Don't Breathe isn't Dylan Minnette's first brush with the horror genre. Following a guest appearance in Supernatural, he went on to play the part of an ill-fated bully in Matt Reeves' Let Me In and later landed a role as the young lead in Rob Letterman's surprisingly good Ghostbusters movie, where Minnette's comedic chemistry with co-star Jack Black was one of the film's highlights. He leaves the laughs behind in his latest movie, however, playing one of three young burglars who make the catastrophic mistake of trying to rob an old blind man (Stephen Lang), who turns out to be a far more formidable enemy than they were prepared for.
The latest thriller/horror from Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez sees Minnette reunited with It Follows actor Daniel Zovatto, after the two actors played a pair of scheming S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy students in ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In Don't Breathe, they are accomplices once more: Minnette plays Alex, an anxious and lovelorn youth who uses his father's position at a security company to get the keys the gang needs to break into rich people's houses; meanwhile, Zovatto plays Money, a would-be gangster with cornrows and criminals connections, who also happens to be dating the object of Alex's affections, Rocky (Jane Levy).
Screen Rant visited the set of Don't Breathe last year - a sound stage in Budapest where the crew had built three floors and the facade of a house in Detroit, where the movie is set. Interviews with the cast and director took place in the cellar, a cramped and cluttered two-room area that is the setting of one of the movie's most suspenseful scenes. The lights were fortunately on when we visited, but this is where Minnette and Levy filmed a scene in total darkness, the two of them only visible on screen thanks to some innovative practical camera trickery.
Did you get to have a lot of scenes in this room?
Dylan Minnette: Yeah. I had a couple days in here. A couple days. And it’s very, very dark down here... When all the doors are closed in here and there’s no lights on, you cannot see at all. It’s just completely black. So if they turned these lights off you guys would have trouble finding your way out of here.
What happened to you down here?
DM: I don’t know, man… I’m still figuring that out myself.
Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
DM: Yeah. I play Alex. Alex lives alone with his dad in Detroit. I think his mom is passed away. Him and his dad have kind of a rough relationship just because they don’t really know how to speak to each other... Alex’s dad works for a security company. And Alex’s dad has all the keys to the homes that the company [protects]. So they are robbing a couple homes, and there’s one house where this man has a big settlement of money because of something that happened to his daughter. Money and Rocky want to go get this money. When Alex decides that it’s best to leave Detroit and go to California, he decides the best way to do that is to have this money. So he decides to do it. That is driven by his affection for Rocky. Alex is very passionate for her and will, at the end of the day, do whatever she wants. Not in a bad way, but he just will follow her.
Does Rocky feel the same way about him?
DM: I don’t think so. Rocky and Money are a little bit of a pair, but Alex can see that they’re not meant for each other. [Money] doesn’t deserve her, is what he thinks.
Goosebumps, while being a “horror” movie, is definitely more of a goof, whereas this one it seems like there’s a lot of real high stakes here. Can you talk about sort of playing those two sides?
DM: I definitely have enjoyed some roles that I’ve done that are more along the lines of this movie. I did a movie called Prisoners which, when I was doing it, I knew it was going to be great. And I’m super proud of it now. After that I’ve done two family films—Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Goosebumps. So after Goosebumps I really wanted to make sure what happened next just made sense. I didn’t want to get on a streak of things. I just wanted to be very particular. I think that now, having filmed most of this movie, I really feel like I’ve landed exactly what I wanted after that. It definitely is bringing back some Prisoners vibes for me, like, “Oh, this movie is going to be great. This is really exciting. This is really dark and I like doing this.”
Has it asked a lot of you of stuff you haven’t done before?
DM: I think so. Whenever I’d been in something like this, I’ve always kind of been more of a secondary character and the big problems in the films were happening to older actors or bigger names or whatever you want to… however you want to word that. In this, it really just follows these three kids going into this house. There’s a lot at stake for me and my character in this movie that I’m realizing now doing this, like, “Wow. A lot of this rests on my shoulders and this sequence is going to all be me.”
We heard from Jane she was hired about five days before she flew out here. How early in the process were you cast?
DM: I had been signed onto this for about a month before Jane. Danny and I were signing on for this at the same time. And I’ve known Danny for a couple of years. We did an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. together. When we were both cast for it we were excited because he had read together, but I didn’t think they would pair us together... So there was a month of like, “Man. Who’s going to be cast in this movie?” We would read with people. And like the week of leaving to Budapest we’re like, “Who is going to play Rocky? What is going on? Who is the blind man?” And then finally that week we knew.
So you say you are a fan of horror as well. What’s your favorite horror movie?
DM: Oh, man.
That’s a tough one.
