The Call is a cautionary tale/thriller about an emergency service phone operator, who gets far too involved with a call. The film is directed by Brad Anderson and boasts quite a brutal and unorthodox script.
Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) has already lost the life of one PR (person reporting) due to her actions. She’s determined to not let the same happen again when Casey (Abigail Breslin) is abducted by murderous psychopath Michael Foster (Michael Eklund) and dials 911. The Call is a fairly unpredictable thriller that’ll keep you tethered to your seat, if nothing else.
The film is released in the UK on the 20th of September, and in the interview below I talk to Canadian actor Michael Eklund who plays the inherently deranged villain in the film. We talk his experience working with Brad Anderson again, and playing Michael Foster, as well as his own film preferences, his experiences as an actor, and what drives him in this business.
On The Call:
How did you first approach The Call? How did you get into the project, and what was your response to the script?
When I approached it, it was my second collaboration with Brad Anderson. We’d worked once before and had a great working relationship. I was naturally interested in working with Brad again, so I was brought on board for The Call.
I was sent it, I read it, read it as a thrill-chase movie. It seemed like fun.
In The Call you played the unstable criminal Michael Foster. How did you go about playing this character?
When I approached the character, I wanted to do it from a realistic point of view. Mental illness over simply being ‘the bad guy’. Michael has an addiction, a sickness, an illness because of his past involving his sister. Brad and me wanted to give humanity to the character, instead of your typical movie psycho. Michael feels guilt for his crimes, but he HAS to commit them.
Was adding personality to the character of Michael a challenge, considering your limited screentime?
Yeah, well there was a lot more of that, more development in his characterisation, but it had to be cut due to time constraints. Some of that stuff from The Call just came out. I remember a scene when I was driving, waiting for the lights to turn green. I started to chatter, and grind my teeth while in character. That wasn’t something that was planned, it was just something in the mind-space of the character, one of those interesting quirks that develop, and help mould your performance. Another instance was Michael’s photo on the database, with that big comical grin (see video below).
How was working with Halle Berry, and the cast of The Call?
Halle Berry was wonderful, and Abigail was amazing. I bonded with the two girls – it was a must considering the conditions and the physicality required. Inherently there’s a lot of trust involved too with that kind of closeness necessary for certain scenes.
Not to go into specifics, but the ending of The Call was quite controversial, and surprising. What do you think about the way the film finished?
Well, it’s very open-ended, and I think that was the intention.
Before we move on, do you have any anecdotes or stories from The Call you’d like to share?
Something I was told about recently happened on the first day of shooting when I abducted Abigail at the mall, at the beginning of the film. I was still trying to find the balance of the character. I was just doing my actor thing, trying to be the character. There’s a lot of downtime when you’re shooting a film so I was just walking down the mall, in character, as Michael Foster. The producers later told me that the security guards got a call about a strange guy walking around the mall who was looking shifty and suspicious. That was me as Michael, and luckily the producers told the security not to take action.
On other work and experiences:
You had a part in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Many people have commented on how chaotic it is to work with Terry Gilliam, and on his sets, because of how big a visionary he is. How would you describe your experience working with Terry?
I can only speak from my experience working with him, but the two days I had on set were two of the best days I’ve ever had on set. The imagination is the key to the chaos, and maybe the others around him don’t understand the vision he has in his own mind, but once you trust it, trust that he knows what’s going on, everything runs smooth.
The Imagination of Doctor Parnassus was an interesting film, especially so because of Heath Ledger‘s final role. I don’t often mention this but there were early talks that I was originally penned to fill a part of Heath Ledger’s role at the end. Earlier on, I met Terry and we had a lengthy discussion about me coming on board. There was a responsibility involved in doing that, and because everyone respected Heath so much, it was so important for everyone to finish his role for him. Unfortunately the spot was filled, Gilliam found a role for me, and of course I was happy to play any role in his film. I’ve very strong memories of working on that film. But for a time, it was very exciting to even be considered, to even be thought of.
I’m a big fan of your work in Errors of the Human Body, a stunningly good psychological thriller that came out last year. Do you have any experiences or stories from working on that?
