Hey, my friends. Barbarella here. Irish horror film THE CELLAR premiers tomorrow in theaters and on Shudder. In the film, a family has just moved into a creepy, yet gorgeous house. When her daughter vanishes, a mom becomes convinced it’s the house. I had an opportunity to speak with writer/director Brendan Muldowney and cast Elisha Cuthbert and Eoin Macken about their experiences. Check it out.
Barbara: I appreciate seeing different ideas within the horror genre, and I find the use of the mathematical formulas in THE CELLAR very intriguing. What inspired the idea, and why are you trying to scare people away from doing math?
Brendan: Because…well, what is it Elisha?
Elisha: Math is the devil's work.
Eoin: Yeah. Boom!
Brendan: First use of that. Okay, good. Look, it came from a short film that was originally inspired by Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING. I just wanted to make an atmospheric short film. Then, as I was expanding the short film, I obviously had to take the mythology and get it bigger. I knew mathematics had to be involved. I’m very interested in quantum physics and things like string theory. I mean, it's not as if I understand it perfectly, but I love that stuff, and I think I sort of gravitated towards that - dimensions and things like that.
Barbara: Oh, very interesting. Would you talk a little bit about the location? What kind of requirements did you have for it?
Brendan: I wanted a house with character, and the most important thing I wanted was a house that had a long corridor leading to a cellar door, because to me, one of the scariest things would be someone going down to get a drink of water at night and having to stop and look down this long corridor and see a door that might even be slightly open or something. I couldn't find it until I walked into that house. And our search was narrowed down because of funding and financing. We had to shoot in this certain county in Ireland called Roscommon. The minute I walked into that house, I saw a big open hallway. I saw a long corridor, and it didn't have a cellar door at the end, but it had the space to work in. We were able to build something. The bonus on top of that was that everywhere else in the house was amazing. It was an amazing house.
Barbara: Yeah. It was beautiful.
Brendan: I think where we were staying was actually where the original house was.
Elisha: That's right.
Brendan: There was an old house there, and they had to knock it down or something, or it was knocked down or burnt down, and they rebuilt it up above.
Eoin: And our cottages were above some underground cellars, a chapel or something, right?
Elisha: Yeah. Which I was actually upset that they told us. We had to stay there in quarantine for two weeks, and I just thought, that was information I probably didn't need to know.
Brendan: And then you realize that figure in the shadows was actually not your imagination.
Barbara: Brendan, did you have cast in mind when you were writing?
Brendan: No, because I wrote this so many different ways and with different versions of characters. I just wrote the characters first. I've known Eoin for a long time, and so it was a very simple chat with Eoin, and then I had a chat with Elisha, and we were on the same page in so many ways that it was really painless. The whole casting on this, it was very easy.
Barbara: Elisha and Eoin, when you watch yourself, do you critique yourself or do you just take it in? How do you feel when you're watching your performances?
Elisha: I actually really have a hard time. I'm not going to lie. I really do. I try to avoid watching myself because it's hard to not put yourself back on set, maybe critiquing or wanting your performance to be maybe different or whatever, but it's important to see the film before you go out, obviously. And I did want to know what we had made, so I was really excited. I got to make my husband watch it with me, and that was really fun. I think if you can drag some family members into it, it helps. Then you can kind of really enjoy the experience. And horror films are so fun because the jump scares and things like that. It sort of takes me out of being there and seeing the behind the scenes in my head; I get to really experience it with family, but I don't particularly love just sort of staring at myself on screen.
Eoin: Yeah. I think it depends on what the project is because the ones you end up really being proud of and the ones you know are good, you lose yourself in them. I think that's kind of a testament to who you're working with from a director and a writer's point of view. For me, when a film is well-crafted and well-made, you just get sucked into what the story is and then just sort of forget about everything else from my perspective on it.
Barbara: And would you talk a little bit about working with Abby Fitz who plays the daughter?
Eoin: Oh, she's great. Elisha really looked after her. Elisha, you did a really good job in terms of just sort of taking care of her on set, because you said you'd had those experiences being younger, and she kind of really looked up to you and…(jokingly) I tried to warn her off looking up to you, but...