DM: Yeah. It’s such a rough question. There is... like the classic, just Halloween. Michael Myers is just such an iconic character. I real feel some type of way every time I watch that movie, especially in October, my favorite month. I don’t know. There’s just certain things that really get me going. That’s too tough of a question... I watched Child’s Play and those movies starting at four years old. That was all thanks to my dad. I think that that set me up for horror. He would bring me to these haunted houses at like five, six years old, like random... haunted houses in Indiana where I’m from... So I think all of that I was doing at a young age and I got scared of it for a while. But now I’m absolutely obsessed with it. I don’t know if you guys know Halloween Horror Nights in LA. I go at least like six, seven times a year, eight times. I’m not kidding or exaggerating.
Were you a child of the Goosebumps generation?
DM: Yes. Goosebumps was a very big part of my childhood. That’s kind of what also inspired me to be into horror, especially because it was kid-friendly and it dared you to read the books alone. So being a part of that was super nostalgic and crazy for me.
What’s it like working with Stephen?
DM: Oh, man. That is going to be a big question. Stephen is a very nice guy. He is super professional. He’s worked a ton. And he just knows what he’s doing. But he’s also very intimidating, which is appropriate for this part. I genuinely find myself scared in some of the scenes we’re filming. We’ll be rehearsing a scene and I’ll start laughing simply because of how scary it is... He’s just very intimidating and he goes for it. But I like that. It really demands you as an actor, too… You don’t really want to mess up and you don’t want to act like a wuss. So I’m learning a lot on how to be professional in these crazy situations.
But he’s not method?
DM: Before a take he’ll just sit with his eyes closed and get into the space of, I guess, not being able to see anything. But it’s definitely not method. He’ll joke with you and talk with you in between takes. If it were method I’d probably be ready for this to be over with. So, thank god he’s not method... No matter what he’s doing in any scene, if he has to touch someone in any kind of violent or physical way, he always says, “Are you OK?” He definitely makes sure that everyone is good with what he is doing.
Do you want to do more horror after this, or do you want to explore different genres?
DM: I guess it depends. I’ll always do a horror film if it’s actually good. It’s very rare nowadays that you’ll come across a horror movie like, “Oh, this is going to be really special. This is going to be great.” The last one that I saw that was amazing was It Follows, which is actually one of my favorite horror movies... That’s why I don’t blame Danny for doing that and this, because these are both… this is going to be a great film and [It Follows] is a great film.
We’ve heard that a lot of it is filmed not necessarily in complete darkness, but it’s a quite dark film. How does that work on camera?
DM: Whenever we’re filming a scene in the dark, there’s no lights. There’s like a light kind of on the ring of the camera, a light around the camera that kind of gives it this infrared effect. But it’s not infrared. It’s just a unique way that I haven’t seen been done for doing a scene in the dark. It’s really cool too, like I said… it gets dark.
Is that one of the themes of the film? They are coming into his world, and his world is quite dark because he doesn’t need any lights.
DM: There’s definitely a point in the movie where the tables turn. I’m not saying the whole movie, but there’s definitely points where the tables turn, where he becomes in control because of his senses... you don’t have that. So if you are in the dark and he is in the dark at the same time coming after you, you are kinda screwed.
The fact that money is a motivator, I think that happens a lot in movies because if you’ve got a theater full of an audience, 99.9% of the people in that audience will have had money troubles at some point. How badly do the characters need this money from this guy?
DM: For Rocky it’s driven by family and her sister and wanting to be able to support, because she comes from a trailer park and she wants to be able to take care of her sister and get her out of there. And she wants to go to California. And Money is like a tough gangster type dude on the surface, but you can tell on the inside he’s not. He’s never killed anyone. He’s never held a gun. He’s just all talk. And it’s just who he’s around or who he’s brought up with. He wants to escape to go to California, get a bunch of money. But I think it’s also to escape his fears and the people that leave him here at home. And Alex, he does not want to, but he loves Rocky. And also, he’s not going to get what he wants being here with his dad. He doesn’t want to leave his dad, but then he decides, “Well, they are getting this money and they are going to California. I’m going to do it, too.”
Is there a dog? We heard about a dog in the house.
DM: There is a dog. It’s a vicious poodle [note: there actually was a poodle on set during our visit, but it does not appear in the movie]. No, there is a big dog in the house. They see the dog when they are sitting outside the day of. But they also come with a plan for that, too. So they have it all planned out. They just don’t know who this guy is or what’s going on inside the house, which is where things really turn.
Is it scary filming with a big Rottweiler?
DM: I think they have a nice dog and a mean dog. They have one that you have to train to bite and one that you have to train not to bite. So it depends on which dog you are working with, I think. I haven’t had to work that much with the dog yet. The couple times that I have, though, it’s intimidating.
Don’t Breathe is set for release on August 26, 2016.