Garret Dillahunt - Exclusive Interview

Garret Dillahunt - Exclusive Interview
The Last House on the Left actor talks about his craft, and puking babies.
Updated: 03-05-2009
Coming soon, we will have an in-depth interview with Garret Dillahunt specifically about his portrayal of the thug Krug in the upcoming remake of Wes Craven's brutal horror story The Last House on the Left (remodeled for the new millennium by a different director, Dennis Iliadis [see our interview here]), but in our exclusive chat with the top baddie, I asked him about how he approaches such vile characters and explored his interest in writers and writing. [Photo: Garret Dillahunt & Staci Layne Wilson, 2009]
Staci Layne Wilson / You seem to be the sort of actor who likes to do a lot of research. Many of the actors I've interviewed are like, "Hey, it's pretend. It's fun. I'm not this guy at all, and I don't need to know it." So each actor's process is really different which is why I love what I do because I enjoy talking to actors and learning what drives them and what motivates them and what gives us the experience on screen. But when you work with an actor who's just like, "Oh, it's just pretend," how do you find it within yourself to bring what you need to, to the table? You were talking about this movie [Last House] and how it's so collaborative, but what if it's not?
Dillahunt: It is, but I don't know how everyone else worked. I think it would be remiss of me to require them to work the same way I do. I don't know if anyone else read a book or did anything else. There's good and there's bad. Acting, I don't care how you get there, but just get there. Then it's just all about the scene. What am I getting from them and am I responding honestly? That's all I can ask. I would be uncomfortable if I had the requirement to everyone else's behavior. I don't think it's necessary. I feel like it's my skill not to need it, you know? I can use whatever I'm getting. Marlon Brando did a scene with the corpse in Last Tango. He didn't get anything from that corpse, but you do, actually, you know what I mean?
Wilson: Yeah, definitely. There's a 70s movie called End of the Game with Donald Sutherland and Jon Voight, and Sutherland is a corpse throughout the entire opening sequence. Or, there's the Jeff Bridges movie, Tideland, where he's pretty much dead throughout the whole movie — and yet those two actors manage to steal the scenes from the ones who are supposed to be alive. So, we talked about your fellow actors, but what do you look for in a director because we've seen a lot of directors like say, Fellini, who was very exact and you had to be positioned right down to your pinkie. It was choreographed. Then there are other directors, like (I've heard) Woody Allen, who don't even seem to notice you're there.
Dillahunt: Yeah, I'm not a fragile guy, but lately I find myself more and more annoyed when directors [interfere too much]. I guess I just like it when a director lets me do my job, as well. I'm part of a whole, and I'm comfortable with that. I get confused sometimes when they talk too much. It's like, "Okay. We got it. Let's go." I've been pretty lucky with my directors. Maybe I'm only hired by, you know, people who like me. [When it comes to the TV series I've been on, like "Deadwood", "The 4400", and "The Sarah Connor Chronicles"] It's hard to be a director on television. I think they're the real guest stars in a way because after a while, you know your character better than they do. They're just coming in and sort of catching up on what's been going on, and you've been doing it for a year and a half. It doesn't necessarily direct itself, but I think it must be a real tight rope for them to walk, directing series television, because you want to have some kind of creative input, but also you don't just want to be a traffic cop.
Wilson: That's true. I mean, when you bring in a name director like say, David Mamet, he did a lot of episodes of The Shield and you can tell which ones he directed. Usually with series television, you don't have that sort of identity.
Dillahunt: And that might be different. David Mamet is a known commodity by most actors. He's a confident fellow in his own right.
Wilson: Is directing something you would like to tackle someday?
Dillahunt: I don't know. I actually, honestly, haven't had that itch. I almost feel like I should, but for some reason I don't. I get a real kick out of my job. It might change. I used to never want to be the lead, you know, and now I feel I've seen the joy of that. It's kind of like being the first mate, I used to say, rather than the captain. I like a little responsibility, but not the whole shebang. I'm so busy and so blessed right now with work that maybe it will change if I have some time off.
Wilson:   A couple of actors who are friends of mine, they write scripts so that they can put themselves in the ideal role. Is that something you might like to try sometime, to write a script with yourself in mind? 
Dillahunt: I'm familiar with that practice. I have some friends who write as well, and they call me with ideas about stuff. It takes so long to get a movie made, by the time it comes together, I'm no longer right for that part. I just have to find the right project. I'm slow.
Wilson: You want to be like Orson Welles doing that vanity project [Don Quixote] for like forty years, right?
Dillahunt: No, but I'd love to be as smart as Orson Welles. He'd probably pick the role that wouldn't decay after a few years. The writing thing, I've tried to do sometimes. That's what I thought I was going to be was a writer. I went to school for it, [but] I can't get my own voice down.
Wilson: There's really something wonderful about writing because it is a solitary pursuit in which you get to create everything yourself.
Dillahunt: Absolutely. I never get star-struck around actors, but writers, I get really tongue-tied around. I'm amazed at what you do, that you have the confidence to send something that you've written out into the world. If I meet my favorite novelist, I'm like a little girl. My wife laughs at me, and she's like, "The only time you forget to introduce me is when you meet a writer." I just get giddy! It's such a mysterious process. It's like, "Wait, wait. You created this whole world just like in your room?" You read about Toni Morrison, you know, and raising her kids on her own, and she's writing at the breakfast table with her baby who then throws up on what she's writing, but she keeps writing around the vomit because she doesn't want to lose the idea she had. I'm just like, "What?" I don't know if I could be that dedicated.
