Director Frank Darabont and the Cast on The Mist: The RT Interview

Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden and Chris Owen chime in on the Stephen King adaptation.

by | November 20, 2007 | Comments

Frank Darabont
Just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re getting a horror film to be thankful
for. Reuniting the dynamic duo of author
Stephen King and director
Frank Darabont (The Shawshank
, The Green Mile),
The Mist
is a jump-out-of-your-seat horror flick that explores the monsters that humans become when engulfed by fear.
Thomas Jane,
Marcia Gay Harden, and Chris “The Sherminator” Owen are
among a band of survivors trapped in a grocery store, surrounded by a
supernatural fog and an assortment of vicious bugs and monsters.

RT caught up with Darabont and his three cast members during a
roundtable chat (memorably interrupted by Thomas Jane’s room service delivery) to discuss what humans are capable of under duress, Stephen King and
Frank Darabont’s working relationship, and how The Idiot’s Guide to Revelations
helped Marcia Gay Harden prepare for her role.

The Mist enters theaters everywhere this Wednesday.

Frank, what made you want to get behind the camera?

Frank Darabont: For 20 years of a career I’ve been primarily a writer for
hire. I’ve been a screenwriter first and a director on occasion. It’s only been
quite recently that I decided to reverse that equation and get behind the camera
as often as I could. I’m not getting any younger and I feel like I’ve got some
more movies to make.

Why another Stephen King adaptation?

FD: In all fairness, I think I have a particular
love for the man’s work. His voice as an author tends to attract me as a
director. I find the stories that he tells are extremely compelling, so it seems
to be a well that I keep going back to draw water from again and again. Luckily
he digs what I do. It seems like a pretty good companionship there in terms of
material and director.

Marcia, do you find it rare that scripts come along that
you get excited about?

Marcia Gay Harden: For me, it’s about character.
What’s the character arc? What can I do with the character? But not too many
come along that you get excited about. They are few and far between.

Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden with other survivors.

What drew you to The Mist script?

MGH: Frank Darabont. I love his work and I love that
he tells a really human story. Often humans are far scarier than exterior
events. In this case, I thought that Frank told a beautiful story. I like
Stephen King, but I wasn’t one of the die-hard fans. So while I want to say it
was Stephen that drew me to it, it was the knowledge of the way [Darabont] tells
a story. It’s not the typical thing I curl up on the couch to read, so it was
Frank doing a Stephen King story that made it even bigger.

[Mist co-star]
Andre Braugher and I spoke at length about the
script. My thought at first was, “It’s a bug movie, what is that going to be
like?” I spoke to Frank about that too and he really spoke about the internal
machinations in the store that has a Lord of the Flies feel, which was
the most terrifying book I ever read as a kid; the capacity for human beings to
be cruel and their ignorance is as scary as supernatural forces.

Chris Owen: For me it was Frank, too. I’m such a
fanboy and when people ask me what my favorite film is, it’s always Shawshank.
For me, getting to work with Frank was something I could scratch off my list. It
was so much fun.

How did you prepare to play such an apocalyptic

MGH: It was fantastic to play this lady. I bought
this book called The Idiot’s Guide to Revelations because a lot of her
speak is “Bible speak.” I wanted it to be as real as it could be, so that when I
talked about the Four Horsemen, I could be real with it.

And how did you approach carrying so much of the
‘s suspense and drama?

MGH: I embraced fear. I didn’t want to let on at the
beginning that she would be trouble, so Frank and I worked on creating a person
that was less visually obvious than what had been written. We tried to create
someone who might blend in with the “normal folk.” Nor did I want to blame her
for the fact that she thought it was the end of the world — because there’s
bugs the size of skyscrapers coming out to eat people. I think if I saw that, I
might think that it was the end of the world. It’s not that far fetched. I
didn’t want it to be her religion, I wanted it to be more the degree to which
she takes the religion and is capable of doing such human acts of cruelty that
defies any logic. She creates a mob mentality, and the mob is a very scary
thing, so then the mob takes on the responsibility of that fear. Then it’s in
the hands of Frank and how he comes in on a shot, and how he films my face, or
when he cuts to someone looking at me. Those are the things, regardless of what
I do, [that] up the ante, because he’s the one building the tension every step
of the way.

Frank, you have said that you wanted this to be a
shot-fast, gut movie.

FD: For me as a filmmaker, it was a completely new
style I wanted to embrace, an aesthetic I’d never done before. This material
lent itself very well to that. I wanted a very ragged, in the moment,
documentary-style film. It was a much more improvised approach in terms of the
camerawork. We were shooting two cameras all the time, three if we could fit
them, roving at all times. We had two brilliant camera operators who were like
other cast members. The actors never knew where the cameras would wind up.

