Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and stars Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey talk Open Windows [INTERVIEW] [SXSW ’14]

How fucking good is Timecrimes? HOLY SHIT IT’S SO FUCKING GOOD. When I think of writer/director Nacho Vigalondo, one of the first words that comes to mind is “ambitious”. There are some other words I’d use, but I’m sure you’ll guess what those other words are after reading the interview. He can accomplish merely with a script what a Hollywood film fails to do in an entire production. He takes big themes and concepts and breaks them down to what’s important. His latest film, Open Windows, continues in this trend. When faboy Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) wins a contest to meet his ultimate celebrity crush, Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey), he’s not so good at hiding his nerves. When he gets a phone call that Jill has canceled, he’s obviously disappointed, but the voice on the other end of the phone also tells Nick that he’s hacked Jill’s cell phone, surveillance cameras, and laptop. Nick’s curiosity can’t help but lead him into peeking into Jill’s private life, but this voyeuristic pleasure brings Nick more than he’s bargained for and he ends up playing an important role in Jill’s life. Being shown only from the perspective of a computer monitor, Open Windows takes a retro thriller-exploitation formula and gives it a contemporary twist. Being a Vigalondo fan, having enjoyed all of Elijah Wood’s recent work in the horror genre, and seeing Sasha Grey pursuing another horror film, I was really lucky to sit down to have a conversation with them at South by Southwest.

open windows movie psoter sasha grey elijah wood

WolfMan: I’m gonna get to the real meat. I’m going to bring up something kind of controversial, if you guys are prepared.

Nacho Vigalondo: I’m totally prepared.

WM: Alright…what’s it like to be the best looking filmmakers at South by Southwest?

Elijah Wood: Are we really the best looking?

WM: This is what everyone wants to know.

EW: I didn’t even realize we were.

NV: I don’t know, we’ve been seeing journalists all morning and this is the first time we’ve been asked that.

WM: See? I’m bringing the hard-hitting questions.

EW: That is that first I’ve heard it. It’s hard to accept.

WM: We’ll get back to it. You guys can get in touch with me later when you’ve had more time to think about that.

NV: I don’t know if this interview should continue. This was perfect.

WM: Alright, well, it was nice to meet you guys.

A few minutes were then spent looking at and touching my tattoos. No complaints here. Once everyone cooled off, the interview continued.

WM: What was it like for the two of you acting in this movie where you couldn’t really act off of one another?

Sasha Grey: It was really strange. Most days I started before Elijah and I had one of the AD’s just reading the dialogue with an earbud in my ear and just trusting the situation. Nacho is really gracious and gave us a lot of takes. Even when time was running short, we’d just keep going and going. I think it was probably more difficult for Elijah because he had more scenes where he had to just look straight at the camera. I was constantly having to focus on looking this way or that way or what camera is looking at me or is it a GoPro or is it a hidden camera. Luckily those aren’t things that we have to remember. Nacho or the AD would remind us where we were looking. It was weird. It was really strange not being able to have someone to play off of.

EW: Very technical. The whole thing was very technical. The thing to get used to was just looking at a camera as if it’s a webcam. When we talk to people online, we tend to look at their image and not at the camera itself. It’s a weird thing to try to find that sense of comfortability. Also trying to imagine all these things going on at any given time. There were people giving cues telling us what to look at for specific moments. Extremely challenging, but super fun.

open windows sasha grey naked robe

Sasha Grey in Open Windows

WM: As far as all of the visual elements of the movie go, was all of that stuff in your head? All of the operating systems and interfaces or was that the special effects team? My favorite scene was when Sasha was in a car and it was a mosaic of her crawling around. I had never really seen anything like that before.

NV: At the end of the day, it’s like any other film where you have to know what’s going to be on the screen. I wish I had a big budget so I could have improved things on set and changed things or done reshoots, but it’s not the case. I am forced to be very specific about what is going to happen with the stock we shoot. It’s like any other movie, but with increased levels of complexity. I said in another interview that in a normal movie, you give five instructions per take, and with this movie you have 500. A lot of times, it took a big leap of faith. For example, when the computer is faking the webcam conversation. In other sequences, it was really difficult to express what was going to be on-screen at the end. For example, the ending sequence, I’m pretty sure that Elijah didn’t know how it would look.

EW: I had a vague idea, but again, there were all of these ping-pong cameras. I knew they would somehow create the tableau that we were saying, but it was only an idea.

NV: Even if I had an idea of the end result, it was so complicated to explain that. If this was a bigger production, I would have been able to do a preview where you could see everything perfectly.

WM: I know that you two (Nacho and Elijah) met at Fantastic Fest a few years ago, so how did this film develop? Was it written with Elijah in mind?

EW: I had no idea until we started working on the movie.

