The Grudge: An Interview with Sarah Michelle Gellar
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By Todd Gilchrist
Was there any reluctance to take on this role knowing the cultural differences of the material, etc.?
Sarah Michelle Geller: It was the main reason I took the project. The idea for me to first of all be able to spend three months in Japan to be able to be part of the first film ever to be made with the original Japanese director, they were all of the reasons why I chose the project.
Were you hesitant to do horror again?
SMG: If it was horror, in my opinion, in the American sense, yes, I would have been. But I think that Japanese movies are much more thriller-oriented. And, you know, people ask me that question a lot. I definitely did think about it beforehand, but women still have a long way to go in this industry in terms of roles where we can really sort of lead the film and drive it. I was thinking, look at past Oscar winners. Right after Halle Berry won, she did Gothika, and Charlize Theron is doing Aeon Flux, and why is that? Because that is the big roles where women can really drive them and be successful in them.
What challenges did you face developing your character and maintaining the mood Takashi Shimizu was trying to create?
SMG: You know, usually that would be the case, but it really wasn't in this film, and we spoke a lot beforehand about each character and why we were there and what our reaction was to being in Japan, because it's important to keep that and it was the first time I really did an experience like that where it was important but of course the surroundings and situations make it that much easier to sort of create a character.
Did you have any 'lost in translation' moments on set?
SMG: Wow. I've never heard that question. You know what? It's interesting, being you don't realize how literal a language is until you're in a place like that, and in America, and someone sent me this great email the other day, English makes no sense. Why do we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? It just really when you think about it, someone sent me this genius email and it was two pages of those things, but Japanese is a real literal language, and sometimes the conversations don't make sense, like, you know, someone says in Japanese when translated to English doesn't sound right, doesn't make sense, so you're constantly have those experiences because of the language. And also, we say things very quickly. We abbreviate everything in English, so literally in the movie where you see that scene where the director is talking and talking and talking and she says 'be happier,' that would happen constantly and it would take me a little while to understand it. I kept thinking, 'is that really all he said? I know there's something you're not telling me, the part about where I suck, or the part about how I had toilet paper stuck to my shoe, like which part is, you know.
How do you perceive the differences between Japanese and American horror?
SMG: Well I think Japanese films leave a lot more to the imagination. It's a lot more about setting it up and letting you take it to that place where it makes it scariest for you. It's not gory, it's not bloody, and I think because of that, it's much more chilling.
How lonely was it being in Japan for several months?
SMG: It's very hard to be lonely in Japan. Clearly you miss your family, your dog, your home, but Japanese people are incredibly welcoming. The best advice I got before I left was someone said the best thing you can do is just learn the basics of the language. And a lot of times when you go across, especially when it comes to Europe, I'm so embarrassed because it's like I bastardize the language and I feel like everyone's laughing at me, but in Japan they're so honored you're taking the time to learn even the smallest bit of the language, they open up their homes to you and they're so gracious. They invite you to dinner, and on top of that I had this great cast that was so interested in everything Japanese and Japanese culture and Japanese society.
Did your husband join you?
SMG: No he didn't. He was working, actually.
The director said he picked you because of Cruel Intentions- because you're a brave actress. Is that how you see yourself?
SMG: I hope, I do. I mean, I don't believe, I remember when I wanted to do Cruel Intentions, everyone told me I was crazy. 'Why do you want to do that? It's not your audience. You're going to alienate your audience.' and I said 'because that's what I want to do.' and I would up splitting with some of my representation over it because they thought I was crazy for wanting to do it, but I was passionate about it, and what I learned from that experience is you have to do things you're passionate about, and when I left the show and it was time to sort of figure out what I wanted to do, I waited until I found something that was really important to me, and that was this project, and I'm glad I waited.
Takashi told us you taught him how to say 'do it again, but suck less.'"
SMG: You know, there was a big mistake I learned early on. You always have fun teaching people you know, bad things to say, like, you know, 'I hate her,' or 'I hate him,' or 'suck less' or any of those things, and I remember it was really funny to all of us. We thought it was funny. So in the morning Jason would come in and it would be all 'I hate him,' until the first reporter came out to interview us for CNN, and we did this interview, and Shimizu was like, 'ah, Sarah Michelle, I hate her. She's crazy. Jason, nuts,' and said all of the thing we had taught him, and oh my gosh. That's one of those things where your heart stops, because while it might be very funny to us, it might not necessarily again translate in this kind of sense that 'that was a joke,' so, yes I did teach him a [number?] of those things. And Jason's like the worst influence. I think the first thing Jason took Shimizu to in America was Krispy Kreme.
