HNS attended the press day for A Cure For Wellness this past week and spoke with actors Dane DeHaan and Mia Goth as well as Director Gore Verbinski. Check out what they had to say about this suspenseful film below!
So how torturous was this film? Because they put you through a lot!
Dane: Yeah, I went through a lot for sure. It was really, it was physically and psychologically demanding. It was like a 5 month shoot. It was tough. But I like things to be tough. There were torturous days, as there should have been given the nature of what happens in the movie. But yeah, ultimately it was really rewarding.
This film plays a lot into phobias. Can you share some of yours?
Dane: I think I’m most afraid of roller coasters. I really hate them. When I’m like on them and I’m going up the hill, before you go down the hill, I have a full-on panic attack and start crying and get convinced I’m gonna die. So yeah, roller coasters.
So it’s been a while since you’ve rode a roller coaster?
Dane: Yeah, it has. Every once in a while someone will convince me to get on one but it will always be a mistake. No matter how small the roller coaster is, I freak out.
Can you describe working alongside Mia and Gore for the film?
Dane: Mia is great. She’s just really talented and she was really I think perfectly cast for this movie and she created such a great character. Hannah has to be this really strange bird, and I think she really captured that. She’s so present and organic and talks and listens, and she’s really everything you could ask for in an acting partner. She makes the job easier that way. And Gore, it was great working with Gore. I’m in almost every frame of the movie, so I was there every single day, working with him for 5 months and he’s a very visual director but we had a big collaboration about the performance and about bringing the audience along this journey, keeping it tense, but not blowing the lid. And he’s very slow and methodical. And I can get behind that. I can be a slow and methodical person as well and you know he’s so visual, in the end it became about bringing his vision to life.
Did you shoot linearly? Because you start out as strong as a character and you deconstruct the whole time. So did you get to shoot in a linear fashion?
So you have to remember where you’re at?
Dane: Totally, yeah. Which was a big part of it, and more so than other movies because it’s really like a step-by-step journey. You know, one week I’m walking down the hall, entering the corner, but we might not shoot the scene where I turn the corner for three months. So that was a big challenge, kind of making the performance make sense and have the right arc. Was more of a challenge on this one than in other films for sure.
I have been on crutches before and I felt for your character, having to go from A to B. What was that physically taxing like to you?
Dane: It wasn’t the most physically challenging part of the movie, but yeah it was an extra obstacle for sure. I grew to love them. I grew to love those crutches. I really look at them as like a… for an actor, any time you can have more obstacles, almost the easier it makes your job, and they were such a great obstacle to have and you know when you have to run upstairs like it’s just more compelling to do it on crutches than to do it without crutches. Gore wanted me to do things faster a lot of time and I just couldn’t do that. ‘Hey, can you run up those stairs faster?’ ‘Uh no.. I’m on crutches, this is as fast as I go.’ [laughs] But yeah I grew to love them, but yeah I can’t say I was like happy to get in the cast everyday, but I look back fondly on those crutches and the cast for sure.
What’s your consumption of water now?
Dane: Well after this, I actually started drinking a lot of water. Just cause I was training for another movie, so I started drinking a ton of water. You know it hasn’t really changed my outlook on water so much as it has like my experience of going to a spa. That’s definitely not the same… and I don’t think it will be for a lot of people that see the movie. Gore always says what Jaws did for a day at the beach, we want to do for a day at the spa and umm he pretty much did that for me.
Do you prefer a more sterilized environment, working on a set like at a studio or does it help when you’re on a different location like Germany/ Switzerland? How does it help you in your performance?
Dane: Well I think it helps anytime I can be in a real place, I guess ultimately I prefer that. But I also like to challenge myself in different ways and sometimes the challenge can be having to use imagination more. But in a movie like this, a lot of the stuff was practical, and there was a lot of other stuff to worry about so the fact that we were mostly in real locations or even that the sets looked so real was a huge help for sure.
Did you get to do anything fun in Germany?
Dane: Yeah, we like ate really good food. Berlin has awesome food. We were in this town tubing, they have canals. We took a boat ride around there. We took a bunch of boat rides actually. Boat rides in Berlin, and I saw a bunch of art in Berlin. Yeah, I did some fun things.