NV: When I wrote it, I didn’t know if he was available at all. I didn’t want to talk to him about the script in advance because that’s a way you could ruin your friendship. If you’re friends with a big celebrity and you’re asking him to take a role in a movie that doesn’t exist yet. Even when the script was finished, I wasn’t able to show the script to him. When he finally said yes, I felt blessed. He’s not only an actor I really appreciate, but he’s a person I want to relate with. I’m impressed by the fact that he’s doing with his career what he’s doing. It’s like a dream. You ask yourself what you’d do if you become a famous actor and make these movies that are a universal phenomenon and what you do with yourself, and I like to think I’d do what he’s doing. Being involved in these edgy films. He’s a role model to me.

WM: He’s already in the movie, you don’t need to suck up to him.

EW: And it’s the same for me. I was a fan of his work, I loved Timecrimes. It’s what brought us together. I was talking to some Spanish press about another film and they asked what Spanish films I liked and I told them Timecrimes. Fucking Timecrimes. I love Timecrimes. I think Nacho Vigalondo is brilliant. He read that and then we ended up having an email conversation and then we met at Fantastic Fest. It was one of those great things where we came to know know each other socially and then there was this project and I just jumped at the chance to do anything he was doing.

timecrimes movie nacho vigalondo

From Nacho Viaglondo’s Timecrimes

WM: Between this, Grand Piano, Maniac, and executive producing A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which I saw at Sundance–

EW: Isn’t it fucking incredible?

WM: I loved it. Is it that now that you’re this far into your career you are realizing what you want to do and what you’re passionate about or have you just realized this genre allows you to do things you haven’t been able to before?

EW: I think as far as my work as an actor is concerned, that can be a variety of things. It happens to be that there are genre films that I’ve been involved in more recently and those were the projects I was most excited about, but that can change. That is typically motivated by filmmakers or interesting scripts or approaches to filmmaking that I find interesting. As a producer, it’s pretty much completely from the perspective of genre and horror films specifically. If we’re doing a job at its highest then we are somehow pushing the genre in different directions, which is an exciting notion. As a producer, that’s definitely where I am. I’m fascinated by that world. Horror is always cyclical. It runs in cycles and somebody does one thing and it’s very successful and there’s a million fucking movies that do the same thing. It’s becoming a lot less like that, which is really exciting. I was at Sundance this year and it wasn’t just midnight films that were genre films. I think genre films are in a really exciting place where they are moving into mainstream in a way that it hasn’t in a long time. It’s a fertile land out there and it’s exciting to be apart of.

grand piano movie elijah wood audience

Elijah Wood in Grand Piano

WM: And Sasha, between this film and Would You Rather, you haven’t been playing very nice people.

EW: And she’s a really nice person!

WM: That’s what I’m getting to. What is it about these characters, who are less than admirable, that’s so interesting to you?

SG: I guess I was a fan, in both cases, of the script. And in this case, of Nacho. With Would You Rather, the production sent me the script and told me it was a horror film, and before I even read it, I asked if I had to get naked. They said no. I thought, “Okay, I’ll read it.”

WM: I do the same exact thing with all the scripts I get. Except I take all the ones with nudity.

SG: I read this script and I loved the character and as an actor I want to continue doing things that aren’t type. Yes, I play an actress, but her experiences are very different from mine. She deals with fame and celebrity on a much different level than I do. In the end, even though the film and the chase might seem familiar, something we constantly talked about on set is that she takes it all back and gains control. There’s not this romance that develops at the end of the film where a guy saves a girl. Those things are important to me. The story and the character is the most important thing, not just saying yes for the sake of saying yes.

WM: Things like Hitchcock and Rear Window get thrown a lot when describing this movie–

NV: I’m totally scared. Every time they say that, I’m totally scared. I know the production company is using the expression, “Rear Window for the 21st Century”. I don’t like this. I don’t think it’s good to compare yourself to Hitchcock. It’s okay if someone else does that, but not the filmmakers.

EW: It shouldn’t come from the filmmakers.

WM: I thought it was just because they both have “window” in the name…stick with that. There will be less pressure. But the film is this throwback thriller, in the premise, but there’s all of this modern technology–

NV: The movie that was a big reference for me, int his case, wasn’t Rear Window. For me, the movie that is closer to this one is Blow Out by Brian De Palma. When I watched Blow Out again, I realized the film was even closer than I had imagined. Not only is it about this guy using tools to save her, it’s also about this guy having an accident with a car. There’s a lot of that reverberating in our movie.

open windows sasha grey elijah wood nacho vigalondo

WM: I’m super happy for you guys. Do you have any questions for me?

EW: What are the rest of your tattoos?

NV: Can we see your body? Can we see you naked? It’s always about nudity.

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