed with saving all of these kids in sort of a micro idea but in a macro way. That is really who this woman is. She’s just trying to do good and has gone way overboard. But she believes, in the end, that what she’s doing is right and that’s the only way to get through all of the b.s.
Question: Did you stick with the script or were you allowed to work with Pascal a bit to help flesh her out even more during shooting?
Biel: We definitely worked together to create a real, intense human being who had all of this back story. She was definitely on the page, but we were constantly feeling out: how can we make this woman more geniune and more sympathetic? That really is Pascal’s specialty. Yes, he’s about making the movie look beautiful, and yes, he cares about the suspense and the scares, but he was so diligent and relentless with me about character. We would not stop until he got some performance for me, it’s almost like I had to surrender to it. I had to surrender to my own performance and transcend it so we could get something that was so – I don’t know even know the word for it – “magic.” The real emotion comes out. Obviously, I don’t know anyone who has had this experience and we just tried to capture it the best we could. It’s about the human need to protect, even if it’s in a messed up way.
Question: The ending is challenging, did you have any concerns about it going in?
Biel: Definitely, the ambiguity of the ending is very concerning. No one knows how to market this movie, it’s a real conundrum [laughs]. How we put this movie out there to a mass audience. I know the ending isn’t fulfulling, I know you wind up feeling ‘I don’t know what I like or what I feel?’ I think that’s what Pascal wanted, so we succeeded at what we wanted to do. It’s kind of like a foreign film in a way in that it doesn’t wrap anything up and you’re wanting to discuss it and that’s what we want to do.
Question: Jessica, in that vein, if an American storyteller or director tried to tell this film in the Hollywood system would it have worked as well?
Biel: I don’t know. If we’re talking about with a studio and a big director, no this would not have been the film we would have made. And I think that’s what was interesting to me, that I was doing something that was really different and it really is character driven. People don’t like the ending? Oh well. We’re making art and that’s what this is. It’s hard to compare what a French filmmaker would do to it compared to what an American filmmaker would do to it. I guess, on the surface, you could say an American filmmaker would do something totally different, but not true. David Fincher, for example, he doesn’t make obvious movies with obvious endings.
Question: It’s risk filmmaking…
Biel: Which doesn’t happen often, and that’s why this was a great opportunity for me to play an incredible character and I have to take that risk. These moments only come along so often and I have to take them.