Beth (Vinessa Shaw, “3:10 To Yuma”) and Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, “Damages”), a happy young couple expecting their first child, travel to Mexico for a romantic getaway. When Francis insists on venturing by boat to a more serene locale, Beth hesitantly agrees. As they dock on a sun-kissed beach where children are playing, everything seems perfect. However, as they wander strangely empty streets, an atmosphere of unease sets in: an abandoned hotel, a distress call repeatedly echoing from a radio set, the sense of being watched … children’s laughter drifting through the streets with no adults in sight. When Francis witnesses the violent death of an old man (Daniel Giménez Cacho, “Bad Education”) at the hands of a smiling little girl, a day in paradise quickly turns into a struggle for survival. Francis must protect his pregnant wife from a pack of murderous children and get off the island alive. An unsettling theme drives the stark plot of “Come out and Play,” Belarus-born filmmaker Makinov’s horror production based on Juan José Plan’s 1976 Spanish film, “El Juego De Niños.” Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ebon Moss-Bachrach to discuss his role in the film, the challenges involved, the film’s eccentric director (Who is Makinov? Watch his manifesto) and much more!
What about acting originally sparked your interest and ultimately made you pursue it as a career?
I started acting when I was in college. I took an acting class. I went to Columbia and the acting class and all of the theater stuff was over at Barnard, which is the all-girls school. Honestly, I probably just started to meet some girls! [laughs] I wound out having a really great theater teacher over there. From there, I started to get involved with theater in New York and that was kind of it. I was hooked I guess!
You mentioned being inspired by your theater teacher. Who were other influences who helped to shape the actor we see today?
Oh man, that changes so much for me. Right now, I have been watching a lot of Elliot Gould and Charles Grodin. Gene Wilder is someone I am a huge fan of, along with Mel Brooks. When it comes to filmmakers it ranges from anyone like Robert Altman to Andrei Tarkovsky.
That’s interesting. It almost reflects your work in a way and how eclectic it has been.
Yeah, exactly. I like all kinds of movies and I like to work on all kinds of movies. I am attracted to diverse work experiences. I have been fortunate as an actor to not just do one thing. A great example of that, speaking of influences, is Jeff Bridges. He has worked on all sorts of different projects and defies being pigeon-holed, which I think is admirable and rare. I really admire him.
Your latest film is definitely not something you have done in the past. What was it about this film, “Come Out And Play,” that peaked your curiosity and made you pursue it?
Producer Pablo Cruz from Canana called me up and sent me the script. I had never done a horror movie. I like the more artier ones and I am not too much into gore. When he sent me this really gory movie, I was really hesitant about it. He said, “Come down to Mexico. We will have a good time!” [laughs] He talked me into it. The original film has political and cultural implications. Pablo talked to me about that, making a sort of cultural critique. By the end of the first day of shooting, to me, that was no longer important! I was thinking, “OK. How can we make this as fucked up and freaky as possible!” [laughs] I just got into the genre and really wanted to push stuff and make it pretty demented.
What elements did you bring to this character that may not have been in the original script?
For me a big part of this character, Francis, is that he is a father of two and he is expecting a baby. I’m not sure if that is in the movie anymore but he is a doctor, a surgeon. I was attracted to this idea of a doctor, who is usually so cool and calm and almost have a certain machismo to them like a fighter pilot, who has to hold it together or deny how desperate the circumstances are as long as he possibly can. I don’t know if you are married or not but my wife often has small crises. When one person in a relationship is having a hard time, the other person rises to the challenge and reassures them, saying, “It is going to be fine. Everything is going to be OK. Don’t worry about it.” You do that as long as you can. I think that was sort of the dynamic of the relationship between Francis and Beth. I found that really intriguing.
The director of this film is Makinov. By all accounts and from what we have seen online, he is quite a character. What can you tell us about him?