Stephen King is another writer I think is great. I think Stand by Me is when I first realized that's the perfect length to adapt a movie out of, you know what I mean? You're not tearing away all its beauty. If it's too massive a novel, if it's too short a story, you're not putting on a bunch of [filler]. I like him very much. I love The Stand. There's so many I like, and I've gotten to know so many because all of them are fans of Deadwood. There's this great [short story] author named William Gay, I don't know if you know him, or Tom Franklin, wrote this great novel called Smoke. I tend to gravitate toward certain southern gothic type pictures, I guess. Raymond Carver, I love. Joe Abercrombie I've befriended by e-mail. He writes fantasy stuff.
Wilson: So the southern gothic, that's definitely a great sub-genre in movies, too, that's very frightening. There's something about those old houses…
Dillahunt: So much history. It's not like there's a love of language everywhere, but there does seem to be a joy in the language [in New Orleans and around there], a joy in the use of it. They're not afraid to savor, you know what I mean? It's in the accent. There's a length to it. There's descriptive power down there.
Wilson: There's an amazing Cajun character in the True Blood series. The actor did a great accent, then he dropped it at the end, and it was shocking because he seemed so natural. You were saying that you were hoping that you had dropped your southern accent for this movie, that you had worked on it.
Dillahunt: That's right. Someone asked me about my southern accent earlier and I was like, "Really?" I don't think I have one. It's weird that I have any accent at all. I have kind of a western one, I think. My dad sometimes talks like this. He's in the trucking business. You know how sometimes he would suddenly talk southern or western or cowboy. It's weird. It's like a western dialect almost. It's all up and down the west coast in rural communities.
Wilson: Why was it important for you to drop that, though, for The Last House on the Left? Did it really matter?
Dillahunt: It didn't really matter. but I think sometimes an accent can identify you too much, you know what I mean? Frankly when I saw the movie, I didn't hear much of a southerness in there. There's a bit in the trailer, but they've dubbed a voice over mine to make the trailer make sense, and it's someone who's talking real southern, and I'm saying, "Why didn't you use my voice?" I don't know if that's what spawned the question. I just think sometimes it's scarier if you don't know exactly where someone's from. It's like, "Oh, see. He's a hillbilly. He's scary. It's Deliverance." You know what I mean? It weakens it.
Wilson: Or it could strengthen it, if you embrace it.
Dillahunt: I guess so, but I think it's scarier if it could be someone from anywhere. Who knows where he's from? It gives you a place to avoid if you know exactly where he's from, you know what I mean? It's like, 'Don't go down the Louisiana way.' This guy could be from anywhere.
Wilson: When I saw the trailer — I saw it after I saw the movie — and I was like, 'Gosh, they just give everything away, even the ending, in the trailer!' That's terrible. You don't have any control over something like that.
Dillahunt: I don't think even Wes did. It's the distributors. I guess in that case, it's Universal. But, I said the same thing to Dennis. I sent an e-mail and I said, "Whoa, the trailer's out. You know, it looks good. [But] Who dubbed the southern?" I said and, "Also, I think we give a bit too much away." Everybody's secret seems to be revealed in that trailer, but he said, "I agree with you, but it's generated such massive buzz and positive anticipation to the movie." We've just sort of agreed that we don't know anything about marketing. I guess that's how it's done. That's not how I would [do it], but maybe… I'm looking forward to the next trailer that might be a little more suggestive.
Wilson: I'm wondering how tedious it can be for you as an actor once in awhile, because this is out of your hands now, and you still have to be talking about the movie. Is that one of the things that's sort of the 'job' aspect of this profession?
Dillahunt: I guess it is show business, and maybe I'll feel differently later after I've made a hundred movies. I hope I get to do that. I haven't made that many movies, really, maybe seven or eight, so I'm not burnt out about that aspect. We really can't continue this if people don't come see it. I have to do my part to help bring them in. I guess this is the cost. It's not uninteresting. I meet interesting people. We have nice conversations.
Wilson: But do you find that some of the journalists maybe have a different point of view than you might have even expected? When you're making the movie in a vacuum, so to speak, you don't really know how it's going to be perceived, and this is sort of your first indication.
Dillahunt: Yeah, absolutely. And I'm pleased by the positive response to this movie. but you can see everyone's agenda. There was a journalist that we were just talking to in the other room who seemed almost anti-American about the thing. I was surprised by it. I didn't almost know what to say; things you don't anticipate, but which are completely valid. She's representing a whole part of the world.
Wilson: Also as an actor, you almost have to defend someone else's script and vision, too.
Dillahunt: Right. But I'm glad I've seen this and that I like it. It really stinks, or it would be impossible to do, if you really can't stand what you're doing. You're just telling lies. You're just lying to people. "Yeah, it's great! Oh, it was awesome!" Is that a word you hear way too much?
Wilson: Ha! Yes. How many times have I heard that one?
Dillahunt: Awesome? Yeah. "It's amazing!" [laughter]
= = =
And another interview with Dillahunt [coming soon]
Plus our review of The Last House on the Left movie [coming soon]
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