Any cultural faux pas?
SMG: Oh, I mean constantly, but I commit faux pas in America, but that's like, you know, nothing new for me. You know, things like taking off your shoes every time. Sometimes you just forget and it's very difficult to remember... I didn't ever forget going to people's houses, but it's a set. It's not a house, but you still have to take your shoes off before you go in every time, and that was hard for me in the beginning, until I realized how much fun it was to steal everyone's shoes.
Was it hard to say goodbye to Buffy?
SMG: Oh, I mean, the most difficult thing I ever experienced. It's all I knew. I mean, I got that show when I was 18 years old. It was a character I loved. It was a challenging character, and that crew, I mean that was my family, and those are people that I saw nine months of the year for eight years of my life. It was incredibly difficult.
Are there any talks of a Buffy movie?
SMG: I have a lot of hesitation about it. It was a movie, I spent the first year of the show constantly explaining to people, 'no no, it's not like the movie' because there was such a bias to the movie, because it didn't work as a film. And that's my initial hesitation and the other is that clearly you're going to disappoint people. I mean, I was very happy with the finale, but I still believe that it should have been two hours, I believe there wasn't enough Xander, I believe that certain things get left out, and when you make a film you're setting your self up to disappoint people and part of the reason I believe the show worked was because the story's an arc and you felt fort this character's experience, and it wasn't a beginning, middle and end and I don't believe she worked like that. And I say that now, and if in a year they could send me the script and I could think it's great and we could be at the junket a year and a half from now, but I will say that I have a lot of hesitations about it and it is not something I particularly want to do at this time.
Have you found time for your personal interests since the show finished?
SMG: You find a lot more time for everything. Weekly television is the most incredible grind and I remember, before I left for this project, one of the producers called me and said, "Now, Sarah, this is not going to be what you're used to. This is going to be really hard hours and really early calls and you're going to work like five days in a row." And I'm like, "What? I'm from television. What are you talking about?" Doing a movie and you have dinner afterwards?
What hobbies have you gotten around to?
SMG: Sleeping was the first one. Reading. Reading for pleasure. Being able to pick up a book and sit down for two and a half hours and finish it.
What kinds of books?
SMG: Everything. Just from seeing your friends and being able to plan vacations. Being able to sit around and not have plans. Not have to manage your time wisely because this is your one day off in a month on television and that's the dentist and the doctor and the eye doctor and the vet.
Starting a family?
SMG: On my day off in one day? Wow, you know something I don't know.
Are you thinking about that?
SMG: You mean am I prioritizing having a baby? I'm not ready to start seriously thinking about that. I'm only 27 years old guys. Please, I have some time.
Tell us about Southland Tales?
SMG: Goodness, it's so hard to describe. The only thing I can sort of say is could you imagine trying to explain Donnie Darko to people before they saw it? Okay, it's about a guy and there's this six foot imaginary bunny. It's so- - Richard Kelly to me is just a genius and part of the things I want to do is be able to work with interesting people and have different experiences and having such an amazing time on this film just pushes me to want that more and more and more. I had seen Donnie Darko and thought this guy is so different and he has so much to say and it would be such an honor to meet him. That's just how it all started.
Will you sing in it?
SMG: No, you can all rest assured that I will not.
You've sung before on Buffy.
SMG: That was the most miserable experience of my entire life.
SMG: I am a perfectionist. I don't do anything unless I can train for months and months and months. And we got that script three weeks out. And I had no days off. And I would leave work and take a singing lesson and go to the dance class and to me that should've been the first episode after a three month hiatus when you could've been ready and I'm done with that, boy. So no, I will not be singing in Southland Tales.
Wouldn't a movie give you all that time to prepare?
SMG: For singing, probably not enough for me.
They pay for the lessons.
SMG: I don't know, do they? They didn't on Buffy.
What stage is it at?
SMG: Just sort of gearing up. We're hoping to start at the beginning of the year.
Is it less surreal than Donnie Darko?
