NYCC 2018 Interview: Bad Times at the El Royale

Drew Goddard is a film and television screenwriter, director, and producer.  He has worked on television shows like Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Netflix’s Daredevil.  He received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Martian.  His most recent project is Bad Times at the El Royale which he wrote and directed.  The mystery-thriller follows seven strangers in a hotel that each have a dark secret.  Cailee Spaeny is an actress and singer whose first major film role was in Pacific Rim Uprising.  She plays Amara Namani, a street orphan who builds and pilots her own giant robot.  Bad Times at the El Royale is now in theaters.

Screen Rant: Guys, we're here at New York Comic Con 2018. We're going to be talking about Bad Times at the El Royale. The trailer looks amazing. I haven't seen it yet. Looks stunning though. Drew, this seems like a gumbo of influences from Agatha Christie, 1960’s films, 1970’s. Talk to me about the ingredients that you came up with while creating this film.

Drew Goddard: I love it. Gumbo is the perfect way to describe it. Because it really is just sort of, I take the things I love, right? I love crime fiction, I love film noir, I love big ensemble movies, I love 60’s music. So much of this movie is about my love for the music of the 1960’s and wanting to celebrate the artistic revolution that was happening in the 60’s. I take all of those things and throw it into the gumbo pot, as you say, spice it up with a little my own stuff, and out comes El Royale.

Screen Rant: It's interesting, because it sounded to me like you just pretty much told me you made a movie for me. Because I'm also like, ‘That's my timeframe too.’ I'm a huge, big Frank Sinatra Rat Pack guy. And there's a rumor going around that this was based on a place that Frank Sinatra may have stayed at. Is that true or not?

Drew Goddard: Yeah. It's sort of an amalgamation of a lot of different hotels, but one of them is the Cal Neva, which was a hotel in the 60’s that was on the border between California and Nevada. And there's a lot of great conspiracy theories about that hotel, about trysts Marilyn Monroe, hiding the Kennedys, and lot of mob connections. That was definitely one of the inspirations for this movie.

Screen Rant Now, question for you, chat me up about who Ruth is.

Drew Goddard: Who Rose is.

Screen Rant: Rose is. That's what I meant to say, because obviously, who Rose is.

Drew Goddard: We can talk about Ruth too. She's great. She is.

Screen Rant: I meant to say Rose.  This happens to me all the time.

Drew Goddard: That's why we're here. Cailee plays our Rose Summerspring. Tell us about Rose. She's great.

Cailee Spaeny: Rose is great. Yeah, she is great. [Turns to Drew] Well, I mean, one of the things that I just want to compliment you on while we're here is that, it's just an actor's dream that these characters are… have so much heart to them. The humanity that you put in into it. And when I went to that audition room and we chatted for like 45 minutes, you just have such a heart for it. And when we're on set talking about the character. She does some pretty questionable things, but like the heart grounded by… the heart that you put into all of these characters. And Rose is just so-- It was a dream for me to have that and be able to see you're so passionate about every character and I love how much you cared.

But anyways, Rose is a girl who-- Well, she’s is Emily's sister, Emily played by Dakota Johnson, younger sister who-- they both had a pretty rough childhood and she's trying to find her own path out of that, out of that darkness. And she thinks she finds her group of people. She finds her guy, played by Chris Hemsworth, and she's in it.  She feels like she's found it. She's found her redemption and that's kind of what leads her to where she's at the El Royale.

Screen Rant: So, Cailee, this is a huge ensemble cast and surrounded by such great actors as well as yourself. Is there any piece of advice that you may have gotten from any of these veteran actors that you can take with you throughout any other experience you may have?

Cailee Spaeny: I don't know if… I mean, I definitely have gotten advice. But something that I've watched and seen, that I've taken in, is all of these amazing actors and actresses that I've worked with, that stand their ground and who speak their mind. But are also incredibly kind people. And the people who, that I've seen are successful, know how to get points across without being a total jerk.  And that's really my goal, is just to be a kind person who knows how to speak their mind and get their points across. So, being able to see that and also, Jeff Bridges for example, just has that perfect balance of having fun and making everyone feel like they're a part of something so big. But also doing his homework and knowing his stuff. So, being able to soak that in and just watch that every day for a couple months was just the coolest thing for me. It was the coolest thing.

Drew Goddard: For all of us. There were moments where we'd all look around and be like, ‘Look, that's Jeff Bridges.’ ‘Oh wait, he's here working with us. Oh, we should do our work.’ Because he was so extraordinary. I call it the Jeff Bridges Halo effect. He's just the type of actor that lifts everyone else around him, not just cast but crew. He knows every PA's name before I did. He shows up, he knows all his work, he's excited, he's infectious with his enthusiasm, he’s nurturing to the other cast members. It was fun to watch and say, ‘Okay, everybody, watch how Jeff does it.’ This is why he has the career he has. Because he approaches it from such a place of love and compassion for his fellow artists. So, I know I certainly learned a lot just watching Jeff.

