If director Quentin Tarantino was stranded on a desert island, the cast of the hit ABC television drama Lost — namely star Naveen Andrews — would be high on his list of preferred fellow castaways.
Tarantino has made no secret that he’s a pop-culture nut and a fan of Lost. In fact, Andrews believes that’s part of the reason he was cast in the Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez B-movie opus Grindhouse.
On Lost, Andrews plays Sayid, one of the pivotal characters in the show, and he’s thrilled that Tarantino has been tuning in.
“Robert was aware of Lost, but Quentin is a big fan,” Andrews said in a recent interview. “He said to me at the read-through of the [Grindhouse] script that my character and Josh Holloway’s character, Sawyer, were his favorites on the show. That was incredibly flattering.”
Andrews was deeply humbled by Tarantino’s observations. After all, the British-born actor never imagined working with either the Kill Bill filmmaker or Rodriguez, the creative force behind such hits as Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City.
“I’m from England, so it’s an honor to even be asked to come in and see those people,” Andrews said. “They’re outlaws. They work outside the studio system. When you’re working, there didn’t seem to be any producers around. They have the freedom to do whatever they want to do creatively, and some of that percolates down to the actors. We have today what were the auteurs to the 1970s.”
Ode to an Earlier Film Genre
With Grindhouse, Tarantino and Rodriguez have produced a double-feature hybrid. They effectively re-create the experience of the drive-in theater films of the 1970s and 1980s. The pair created bloody, back-to-back horror thrillers with fake trailers thrown between the features.
The first feature is the Rodriguez-directed Planet Terror, where a small group of survivors (including Freddy Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton and Andrews) have to fend off an army of zombies when an epidemic breaks out. The second film is the Tarantino-directed Death Proof, where a former stuntman (Kurt Russell) stalks women with his car.
Friends of the filmmaking pair — including Eli Roth (Hostel), Rob Zombie (House of 1,000 Corpses) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) — supply the B-movie trailers between the features.
The interesting thing about Andrews’ character, Abby, in Planet Terror is that while he’s fighting to survive, he’s not exactly your average movie hero.
“When you see [Abby] for the first time, you can see that he has a predilection for collecting things. Originally, there might have been an innocence with this character collecting things — like children collecting marbles and keeping things in glass jars,” Andrews observed. “Now he collects these things that he considers trophies and trinkets and keeps them in glass jars, but it’s much more disturbing.”
What Andrews loves about the character is that Rodriguez and Tarantino enable him to change — but how and why, in true grindhouse-movie form, is something we’ll never know.
“You don’t see him for awhile in the film, and when he returns, he’s suddenly full of this zeal to save the human race. He has a love for humanity,” Andrews said. “I can only assume what happened to him was on a missing reel.
“When we watched the grindhouse films at Quentin’s house, there were missing reels. You’d have to pick up on the action where it left off, and there would be whole chunks of character development missing. You’d have to just go with it. And that’s something that Quentin and Robert have incorporated into Grindhouse.”
Putting His Nose to the ‘Grind’ Stone
Even though the filmmakers and Andrews are close in age, Andrews said he was at a big disadvantage coming into the Grindhouse experience because he had grown up in a decidedly different cultural setting.
“Growing up in England, fortunately — or unfortunately — we didn’t have the grindhouse phenomenon. The nearest thing to it would have been the Hammer House of Horror films,” Andrews recalled. “I’m 38, so I grew up seeing them on television when I was about 9 or 10 years old. It would consist of cheap and cheerful, repressed English movies where Peter Cushing would run around trying to kill a giant moth.”
While Andrews has been doing Hollywood projects for the past 15 years, he didn’t experience his first grindhouse film until he got on board the Rodriguez/Tarantino project.
“This was a genre unknown to me until I signed to do the film, and then [I was] subjected to indoctrination and re-education at Quentin’s house,” Andrews said. “He has his own cinema, and there was popcorn for everybody.
“One was called Zombie, and there was another one starring Mia Farrow’s sister — all of them seemed to be interminable. They just went on and on.”
Suddenly, the euphoria Andrews initially felt about the prospect of working with these dynamic filmmakers turned to utter confusion.
“I have to say, I found the movies abysmal. They were awful,“ Andrews said. “As I was looking around, I saw Robert and Quentin laughing like maniacs. I found it amusing for maybe two minutes. I felt very embarrassed. I thought, ‘What am I not getting here?’ There must be [an] aesthetic that they can perceive and I can’t. Coming from England, we’re snobs, or at least I am. We have our own preconceived notions of what art and cinema should be. Usually that includes an ‘e’ or an ‘i’ at the end of a director’s name.”
What Andrews eventually discovered with the directing pair was that as campy or exploitative the films seem to be on the surface, underneath is an art form that deserves respect.
“One of the things Rose, Freddy and I discussed as actors was, ‘What is the style of this piece? It’s not parody, and it’s not pastiche or a farce. What is it?’ You have to be fully committed to it and not take it so seriously,” Andrews said. “It was a difficult balance to get.”
At least Andrews didn’t have to find a different sort of balance, like McGowan did. Her leg was put in a cast to help create the effect that she had machine gun for a prosthetic limb.
“When we were working with Rose, all she had was a stump, and all one could appreciate was how physically arduous it was for her to actually move,” Andrews laughed.
Tim Lammers writes about movies for the Internet Broadcasting network, which includes WNBC.com in New York and NBC4.tv in Los Angeles.
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