In 2015, the talk of the town (among horror fans, at least) was David Robert Mitchell's spine-tingling chiller It Follows, which hooked audiences with a fascinating premise (best explained by the trailer) and kept them hooked with its moody atmosphere, slow-burning tension and distinctive synth score. Fast forward to 2016, and the next horror movie on the horizon that's sure to be talked about is Fede Alvarez's Don't Breathe - which, like It Follows, is set in Detroit and features actor Daniel Zovatto among its ensemble cast.
Zovatto plays Money, a young tough guy who acts as the unofficial ringleader of a small gang of burglars. Also in the group is Rocky (Jane Levy), who is seeking to escape her miserable home life, and Alex (Dylan Minnette, reuniting with Zovatto after sharing the screen with him in an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), who just wants to be closer to Rocky... a somewhat awkward desire, since Rocky and Money are dating. They have more serious matters to deal with than a love triangle, however, after the three kids break into the home of an old blind man (Stephen Lang) with the intention of stealing a small fortune in cash. While breaking into the house is relatively easy, escaping it alive will prove to be a lot harder.
Screen Rant paid a visit to the set of Don't Breathe (which at the time went by the less catchy moniker Untitled Fede Alvarez Thriller) last August, to see the film being made and speak to the cast and director. The house in Detroit that was chosen for location shooting had been recreated on a sound stage in Budapest, where the majority of the filming took place, and we arrived at the tail end of the Budapest shoot. Fortunately, Zovatto's energy didn't seem to be flagging.
Daniel Zovatto: I’m outta breath!
Did you run here?
DZ: Yeah, man. I was so excited.
What can you tell us about Money?
DZ: The reason why I really wanted to play Money was I read him and on the page it just seemed like he had so many different layers. He didn’t seem like the typical gangster kid that you see in the movies... He’s not a coldblooded killer. He doesn’t have that in him. He’s just, I think, a little bit impressionable at the age where he’s at... He’s been around this environment for all his life. His brother is probably in prison and his cousin is the guy that I sell the stuff to. So I think he’s just surrounded by these people. He’s kinda lost and he kinda just sees no other alternative. I don’t know if you guys have been to Detroit, but it’s pretty f---ing insane. I love Detroit. Don’t take me wrong. It’s a great city. It’s just like it’s a ghost town. It really is. So I think for him it’s just making money and surviving and going for it.
How would you describe the relationship between the three main characters? Is there a love triangle?
DZ: I think that for Money, he is a smart kid and he knows Alex likes Rocky. He is a younger kid than me... [Money] doesn’t feel any fear from Alex. I think he does like Rocky. He cares for her. But he’s not in love with her. He’s kind of like, “We have a perfect scenario here. You tell him what to do because he kinda likes you. I tell you what to do. We go to this house. And we can all get money from this. You can go to college if you want. You can go to California and I get money. It all works out.”
So is Money the leader of the group?
DZ: He thinks so... I think he likes to pride himself as being the alpha. You know, “I bring the jobs to the table. I brought the blind man.” So I feel like he has that, “You do what I tell you to do.” But, at the same time, I hope that it reads like he doesn’t know what the f--- he’s doing. He tries to pretend like he does, but I’m new to this as well.
How do all the characters know each other?
DZ: I think that Money was probably someone else two years ago. He probably didn’t have his tattoo and he probably didn’t have his finger tattoos. He’s just putting on a façade. I think maybe we went to the same high school. I mean that’s a question that Fede could tell you more. I have my own idea why I relate to these guys.
What do you make of Slang’s [Stephen Lang] character?
DZ: I f---ing love him so much. It’s so cool for me. I’ve always worked with people around my age... It’s just been so cool to sit down with him and pick his brain and kinda understand… He tells you advice before you start doing a scene. It’s not advice, it’s just like one little comment and you are like, “Oh. That makes sense.”
The first day I remember he talked to me throughout the whole day with his eyes closed. I was like, “What are you doing?” Then I was like, “Oh, f---. The guy’s blind. That makes sense"... He does stuff like that. He does pushups before a take. He spins himself. I don’t know. He’s so scary, man. He really is. Like the way he moves and all that crap. It’s cool to just see him… He comes from the actor’s studio. He’s the real deal.
We have to ask about Money’s look. Where did it come from, and will you keep it?
DZ: Actually, that was one of the things that I really wanted to… the stuff that I’ve done before, it’s been closer to who I am... But Money is someone I read on the page and I’m like, “This guy has to... put on a persona.” If I put tattoos on my neck… And I’ve done this in Budapest. I’ve walked around with my tats. I’ve gone up to kids and just stared at them. It freaks them out. That’s me doing that just to see how it feels. I just wanted… it took a lot to get to this. I came up with the look… I f---ing did so much research on my hairstyles… There’s this fighter called… I’m blanking out right now. He’s an MMA fighter. He’s Irish. Maybe you know him?
DZ: McGregor! Yeah!... He is so f---ing cool. He’s arrogant as f---. He’s like cocky as he could be. But he’s the best fighter. I saw him and he had this shaved head and this thing with kind of cornrows but not really. He talks about money and whooping ass. That’s all he talks about. I’m like, “Yeah, dude. F--- yeah.”
