Coming to theatres this Friday from director William Dickerson, Fishbone Films and Level 1 Entertainment comes a road that takes a DETOUR.
This film tells the story of Jackson (Neil Hopkins), a busy man on the road until suddenly the road finds him. Waking up, Jackson discovers he is buried in the car and wedged in good. No cell phone bars, a static filled radio and a car battery that’s draining are the first on his mind.
I stop describing the film here because I don’t want audiences to miss one moment of the experiences this story has to offer. I can, however, talk with Neil Hopkins, the actor who plays Jackson in the film. This is one of those times I get a little giddy because it’s a chance to really talk about the film and how he approached playing Jackson.
Thanks for talking with me today Neil. I’m so glad you agreed to talk to me because I wanted to congratulate you. Its not often I get to see a film where I throw things and holler at a screen.
That’s so cool. That’s awesome. That was our goal from the onset is to get people to throw things.
Well it worked! I went to look up your resume and you have been on so many of my favorite shows.
I’ve done a lot of shows.
You’ve done some really good shows!
What are your favorite ones?
Dirty Sexy Money, Criminal Minds, CSI, Necessary Roughness, and of course – LOST as Liam Pace! If that isn’t enough how about a little TRUE BLOOD as Claude Crane – nice!
Yes, I’ve had some great roles.
DETOUR, yes obviously I thought at first I’d seen something like this before so watching it I thought ‘give it a whirl’ and really it’s not what you think so thanks for the whirl! When you were presented with this idea what did you think?
One thing you should know is that the director/writer Will Dickerson along with Dwight Moody, they came up with this idea in 2008. That’s when the initial script was written and he had a lot of interest in the script. This was way before BURIED and 127 HOURS. In fact the original title was BURIED. He was way ahead of the curve in regards to the sub genre of containment thrillers. I had never heard of anything like it when I got the script. I went to college with Will and we have been friends for years. He went to the American Film Institute here in Los Angeles and did his thesis film so we’ve worked together before and wanted to again. He gave the script and I read it thinking oh my god this is crazy. For an actor this can be a dream but it can also be a nightmare feeling like the entire movie in on your shoulders. I mean you have nothing to hide behind here. If you fail the movie fails. So that respect it was intimidating The whole concept which at the time was that he wanted to make a film and figure out a way to make an interesting film with as little money as possible. That’s what he did and when I got it I was thrilled, scared and excited and there was no doubt in my mind I was going to do it because it was a unique opportunity.
I’ll never look at my car the same way again.
That’s what everybody says.
They came up with these things very organically by doing a lot of sitting in the car and thinking about it. I mean thinking what could you do with the stuff, no like a doomsday prepper or anything, just basic stuff what would you do. How would you get out of this situation? They say necessity is the mother of invention so he figured it out that way. I think he was pretty ingenious coming up with stuff. A few things we came up with together while we were shooting. There were certain things outlined in the script that didn’t necessarily work once we were in the car. Or maybe it wasn’t as believable as it could have been. We amended a lot of things but its pretty true to the original script. There are things we wanted to make sense and once you are in the space your options are very limited. I was impressed with what he came up with and thought they were super cool.
When you were in the car where they’re times when you personally freaked out a little bit?
Yes, just being inside the car the way they had it hooked up it looks real and looks like you are buried under the mud. It was so realistic in person that it definitely did. I stayed in the car a lot during the shoot. I would get out for certain stuff but between set ups I’d stay in the car whenever I could to stay in that moment. It’s harder to go out, come back in and get into that mindset again. The car definitely helped because it really did make you feel that, just took a little imagination to go into that possibility.
Where you actually buried underneath dirt in a car?
We shot it in a garage like a makeshift soundstage in Long Beach near the airport. It was just this big garage to store stuff in but had like 30-foot ceilings. In the center of it was the car, the Jeep and there is only one. It was rigged to make parts come off depending on where the camera was going to be. It was a real car just situatated and on all the windows there were mud rugs that were created by the production design team.
Now that you told me that I am even more impressed with the look of the film.
It was a big magic trick.
Someone asked me yesterday what my favorite film so far this year was and I said DETOUR. Now I’m even more impressed. I don’t like to tell everything about a film.
Yes, the less you know the better.
I described it as being covered in dirt.
There was lot of dirt, trust me we had an enormous pile to create the mud and it was all totally real. I don’t want to give anything away either but all the dirt was real. The illusion was created but allowed us to film as quickly as possible.
I don’t think I even breathed right toward the end of the film. I didn’t realize until I was lightheaded that I had done that!
That’s great, that’s the reaction we were going for and it succeeded in that regard. A lot of people have said that which is pretty traumatic but good.
Your character goes from the moment he wakes up and realizes something is amiss going through stages. Is almost like the stages of death and dying by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.
That is so funny that you say that because the script was structurally and roughly based on that.
It’s great you picked up on that. It was actually one of the books Will gave me to read.
It was interesting to watch his character go through questioning, deals, flashbacks and such.
The audience kind of goes through a lot of trauma too.
I had a zillion questions after I saw the movie but spent time answering those questions myself. If I had talked to you directly after the movie I would have bombarded you, seriously! This way was better because I got to think about it and answer those same questions for myself. Doing that allows the audience to be YOU in a way.
