Interview: Leigh Whannell and Logan Marshall-Green on UPGRADE’s Representation and Low Budget Original Filmmaking

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UpgradePosterDC 203x300 - Interview: Leigh Whannell and Logan Marshall-Green on UPGRADE's Representation and Low Budget Original FilmmakingThis week sees the release of Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, the sci-fi heavy action/thriller that follows a man seeking vengeance for the murder of his wife in an attack that also saw him paralyzed from the neck down. After an experimental surgery implants a computer chip into his spine, he’s able to relinquish control of his body to the program, thereby allowing it to unleash absolute hell on those who wronged him. In its own way, Upgrade could easily be seen as The Crow-meets-Robocop.

A couple of weeks ago, we brought you an exclusive clip that showed you just how intense, violent, and gory the film can get. Today, we want to take you behind-the-scenes with an interview with writer/director Leigh Whannell and star Logan Marshall-Green. Give it a read below!

After his wife is killed during a brutal mugging that also leaves him paralyzed, Grey Trace is approached by a billionaire inventor with an experimental cure that will “upgrade” his body. The cure – an Artificial Intelligence implant called STEM – gives Grey physical abilities beyond anything experienced and the ability to relentlessly claim vengeance against those who murdered his wife and left him for dead.

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious) and stars Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, The Invitation) and Betty Gabriel (Get Out). The film is released through BH Tilt.

Dread Central:So, gentleman, Upgrade is almost upon us. I got the chance to see it at South by Southwest, I loved it, and there’s been a little bit of a tour with it so tell me about what you’re going through now as the movie is about to hit a wide audience?
Leigh Whannell: Oh man, it’s a range of emotions, everything from terror to excitement. I still love this process of releasing films cinematically. As much as I love Netflix and streaming, when it comes to films I’m involved in personally I still love that cinematic release. There’s nothing that beats that Friday night movie excitement of going to a theater and seeing people buy tickets and so I don’t know, I don’t know what to think with this one. No one’s told me any tracking or anything so I guess I’m just excited about it, you know?

DC: Well, in general it seems that audiences that have seen it, like at South By and other festivals and screenings, have really enjoyed it and the word of mouth, at least what I’ve seen, has been very positive. I’m sure you’ve seen them online so Logan, for you, what is it like to know that this film you are kicking so much ass in, is about to melt some faces?
Logan Marshall-Green: Yeah, I’m excited for groups of people to see it, kind of to tag on what Leigh was just saying, you know I’ve only really seen it once in a really big theater at South by Southwest and that kind of group experience with something I hadn’t seen before in a theater. I’m really excited as well to think hopefully millions, but in a microcosm, hundreds of people in a room experiencing it and screaming and rooting and yelling, all at the same time. That was one of the cool things about South by Southwest, which I think you experienced.

DC: I want to go into the process of making the movie for just a second because this was a rare film where you played, in effect, two different characters. You were Grey but you were also Stem and when Stem took over you were essentially, your mind and your voice were able to be present but your body was essentially someone else entirely. So I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how you created that version of Grey, and Leigh if you want to chime in at any point about how you kind of helped direct that and bring that vision to life, I would love to hear your thoughts as well.
LMG: Well, it starts with Leigh, he wrote an incredible script and gave me a prime opportunity to act head to toe in multiple silhouettes, one is Grey and another one is Grey the quadriplegic, which is one of the tougher physical stories to tell, actually. Then of course, when Stem takes over, as Leigh said from the very beginning, it was going to be a tightrope walk while rubbing my belly and patting my head. We made sure we never broke that silhouette and were able to tell that story in kind of a fresh way that people hadn’t seen and to not ever tip into robotic but feel the calculated, sterile efficiency of a computer, you know now manifested in a human body.

LW: Yeah, Logan always uses his expressions to tell a physical story and I hadn’t even necessarily heard that expression before in thinking about the movie. You’re always framing it in terms of emotion, what’s going on in the character’s head, where are they. In this movie I think Logan’s right, each emotional stage of the character’s arc is represented physically, so when he’s most depressed and withdrawn and shattered he literally can’t move, he’s reliant on machines, and suddenly he is reborn and the more out of control he gets as a character the more out of control his body gets, literally.

So it is kind of fun to have a movie where emotions are represented by physicality by the physical emotions and actions of the character and I just worked with Logan and the stunt team to kind of map that. At each scene we shot we had a map for where we were emotionally and that emotion dictated what Logan did with his body, because you shoot films out of order, this non-linear approach to shooting, you have to be careful that you know where you are on the map and you find out if you’re right when you get into the edit room. I’m thankful to look at the movie to see this very clear arc Logan had portrayed physically in the movie.