You play vulnerable very, very well. How easy was it to tap into that? Do you look for that in a movie where the character has a broad range of emotions?
Dane: I don’t know. I don’t know if I would call it easy. It’s just what I like to do. I like to figure out complicated people and what makes them human. And humanity is interesting to me. I love taking complicated people like Andrew in Chronicle or Lockhart in Cure for Wellness and saying like, well it’s obvious who these people are on the surface, but who are they underneath and what drives them forward and what drives them as humans? That’s just one of the reasons I do this.
How did you shoot the scene with the tube in your mouth?
Dane: Well they had like, the thing was in my mouth, but it had a stopper. So when he put the tube in my mouth, it would stop eventually once they got the prop right after a couple rounds of testing. And then they had, I basically did these head casts for the dentist scene and for the tube scene where my mouth was in like the different positions that it would be in and then they could take a tube and actually shove it into this dummy’s head that looked like mine to make a composite image. But someone was asking me about it the other day, I was doing an interview with Gore, and he said actually a lot of it is just the actual shot and Jason pretending to put it in with his hands and then my reaction and sound and that kind of sells it.
There’s obviously a lot of themes of health and wellness and eternal life. Did any of those speak to you in particular?
Dane: I think it’s good questions to ask and questions I ask a lot. Like why, whether it’s like a pill or a juice cleanse or whatever it is, like why do people obsess over these things? At what point does it become unhealthy to rely on the cure? For me, life is all about balance. That’s what I’ve learned. Not to be so healthy that you’re unhealthy but not to be so unhealthy that you’re unhealthy. Just to be a balanced individual, that’s kind of what I strive for. But yeah, it puts those questions into your head for sure.
To you, what would be the cure?
Dane: Balance like I said, it’s all about balance. It’s in a way almost about not worrying about a cure, like the cure is not worrying about the cure. Because the cure can be worse than the disease you know. There will always be side effects. And the more you seek out wellness and betterness, I think in a way the more chance you have hurting yourself and it’s just about achieving balance.
What did you take away from the film? Because obviously like you said, it doesn’t really fit into a genre and people’s reactions are so varied.
Dane: I think that’s really cool. I think all the art I like is polarizing. That’s exciting to me. Like that’s what creates conversation and reaction and you know, that’s cool. I’m really happy to be a part of something so original and I hope that people go and see it and embrace it because I think it will allow us to make other original content, other movies that everyone doesn’t have the same opinion of and I think that’s cool and exciting and ultimately more provocative. Whether you love it or hate it, you’re going to be talking about it.
How was it working with Gore and Dane in this film?
Mia: It was amazing. It really was. With Dane, I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time and I’ve always wanted to work with him. And Gore really knows what he wants, always. Like he would storyboard each day. And you’d know exactly what he would want from each shot and he wouldn’t compromise on that. And that just makes you feel very safe, you can trust him. He’s got the whole film in his head at all times.
How did you prepare for it [the film]?
Mia: One of the things that struck me was that Hannah is much younger than everyone else at the sanitarium, I mean she doesn’t quite fit into this puzzle. And so one thing that I thought would be a good idea would be to volunteer at an old person’s home to try and have an understanding of what that would be like, to be around elderly people and to kind of just get accustomed to that. And yeah I took a lot from that when I went into shoot.
Hannah is so isolated. How did you approach that aspect of her?
Mia: I think that has more to do with understanding Hannah as a whole. She never left the sanitarium and so as the result of that, her perspective of the world and her positioning in it and the people is quite peculiar and naïve at times and maybe sometimes a little too trusting. So I kind of tried to look at it through that lens, I guess. A big part of that was being able to tap into my inner kid.
Mia: I remember it very clearly, I got an email from my agent with the audition and the script, and so I read the script that night in one sitting from front to back. One of the things that struck me first was how well written it was. And I’d think that I knew where it was going and then it would take me in a complete turn and it wouldn’t let you predict what was going to happen at all, and that was really exciting. And to work with Gore on a genre he helped define back with The Ring that was really exciting for me too.