SMG: It's less strange than Donnie Darko. It's a lot more character- - yeah, that's kind of an obvious statement. It's a lot more characters, a lot more interwoven story, but again, it's all in Richard Kelly's head and I would not do it justice attempting.
Had you seen the previous Ju-On?
SMG: Yes, I did. I've always been a fan of Asian cinema. I think that it's really daring. I love the idea of nonlinear filmmaking. I love the idea that it's not a beginning, middle and end and it's not a neat package. And I thought the shots were so interesting. I think that sometimes in American films, we get bogged down by trying to make our days and huge crews. In Japan, we would have had triple the amount of crew members in America making this film. And I just love the idea of being part of it. I love the idea of being part of the first Japanese film ever made for American audiences.
Have you seen it yet?
SMG: No, I'm waiting. I cannot wait.
How did the ghost woman do those movements?
SMG: Jason and I were fascinated by the staircase scene. We could not wait to see her do what we like to refer to as the cockroach crawl. And we get there that day and we're looking- - I'm looking for the wires. Ah, I guess they're not set up yet. That's so weird. And then I'm looking at the staircase and I'm touching it. I'm like, whoa, it's real. It's not padded. And my American warped mind figured it's a stunt. Oh no. She crawls down those stairs on her knees, this little woman who makes me look like I could be a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, okay. And Jason and I the first day just sort of stood there. We ruined the first take because we were just so like flabbergasted that she actually did this.
Then she had to do it again?
SMG: And again, and again.
When they call cut, do you have a conversation with her?
SMG: Well, you can't get too close because the makeup will get all over you, so I did get yelled at right away because I got the blood and the silver makeup all over myself, so you couldn't get too close. There is a slight language barrier, but no, you can start talking. She giggles and like, you know. You know what's worse is the freaky little kid. I'm sorry, that little kid is freaky. When he opens his mouth with that- - oh, man. I would see that kid on set and it would freak me out.
Were you ever freaked out on the set?
SMG: Not really. It was more a jovial set than that, but I'll tell you though, that scene where they drowned that kid in the bathtub, when I saw that the first time, I was like, "Oh my God, they drowned Yuya. In America, again, it would be a dummy. That was a kid in the bathtub being drowned.
Would you do a sequel?
SMG: Well, I would go back to Japan in a heartbeat for anything.
Have they talked about a sequel?
SMG: No, we haven't really. I mean, knock on wood, but let's wait until it comes out.
There was a Ju-On 2.
SMG: Ju-On 2 is very, very different from Ju-On. Even tone. Totally, it's incredibly different. It's much more in the vein of a Scream movie. It's about an actress whose career is kind of washing up and she gets this gig sort of like one of the unsolved mystery shows in America. And she has to go back to the house and do an interview at the house that no one's been in since four years ago when this incident occurred. So it's all new characters except for Kayako and Tohsio.
Do you want to work with your husband again?
SMG: Not really. I don't think that audiences particularly love it. I know as an audience member, I don't really like seeing couples together. Scooby was a great project for us because at the time I was on Buffy and I was very limited in what I could do and when he would go away to make films and I was on Buffy, I couldn't go. I never had time. I would wrap at six a.m. Saturday morning and be back at work six a.m. Monday morning. And it afforded us the opportunity to travel together, to be together, to spend that time, but at the same time, I don't think that movie was hinging on Daphne and Fred's relationship, clearly. It's a movie about a talking dog. So that was a great experience, but we're not looking to make Eyes Wide Shut part 2, I can tell you that right now. I know you guys were all waiting and I'm really sorry to disappoint you, but...
Have you kept up your Buffy workout?
SMG: You know what's actually funny is I find more time to work out now. You have a lot of free time.
What do you do?
SMG: I do three days a week strength training and then three days a week pilates and running. I've started running which I never did before. I didn't know I liked.
Diet changed much?
SMG: I don't snack as much. There's no craft services at my house. I've been trying to hire a craft service person forever but they think it's a little strange.
How were craft services in Japan?
