Table-ronde - Catacombes – table ronde Ben Feldman (vo)
Par Mulder, Paris, Mandarin Oriental, le 4 août 2014
Q : What attracted you to this project in the first place ? Did you always want to get down to the catacombs in Paris, or was it working with the directors, or was it the script proposed that got you going on this movie ?
Ben Feldman : This movie... I will start by saying : I am not a fan of horror movies. They bore me. I don't know why, and most of my friends who are smarter and cooler than me all love them. It's just, something about them is not interesting to me. And this particular one was more than just a horror movie. It's Indiana Jonesy, it's Dan Browny. There's a lot of information that one can learn, and real stuff. You can go home after reading the script or seeing the movie and wikipedia anything that you saw, and it really exists to some degree, whether it's historical or folk. And that's what I loved about it when I first read it. It's real stuff. And so you learn a lot. And the characters are cool, they are real people. You're not just watching archetypes, you're not just watching like the « chubby best friend ». They are like real people, and you are sad when terrible things happen to them.
Q : How was it to act in this sort of found-footage style ? How did you approach the fact to be on a camera that was attached to someone else's head ?
Feldman : Well, I mean in some ways it was really different because there were little cameras, it's different from all the unique methods of capturing a lot of the scenes. But in other ways, it was like any movie : there were set-ups, and coverage, and you need to look this way, and you need to look that way… It was interesting, it kept you sort of engaged and excited, because it felt a little novel, bizarre and exhausting because the camera is unpredictable. You really don't know what shots can be next or where the camera is going to look. You can’t phone it in, when you are shooting a movie like that, which is always fun for me.
Q : I imagine that it was physically demanding
Feldman : Yeah. My wife, for instance, has a really, really long exhausting job and works really, really hard. And I can't complain about anything at the end of my day. Ultimately, I put on make-up and say some words and that's my job for the day. This movie was an exception to that rule, because the work days are shorter here in France, but you really feel that you’ve earned your place in the credits at the end of the day, because you spent all day screaming and sobbing, and watching people die, and getting dragged on stone, and you're freezing, and you're wet, and you're covered in blood, and you're claustrophobic, what feels like miles away from bathrooms or luxury. So yeah, it’s exhausting but in the best way. You feel it was a really hard day's work, and you’ve earned your right to complain at the end of the day. My wife still disagrees, but ...
Q : What this movie did to me was giving me a feeling of unease, of panic, of freaking out actually, in those dark sequences where you see nothing, then you see something walk by. As an actor, were you panicked ? Were you really afraid, really freaked out, down there ?
Feldman : Not really. I don't even believe in ghosts and stuff, so it wasn't that level of fear. I think I was more scared of getting lost. I mean, it's a labyrinth. It's like a massive labyrinth and if you stop following someone for a second, you can potentially be lost for days. So that's scary. And it's claustrophobic, it's dark, and it's small, but I don't think anybody really panicked. I don't think anybody had any major claustrophobia issues. But yeah, to your point about when I actually watch the movie I think the coolest things about this is that the scares are not continuous. It's not constantly going “BOUH BOUH BOUH !” You're not just getting slammed, it's more anticipation and what's going to happen that keeps you on a consistent level of panic the entire time. That's what I really, really liked about this particular film.
Q : What was it about the history and the mythology that you really liked ?
Feldman : Well, someone asked me before about the catacombs and if I'd thought about, if I was excited. I’ve never given much thought to that. We really spent an entire summer on a crash course, learning about the history of Paris in 18th century. I never thought, where does the limestone from Notre Dame come from ? And now, I'm fully aware of where that came from. And to learn all of that in general, all of that was really exciting and fun. I went out of my way to geek out : I would google bridges before we shot under them. That was an all around nerd fest and a lot of fun to do. That's what is so great about this movie : it's not just a haunted house with ghosts, where actors are running around screaming. There is real stuff and you can go look it up and continue to learn and find out about it, and potentially be freaked out by it long after you’re done watching the movie.
