Interview: Gina Gershon & Emile Hirsch in Killer Joe

Lost in Reviews had the chance to sit down and talk with Gina Gershon and Emile Hirsch for their roles in the upcoming thriller, Killer Joe. “When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance.” – For a full review of Killer Joe, click here for Ryan’s review.

What did you think when you first read this script? Is it, “Oh my god, how are we going to do this?” or is it “Hell yeah, I’m in this movie”?

Gina Gershon: Well the first time I read it was like ten years before because I read the play. Because they wanted me to do the play. And my reaction was like, “Oh Great! Oh Great!, No, I ain’t doing this” I said I’m not doing this eight times a week. I thought Oh, my god I can’t go there. I thought it was so visceral, I love the characters, but it really actually freaked me out. A little bit, to the point where I thought I really didn’t want to do it. Even though I loved it and it bugged me, so when it came up again I was like “Oh it’s that script.”

Emile Hirsch: It’s that skeevy chicken script.

Gina Gershon: Yeah it’s that thing that will end up haunting me for years because I felt like I wussed out by not doing it.

Emile Hirsch: You have dreams at night about just plucking chickens and when you wake up there are just a few feathers in the bed.

Gina Can you walk us through filming the Chicken scene?

Gina Gershon:  Coming from theater I’m so used to rehearsing and I’m one of those rehearsal junkies. I didn’t even want to talk about it and Billy and I talked about a lot of stuff and when we got to that scene I said,”You know what, can we just not talk about it? When we get there lets just do it. I didn’t even want to think about it to be honest. For a couple of reasons, I think Sharla is so controlled through out so much of it and I think the way that unfolds it is so shocking, even to her I just wanted to live though it moment to moment and just react truthfully. You know? Just get into it, go there and have some tequila and go home.  I thought the rawness was part of its charm. I thought lets just go for it because I didn’t want to do it twice.

Emile Hirsch: I bet you in the past between the people that have played it in the theater. I bet you there have been some pretty ridiculous conversations with the actors overly discussing that scene. Like “When she’s sucking the bone what is she thinking? You know what I mean? It is probably better that you guys didn’t talk about it.

Gina: The only preparation the I had was I wanted to make sure it was really good chicken. We were in New Orleans and all I wanted to know was it Popeye’s or was it Church’s. I also think that I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to intellectualize it I just wanted rawness. I feel like I think too much about scenes and in a way map them out and then forget about it. I just wanted to go for it.

Emile: Plus, you know when Tracy wrote it he was probably just sitting at a type writer not knowing, just laughing and guffawing while writing.

Gina: Once we did that and the strangling I looked at Billy and asked “do we got it?” and he said “Oh, Yeah we got it!” And I’ve never had a scene like that, that I just didn’t want to think about. I just wanted to get thought it, and luckily for the rest of the movie she is just a little bit zombied out and just left in that state.

Ryan: I think that is due to the way you guys played that. I mean you’re a raped woman now and you’re out look on life is completely gone.

Gina: And you know I was talking to Tracy about this. I mean yeah you’re assaulted in a way, but I think also in that moment that Sharla is dealing with not just with the physicality of it. Her husband has found out she’s been cheating, I mean she’s been totally busted, but more important than anything else her salvation, her ticket out, is gone. And not only gone might actually be dead. I mean when she realizes that Rex is gone with the money she is stuck in Hell. I think that emotion more than anything else, after the chicken, I think the violence of that just trying to survive. I think after that the reality of all of that has finally set in and she thinks: “Holy Shit what am I going to do?” To me that was more powerful of an emotionally reality than all this stuff.

Ryan: Well you did a wonderful job.

Reporter: Can you guys also talk about how you kept it so grounded and kept it embedded in reality? I really felt like we were looking at people that could exist out there. Because in some of these dark comedies I think you can go real big and over the top.

Emile: I don’t know about you, but I feel like I had my pedal to the metal here.

Gina: Terry is such a good writer as long as you keep it truthful  and real, I think you can make it big or small. I think you also start feeding on everyone’s energy. (Gina looking at Emile)I mean you and I were the most similar in our characters.

Emile: Yeah, We were at each other. I think you get a lot of freedom when you’re playing characters like this. I mean this isn’t Remains of the Day, it’s not a film with withholding emotions and never talking. It’s like if you watch an episode of Jerry Springer, there is a high roof you can hit.

