Friday, October 17, 2014
Peter Sattler, Payman Maadi & Lane Garrison talk about Kristen in 'Camp X-Ray'
I recently saw Kristen at one of the New York Film Festival screenings of “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Have you had a chance to see it?
PETER SATTLER: She’s great I haven’t seen Clouds yet but I’m excited to see it. She’s been doing a lot of great work and I’m honored for “Camp X-Ray” to be one of the first movies out of the gate to show this new side of her. It’s not really new because she’s been doing edgy work like this, but it’s cool for people’s perception of her to start to change a little bit.
The first thing I thought of when I saw your film was that it was like the beginning of “Zero Dark Thirty,” and we haven’t seen films like that in awhile. Where did the idea come from for this movie?
SATTLER: We have this sequence in the beginning that’s like five-minutes of “Zero Dark Thirty” and then we totally change and it evolves into a very opposite type of film, a smaller intimate character study. I’ve always been interested in Guantanimo Bay because it always seemed like such an absurd situation, such a weird thing that exists down there. I can’t believe no one’s doing anything about it. I was watching some documentaries, did some research and realized that the detainees and guards are just stuck in this room together. Nowadays it’s not gory and gross, it’s more boring and white wall and there’s just cinderblocks and institutional rules. I had the idea to do a two-hander, kind of in the vein of “The Defiant Ones” or “Hell in the Pacific” about these two people on opposite sides of a war who have to find a way together because they’re stuck in this situation. They have to find a way to co-exist.
It’s tough subject matter. How much research did you put into it?
SATTLER: Lots and lots and lots of it. While I was writing the script, which took a good deal of time, I just consumed every memoir, watched every documentary, read every article I could find to really understand the details of what life was like down there, but the even bigger challenge was to wrap your head around what does it feel like to be down there? What’s life like there, for both soldiers and detainees? They’re both going through a terrible experience. That was a greater challenge because that’s something you have to intuit from reading between the lines.
The film rests on Kristen Stewart because that’s who Americans mostly know. How did the casting come about and how did you get her to be your lead?
SATTLER: Kristen hadn’t done a movie in two years and we were fortunate enough to get it to her. She had been in a film that a good friend of mine, our executive producer David Gordon Green, had done before and so honestly she told me that she really responded to the script, she knew this girl and really wanted to take that risk and bring this character to life. Peyman Moaadi, I had not seen “The Separation” before. My casting director said, “You have to look at Peyman, this guy’s amazing.” He is, he was, and continues to be a remarkable actor, but also a really wonderful human being, as is Kristen. It was a great mixture and a great opportunity for us to have two amazing actors to work with, and their hearts are totally in the right place to make a movie like this. There’s no ego involved, everyone was just really committed to this crazy piece of art we wanted to make.
Although Kristen is more recognized for her high profiled studio films and Peter more recently for ‘A Separation,’ what did you do to get them to be seen in a different light?
SATTLER: I think with Kristen and Peyman they’re such talented actors that it was never about trying to pull anything out of them, it was more about filtering what they were throwing at me. They brings so much to the table as an actor that all I had to do was shape the performance. They’d say, “What about this?” “No, that’s not right for this scene, try this instead.” Peyman and Kristen are very different actors. Peyman has a very studious approach, he’s a writer and film director himself so he can approach these scenes in an authorial way and knows what it means for the larger story arc, whereas Kristen is more about living a true and honest moment. With her it’s mostly about trying to find ways to make the scenes feel fresh and not stale. She works best when she’s flying by the seat of her pants. It’s hard because in film you have to repeat scenes over and over again and do different takes. Kristen’s always had this side of her, like in “Runaways” or “Panic Room” or “Welcome to the Rileys.” She’s always been there, but has spent a lot of time doing popcorn movies which are great, but she has a broader reach of desires. As an actress she loves stretching herself, showing people sides of herself that she hasn’t explored.
Were their any liberties taken as far as the treatment of these individuals?
SATTLER: We worked religiously to try to get every moment as accurate as possible to the best of our ability with the detainees. We knew if we got something wrong someone would see it and they’d hold our feet to the fire on it, so we were very meticulous about getting all these details right. I talked to a couple of guards afterwards and lawyers who have been out to GITMO and they’ve all complimented us on capturing things. There’s a lot of challenges in trying to make a movie this small, you’re trying to create something out of the void, but those can be overcome with just raw will power. We also have some very intense emotional scenes in this film, and it’s a challenge to write them and to direct them, to edit them. It’s so important that the audience feel that emotion and it come across as real and genuine. If it feels false, one wrong edit, one wrong line and the whole interchange can seem false. There’s some really tense emotional scenes to pull off towards the end but you have to ’cause that’s where the real heart and soul of the movie lives.
What’s a good reason to go see “Camp X-Ray”?
SATTLER: I think people should go see “Camp X-Ray” because it’s gonna show you a side of Guantanimo Bay that you’ve never seen before. I think it’s gonna be a very eye-opening look at what it’s really like down there, but it’s also the element of, “Wanna know what life at GITMO is like? Check this out.” More importantly, this is a film with a very human message. It’s not a feel-good film, you can’t really do that in Guantanimo Bay, but it’s about how two people in the worst situation on Earth can still find a reason to make a connection. When two strangers can make a connection that is more than just superficial there’s something really magical in that. That’s what it’s all about. It’s a very tender film.
Mehdi Zokaei: Tell us about your new film.
Payman Maadi: This film is about Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, where they hold terrorists. I play the character of Ali, that for 8 years I am innocent and for 8 years I am there. The guards watch us very closely to make sure that the prisoners don’t kill themselves. Kristen Stewart plays the guard who watches my character in the film. The relationship between my character and the guard speaks to humanity, not about race, religion, rank, nothing like that.