Q : Is that one of the joys of this kind of acting, the fact you can be sort of a journeyman, through various different areas of interest ?
Feldman : Yes. When I shoot out of town, I have my own cast and they use to call me “crew's director”. Because a lot of times, actors are really boring and they are sitting in their hotel rooms the entire time. They go to the gym, order room service and that's it. I'm the one who's like “this restaurant just opened, I made us all a reservation, we have to go ! This museum, this exhibit is only here for one more day !” I'm that guy. And if you want to be that guy, it's the greatest gig in the world to be an actor, and to shoot on location. It's so much fun. So yes, it's one of my favourite things ever. And this movie, living in Paris for two months, was like the coolest thing anybody could ever hope to do.
Q : So where did you have dinner last night ?
Feldman : You know what's funny ? Everything is closed because it's August. It sucks, I was looking up the one restaurant I wanted to go to last summer but I didn't go to, which is closed tonight and maybe for August in general. And my other favourite restaurant, Frenchie, is closed because they are renovating. But I think I spent every penny I had on food and booze last summer in Paris, because it’s not cheap.
Q : But this movie didn't change your general attitude towards horror movies ?
Feldman : No, it didn't. But this one is particular, I swear to God, it's not like press bullshit, go tell your friends to go see this movie. It's really a cool movie. But no, I will not see other horror movies.
Q : The last few episodes of Mad Men are in the can now. Does Michael come back at all ?
Feldman : I'm not allowed to tell you that. I’ve been asked that question before. It’s like boot camp on how to dodge questions constantly. I can talk about anything that’s aired.
Q : What an incredible show ! What an incredible run for that show ! I guess now must be the time at which you can start to reflect on it ?
Feldman : It was surreal to join one of my favourite things ever. As far as TV shows go, Mad Men’s up there with The Wire, The Sopranos and a couple of others. They are the greatest ever. And now True Detective. But to walk into that world was a crazy experience that is impossible to explain to anybody who hasn't been lucky enough to do it. I didn't understand it before. I've been on shows that I had seen. But I never walked into a world that I was in love with. It blew my mind, it was crazy, so yes, I miss him. But I like doing things that I'm allowed to talk about to the press.
Q : I'm really interested in this process of shooting a found footage movie. How do you prepare for this kind of movie, where you know that you will need to talk to the camera, where you know that you will need to do certain stuff that you won't have to do when it's a conventional movie ? Is it off putting at first or is it something where you're actually saying “that's great, because we’ll have do some improvisation work” ? What are your feelings towards that ?
Feldman : I think the only real difference in good acting and bad acting, is good acting is telling the truth, listening and being committed to that. That's it. If there was a way to teach a human that, then every human could be the best actor in the planet. But it's hard to do. And I think when you do a movie like this, where it's found footage, you can’t phone anything in, you have to be real at all times. You have to be thinking, and telling the truth, and speaking as the character, and at any moment the camera can come around and catch you doing something. You can’t fake it. It's an actor’s boot camp. It's really cool and fun to do. I had a lot of fun doing it.
Q : And how do you describe acting to be real instead of, for example, acting Mad Men. Is it different ? Could you describe it ?
Feldman : Well, I mean it's real too. They are different vehicles for the same thing, which if you hope to be good at what you do, again, like I said, it's just telling the truth. Mad Men threw a couple of obstacles in my way : with an accent, ridiculous clothes, strange looking moustache, stuff like that. But you just have to fight your way through these obstacles, and inevitably tell the truth. But there's a stylized aspect in Mad Men, even just in the dialogs and the way it's written. Even if you're not trying to be stylized, it is built into the way it moves, kind of musically. In this movie, there isn't. It's barebones. It’s real and in any given moment you're reacting to something that is not necessarily scripted, so you have to constantly be engaged and focused, and again : tell the truth. To do that while screaming is very difficult.