Cailee Spaeny: And he has so many questions.  There was never-- He was always learning. And to watch him not come on set like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I got this guys.’ He was like, ‘I don't know. Tell me. Let's do this together.’

Drew Goddard: He understands that the art… So much of art, and I think so much of acting, is about exploration and discovery. And you're searching for these answers. You don't have the answers. You're finding them. If you're tuned into your emotions, and Jeff embodies that, it's very much a journey with Jeff.  And that's a journey I think all of us feel so privileged that we got to take.

Screen Rant: I love hearing about sets like this, mainly because it's the collaborative effort of creative people, which I really like hearing about. Speaking of which, let's pretend Drew's not here.

Drew Goddard: Right.

Screen Rant: When you first open up the script and you start reading it, what goes through your head, and what part sells you? Like, ‘This I have to do.’

Cailee Spaeny: Well, I just want to be clear that, I mean to get a script, I've only done, this is my second film that's coming out. So, to even have these opportunities and these scripts, coming in by these people who have been in it for so long and are pros… Just to get the email that you're going to have a script coming your way, is just, that in itself, is like, ‘What the heck is going on right now?’ So, I'm already so intrigued. And then getting to read the script was such a treat. I could have stopped there. I could've read that script and been like, ‘Wow, I'm so happy. I had the opportunity to read this.’ And that's how it felt like the whole process of working to get this role. It was like, ‘Wow, I get to meet Drew.’ And, ‘I'm so happy if it stopped right here and I get to play this character for at least one day.’

And then it turned into something so beautiful.  I got this opportunity that I feel so lucky and honored to be a part of. But the script is just so genius, and it's nothing like you've ever seen before, and everything that you think is going to happen doesn't happen and turns into another direction. And it's just something so original. To find something that is just right out of this amazing person's mind. That is not, it's not something that's, it's not a remake, it's not from a book, it's not an adaption, you know? That's such a dream to be a part of. And to know that those people still exist, and these in the movies are going to get made, and that a lot of people hopefully are going to see it, is just so exciting for me.

Screen Rant: I love it when a trailer just catches your eye and you know, ‘Oh, wow.’ You draw back a little bit. This is going to be cool, this is something original, as you just said. Because obviously in Hollywood, and nothing wrong with them, there's a lot of remakes out there. And a lot of things that are derived of other things. But I love the creativeness of what I saw on that trailer. Now Drew, rumor has it, there's a lot of cameos in this film, and I don't want to spoil what they are. I don't want to know myself because I haven't seen the film yet. But how did you get those cameos, or those actors, to appear in this film? Was it as easy as you thought it would be?

Drew Goddard: Well, casting is always fun because it's an alchemy, right? You sort of it, and for me, I just pick actors I love. And then just hope. That's really what it is. I just send it to them and say, ‘Hey, come play with us for a day.’ And that's usually how I get them. I just say, ‘Look, I love your work. Here's what we're doing. I think it's going to be fun. I can promise you, I will protect you, and we will have a good time. And if you're up for it, let's go. Let's just have some fun.’ And it tends to work out pretty well. We certainly got an extraordinary group of people that showed up for a day or two in this movie.

Screen Rant: I love it. I love it. And, I loved you in Pacific Rim, I’m just going to say so.

Cailee Spaeny: Thank you so much for saying that.

Screen Rant: That movie I had so much fun in. Any chance that we're going to see a third one?

Cailee Spaeny: I'm down, if they're down.

Screen Rant: Well, I’m one down, if you're down.

Cailee Spaeny: I mean, great. There it is, there it is.

Drew Goddard: If it’s up to the three of us it’s happening.

Screen Rant: It's three of us. And Drew, I have to ask, because you're playing with some very important characters, and I've talked to a Rhett [Reese] and Paul [Wernick].

Drew Goddard: Yes.

Screen Rant: And they're really excited with which you’re going to do with X-Force. Anything you can tell me about that project or at least any members of the team that we may know about that?

Drew Goddard: Not really. I mean, the truth is I tend to focus very intensely on whatever project I'm working on. I've been in Bad Times land for two years now. I think as the dust settles, we'll get Ryan and I and the group together, and just start talking about ways to do something very special and different with X-Force.

Screen Rant: I'm very excited. Guys, thank you so much for coming out. Bad Times at the El Royale. I can't wait. We're almost there. We're almost there.

Drew Goddard: A week from today, October 12th. Check it out.

More: Read Screen Rant's Bad Times at the El Royale Review

Key Release Dates
  • Bad Times At The El Royale (2018) release date: Oct 12, 2018
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