MZ: Did you know Kristen Stewart before working with her on this project? Had you met before?
PM: I knew that Kristen Stewart played in the Twilight films and is a very successful actress, but I heard that recently she wanted to steer away from those kinds of roles and take on more serious ones.
Our story began a few months ago when Peter Sattler sent me a script while I was in Iran. Because I am someone who is currently writing my own scripts, in this respect of reading scripts I am very critical. I really liked this one.
One day, he came on Skype, as I had known talked to him before. We had a lengthy discussion about the script and after an hour and he said that Kristen wanted to speak to me. Kristen and I spoke a few days later and she said that she didn’t sleep well the night before as she watched A Separation, because the film deeply affected her. She liked the film and my performance, and we continued talking.
The following week, I came to America, where I went to Peter Sattler’s house and met with Kristen along with Lane Garrison, who played in Prison Break.
MZ: What did you talk about there?
PM: Kristen said she knew a lot about me, including that I performed in a play written by the late Samuel Beckett. The more I spoke with her, I realized that she has a lot of knowledge about theater and books, and I appreciated that.
We talked about the characters in Camp X-Ray and we would talk every day, over lunches and dinners.
MZ: What do you think of Camp X-Ray director and writer Peter Sattler? And how was his film received at festivals?
PM: I knew Peter Sattler from before, a really great human. Behind any big project, a great man is standing. Peter Sattler is this kind of man. Like Asghar Farhadi, a great director, a great man, who was behind A Separation.
I am very to be in the first film by Peter Sattler. This film was at the Sundance Film Festival and they gave him a lot of great feedback for it. Critics gave great reviews for it, and now it will be going to festivals in France, England, Abu Dabi and others.
In this film, I don’t play an Iranian, I play ‘Ali’. I was glad to see that not one Iranian is imprisoned in Guantanamo.
MZ: What do you expect from Iranian audiences in regards to this film?
PM: Because this film not political and more of a human story, I expect that Iranians will come see the film as critics gave us praise for the film. I would like to see Iranians come and support this film by watching it.
What is it that sets Peter Sattler apart as a filmmaker? Why do you believe he’s going to have a long career?
Lane Garrison: “Well, working with directors and, especially as an actor, you want somebody that has a clear-cut vision. I mean, nowadays because of the editing process and everything else, you’ll get guys who are just technical directors, who will shoot 30 different ways just because they’re just going to let somebody choose the scene. Whereas Peter, even if you had an idea, Peter would really think about it before he’d give you his answer and usually it was, ‘No. I see it as this,’ which is great.
Kristen and I wold come to Peter like, ‘What if this?’ and he would give us the time of day and he’d be like, ‘No, I think it’s more like this.’ It’s almost like you’re going into war to begin with. You want to follow the general who’s got the vision, and he definitely has that. It’s his storytelling and I just see him doing great film after great film. In fact, I’ve been bugging him, saying, ‘Hurry up with your next one because I want to be in it!’”
This was a very emotional project so how did you deal with that on the set?
Lane Garrison: “We were dealing with some intense material and obviously there was dark and powerful stuff going on, so Kristen and I, because of that, in between takes we built a driving range at the prison. We’d play basketball. She’s a phenomenal athlete. I’m a big athlete. We would be joking in between takes just to lighten the mood because where we were shooting and what the subject matter was.
I loved working with her. She is a true professional and she is incredible in this movie. This is the best thing she’s done. It’s her best performance yet and it’s going to put her in another league.”
At the end of the day when the shoot was over, was it easy for you to fall asleep?
Lane Garrison: “You know what? It wasn’t with this one. I mean, I took a lot of memories with me, and a lot from the past too, and I’ve really lived in this guy’s shoes. Luckily it was only just under a month we shot this film, which is incredible. So luckily I didn’t have to live in that world for too long. But, yeah, I definitely took this guy home with me.
It’s funny. Kristen used to joke with me and when I’d come to set and in between takes, she’d just say, ‘You’re a little too good at this. You’re taking this a little too far.’ I had to walk away from it, from playing Randy when we were done. I really believe that people are going to respond to this film and respond to all the actors in it and the storytelling. I’m glad that I went to that dark place and I’m glad that I emotionally got there and lived in that world, so I think it definitely helped.”
You were talking about Kristen’s performance and there’s one scene in particular that was very powerful between the two of you. How difficult was that to film?
Lane Garrison: “It’s always an interesting thing because you’re filming something that’s so intimate, yet there’s 100 people watching. It would be one thing if it was like this passionate love scene but this was kind of aggressive, violent, and uncomfortable, and I think it helped us having everybody there because we wanted it to feel uncomfortable. Now, I will say that in between each take I was definitely running to the craft service cart and popping breath mints like there’s no tomorrow. [Laughing] Just to make sure Kristen’s like, ‘Oh my god, you have perfect breath!’ It was kind of funny in that sense.
But working with Kristen, she’s a young actress who is a movie star. She’s going to go so far because how trusting she is and how willing she is to go through whatever level we need to go to to get the performance. And we just went all in. It’s not in the film, but on the first take I told her to hit me as hard as she could. I said, ‘Do not hold back.’ We’ve earned that trust and she did it. I got so angry that I punched through the wall. I punched straight through the wall and went insane. I thought that for sure that would be in the movie. Everybody was clapping and going nuts and it really helped set the tone for that scene. It didn’t make the film because Peter felt like he wouldn’t have been redeemable after that, after going to that level. I was shocked by it, Kristen was shocked by it, but I understood when I saw the film. But having that happen on the first take helped us get to that intensity. It’s actually my favorite scene in the movie.”