Elisha: True. But the great thing about Abby, she was really interested in asking a lot of questions and working on her craft and her character on set in between scenes and was really willing to go there with me. I remember suggesting to her, this was something we did on 24 a lot, where a lot of times, scenes were done over the phone. Because of the way we were shooting, one person would be in a car on a cell phone, and the one thing that Kiefer Sutherland always said was we should do these scenes. Even though we weren't on camera, we were on the other side of the phone, we’d have to come on set and physically be there off-camera to do the scenes because it made it feel more real.
It wasn't just some script supervisor throwing lines to an actor. It was the real person. I suggested to Abby that we do that, especially for that scene where I have to sort of walk her down the steps. And so when it was time for her side of it, I was there. She was so great because when we got to film my side of it, it was pretty late, and she really stepped up to the plate and was there for me, as well. What a wonderful actress she is, and she's going to have a wonderful career.
Barbara: Brendan, do you want to add anything?
Brendan: Well, I had to do the casting because of COVID. I had to do it all through self-tapes and through Zoom sessions. It’s hard not to be in the room with someone, but what makes it easy is when talent shines through. It didn't take me long going through the tapes to constantly keep coming back to Abby and noticing that there was something special about her. So, yeah. I'm glad I cast her.
Elisha: Yeah. Yeah. You did such a good job with both of them there. They were so amazing.
Eoin: You really did a great job, finding them and working with them.
Barbara:. Elisha and Eoin, your characters Keira and Brian have clearly been together for a while. How do you go about building a connection with an actor that you've recently met to successfully convey that kind of history?
Eoin: So, funnily enough, I think we got kind of lucky in a weird way with the whole COVID situation, because we had to quarantine in these cottages next to each other for the two weeks prior to filming. We had some time to basically get to know each other and to really create what we wanted to do with the characters and that kind of dynamic. I think, by the time we shot, it's almost like we'd known each other for years.
Elisha: Yeah. We had really great conversations, because of the two-week quarantine, about just how we felt. We didn't have to say a whole lot to make them feel like they'd been together for so long. I think there's something amazing when you see a couple that has been together since they were young. A lot of it was just in the subtle looks to one another that you can read that they know each other without saying words. We felt like if we could make that work, we'd be successful.
Eoin: Yeah, and Brendan was next to us, as well. He was really open and supportive to us having conversations with him about that. And I think that also really was interesting because then by the time we're all on set, we've all...
Elisha: Worked on backstory.
Eoin: Yeah. And it seems simple, but we all had a dynamic. We understood each other. We knew each other, and we could just trust each other in a way that makes everything a lot simpler to sort of find, right.
Barbara: As an actor, how much residual anxiety, if any, do you feel after working on a horror film like this?
Eoin: Oh, so much. I mean, I don't think Brendan and Elisha have the same kind of affinity in real life to being scared, but I do.
Barbara: How do you deal with that? Like what did you do to kind of overcome all that?
Eoin: I just leave on loads of lights. For me, wherever I live, it's all about lighting and plants. If I've got lighting and plants, then I know it's safe.
Elisha: I had such a wonderful experience, getting to travel, getting to be in Ireland for the six weeks, seven weeks that we were there and having to be able to sort of hunker down for two weeks without any distraction and without the kids. I have to say, I came back very well-rested.
Eoin: Oh, I didn't. I wasn't sleeping half the time.
Elisha: I know, I was sleeping so well. You know what, it's so funny. Eoin was up. I remember telling Brendan he's the night owl. He says, "Every time I see him, he's up all night." I was getting to bed so early. My sleeps were so great out in the countryside. It was a really nice experience.
Eoin: Goodness. I honestly think I told Brendan and our producer that I was pretty sure that the cottage was haunted. Of course, no one listened to me because Elisha and Brendan and Richie are just like, “All right, whatever.” And I'm like, “Guys, there's definitely something here. I know it.” And then no one listens to me, and I'm like, “Great. I'm going to be the guy that dies.”
Barbara: It's usually the people who don't listen that are the ones that get killed off, so I think you're good.
Eoin: Oh, that's actually true. Yeah. That's what I'll say to you guys next time when we do another horror movie together.
Elisha: There you go.
And there you go. You can check out Elisha Cuthbert and Eoin Macken in Brendan Muldoney’s atmospheric flick, THE CELLAR. It will be in theaters and on Shudder starting April 15, 2022.
Check out the trailer.