“Cloverfield” is intense. It is loud, epic and thrives in a state of secrecy. In short, the January 18 release reflects producer J.J. Abrams much like a child inherits genes from a parent. And now, after months of teasing you with random images of monsters, decapitated Statue of Liberties and bizarre frozen beverages, the “Lost” mastermind is finally pulling back the curtain on his secretive slice of cinema.
“We knew from the beginning that it was top-secret,” star Michael Stahl-David remembered, speaking to MTV News about the film for the first time. “When we signed on, we signed a contract without seeing a script. From the beginning, we’d get these scripts that were red, and they wouldn’t let us take them home from the offices. There was one morning where I left my script somewhere and didn’t know where it was — and that was not OK. As it turned out, the cleaning lady had put it in a drawer; but there was this brief moment where it was like, ’You are going to go find that script!’ ”
Such measures were necessary to keep Abrams’ guessing game alive, as he doled out breadcrumbs including unnamed trailers and Slusho! T-shirts, gleefully fueling Internet speculation. But now, with four intense minutes of new footage to support a “Cloverfield” contest, the cat is slowly creeping out of the bag.
“You can take this widget and put it on your Facebook or MySpace [page], and when people go to your page they can click on the widget, watch it and grab it,” the 25-year-old Stahl-David said of the contest, which can be found at Clearspring.com. “The person with the most grabs wins a screening before anybody else, in their hometown. I want to do it, because I haven’t seen the movie yet … but I’m not the best person for this — I only have three friends on my MySpace [page].”
In the flick, the former star of TV’s “The Black Donnellys” makes his movie debut as besieged New Yorker Rob Hawkins. “[My character] is someone who’s not a big risk-taker or somebody who’s very spontaneous,” Stahl-David revealed. “And then there’s Hud, the man behind the camera [played by T.J. Miller], who’s loud and funny but not the most tactful guy, definitely — he really cares about his friends. Then there’s Lizzy Caplan [as Marlena], who randomly gets stuck with us — she’s not in our close circle of friends … she’s the outsider in our midst. Then there’s Jessica Lucas [as Lily], who is the caretaker of my brother Jason [Mike Vogel], who is wild and reckless. She’s the only reason he keeps his sh– together.
“Then there’s Beth [Odette Yustman], [and] I’ve always felt like there’s something there between us,” he explained. “We’ve been friends for a long time, but whenever I’m single, she’s been seeing somebody and vice versa. We’ve never really connected, until a few weeks before the tape begins to roll — but I’m leaving, so it was just going to end where it was.”
Cut to the newly revealed four-minute clip of hand-held “discovered” footage of Rob’s going-away festivities — and the monster that crashes the party. “When the tape starts rolling, we’re filming this tape for ourselves. We don’t know that anything’s going to happen,” he explained. “We’re just filming this party. [The actors] did a lot of improvised stuff that felt very real … I was thrown into a room with 30 people I didn’t know and had to make it feel like they were my best friends.
“Then the monster comes, whatever that is,” he laughed, trying to keep a secret. “We’re seeing the effects of [the monster], and what the government is trying to do against it. [The whole movie] is what’s on this tape. The tape could have been used for something before, for whatever, but this is the one tape that the government found.”
With Abrams and director Matt Reeves hoping to keep things real, they brainstormed such minutiae as the moment when people start snapping photos of the Statue of Liberty’s severed head with their camera phones. “That’s real,” he laughed. “Nobody is pulling out their hair and [melodramatically] screaming, ’Why?’ A lot of the footage of this shooting style was inspired by 9/11 … it was a little weird to have the imagery in the movie. It’s a disaster in New York that involves clouds of dust and buildings falling.”
Cautiously, he added: “But it never heads too much in that way, because it is a monster movie. It’s going to be a fun movie, but it’s also going to be really intense.
“They’ve been very careful about not giving it away, because that’s the fun of it,” he explained of the secrecy for his no-stars movie, normally reserved for blockbusters with roman numerals after the title. “It’s gotten way more attention than it would have otherwise.”
As such, Stahl-David can’t even acknowledge the “Cloverfield” existence of a certain icy drink that recently launched a bizarre commercial online. “The concept of Slusho! is something that I’m not at liberty to discuss,” he recited robotically, only half-kidding. “I think [my character] might’ve been better off if he found some Slusho! [during the attack], but that would’ve been too much like Popeye eating his can of spinach.”
We did, however, learn that the monster is not named in the movie (“We took to calling it Clover … when the movie comes out, people are gonna name it”); that “Cloverfield” contains “Speed”-like nonstop scenes as high-adrenaline as the clip (“There’s a couple points where we can’t run anymore and we have to sit with ourselves, but other than that, the movie is about you being with us, and us trying to survive”); and that a climactic scene takes place in the NYC subway system.
“The whole scene in the subway,” Stahl-David said when asked for his favorite moment. “Once we go in there and get stuck and have to walk through those tunnels … it’s not a nice place to be … I can’t wait for the world to see that, and to hear their reactions.”
If all continues to go according to plan through January 18, the mind behind “Lost,” “Alias” and the upcoming “Star Trek” movie will have another success on his hands. And the first one Michael Stahl-David has ever seen.
“I’m not that familiar with his work, honestly,” he admitted of Abrams. “When I went into the audition, I didn’t even know who J.J. Abrams was, which made it easier. But I do know that he knows what the people like, and that he knows how to deliver pop culture.”
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