Was there really stuff in that tub that you slide into? Like the eels we saw?
Mia: No, no actually. It makes it sound a lot more boring now, doesn’t it?
Mia: It was. But they put a mold of me and my body in the bathtub and then I had to like lay in this awkward position for like four hours. And then I watched Good Will Hunting. And they fed me Coca-Cola through the straw.
So that was all you?
Mia: Yeah, the upper half is and then they CGI’ed the lower half of the body. Some things I still don’t understand how they did it.
What about the bike ride? Was that easy?
Mia: Like after maybe seven tries then it got easy. But no, it was quite difficult at first. And the rig like almost fell off the first time, and that was pretty dangerous. And there was a steep hill. But it was pretty fun.
What do you think about the whole subject of people pursuing wellness or to stay young or stay alive? Because the film basically speaks to that.
Mia: It’s a thought provoking film. Everything from the title on is really sparking conversation. And it’s asking you some uncomfortable questions. Are you happy with life? Are you content? Is this relentless pursuit of power and love actually pointless? And I think it’s very relevant in the climate that we’re in these days today and relatable, and I think, I hope one of the things people leave with when watching our movie is it’s going to make them think about the society we live in. And yeah that’s the other thing too, is like Gore really doesn’t underestimate his audience. You really have to come into the movie with your head turned on. You probably have to watch it a couple times to really pick up on everything.
[About Hannah being seen as the hero of the film]
Mia: I never read it and saw myself as the hero of the film in any way. But I see how you can see that. I saw it more as her being the purity and the cure that everyone else in the film is so desperately seeking and yet she’s trying to get away from that. And I saw the relationship between Lockhart and Hannah, they were kind of like the pinprick to one another, they were mirror to one another. They showed the good bits and the not-so-good things. And it’s only when they meet each other that this unraveling begins.
For the character, when you read the script, in preparation, were there any medical case studies you reviewed/ any type of files of maybe children who were deprived as kids or experienced traumatic instances in their life that you could draw your character on?
Mia: No, because I never saw Hannah as someone who felt that she was deprived. I never felt that Hannah was a victim. She’s a product of her environment and Volmer, Jason Isaac’s character, is very much her hope. She very much believes in the things he’s telling her. And this is the route to get there.
Is there anything you learned from Hannah?
Mia: Patience. I think Hannah’s an incredibly patient young woman and I think that’s something I’m still trying to work on myself.
Another topic is eternal life – the view that everybody is consistently seeking the fountain of youth?
Mia: I think that it’s unfortunate that we give so much regard and respect to things that come with age and material things and property and everything but people. I think that’s a sad truth. And unfortunately that’s the society we live in. I don’t think I would seek out to extend my life. I think it’s about having gratitude for what you have in the time you’re given. I think people can live an 80 year life and never be grateful, and only when you’re grateful can you really be happy. I think it’s just about being present, and living in the moment and enjoying each day as if it’s your last. It sounds cheesy, but I think it’s a good philosophy to live by.
I think the film lends to that message, right?
Mia: That’s what I think the cure for wellness is, it’s gratitude. With the money you have, your life, your wealth.
Director Gore Verbinski
So Dane and Mia are such distinguished characters. What was the casting process like, because they’re both so unique?
Gore: Dane’s character, when Justin and I were writing him sort of intentionally as a bit of an asshole. He has to be vulnerable to the diagnosis of this place. And he has to have a greater distance to fall. I think this sort of concept of diagnosis as a form of absolution, like you’re not responsible for the things you’ve done in your life because you’re not well. It’s like a note from a Doctor. And that’s a narcotic for these people when you get into this lotus-eaters, or there’s a reason they want to stay there when they arrive and they don’t want to leave, and that’s the beginning and so casting Dane was knowing that we had a character that was sort of infinitely not likable. It was important to have that inhabited by an actor who you continually want to watch. And he has a real singularity about him, I think there’s something unusual about him. And as he starts to have doubts, we start to emphasize with him throughout the process. And then Mia’s a really difficult role because we… it’s almost like something like Shelley Duval in The Shining, and so we’re writing this character and going ‘Who are we going to cast this? Who are we going to get to play this part?’ Because you can’t really put on mannerisms to fake that. She’s been kept in this place, but it’s like if you have an in-depth conversation with somebody who grew up in North Korea… there’s a cult, you’re going to have a world view that’s going to be, it’s not naïve, it’s like no this is a belief system. And she’s watched these old people come and be processed, she has a really interesting perspective in the way you know when a child asks you why, by the third time you’re usually into something pretty profound. You’re usually saying that’s a pretty good question because you can’t answer it. It has to do with you know, why do we lie to people to make them feel better? And there’s some beautiful truth to that. And she came in and read and it was like ‘Done!’ You know because when you meet her, that’s who she is. I don’t want to say no acting required, she’s really in the moment but it’s a very specific tone. I can’t imagine someone pretending to be what she is. She was born to play Hannah.