SMG: You know what? I have a really funny story actually about that, so the Japanese crew, they don't have craft service. I mean, that does not even exist. So the first week, they had these caterers and Japanese crews were like, "Catering? Oh my God, we're used to bento boxes." They'd never seen catering. But American actors were like, "Man, I'm in Japan, I don't want catering. I want to order out." And then they realized that we were just wasting money because the Japanese crew didn't care and the actors weren't eating it. So they went back to bento boxes and we would order out, and what they did is they put all the money into craft services. And we had this great woman, who's also the location manager and she would go to Price Club which is like two hours away twice a week and buy all this food, and we had the most ridiculous spread I have ever seen. Okay, Scooby was however many trillion dollars to make, craft services didn't even compare to this movie. Then the producers were all afraid that we were spoiling the crew because then they would go to their next movie and there was no smores. There were no pretzels. So no, we had a good spread.
What kind of concessions did they make knowing you were American actors?
SMG: Well, the first one is Japanese actors come when they start filming the beginning of the day, no matter if their scene is the last of the day. Yet you try to get an American actor to do that one. The fact is American actors wanted to do sight seeing in Japan, so that was the first concession that was made, was that your call time reflected what scenes you were in. Action, they- - in America, we slate, we clap the board and then action is their cue. In Japan, the cue is actually the slate. But to an American actor, that is the most jarring sound. I'd be like [frozen] and they were all waiting. I'm like, "What's everyone waiting for?" So we taught Shimizu how to say "action" and "cut" and so they worked off action and cut. So I think there's a fair amount of concessions for American actors. There would have to be.
If there's a Grudge 2, won't you be in the make up oozing down?
SMG: I cannot say anything about an end of a movie. Are you kidding? Although I tried to get them to let me do it one day.
Any future projects?
SMG: The one thing- - we joke that I'm a professional commitment phobe right now. Eight years of my life, I knew what I was doing and it was very planned. I chose my movies based on hiatuses. I didn't choose them based on I was dying to do it. The first thing that I'm learning right now is that I can really wait until there's something I really want to be a part of and I want to do. I don't want to have to work nine, 10, 11, 12 months a year and I can wait.
Will you produce or develop something?
SMG: Sure, that's absolutely something that I would love to do. I don't want to direct. I have absolutely no desire to direct. But I think the idea of finding material, something that you love and seeing it to fruition; I think that's got to be the most incredibly rewarding. So I'm hard at work on Eyes Wide Shut part 2 and, you know.
Is it like getting out of a long term relationship and looking at new ones?
SMG: From a different point of view, yeah, it is, without so much depression. Without the eating the Haagen Daaz and the bon bons.
SMG: Without the lawyer fees. Without the real expensive lawyer bills.
Are your people worried about the time you're taking to decide?
SMG: My people, I like that. I'm starting to hear it. I'm starting to hear a little bit of like, "Okay." But I think that one of the things about this film is I really wanted the time to be able to stand in front of it and to go out there, which is also something I've never gotten to do. Normally my publicity trips are a day and you go in and you fly out. I just wanted the chance to be able to get the word about this film out. So I'm actually lucky, I'm going to be on the road for about three weeks starting next week.
How did you enjoy Comicon?
SMG: You know what? I had never been so nervous in my life. Hosting the MTV movie awards, hosting Saturday Night Live. Ask Jason. I was so nervous going out there and I don't- - I think it was just the amount of people because everyone "56,000 people, 56,000 people." But everybody was so kind and so excited and I had a great weekend too.
You should do England.
SMG: I'm going to England... The first time I had been to England in a really long time and Seth Green and I went together. Not "together," but. Yeah, really, Seth's secret tryst. He's in Eyes Wide Shut 2. He's playing the Leelee Sobieski role in the underwear. Seth and I were so unbelievably overwhelmed, and I went to this premiere with Seth and Anthony Head and it was just- - it was so nice though, I have to tell you. When I was on Buffy, I didn't get out much. Unless the people at the coffee store told me they liked an episode, I didn't have any interaction. So I had just come back from Japan, I stopped in England on my way back and it was just amazing. And I'd never- - I guess maybe in L.A. people get jaded about premieres or whatever it is, and also maybe it was my excitement to be in England also. I think it was sort of a mix of that. But the people were just- - I wanted to cry, it was just so overwhelming.
Is this press tour mostly Europe, or around the world?
SMG: Well, I plan to go to Japan to open this one, I tell you that right now, but we don't open until February. I can't wait.
Japanese press are different.
SMG: They ask some very different questions.
Any country you're dying to visit professionally or personally?
SMG: Italy. That's a place I haven't been that I really want to travel to.
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