Q : Is there some benefits in playing someone, on a show like Mad Men, where you're not Don Draper ? For you, there's a real separation between actor and character. Do you think that is a benefit to having that ? Everyone is going to know your work for Mad Men, but at the same time they are going to follow you on others journeys as well. They're not constantly looking for Michael Ginsberg.
Feldman : Yes, I think I specifically got really lucky. I mean, I can't speak for all of Mad Men. I think one of my earliest scenes shooting, Aaron Staton plays Ken Cosgrove, we were shooting something in a bar, and we were talking about how Mad Men gets cast. He said “Matt doesn’t just cast actors to play these parts, he finds people who are very much the character in real life. I'm so this character.” And I was like “yeah but come on, I'm playing a lunatic, a deranged lunatic !” And he was like “you will see”. And he was absolutely right : by the end of the show, I sort of fit into that cast socially, as kind of a neurotic weirdo. And so there are certainly aspects of me in the character. But yes, at the same time, it's so far away from the other characters that I do. It is really cool that everybody got to see that, because ultimately, no matter what I did, the next thing I did, people were going to go “Oh my God, that's so different than Ginsberg”. And I wouldn't even have to try, just anything I do is going to make me look like I have range.
Q : Is there a sense of intense community with a movie like this one ? The cast is small but you have to go through such immense physical and emotional hardships.
Feldman : Yes, for a number of reasons. I mean, geographically, we were all far away from home. None of us were really where we live. So it's camp, over the summer. When you shoot something on location, there's a built in sort of familial camaraderie that you don't have if you're shooting something in Los Angeles. So there's that. Then there's the fact that you are underground, far away from any sort of comfort or luxury. You are in these little tiny narrow caves, immediately you're thrust into these really close relationships that way. And then there's the emotional aspect, when you are screaming and running for your life. So yes, it's a perfect storm. If anybody in this cast stopped, it would have been a disaster, but the cast was super cool, we got really lucky.
Q : Do you think that there are jobs that stick more in your memory than others ? Would this have been one of those ?
Feldman : Oh, for sure. I mean, I got to spend the summer in Paris, shooting in these ancient caves. Every aspect of this entire experience is certainly memorable. And also as a conversation piece : there's rarely a job I do where I come home from it and all of my friends actually want to listen to me talk about myself. For a narcissist, it was fantastic after this. It was like to go home and talk forever about what my summer was like in Paris. Because it's a really strange, bizarre thing that nobody ever gets to do. This is certainly memorable.
Q : What about any other highlights ?
Feldman : Of memorable experiences in shows ? Yes, you know it's funny, I remember places really well and all of them have their own unique … I was talking about Friday the 13th before, and I remember Austin and weirdly from that cast are some of my best friends today, for whatever strange reason because that was years ago and we are still best friends. I remember shooting something in Boston and Toronto. I remember places I think, because I geek out on travel. So that's what I take with me, I think. So to live in Paris for two months : that for sure takes the cake.
Q : Are there any kind of places where you would want to work in, that you haven’t had the opportunity to work in ?
Feldman : I always wanted to go to the jungle, like the Amazon. The farther away the better. I mean, I’d be thrilled to be working somewhere in Asia. You know, I did a movie that shot on an airplane, a functioning airplane with actual passengers, who were not thrilled that we were shooting this movie. And we shot it to Sydney and back. So my only experience in Australia was like a day and a morning in Sydney, and then we flew all the way back again. We did the same thing for London, and then Dallas. That was definitely one of my more memorable experiences … Wait, what was your question ? Oh yeah, so I'd like to go back to Australia. And weirdly : New York. I've only worked like one month in New York, and it's my favourite city ever, so I’m dying to just go back and do something cool over there. I like cities, any city in the world. I'm happy to walk out of a trailer and be in the middle of a metropolitan area.
Q : What's next ?
Feldman : Next for me is a television show called A to Z, that comes out in the States in October. I don't know how it works anywhere else. It's an NBC show and it's adorable, and it's funny, and there's a really cool cast. Once, this movie comes out, that's the main project.