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Eli Roth & Owen Vaccaro Interview: The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Eli Roth is best known for the horror films he directs.  But his most recent project, The House with a Clock in Its Walls targets a different audience. The movie is based on the young adult novel of the same name and stars Owen Vaccaro, Jack Black, and Cate Blanchett.  The House with a Clock in the Walls’ young star, Owen Vaccaro, has appeared in films such as Daddy’s Home, starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, and Mother’s Day, starring Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson.

Screen Rant: First of all, guys, congratulations on the film. It's a lot of fun and it is a little scary. I'm a huge fan of yours from the past, but now my nieces and nephews can be too. And to me this seems like such a natural transition as a director, as a new challenge.  What was it about the source material that really got you on board for this?

Eli Roth: I mean, Eric Kripke’s script for sure. I actually, I love Edward Gorey and collect Edward Gorey's artwork. And I had the cover of another Bellairs book, Johnny Dixon in The Hand of the Necromancer. So, I was unfamiliar with the series, but then it turns out everybody I knew, they're like, “Oh, that's a book that got me into scary movies.” That was like the gateway book for a lot of people. That was what made them fall in love with horror. So, I wanted to do a family movie. I wanted to do a fantasy. I wanted to do something that was much more at the Terry Gilliam end of the spectrum, like an early Tim Burton film. And really try and bring back that Amblin brand. It was the opportunity to show how great a PG movie could be.  I remember as a kid, when you saw E.T., Raiders, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Goonies, Back to the Future, these were events. But you went with your parents. The movies were fun for the older brothers, the younger sisters, the parents, everybody in the movie got something out of it. And that's the kind of family experience I wanted to have. I wanted a movie that if you have-- If you're eight years old, if there's a 17-year-old, if there’s a 14-year-old, have parents, or grandparents, everyone's going to get something from the movie.

Screen Rant: One thing I love about a Blu-ray, DVD, digital releases, they have this behind the scenes stuff and it's almost like going to film school. And I noticed that a lot of the stuff on this was practical. Practical sets, practical effects.  How did that help your performance, Owen?

Owen Vaccaro: Well, the set itself was just so amazing. There were so much like-- In this area here, there's so much detail put into every single square inch of the set. And I feel like if there's not a very good set, it's hard to act around it. Because it's not much you can work with. That also brings me to like CGI. I feel like that part is always really hard. Because Eli was like, “Owen! Alright, now there's a big giant griffin made of leaves attacking you! Scream!” And so, then I'm like, well you shout, “Where is it, where is it!?” Because I don't actually see it.

Eli Roth: Right.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls Owen Vaccaro Jack Black Cate Blanchett

Screen Rant: Well, I also hear that you're a ball of energy, and you're a great dancer, and you pulled a prank on Jack Black. Has he ever gotten you back from that prank?

Owen Vaccaro: Not yet. But I know he's going to get me back so hard. And now, like every time I walk into a trailer, I’m like, “Hah!”

Eli Roth: Well, you were like, “We have to prank Jack.” And he used to prank them as they're leaving. If you prank them on day one, you're toast. But if it's after their last shot, that's a good time. Jack wasn't expecting it. I think Jack thought that we would have pulled a prank earlier in the shoot. And by the end it's like, “Well, they're certainly not going to do it now. It's the end” Got his goat.

Screen Rant: Speaking of Jack, you had Cate [Blanchett], you had Kyle [MacLachlan], you had Owen, you assembled a great, great cast. And Cate and Jack mainly, those roles don't fit, but this works so perfectly. Why were they the right choices for this?

Eli Roth: You know, I think that Jack Black is our generation's Robin Williams. I really think he's like, when Robin Williams just started doing Dead Poets Society and Awakenings. He's like an Oscar nominated, Oscar winning actor. Good Will Hunting. But he's also doing Mrs. Doubtfire, which is just as brilliant. That's Jack. He's doing Bernie, he's doing Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, but he's also doing Jumanji. He's brilliant in all of them. Cate really respects Jack as an actor. And obviously Jack respects Cate as an actor, but he thought she's really, really funny. So, this playful side of her is starting to come out at this point in her career. She's kind of done it all. So, she's having fun. So, what we saw was, Jack brought out the best comedy in Cate and Kate brought out the best drama in Jack. And what I loved about Owen was, Owen is so strong at both of them. I'd seen him in Daddy's Home. And a lot of it is just kind of reacting and doing jokes. But this, he has to really carry the movie, and be sad. And we see the whole movie through Lewis’ eyes. And I remember shooting that first thing with the backpack, where he comes in, and he's like, off the bus and looking.  We had a whole opening that's on the DVD, where it's the house a year earlier. Where Isaac does the spell, which we use in the flashback. But I was like, “No. We should see-- This whole thing is Lewis training. We've got to start it with Owen.”

More: Read Screen Rant's The House With A Clock In Its Walls Review

The House With a Clock In its Walls is available on Blu-ray December 18, 2018.

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