DC: You know there was something interesting about this year’s South by Southwest, because we also saw the world premiere of A Quiet Place, which featured a story line a deaf girl in the film, as an actress and as a character, and in Upgrade you’ve got a character who becomes quadriplegic and it’s also a kind of commentary on the pains and struggles of disability but at the same time how that can, in its own way, be transformed into a strength. Logan, can talk a bit about having to put yourself into the mindset of someone who is quadriplegic and what that meant for you?
LMG: Well, first thing first was to work with someone who is quadriplegic and is living that experience so I was very quick to get production and Leigh to find someone and I worked with a man about three hours from L.A. extensively. I went up there many times to sit and talk with him and it’s one thing to just be able to talk with a man or woman who is quadriplegic but it’s another thing for them to really allow you into intimate sort of “ugly” part of that existence. That was everything to me and that man really allowed me to see behind the curtain, from sitting and talking with him to driving with him – he had two chairs, his old chair and his new one, and he let me use his old chair and we would drive for miles to go to the hospital and to watch him get his colostomy bag cleaned.

I was able to really see those harder parts, so when it came to those moments in the movie, you’re seeing me really trying to use his experience and portray in the most earnest and beautiful way. Other things like his hands were very important to me and I woke up one night realizing I couldn’t bite my nails anymore and immediately stopped biting my nails out of that reverence for him in his situation.

LW: And not biting your nails on a low budget film set is a really difficult thing to do. I do the nail biting for both Logan and I!

DC: Alright, so gentleman, the film also ends in such a way that theoretically, it ends a story, it is an ending chapter, that’s the story of Grey sort of at its finale but it also at the same time could very well be the first chapter of another story and I’m wondering, depending on how Upgrade does, do you think we could revisit Gray and see what happens next in a potential sequel?
LW: Well I guess you have to frame the question two different ways. One is, could we tell more stories, sure. We could examine this world and what happens to Grey but the other question is will we? That version of the question is entirely dependent on how the film does. I certainly didn’t write it with a mind towards a larger world.

When I write a story, I love a strong beginning, middle, and end. That’s what’s great to me about movies. It’s not an episode of television, it’s not leaving you with a cliffhanger, its hopefully leading you to a satisfying ending that has you contemplating everything that came before. That’s what I’ve always tried to do with any movie and was definitely the case with this movie so I wanted thinking in where it would go but also trying to release a movie that’s a bit smaller. It’s coming out in the summer, going up against these giant tent-pole movies so a question of how it will do is a real question mark on this one.

I’ve worked on other movies before, especially sequels, where their success was almost a
given. “Oh we’re tracking so well, we’re going to be the number one film”… They almost take the fun out of it by telling you how the films going to do before it comes out. This movie is the opposite of that, this movie, I haven’t seen any tracking, I look out into the world and think well, I’m not seeing a ton of Upgrade posters but I am seeing a ton of Deadpool posters, so I don’t really know how things are going to go so I guess ask me that same question in three months’ time.

DC: I just want to say, as I’ve said before, I was at the South by Southwest screening, Leigh I don’t if you remember, I came up to you and we chatted, and I’ve got to say I’m bummed, I’m saddened by the fact that we were not able to, the next day, inject me with that NFC chip that we spoke about.
LW: Yeah, you were saying you really wanted to get in there and get injected! [laughs]

DC: Look, I’m not a smart person, ok, so if I’m ready for you to insert an NFC chip I may as well have some fun! But that was a really wild, promotional stunt to pull and I’m wondering, what other kinds of things were you bandying about when you were thinking how you could promote the film to get that kind of, not necessarily notorious but excited word-of-mouth from people who were there and people who were interested in what you do?
LW: Well that’s the thing. When you’re not operating with a giant marketing budget, you have to be more stealthy and take a more “thriller” approach to marketing and so we were thinking of stunts we could pull off, we had the idea of saying, “Oh, I’ve downloaded the entire movie of Deadpool 2, come check out its link!” and then the pirates that go there, it’s really just a teaser for this film. So basically what you’re doing, you’re going to have a lot of pissed off people saying “That wasn’t Deadpool! What the fuck was that?”

So yeah, I’ve been trying to think of some different ideas, injecting someone with that tech at the premiere was one I was on board with. We have a couple of interesting things coming up, I don’t want to give anything away but I do think there will be a video with Jason Blum and I that will remind you of Scanners, or at least the opening scene of Scanners so we’ll make sure you know about that.

Yeah, anything we can get and I think in a way word of mouth is this film’s best friend because we don’t have that marketing bandwidth of a giant studio movie and sometimes with smaller films like Get Out or A Quiet Place, sometimes word of mouth becomes this wildfire that just takes off, and in the age of social media you’re not just telling your neighbor about the film, you’re telling two hundred of your online friends so yeah, word of mouth is good, I think that is our best marketing tool that we have.

DC: Listen, Logan, Leigh, thank you very much for your time, I know you have a long day ahead of you with a lot of interviews so go forth, kick ass and I cannot wait for what the public thinks about Upgrade.
LW: Thank you so much, I appreciate your help in this.

LMG: Thanks, bro.