I mean I went through so many looks and everything. Finally, I told Fede, “I think I know exactly what I want.” He’s like, “What is it?” And I told him and he’s like, “Yeah, OK…” And then we put it on and he saw it on camera and he was just like, “Dude, you look like a f---ing reptile.” It does. It looks like a f---ing reptile... But I think inside Money doesn’t really feel very powerful. So if he puts something outside he can trick people into believing that he is powerful. So that’s kinda where the look came from.
Can you talk a little bit about following up It Follows with another horror type movie? Are you at all worried about getting pigeonholed in the genre?
DZ: No. I’m not worried. I think It Follows is probably… I mean, I’m so proud of that movie.
You should be.
DZ: Thank you so much. I mean it’s just unreal. I’ll tell you this... I just knew it was something really special. I just had an amazing feeling. I didn’t think it was going to happen the way it happened, but I knew it was different and unique. And it was a good group of people. And I have the same feeling about this one. Everyone is so cool and like the look of it, and it’s unique. I don’t know how to describe this movie. I don’t even know if it’s horror. I mean, yeah, it has horror qualities to it... No, I’m not worried. But, hey, look. If I have two cool horror movies in my résumé, I’ll be the happiest, because I love horror movies.
To what extent is the city of Detroit a character in the movie?
DZ: In It Follows, Detroit was a huge character. I think the way that they portrayed the city it was a huge character in the movie. I think here it’s more of the circumstances that lead to what is going on in the story that makes Detroit a big part of it. We haven’t been in Detroit. We’re going to be there after this.
David is a very different filmmaker from Fede. He comes from a very indie background, whereas Fede’s first movie was a big studio movie. How do they compare?
DZ: They’re both super different, yes. They are both really smart people in different ways. David is much more… When you see It Follows several times, you start to notice things that you didn’t know the first time, like the movements and everything. And that’s not just luck. The guy is behind making sure that this guy moves here… And you could do 35 takes of that until it’s perfect. And by 27 you are like, “Why are we doing this again?” And then when you see the last one you are like, “Oh. That makes sense.” So he’s very meticulous, very precise. Maybe it was because the movie required that. But David is really interesting. And he’s really quiet. And he comes to you and talks to you.
And then Fede, like you said, it’s two different animals... Fede sits down with you and tells you… When I first met him and we talked about Money, he told me everything that he thought about it, step by step... And then he’s like, “What do you think? What do you want?” So both directors have like an open communication. I think Fede is just… he loves cinema. He’s always quoting directors, and movies, and references... He’s super knowledgeable. And he plays the f---ing piano like Mozart. He’s that type of guy. He never stops. His concentration level is unreal.
Fede likes to push the envelope... I can’t give you the spoiler, but when you see the movie, you are going to come out of that movie and you are going to be like, “Holy s---. What the f--- is this? That scene, dude. I’ve never seen that before.” That’s going to happen. He does that because he admires people who’ve done that before and he wants to do that. And that’s f---ing cool when the director wants to do something that you’ve never done before.
Did he push you to do things that you didn’t think you were capable of, or that you may have felt uncomfortable doing but ended up working out very well?
DZ: Yeah. He makes you feel really comfortable. For me this has been a huge growth. I didn’t think I could pull this off. I was freaking out before I started... And he kinda just sat you down and he’s like, “There’s a reason why you’re here, dude, so stop questioning that.” He’s just a good guy, dude. You know, weird. But I like weird.
When it gets to the point where a film that you’ve worked on is just about to come out, what’s that experience like?
DZ: It Follows was really different because it came out and went to Cannes like a year before it came out. And then it went to Toronto and all the festivals. So it took a long ass time before it came out. For me it was kinda like, “All right. Critics love it. What are people going to say about it?” And people loved it and people hated it. And like I said before, I think that’s good. If people hate something and love it at the same time, then you are doing something good.
So, for me It Follows was just kind of... I just wanted it to come out... I’m from Costa Rica, so now that it’s coming out in Mexico, and Argentina, and all these countries where… Dude, I can’t believe that it’s there. It’s been a journey that’s taken forever.
Have you got to spend any time with Sam Raimi? Has he been around?
DZ: No. I wish. He’s not around. He wasn’t around for Evil Dead either, I don’t think so... I think Fede and him have a really cool relationship. I mean, you guys know how Fede started. That’s pretty crazy. It doesn’t happen to anyone and it happened to him. And I feel like Sam has a lot of respect and admiration for him, and part of the reason why Fede is doing this and Evil Dead and everything else. So I feel like, because he’s a director, he doesn’t want to interfere and all that crap. So I think that he just lets him be.
Do you know what you’re doing after this?
DZ: Probably waitering.
DZ: Yeah, probably waitering. No. I still don’t know.
Zovatto did not end up waitering (at least, not that we know of), but instead joined the cast of Fear the Walking Dead, which returns to AMC on Sunday, 21st August at 9/8c.
Don’t Breathe is set for release on August 26, 2016.