Gina: I think that is the fun about them.  I mean Joe is very different because he has the subtext going on. I think our characters are especially similar in that what we are feeling just comes out. There is no censoring the way you feel. They are primitive and very animal-like which I found interesting.

Ryan: Both you have an energy that is always at 11. How did you keep that energy level and especially at the end when it goes to 12?

Gina: Our energy goes to 11. (In her best Spinal Tap inflection)

Emile: I just think it’s like there are the two demolition derby kind of characters, you know? And Dottie is kind of withdrawn and  strange, and Ansel is just this observer. Chris and Sharla are always butting heads, and Friedkin would always emphasize that. He would say: “Chris and Sharla always hate each other”, they are almost too similar to each other.

Gina: I think they recognize on an unconscious level that they hate each other because they see themselves. He is trying to make his life better and survive and she is trying to make her life better. And they are both in each other’s way.

Emile: They are both horrible to each other. They are both equally despicable. He is trying to put a hit out on his mother to get money and she is the one who set him up to even do it in the first place.

Reporter: Gina Did Friedkin come to you or did you have to pursue this role?

Gina: I didn’t even know they were doing it to be honest. It is definitely the best role I have had in a really long time, the sort of part that I really love. Sometimes I check out a little bit and think I’m going to do music, I’m going to write and then I think, “Oh, no I really like acting.” It’s hard for me as time goes on to really find those parts that are what you love. I just got a call that said Friedkin wants to meet you for Killer Joe written by Tracy Letts. And then I thought to myself, “Oh, god it’s that script.” And of course as it turns out they had been looking at people I just didn’t know about it. Tracy god bless him kept saying you should get Gina. Gina should do this and Friedkin kept saying Tracy kept mentioning you so I met Friedkin and we just talked for about a half an hour and I told some crazy snake story that I had just gone through and he said, “I don’t know how you know about this character, but you understand this character. So I thought Yeah, let’s do it. It was the easiest addition I guess. You know, Friedkin is a really great director in the fact that he has great instincts and casting as he says is the whole thing. He really cast everyone pretty perfectly I think.

Ryan: I can’t imagine any other actors to play these roles as an ensemble you guys are just fantastic.

Emile: Which is cool to hear because on stage its been played by so many other actors.

Gina: I’m glad I’ve never seen this show.

Emile: I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Gina: Tracy wrote amazing parts. There are certain parts that are so great, you could have different actors interpretation of it and its going to be great, but just slightly different. As long as you stay truthful everyone is going to bring their own thing to it.

Reporter: Can you speak a little about that final scene and Ansel grabbing your legs and screaming “I got’em Joe!”.

Emile: He is just a grown man on his knees looking up at Joe and going “I got’em Joe!”

Gina: I keep going back to animals and Joe definitely comes in and he’s like the alpha dog in the scrap yard. That is why it is so interesting, any time the pit bull sees Emile’s character it’s barking like crazy, but anytime Joe shows up the dog is totally quiet. So, to me Joe was always like the alpha male pit bull dog. So, what he says goes and I think after the chicken bone scene and we’re so traumatized, I realize this guy will cut off my face and wear it as a mask. So, they are all into surviving, it very animal, very primitive. So when he goes for it, we are all just like yeah, this has got to go. This is the runt of the litter we got to get rid of him to keep surviving.

Reporter: Having previously read the play did you notice any differences from the original version?

Gina: It had been ten years since I read it. And as I was reading it, I was thinking: this sounds familiar and then all of a sudden I was like “Oh, my god it’s that piece”, but I remember getting to the end which is such a strange ending for this movie, but a perfect ending for the movie. Every time I see it, it always freaks me out. Because it is such a bazaar ending. You just don’t even know what to think. I love this movie, because by the end you’re emotionally confused. You don’t know whether to laugh or be horrified. Movies that we see lately have been so easy, it’s like this is funny, this is sad. This film just plays on so many different weird areas in your Psyche that  you just get confused emotionally.

Emile: The comedy tricks you into following it a little bit more.

Gina: Well you’re laughing, but you think wait this is horrible, but it is all so funny at the same time. We’re not playing it for laughs, but I think that is the genius of the writing.