Shooting in Germany was definitely a trip for me. Such a beautiful place. We were shooting at an actual genetic facility in Dresden – a real lab that just opened up it’s doors for us to shoot. The scientists in the background as extras were actually just scientists. That was just them working and going about their daily business. It’s kind of surreal. There were certain rooms where they said ‘Sure, you can film here’, and others where they said ‘Don’t go in there, you will die’. Then we had a few days just learning how to treat mice, how to handle them. The funny thing is mice actually resonate from your energy so it was kind of an exercise in knowing how to calm yourself, and your mood.
What was it like shooting The Marine 3?
The Marine 3: Homefront was a fun film. It was great to be working with WWE studios once again. It was like grown-ups acting like kids, playing guns. It was very fun. Absolutely no complaints.
On being an actor, preferences, style, and inspirations:
You’ve played quiet a few villainy characters, but obviously Dr.Geoff Burton from Errors of the Human Body was a dire contrast. What kind of roles do you prefer, and what kind of direction would you like to take as an actor, going forward?
The darker villain characters will always be there, when it’s called for, but my heart falls more into the storytelling of the character. That’s what interests me about a character, that he’s going through something, be it good guy or bad guy. So as far as future journeys, more interesting parts, and more interesting directors I just want to tell some intriguing stories.
Do you think there’s currently more room for ‘bad guys’ than there are ‘good guys’ as a way of an actor breaking into the business?
It’s interesting, Hollywood’s an interesting thing. Traditionally, when there’s a good guy, there’s always a bad guy. When I watch movies these days, everyone seems to be the bad guy. Look at shows like Dexter, Hannibal, Bates Motel. They all give a voice to the darker side and why these people are the way they are. As far as more roles for bad guys, I think there are, because people find more enjoyment in watching them. Rather that than watching the cookie-cutter good guys who kiss their wives and plod off happily to work. It kind of shows the way the world is going as well.
On the topic of bad guys, who are some of your favourite bad guys from films?
Favourite bad guys? There’s so many of them. Daniel Day-Lewis, in Gangs of New York as Bill the butcher. He’s pretty high on the totem pole. Mickey Rourke in the Barfly, not necessarily a bad guy in traditional sense, but definitely not a good person.I have to throw Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight in there. His work in that movie is untouchable.
Can you name some actors, directors, and movies that inspire you?
I wanted to be an actor when I was like 5 years old. Then I started getting older and started watching films properly, as you do. The first actor that made me want to get into acting was another fellow Canadian actor Kiefer Sunderland. And then as I got older, I started to appreciate Daniel Day-Lewis, and actors like Sam Rockwell. A film that made me realise, as a kid, that you can shoot for your dreams is Dead Poets Society. It’s cliche but I grew with it. These days I’m a big Jean-Luc Godard fan, Breathless in particular. Sam Rockwell’s work in Moon is on the top of my favourites too.
Are there any directors or actors you’d like to work with in particular?
Daniel Day-Lewis any day. I’d even just like to sit at a table with Daniel Day-Lewis, for even 15 minutes, just to pick his brain. It’d be a dream to work with him. As for a director, perhaps the director of Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn. I really liked his work on that movie.
How would you define your acting ‘style’?
I didn’t come from an acting school or have any formal training of any kind. I just had that idea, it’s just based on extensive knowledge of the actors I watch, who inspire me. If you just want me to read lines then you don’t have the right actor. I like to bring the character off the page, bring a personality to the character. That’s what my responsibility is as an actor, to provide that life to the character, that creation. That’s what I’m supposed to do – take what’s been written, and make it 3 dimensional, in ‘real life’. That’s what’s so amazing and magical about this business. Without storytelling all we have is the news, and that’s depressing as hell.
Are there any projects you’re working on now that you could tell us about?
Well recently I’ve been in the world of the Bates Motel, just finished shooting that. Other than that, I’m starring in a movie about Eadweard Muybridge, a 19th century British photographer who really innovated the moving picture. It’s a great story, with such depth and I can’t wait until it hit theatres.
We’d like to thanks Michael for taking time out to speak with us. You can catch him in the upcoming second season of Bates Motel, playing Zane Carpenter, but before that The Call is unleashed on UK audiences next Friday, September 20.
We’ll leave you with a trailer for the movie.