Your parents are survivors of the Hungarian Revolution
and you were born in a Hungarian refugee camp. Did that experience with the fear
of the unknown play into this film?

FD: Coming from that kind of a background, I grew up
with the grasp of a very dicey European history during the 20th
century, where things could change on a dime. Where comfort and safety could get
taken away and things could get ugly in a hurry. I’ve always valued America
because there’s generally stability here. I think that permeates your
understanding of the world and it certainly can’t help but trickle into your work.

As far as keeping the focus on the characters in this
movie, that’s a cue that comes originally from Steve King. That’s what I loved
about this story. Ultimately, it ain’t about the monsters outside, it’s about
the monsters — your friends and neighbors — that you’re stuck with inside.
What does fear do to people, what does panic do to people? What happens when the
rules are stripped away, when the veneer of civilization is dropped, how do
people behave and react? That was always how I viewed the story and what I
wanted to bring to it. Luckily, I had a cast that was on board and that trusted
me as a director.

Thomas Jane
in the mist.

Relationships between novelists and screenwriters can
often be tense. Why do you think your work with Stephen King have all been so

FD: I think probably because I really love his voice
as an author. He tends to — no matter how fundamentally wacky the premise of
something like this is — [guide] us through the world that he writes with
character in mind and that gets me really excited. His voice as an author is
something I respond to not only as a reader, but as a storyteller myself. 
Something vibes with me in his work that makes me want to get behind a camera.
Luckily Steve seems to feel that we make a pretty good match. He’s never minded
the liberties I’ve taken with his material, but I think he’s also appreciated
that I’m trying to maintain his voice as a writer and try to be as true to his
intention as possible.

Stephen King’s last adaptation,
, was
extremely successful. Thomas, what keeps bringing audiences back to pay money to
be scared?

Thomas Jane: That’s a philosophical-type question. I
don’t know anything about that.

Chris, since you mainly star in comedies, what attracted
you to be in a scary film?

CO: Well, it definitely started with the fact that
it was being done by Frank–

TJ: And that you got offered the role.

CO: …It’s always nice to be able to do something
different, and this was very different than anything that I’ve done before. At
least for me, I try to do as many genres of film as possible, so this was very
exciting. Especially since this script isn’t your average horror flick.

Thomas Jane
still in the mist..

What were the most valuable lessons and insights you
gained from making this film?

TJ: What the heck was your question, pal? Asking us
how making this movie changed our lives or something? Working on anything
there’s obviously going to be gains…

But there’s room service, so I gotta go get my hamburger.

FD: Speaking for myself, the insights I gained are
terrifically valuable in terms of my craft and the approach to what I do. I
learned to do things in more of an instinctive and ragged way. It amazed me how
immediate and in the moment the process can be, and the result on screen can be.
I imagine that it’s like any art form — you spend a part of your life learning
the rules — and then at a certain point you can get excited about throwing out
the rules that you know and just throwing paint at the canvas and seeing what
happens. That this came together as well as it did with a very loose approach
thrills me and excites me and I think it will inform my work in the future as
well. It’s a way to plug more into your instinctive flow.

Did the documentary-jazzy style of filmmaking influence
the actor’s process of performing for the camera? Do you do it differently that
for a film that is more traditionally shot?

TJ: Yeah, I think you do. It opens you up to know
that anything you say or do may be used on film …

FD: … and may be held against you in a court of law.

TJ: I guess it might shut some people down. But for
me, it really opened me up and made me feel like I could do anything I wanted
with my character and it wasn’t wrong. In acting, you’re always trying to find
the character and tell a story through the character. With this documentary kind
of style, you realize that we’re all humans and we’re capable of a whole hell of
a lot. So for me, it was quite liberating and I think that’s how you get sort of
a sense of truth on film.

FD: It takes a lot of courage to get into that and
my cast was tremendously courageous, whether it felt weird at first or not.

CO: It made it that much easier to immerse yourself
in it and really be in that moment, it was more free form. It wasn’t static.

What type of horror film is The Mist? Is it a
throwback or something new?

FD: I think it’s unique, whether it’s a throwback or
not. I do feel very satisfied in the notion that it’s not going to feel like
someone else’s movie, which is awesome. And it’s not going to feel like it’s in
that ghetto that horror often descends into. We saw the slasher film in the 80s
and so many movies were just following that formula. Now we’ve got the torture
films, which I personally have no use for at all. This is really a story [that]
is first and foremost about people. The fact that it’s a horror movie follows
that lead. I’m really happy with it from that standpoint. I didn’t want to make
something that felt like a cookie cutter, I wanted to make something that felt
like it counted for something, and I think we achieved that.

TJ: [Eating a hamburger.] Yeah.