Often a villain is the best part of a film. They’re over-the-top and larger-than-life in many ways, and watching them chew up scenery brings with it a high degree of entertainment, as they establish a foil for the movie’s protagonist. However, for THE CALL, we get no such character. In its place, we have a much quiet, much more subtle bad guy, whose silent rage mixes with an aura of creepiness to provide the film with a dangerous individual. That’s Michael Eklund at work, letting his actions and mannerisms serve the purpose of the film’s Michael Foster, an effective way of reining in what in some other films might be an outlandish antagonist who speaks in only exposition.
I first had the chance to talk to Michael Eklund late last year up in Montreal at the Fantasia International Film Festival for his starring role as Dr. Geoff Burton in ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY. I was a big fan of his performance then, and, over the months have stayed in touch with him in order to keep tabs on what he’s been working on as of late. So, after really enjoying myself with THE CALL, I was more than happy to hop on the phone with him for a late night conversation about this new solid thriller and his process for creating the right villain to do the trick for this film. Enjoy.
The Infamous Billy The Kidd - Yeah, so I watched THE CALL, and I thought it was excellent. All I was really hoping for was a really good thriller. There’s kind of a formula to it, and if you stick to it you’re very capable of pulling that off. So when you went through the script, were you able to acknowledge the beats of how it moved along, and kind of visualize how it would come together in the final version?
Michael Eklund - When I first read the script, I remember it moving at a fast pace, and then what I did... really all I can do is approach things from my character’s point of view. I knew he was on a very quick decline, emotionally... And physically, of exhaustion, as well. So when I played him... Whenever I read a script, I have my version in my mind of how it will play out in the end. We had a great editor who worked with Brad [Anderson]. It kept that pace up that I envisioned when I read it. And, again, I knew my character... And it’s almost shot in real-time, as well, so when I was shooting the film over a month, I was also playing around with not sleeping as I was shooting. Because the character was getting more exhausted, more exhausted, more exhausted as we were shooting, so as Michael Eklund, I was putting myself under a lot of sleep deprivation as well to get that exhaustion across and the emotional breakdown that he’s going through. Everything’s just going wrong for the guy, y’know? Me and Brad talked a lot about the character, and we didn’t want him to be a slick serial killer abductor. He’s a father, and a husband. This isn’t his normal bag that he does. He’s winging it as he’s going on. I think they did a good job of capturing all that. The pace of the movie just kind of cruises along as well. It takes you on this fast paced thrill ride, I think.
The Kidd - You mentioned the editing, and the editing has a lot to do with making sure the pace keeps up and kind of keeping it in a nice, tight package, and being able to kind of hit those ebbs and flows. When you’re doing your performance and you’re getting into this character, it’s very hard to see that until it’s put in the finished product. To see how things are being sculpted in order to produce the thrills that the film calls for. So when you’re on the set, how exactly do you know that you’re doing it right? Or do you just have this trust, working with your director, that in the end they’re going to be able to cut and capture this and form it in a way that will produce what the film needs for it to be successful?
Michael Eklund - That’s a good question. From my point of view, it’s all a collaborative process between me and Brad. I put absolute trust in him. We have very in-depth conversations about where the character is on the journey, in the scene we’re shooting today where he is emotionally, physically, everything. And then on my own, I keep a map... I basically create a map of the character and where he’s at during the film so I know exactly where I’m at and what we’re shooting that day... Because everything is out of order. And just checking in with each other. If I didn’t have the trust in Brad... This was our second time working together. We did FRINGE and then THE CALL... So we have a great working relationship as well as a very trusting relationship. You have to have that trust in your director, because he has the whole picture in his mind, and he sees it in a way that the actor doesn’t. I can keep track of my character’s journey, but he has the whole journey of the whole movie. He has all of Halle Berry’s scenes... We never saw her shoot, she did that on her own, and she never saw what we were shooting, out on the street, me and Abigail [Breslin]. So we’re making two kind of completely different movies at the same time, and the only one who knows what’s going on is Brad. He sees what’s happening behind the camera lens. Yeah, this movie particularly, you had to have a lot of trust in the director and to just... commit to it.
The Kidd - You have a lot of history with Brad, and you have history with WWE Studios as well, so do those relationships kind of come into play with how THE CALL came to you?
Michael Eklund - No, actually it’s really funny my relationship with the WWE. It came about as sort of a serendipitous relationship. I did THE DAY, you know, and we shot that film, and then the WWE bought that film. It was their first movie that they acquired for their film division. They bought it at the Toronto FIlm Festival a few years back... and then the second film I booked was THE MARINE: HOMEFRONT, which we shot in Vancouver, and when I started shooting that film, I was in talks of doing THE CALL, and at that point the WWE wasn’t on board yet with the film. They came in halfway into pre production. I was working with the WWE on THE MARINE with no idea that they were in talks of coming on board with THE CALL. And then when I got the part for THE CALL, that’s when I found out on set at THE MARINE that they were coming on as producers for THE CALL as well. So it was just by chance that I was jumping from one film to the next. The funny thing about THE MARINE my last day of production, I actually couldn’t shoot the last scene of the film because I had to be in LA to start THE CALL, so they were nice enough to release me so I could go shoot the next film. If they weren’t on board with both films, they wouldn’t let you go... To jump onto another movie before the other one’s even finished. But yeah, that’s how it came to be... The journey that I’ve been on with the WWE, which has been fun, they’re just a great bunch of guys. I think you and me have talked about that before. Just being a fan of the whole WWE universe from being a kid, it’s just really cool to be a part of that in some way.
