Green Room, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to his blistering indie revenge hit Blue Ruin, is a stripped-down horror affair in which the members of a struggling punk rock band find themselves in one of the worst situations imaginable. Desperate to pick up a gig, they agree to play a set at a backwoods club owned by a local white-supremacist group; but when they accidentally witness a murder in the venue’s green room, their plan to collect their fee and bolt turns into a nightmare scenario: Trapped backstage with only a handful of improvised weapons, with a growing army of devoted neo-Nazi foot soldiers massing outside to “clean up” the situation, they’ll have to fight for their lives.
Despite being a low-budget, brutally-gory genre entry, the film boasts impressive acting pedigree in the form of Patrick Stewart as the neo-Nazi leader, Darcy, and Imogen Poots as a sympathetic girl who becomes trapped alongside the band. But it’s rising young star Anton Yelchin, likely best known to movie audiences as Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek movies, who emerges as a central figure as the band’s unsure young guitarist facing his first real fight-or-die experience. In an exclusive interview with Screen Rant, he tells us how it all came about:
How has the publicity tour [for the film] been treating you?
Things are going well. People seem to be responding to the film favorably.
How did you end up coming aboard this project?
Pretty much the traditional way: I had it sent to me. I read it, ended up talking to Jeremy, it ended up being a pretty smooth process. Nothing too crazy.
Were you familiar with [director] Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin?
I watched it. When I got this script, I rented Blue Ruin and I was… very moved by it, actually.
In this film you play a punk rock musician. What was your familiarity with the punk genre before signing on to the film?
I’ve loved punk music pretty much since I was a teenager, even younger really. And I was part of this kind of crusty punk band about eight or nine years ago… not necessarily hardcore, but we played some shows that were just five or six people playing really aggressive music and we did some shows that were a lot of fun – people were in the pits, you know, just slammin’ around.
“The Hammerheads” was the name of that band, correct?
Yes sir. Not my favorite name, but I was really happy to be part of it.
How much of your experience in that scene did you bring to your role in Green Room?
Y’know, I think it was more… just that experience, of playing music with my friends. I think that had a lot to do with mu approach to this. This thing happens when you play music with your friends, your just bound together in this way by the joy that you share – especially in punk rock, because it’s just such a visceral kind of music, you reach this kind of elation when you’re playing, you know?
But I’d assume you never ran into anything quite so hairy as what happens in the film, right?
Well, y’know… there’s skins [skinheads] at every show. At every punk show. And like at ska shows? Always skins. But sometimes they’re S.H.A.R.P; “Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice,” right? So there’ll be Nazi skins, but there’s also be these anti-racist skinheads.
What did you think of the level of violence in the film? You yourself end up the victim of some gruesome, gruesome special-FX gore in this.
Well, I mean, I was there when we shot that on the day. I think the film is… there’s a quality to this film where we’re confronted with things that normally, in the abject, we see as absurd situations that we as everyday people can just “find ourselves” in.
In this film, there are no malicious murderers, you know? Even Darcy [Patrick Stewart] is just this banal pragmatist. I think that’s what’s so terrifying about it, you’re confront with this absurd situation that you just fall into. That’s the scariest thing. The body count in this film is quite low, it’s more that you are very connected to each act of violence, so you’re more impacted by it. You see films where hundreds and hundreds of people are killed but it doesn’t get focus or their lives somehow don’t matter. I think that’s much scarier… much more malicious, in a way.
Speaking again of [the antagonists] you’re up against in the film, the topic of white supremacists, skinheads, the “alt-right” movement, etc; has become very pressing amid our current presidential elections. Was there a desire to get that topic out there, in the making of this film?
Well, I think Jeremy wrote the film about two years ago. But the fact that this is become so much more topical now, the further we move down the line, what with that situation in Oregon in January… [Green Room’s villains actually consider themselves] ultra-left – they identify ultra-ultra-ultra-left… they’re “the people’s racists,” right? “People’s white supremacists.” But regardless of that delineation, it’s sad that we’re actually moving back into this… I mean, you can call it extreme-left, alt-right, etc; but this political position we find ourselves in nationally, I find that really terrifying.
How was it working with Imogen Poots in the film? You both end up having a lot of screentime together.
She’s wonderful. This is the second time we’ve worked together, we’re good friends. I find her to be very inspiring to work with because of her incredible talent, and I felt that way when we first worked together on Fright Night. So I was happy to be able to work with her again.
This isn’t the sort of film that’s conventionally associated with the word “fun,” but did any of the production stand out as particularly interesting or enjoyable to take part in?
The most “fun” I had, in terms of straightforward fun, was shooting the music-playing sequences. That’s always a blast, because you’re sort of dancing and playing music at a punk show… in the movie that’s before the shit hits the fan for these guys, but it was the most fun part for me.
It sounds like from your descriptions of the characters and the scenario earlier that you did a lot of research for this part.
Most of the work I did had to do with character work. I just always liked hardcore [punk], that’s why I was drawn to the film. It was something I could relate to.
So what’s your real “desert island band?” [A recurring question among the characters in the film]
I’m actually very much like [my character] in that I have a really hard time picking and sticking with what I’d decided. I get this anxiety, like, what if I picked this desert island band and then I get tired of listening to that record? That thought really haunts me.
Follow-up on that: How many other interviewers before this have also thought they’d be clever and ask that exact same question?
[Laughs] Well… a lot have asked that, yeah, but that’s fine. My favorite – what I liked was one asked what was your desert island film instead, and that one I got. I’ve got an answer, I know this, I will never tire of this picture and that’s Taxi Driver.
Green Room opens in U.S. theaters April 15, 2016.