Writer/director Eric Heisserer’s upcoming film Hours features the final performance of popular actor Paul Walker. Recently Heisserer sat down for a Dread Central midnight interview to discuss the project, working with Walker, and more.
Heisserer began by talking about the story behind the thriller Hours, where the inspirations for the film came from. “It’s an intense personal story that is really my version of a love letter to parents,” Heisserer said.
“It’s about how tough being a parent can be and it’s more of an external version of all the fear and doubt and worry that happens when you take home your first little one and you’re suddenly realizing you now love something that needs you all the time. And it’s about a man coming to grips with the fact that he’s a single parent. He’s a single father. Kind of like Dorothy in Oz, he’s had the power all along to be this person.”
In addition to the challenges of parenthood, Heisserer was inspired from other avenues as well. “I drew inspiration from a friend who became a new father right around the time I embarked on the story. And it sort of merged,” Heisserer said. “Movies and stories don’t really become stories to me by themselves. It’s usually a mitosis of several ideas that sort of get together and form a little party in my brain. Otherwise I don’t feel that there’s enough narrative, enough there. But it was a combination of my friend who was absolutely terrified and worried that he had this life now in his hands, he’s completely responsible for it, wanted to make sure nothing terrible happens to it.”
“And at the same time I spent over a decade of my life in Houston and had a lot of personal ties to New Orleans and my friends shared a lot of personal stories when some of them became refugees from Hurricane Katrina and had to stay at the Astrodome in Houston and talked about a handful of stories about the tragedy and the aftermath, how the doctors and nurses were manually powering the ICU equipment there, and that stuck in my head. Those two ideas or two stories merged and I realized what I wanted to tell was a story about a father who had to manually power his own daughter’s NICU equipment.”
Hours was actually born as a short story composed by Heisserer. “I wrote it as a short and published it on a friend’s site, PopcornFiction.com,” Heisserer said. “That site became the testing ground for a lot of movie ideas that I had. And this was one that I was really scared of as a feature film, which meant I knew that I had to write it as one.”
Heisserer has several large credits to his name as a writer, including The Thing and A Nightmare on Elm Street reboots, as well as Final Destination 5, but Hours was his first chance to get one of his own stories told.
“I grew up in a time when writers and directors were really not monogamous to one genre,” Heisserer said. “You could write a horror movie or direct a horror movie one year and come out with a sci-fi movie the next. Even Bill Lancaster, who wrote John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982, was the guy who wrote The Bad News Bears. And while I am grateful that I’ve had a chance to start to pay the rent and actually earn a living through these studio franchise reboots, the first thing I learned is that you are writing for somebody else’s property and you are not an architect. You’re more contract labor and you show up and they say ‘put the sink here’ and you do that. Whether or not that makes any sense to you as a storyteller is kind of moot. They’re paying the bills and you do that. But you’re drawn to this because you have your own story to tell, and I found that I had enough credits to my name I could venture off and do an original piece like this on my own. And when I realized I had that opportunity I guess I doubled down and said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to direct it as well.'”
Hours is very much Paul Walker on his own, almost a one-man show. Heisserer talked about his approach to getting a very different performance out of the actor. “A lot of it was him and his commitment to the role,” Heisserer said. “For this kind of project to work, both of us had to have a deeper level of trust with each other, and it meant since we didn’t know each other privately that we had to form kind of an instant friendship… a few months before I flew down to New Orleans to start prep on it, we would get together two or three times a week and spend several hours together just talking, and I got to hear about his family and his hopes and fears and the things that push his buttons and the things that get him excited and happy and what he thought he’d do. He wanted to be a marine biologist for a very long time and it’s always been very important to him that his father be proud of him and he always tried to be the kind of parent that his father was to him. At the same time, I was just as forthcoming with my own backstory, my own history, my hopes and fears. So we were both very confessional on a quid pro quo kind of basis. That level of confession led to a good shorthand with us so that on the set we could say something in very few words to each other and know what we meant by it, and that helped a lot.”
Heisserer continued about the connection he built with Walker. “We didn’t have to worry too much about rehearsing lines. He’s a pro. He already knew all the lines in the script, so there wasn’t a lot of rehearsal on that part. And the very specific questions he had, he addressed me with those. He was really about how to emotionally get there. And if I could, on the day, like right before I said ‘Action!’ I could lean in and say, ‘Paul, you’ve gotta know, this scene right here, right now, in the final movie, is the one your father will say he’s very proud of you for.’ That was like a trump card, you could play that once, but it was very important for both of us to have that information, and it let him be completely honest in this role. So much of what you see on the screen there is really just a raw Paul Walker experience. It’s not like he’s a chameleon that sort of jumps into the skin of this fictional character. No. His way into this was to show as much of himself as possible, and I thought that was incredibly risky, so I was trying to be as supportive as possible throughout the entire process.”
In addition to Walker, the gorgeous Genesis Rodriguez appears in the film. “I told Genesis, even though she has limited screen time, she has, what I believe, is the most important role in the movie and the most memorable to a lot of people who walk away from it because she gets people to fall in love with her in six minutes of screen time,” Heisserer said.
“You have to understand that this relationship is something that Paul’s character treasured above everything else in his life and with it gone there was this big hole. The character that Genesis plays is a woman that speaks her mind. She’s strong, but she’s also very feminine and she has a lot of what I see in my wife… she has a lot of moxie. She has a lot of verve to her. That may not be the ideal stuff for the people out there, but she’s the kind of character I react to because she’s not just a two-dimensional female supporting character. The great thing about her was Genesis already had that. In my first meeting with her, she could talk about sports cars with Paul and she could talk about the relationship that she had and she talked about the kind of wedding dress she would wear to the wedding in a marriage between her character and the other, and all the while she could wolf down a plate of chili cheese fries. I don’t know what her metabolism is, but she’s just amazing!”
Finally, Heisserer commented on working with Paul Walker and the effect Walker’s passing had on him. “I feel that he was one of the rare, true good guys in this business,” Heissserer said. “Normally, to get the kind of performance out of an actor that he displayed in my movie, you have to deal with a lot of bullshit and I had none of that. He showed up on time, he learned the names of everyone on the crew and got close with them. He was the most patient around and he wanted to help. He wanted to help everyone, not just doing his own job, but in making sure the machine of production ran smoothly. And he will be sorely missed because he was one of the rare breeds like that.”
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