The Kidd - What is the appeal of playing a villian like Michael Foster? Because you’ve done villian work before, or bad guy work, or antagonistic work, but this one is a little bit different. So when you get a script like this, and you see a different sort of villian, what about that grabs you to bring this character to life?
Michael Eklund - Exactly. Every character is different, whether it’s light or dark. You can never play them the same way. Yeah, and I’ve gravitated to my share of dark as well as light, but the character of Michael Foster, I wanted to approach in a different way... More in like a true sense. Again, the conversations that Brad and I shared before the film was that we wanted to make a character that was human. We didn’t just want to make a movie monster version of the villian, we wanted to show a guy who had emotional problems... Who all of his decisions were rooted out of his history... pain in his past... And the relationship he had with his sister when he was younger... make a human out of him. There’s a lot of guilt that the character has which, if you watch closely, that he’s struggling with his own addiction for what he has to do. And then I went and did my own research on serial killers and the mindframe that those guys are in, which is that they have to... And the one thing that I found that was grounded in each serial killer that I researched was that they all had some sort of past pain that they had gone through. A scarring history from their past... I actually combined two serial killers who were family men. It was important to me that they were men that had families. That was the common denominator between Michael Foster and the guys that I was researching. A few guys that attracted me were Richard Cottingham and Andrei Chikatilo, who were both family men serial killers. They killed during their lives in this whole second life that no one even knew they had, and they battled with an addiction. We really wanted to approach the character from an addiction sense, rather than cliche movie monster, killing for no reason. And that's kind of where I began, and then grew the characteron set with Brad, and went from there.
The Kidd - One of the things that’s most interesting to me about the character is that for a really good stretch of the film, a lot of what’s being conveyed from the character is all non-verbal. It’s a lot of looks or gestures, or even this kind of rage that comes out with the verbal communication being either little to none for large bouts. So how difficult is it to kind of convey the creepiness of a character like this just by using those techniques? Then also by that same token, do you have a lot of freedom to explore what you think would work for this character in order to build it in the way the audience needs to be able to see it on screen to know that this is a very dangerous individual?
Michael Eklund - For myself, there’s a lot of dialogue running through my head at all times. It wasn’t verbal dialogue. There was a lot of conscious dialogue going on. I knew exactly where my character was at all times in the setting of the film,and the personal diary that I created for the character was always running through my mind. When I would tap into that whenever I was... the car scene, for example, there’s always verbal dialogue going on in my mind. So I was talking, but it was very interesting to show that through your mannerisms and your feeling. If I felt it for real, then all I could do is trust that it was being felt through the camera lens, capturing what I was hoping was the emotion that I was trying to get across, which was a lot of torment and rage and... chaos within the mind of Michael Foster. So it was interesting working without dialogue as well, but it’s just as important to tell the story with your lines or without. For me it’s the same. It helps to be talking to somebody and I’m talking to myself a lot.
The Kidd - I want to ask you about the third act, because to me that was the one issue that I wound up having with the film, and I imagine that there may be some others. I understand why it is that it happens, in order to... It’s very difficult to have a film where the protagonist is not an active participant in the resolution. Is that just kind of a trap that a film like this runs into? By having a 911 operator kind of go rogue and go out into the field, is that something that a film like this is almost forced in that direction? Or is there a way to kind of resolve it that doesn’t really come to fruition?
Michael Eklund - I dunno, that might be, from a writer’s point of a view, a question for him. For myself, when I read the script, without the opening scene, my character and Halle’s character have met before, six months before the actual movie begins with Abigail. We have a history together and without that it wouldn’t have fueled her to leave the call center and go after this guy. It’s kind of a personal vendetta against him that I think she battled within herself to repent for the mistake that she made that caused the death of the first girl. So, yeah, it’s a film and... I think if she didn’t leave the call center to battle the baddie at the end of the film, I’m not sure how else they would have wrapped it up. Unless Abigail took on the guy herself. In the end, the conversations I’ve had with a lot of women who have seen the film, they love the ending because it’s got a real sense of “girl power,” where in most movies the women are portrayed as victims and they get slaughtered pretty quickly, but in this film... they chose to go the way of the girls getting the last say in the film. It’s a mixed reaction, which all movies do, and it’s just the way they went with it. It was fun for me to have the tables turned on him at the very end and he’s put in a position that he was putting the girls in. I think it was also a nice theme of “there is no good or bad.” The good guys, in the end do the unthinkable as well. So who’s good, who’s bad... that’s all in the gray from my point of view.
The Kidd - I want to ask you really quickly about THE FARM, because I know you were attached to that and it’s been kind of in development for a while. It would have Xavier Gens again behind the camera, working with him again, and also with Michael Biehn and Danielle Harris. So can you just kinda talk a little bit about where that film is right now and when we can expect to see it?
Michael Eklund - Yeah, it’s a common question I get asked, and the film right now is a exactly where a lot of films are right now, which is financing. Once the financing is in place, we can make a picture, and it’s just a battle of raising that money and getting the team back together and making THE FARM. But it’s all a money game right now. I keep in touch with Michael Biehn and Xavier Gens all the time, and just raising those funds to make a picture. And we’re getting closer. From what I’ve been told, it’s getting closer every month. It’s just raising that money. It’s hard to find.
The Kidd - All right, man.
Michael Eklund - You need money to make movies.
The Kidd - Yeah, believe me... I know.
Michael Eklund - We’d all just make it for free, but we wouldn’t have much of a movie... but it’s coming. It’s definitely coming.
THE CALL opens in theatres today, March 15.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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