Roundtable Interview: Eric Christian Olsen Talks The Thing, Comedy vs. Horror and More
In the upcoming prequel The Thing the always hilarious Eric Christian Olsen (Not Another Teen Movie, The Hot Chick, Beerfest) shows off a more serious side with his portrayal of Adam Goldman, the research assistant who helps recruit paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) for an expedition to the Arctic after a Norwegian research team uncovers an alien entity discovered frozen deep below the icy surface.
Dread Central caught up with Olsen during the recent press day for The Thing at Universal Studios to talk about what drew him to this companion project of the 1982 John Carpenter classic, his thoughts on modern horror, the real-life perils of shooting in the icy tundra and more.
Check out our roundtable interview with Olsen below, and look for more interviews and our review of The Thing in the coming days!
Question: So how was your experience working on this movie?
Erik Christian Olsen: Amazing, I loved it. I’ve turned down horror movies for my whole career because they aren’t the stories that I wanted to tell. I remember when they sent the script over for this, and I had seen the original; it scared the crap out of me. My dad had seen the first, first one – the 1954 one – when he was nine years old. He asked my grandpa if he could go and my grandpa said “No, you’ll get scared so you can’t go see it.”
So my dad snuck in, and he sat behind the chair because he got so scared – he’d watch as much as he could and then he peeked back down. But then he couldn’t sleep for a week, and finally he told my grandpa he watched the movie and how much it scared him. So when I told him about this movie, he’s like, “You have to do it because that was the movie that terrified me most as a kid.”
I go back now, and it’s just a guy with just a claw, isn’t it? (laughs)
Reporter: He was a living vegetable. There’s this scene where he breaks in; he actually looks kind of like Frankenstein.
Olsen: Oh yeah! But anyway- it terrified my dad and also because my favorite kind of genre movies are thrillers. I think that if you look at a perfect moment in storytelling in the ’82 version it’s the scene where they’re testing the blood; that’s a perfect scene. That’s just man versus man- it’s paranoia, it’s about trust and there’s nothing happening. What they make now is a guy with an axe coming through a window and chasing the characters around until someone takes their top off and then they die.
Reporter: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Olsen: Yes, there is something wrong with it! It’s a shitty movie. I saw a movie two years ago where literally people are dying, and then someone decides to go wakeboarding! And I was like, “What are we doing with our lives?” There’s no story, there’s no plot; it’s literally about finding this person and hacking them up, then finding the next person and hacking them up.
The Thing is about the fact that we all have issues with trust, we all have issues with paranoia and in all relationships– whether it be at work, in our own personal relationships or family– it’s about who we can trust in these situations and when the shit falls apart, what those alliances are and which ones are going to fail us. And I think that’s why I was so attracted to the ’82 movie, and this is why I was attracted to the prequel that we’re doing now.
Question: So was the tooth checking moment in this film kind of like the blood testing moment from the original for you then? It's really where we learn a lot about Adam.
Olsen: Yeah, and I think especially for my character because the way that I decided to play Adam with Matthijs (van Heijningen, Jr.) is that my character isn’t strong enough to exist on his own. There is no flame-thrower for me, there is no knife for me; it’s literally making alliances to a stronger character– so I come in allied with Sander (Ulrich Thomsen), but when I realize that Mary’s more in control and smarter than Sander, I make an alliance with her.
But when we get to that scene where they’re checking my teeth and she bails on me, I lose everything; I really lose my only defense and that’s why that scene for me is obviously the most critical for my character. It's also I think a nice homage to the original blood testing scene, too.
Question: We know you mostly through comedies like "Community." Was this role originally funny, or was this something you saw as a career changing sort of role?
Olsen: I think that one thing we’ve been good at (as far as my representation) is finding diverse roles. Even though I am doing a lot of comedies, I'm trying to keep them as broad as they can be in playing like a younger Jim Carrey versus Fired Up versus "Community" and trying to make sure they are as diverse as possible in that genre. I think that I’ve also done a lot of dramas, but nothing like The Thing so I do think you’re right. I think it is a big departure for me. I don’t know if it’s a career change, but I definitely think it’s just a way to show more diversity.
Question: When you first heard about The Thing and that it was sort of going to be a prequel or almost like a side prequel to the original film, what did you think about that idea?
Olsen: I think it’s the only way you can do it. I think you remake this movie, you’ve got a bullet on your head; you put an immediate target on your back. I saw Rise of the Apes, and I was like, “What is this movie? What is this crap? I’m not seeing this movie!” And I read the reviews and then I was like, “Oh it perfectly dovetails in the first movie” and I went and saw it and by the last ten minutes, I totally got it. I know what happened and that’s fulfilling as an audience member. And I think that’s what they’ve done here.
Question: Is there any fear that maybe the film wouldn’t resonate with audiences that don’t know the original, or do you think it just plays on its own level for both fans and not fans alike?
Olsen: I think the movie stands on its own because it is a prequel because there is no new information prior to that moment. It stands on its own, but I do think it’s more fulfilling if you’ve seen the first because I think there are a lot of moments that pay homage to what Carpenter did in his.
Question: What’s one of things that you enjoyed the most?
Olsen: One of the things I enjoyed the most? The very first scene that we shot I guess; I got on a red-eye flight that flew to Vancouver and then got on a charter flight that went from Vancouver to the most northern tip of Canada and the border of Alaska. Then we got in a van that took me to the middle of nowhere and then got into a helicopter that took me to 10,000 feet to the middle of a glacier. Talk about intense.
So, it was Mary and I and one other person shooting exterior shots, and you don’t have an understanding of how claustrophobic something like that can be until you’re actually there. I went into Craft Services and there was tons of food and I was like, “Why do we have so much food at Craft Services?” The guy was like, “This is if we get snowed in and we can’t get everybody off the top of the mountain before the storm comes in, then we'll have to have enough food to survive.” And that’s the movie we’re making!
That entire day I was like, “Did we get this shot and are we good because I’m ready to go get a helicopter because I am ready to go!” There were also these stakes everywhere in the ground and I was like, “Why are the stakes there?” One of the crew guys said, “Because that’s as far as we scoped, and if you walk past that, you can fall 100 feet and we’ll never find you.” And you get a sense of “Oh, that’s what these characters are feeling.”
What a great way to start the movie because as far as the eye can see there’s nothing but mountains of white and you know how long it took you to get there, and if anything goes wrong, you’re never getting out of there. It’s just so isolated and so alone. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.
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