For Lockhart, in the beginning of the movie, he’s a Wall Street guy who we learn did some type of under-handed trading to get his position. How did you write that character and make him into someone we’re going to cheer for?
Gore: Well that’s what I mean by, the place is designed to prey upon people like that. Heads of industry and people who have achieved things, succeeded at all costs. But the bill comes due. What is wellness? Is it money, is it success? What is wellness? And I think really to sort of say he has it, he’s younger than the rest and he has the sickness in his face. And also I think when he’s reading that letter from Pembroke, I feel like it’s speaking to his core being. Even when you’re in denial, you sense something. He probably would not articulate it, but he probably knows he doesn’t make a coal pot or shoes or a guitar, he makes money off of other people who make money off of other people who make money off of people who make things. So there’s a real identity issue here. Like who am I? Like what is my service? Net worth versus self worth, what is my purpose? What am I? And I think that that’s what this place… he’s almost reverse-engineered to be susceptible to this diagnosis.
Because the character is destructed over the course of the movie, how did you keep that emotional space, how did you keep track of that?
Gore: Yeah, that’s the hardest part honestly. Particularly because it’s very difficult these days to get the means to make a large movie if you don’t have a theme park ride or a toy or a comic book or something. So we had to stay relatively modest in our size so that we could move quickly. So we shot at the castle exterior for 11 days, and then we were on the other side of Germany where we found this old hospital that was abandoned and covered in graffiti and we repainted in and put some new windows in. And then we needed a swimming pool so we drove to a little town, we found a swimming pool there that kind of had tile that was sort of the same color. We built a little hallway transition that we painted to get us through and none of that is shot in chronological order. We had a little bit of a set on stage that caught on fire, in the ending we burned the stage down, so we had to come back a month later. So the whole plan was the most out of order filming I think I’ve ever done. And to manage his performance, because you know the lid is rattling, the water’s boiling, he’s in that place where he’s just. To say walk down the corridor, turn left and you’re going to be in the scene we shot 20 days earlier, or we’re going to the scene we’re going to shoot in a month. It becomes a very specific conversation and you’re going to rehearse, you almost have to back up even though we’re not in that space yet, we back up and just run the scene before [to get him in that space] you have to, we’re cutting this piece, you know the piece is going to end up in the movie but you kind of need all that stuff before and after even when you’re just getting that piece, it won’t sit.
Speaking of tension and creating unease in an audience, can you talk about the tone and the aesthetics of the film?
Gore: What I love about the genre is you have – there’s two ways to tell the story, there’s the hand on the back like leading somebody through narrative, which is a sure hand. And you see that works for Rango or Pirates. And then there’s the breadcrumb approach, where you’re letting them nibble through the maze and I think if you can bring that to bare, the little squeaky door on your forehead opens up and we have access to your hard drive, and we can put things there that hopefully 3-4 days later there’s some side effects to the cure, there’s something that you’re going to think about after you watch the movie. You’re watching Dane DeHaan reluctantly become a patient at this institute, but really you’re the patient. You’re in the darkened room, we’re using sound and image and we’re conducting an experiment on you. And I think the genre, that’s why I love the genre, there’s something perverse about it, that you get to kind of conduct an experiment on the audience.
A Cure for Wellness opens in theaters nationwide on February 17th!