Yeah, he is a character alright! [laughs] I think he is very aware of the image he puts out there. To be honest, I really enjoyed working with him. I couldn’t tell you what he looks like but I found him to be a lover of cinema and a very opinionated guy. It was a unique process, you know, his English isn’t so good but I think he and I ended up having a decent relationship because my Russian is pretty good. I was the one person on set who could speak to the guy a little bit beside the translator. I think, because of that, maybe he let me in a little bit more than he would with other folks. He is odd. Belarouze is a weird place and that is where he grew up. I know that the movies he watched growing up were very limited. I think, for years, the only movie he had growing up was the silent version of “Fantômas” from the early 1900s. I think that has had a deep and lasting effect on him. I don’t know if you are familiar with “Fantômas” but he is like the man with no face, the man of disguise, if you will, as is Makinov.
Did his persona have a profound effect on the cast and crew when you were all on set? Or was it even a thought once you got started?
It is so wild and it is very weird but then you just get used to it. It is a weird movie as well. I think for it to have a reasonable kinda clam guy directing it who drove up to work in his Volvo everyday would feel weirder for this movie! [laughs] Makinov felt strangely appropriate for this project.
There are some disturbing scenes in this film. It looked like a challenge. What scenes proved to be the most difficult for you? (Caution: Potential Spoiler Ahead!)
For me the most difficult scene is when Beth is giving birth and her unborn baby kills her for the inside. That was pretty harrowing. That is just about as fucked up a thing as could happen that I could think of!
Very true! How did you prepare yourself for scenes like this? Were you a fan of the genre and is there a particular process you go about to immerse yourself in it?
You know, I wasn’t a fan of the genre. I think it may have worked to my benefit because I kinda went in as an innocent in a way, which is the same experience Francis has in the film. In terms of preparing for the role, I didn’t watch a lot of horror movies or anything of that sort. I just felt it was a real balancing act to stay calm, focused and committed to the insanity. It took an immense amount of energy to maintain to stay in this world. That was something I found really challenging. I think one thing which worked to our advantage was that we were working in a very beautiful location. When things got really intense, I was able to take a little break. At the end of the day, I would go into the ocean and swim for a little bit to wash it away. That was great because to live in that vibe wouldn’t have necessarily been a good thing. I also had my family out there with me, which was probably a mistake! [laughs]
There are some scenes in the film where there is violence towards the children. That is the moral of the story in a way, the hook if you will. I am sure you will be asked a lot about that, so I don’t want to dwell on it. I was more curious to know what was it like for you to work with these adorable yet terrifying kids on set?
They were great! They were hanging around the whole time we were shooting. There was an effort made by the production to have a dummy storyline for them. We didn’t want to expose them to anything we shouldn’t. There was a big effort made to protect the kids. The kids weren’t actors, just ordinary kids from the island. It was really important to the producers at Canana and certainly to me as a father that the kids didn’t get wrapped up in the homicidal darkness of the piece. There were a lot of games with false pretenses! [laughs] Manipulation, I guess! The kids were great! They were incredibly brave and the stunts they did were really wild! As a dad, that made me nervous a lot of the time!
They say everyone takes a little something away from every project. What did you learn about yourself on this project as an actor?
That is a good question. I guess I was most surprised by how much I liked making this movie. I was surprised and a little disturbed that I had such a good time! [laughs] It is a terrible thing to say but that is the truth!
The movie has its fair share of truly terrifying moments, so you did a great job! What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to aspiring actors?
Something that has always stuck with me, and I think Meryl Streep might have said it, is “If you are going to get into acting, have a trust fund!” [laughs]
That is certainly one way to approach it! What is next for you as an actor?
I just completed a romantic adventure comedy called “Gods Behaving Badly” with Alicia Silverstone, Sharon Stone, John Tuturro and Christopher Walken. That is a much lighter, brighter, almost retro film that almost feels like a ‘50s or ‘80s adventure comedy like “Princess Bride.” That is probably the next thing you will see me in!
Awesome! Thank you again for your time!
Thanks so much! Stay cool!