Reporter: Did you guys hear that someone passed out in the theater last night?

Gina: I heard someone fainted. Maybe it just too much for her, but maybe she didn’t eat anything and had a tequila. We just don’t know. (Laughs)

Emile: I know that is not the first time Billy has had that reaction with his movies. He stories on set about The Exorcist, where it was just mass fainting.

Gina: And people were throwing up.

Emile: one of the funniest stories about The Exorcist, was that they showed it down in Mexico and they brought all of these native Indians and Mayan types who had never seen movies before. They were watching the movie traumatized and they didn’t know how to pay for the movie and they were throwing the money at the screen.  Thinking that was how you paid for the movie. Literally in homage to the movie just chucking coins at the screen.

Ryan: If only they filmed that. It would be the best DVD extra ever.

Gina: I was thinking this is such a visceral piece and we are all visceral actors, I think we are all just like go for it actors and then you have Friedkin who is just… I mean I can’t stop watching The Exorcist. I’m obsessed with watching it, but then you have Cruising or The French Connection. This guy is one of the first kinetic visceral directors I remember seeing on the screen. Then him coupled with this and all of us, I was thinking “this is going to be insane.”

Emile: A girl did come up to me yesterday and say my friend just fainted. She left after the chicken bone scene and the beat down scene and went into the lobby and fainted. She said “I can’t stay in the theater I have to go outside and faint.”

Reporter: Do you think that explains the NC-17 rating?

Gina: It’s so funny I don’t know how I feel, because I’ve been involved in NC-17 films, and when I watched one of them I don’t understand what makes this an NC-17. There are so many movies that I’ve seen that are so uber-violent. And then you think if this is NC-17 why aren’t those NC-17? It feels so random to me. Listen I don’t think it should be PG for sure, but it is a tricky thing. I just think parents should be able to decide what their children see and this certainly is not more violent than other movies. I always wonder if I were a guy if it would have been an NC-17, like when he hits her and there is that violence would it be, “oh that is okay”?

Ryan: and we have seen that in other films before.

Emile: I thought Inglorious Bastards was way more violent.

Ryan: Totally more violent.

Gina: I hope it’s not NC-17 because I just think compared to other movies there is no difference. I just don’t understand the system. It just feels so arbitrary. This is a very intense movie it is an R, that you’re going to have strong feelings with. I can’t even watch the Saw movies or Hostel where they get the tourists and they take out their insides. My own personal experience with it, because I had that with Bound and Showgirls. With Bound the reason we had to change it was because we had to change the love scene to make it an R. And the love scene that they had was a really intense beautiful love scene, and you didn’t see any body parts. You didn’t see anything it was just an intensity between me and Jennifer, and they were like: “No we can’t have this”. Then when we changed it to the other love scene because it was all done in one take, it was a lot more nonviolent, but it had a hardness to it. Then they were like “Oh, yeah this is fine.” I thought I don’t understand this. Verhoeven would tell a lot of stories about Basic Instinct and he said they kept saying No No No and then one day they just said yes and he said he never changed a thing.

Ryan: It is who sees it.

Gina: It’s just who may have had a hamburger that day and they felt happy.  Or some one was hungry and cranky. It feels very arbitrary. I think if they are going to have the rating system then they should really have a real set of rules that make sense because it just feels arbitrary.

Ryan: I think this film could scare people too, because they think, “I like this, why do I like this?” You’re getting really introspective in yourself and think that is a really good film, but they are doing things that are bizarre and maybe I don’t understand myself. Or they don’t like it because they do.

Gina: Yeah like they secretly like it. Like if my character was a mother Teresa “good person”, I mean I always look at this like a morality tale. Emile’s character does some screwed up things, I definitely do screwed up things and I think we kind of get our comeuppance a little bit. I feel like if I was an innocent nice girl and this happened I would have not wanted to do it. I just believe it is like instant Karma is happening. Juno who is the innocent is the one who escapes, and fights her way to escape. I guess on that level the moral level I look at it and it make sense to me. It is like “Kids if you do bad things bad things will happen to you”. I think all kids should see it for that alone.

Ryan: I wish I had kids to take now.

Gina: I’m going to take my 14 year old tomorrow.

Ryan: Yes! Thanks guys.

Emile and Gina: Thanks!

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

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