That is exactly what Will was going for in this movie to put the audience in a situation that is so heightened and extreme but also not impossible. That puts the audience through that experience of ‘what would you do’. I mean you only have this stuff in your car that you happen to have – I mean you don’t drive around all day expecting to be buried in a mudslide. You’re lucky if you have a container of water!
There are several things in the film that absolutely stand out but one of them is finally understanding what the middle empty console of a car can be used for!
Yep, that thing is watertight.
I wonder if car companies will add that as a special feature for the new cars.
It’s funny because we had to get permission from Jeep, like you do from everyone, to use the car. They read the script so they knew how the car was going to be used so they were totally fine with it. I think the ruggedness and survival nature of the film goes along with their image.
Did you notice that you also physically changed so much on screen?
Yes, I lost weight and I wasn’t eating a lot the entire time and my skin was reacting badly to having mud on it. I was in a bad way by the end of it and had sinus problems and coughing. Everyday I was just splattered in mud and dirt. All that stuff was totally real and not to mention I didn’t see the sun too much for three weeks. I’m 6’1 and being in that car and having to constantly have your legs cramped and head pushed down kind of messes up your alignment.
Your makeup was dirt!
Yes, some makeup of course but most of my skin was covered in mud. Even the cut looked like an infected wound and was kind of gross.
We enjoyed having that open reaction because if you don’t during a film isn’t worth watching.
I’m glad you had that reaction. We are having a showing this Friday with about 170 seats and will be the first time I’ve seen it with an audience so I’m looking forward to that. We are having a Q&A after. My wife and family along with the director’s family will be there so it’s going to be a whole group.
That’s pretty nice to have them all there to see it with you.
It’s our premier!
It needs to be bigger.
We are trying to get it out because I think it’s a quality film. We are trying with word of mouth because it will be available for a while in itunes and OnDemand. It will be released in 12 cities, which is pretty awesome including New York and Los Angeles. I think it’s a much more visceral experience seeing it on the big screen. It makes you feel like you are there.
Your character deals with a lot of emotional issues with his life, his wife – how was that for you because you have to go into a pretty harsh place to play Jackson?
It was actually convenient in a way because my wife was pregnant with our daughter at the time. My character’s girlfriend is pregnant with his child so that part of it was synchronicity that it worked out that way. It’s something that I wouldn’t be able to understanding entirely on that level if I wasn’t for that place in my life. That helped a lot. It helped me make it a lot more specific to myself.
Did you find it hard to be that cold person that Jackson was being?
It’s always kind of hard to do that but that’s what being an actor is. I strongly believe that everyone, regardless of their predisposition, is capable of everything depending on the circumstances we are in. Jackson is in a high paced world, in a city that you can’t really survive on being friendly all the time, especially in the world of advertising. You have to be pretty vicious at times and cut to the quick of human emotion and how to manipulate people. It was certainly necessary to the character.
In some ways it was very challenging and because acting is reacting. When you’re with other people, especially good actors that in some cases are better than you it raises the level of your game. Like tennis, if you’re playing someone who is better than you – you play better! That was missing, that sort of challenge and human interaction in most of the film. I mean I did work with Brea in the flashbacks of the film, which were a welcome relief. But it was challenging but after a while you get use to it and there is something about the isolation. The thing is that in L.A. you live in your car especially when you’re an actor. You’re constantly in your car and constantly going from place to place and I talk to myself all the time when I’m in the car. I probably didn’t use to do that but instead a product of being alone in the car for so many years so I could really relate to that. You start talking to yourself; at least most people do because you have to have someone there to talk to even if it’s yourself. That’s why the character becomes affected by the reflection in the mirror and the iphone because that’s the only interaction he has being in there. It was a challenge at first but then became natural.
Every time you would talk out loud, and I didn’t realize it until it was pointed out to me that I was answering you! My daughter pointed out later saying ‘you realize he can’t hear you right?’
That’s great, I wish I could have watched the movie with you guys! That’s amazing and awesome.
We were so drawn in by your character that by the end of the film we thought we were in the car. When you moved – we moved!
You couldn’t ask for a better reaction than that. That’s what we were going for from the get go. That’s nice to hear.
There is one point where you are sitting with your knees up and I looked over and Jenise had her knees up and she was squished together like you were in the car. This is how we know people have to see the movie when you are having a physical reaction to something that isn’t technically real!
I can’t wait to tell the director that.
I am making sure to yell out to anyone who sees the premise of the movie and gets the wrong idea to say ‘wrong! It’s not what you are thinking!’
That’s been our reaction since the movie has started to get press. We are immediately on the defensive with a knee jerk reaction but we’ve gotten some really positive reviews so far so we are excited that people are able to look beyond that initial reaction and see it on its own merit.
Congratulations to you because you did one hell of a job. I can’t even imagine the amount of what you went through just piecing all this together. This is definitely a ‘no frills’ film that allows the audience to experience everything Jackson does.
The film doesn’t work unless you want the person to survive the ordeal either.
Are you working on anything else right now?
Will and I are doing a film this summer and it couldn’t be more different than DETOUR. It’s exciting and passionate to both of us and pretty out there. We are still working on the script. I just shot a pilot for Lifetime called THE WITCHES OF EAST END that’s going to resume shooting in July.
DETOUR runs about 87 minutes, do you think that’s as perfect as we do?
There were things that got cut that I wish were kept in but once I saw it as a whole I knew it couldn’t be a minute longer. You can only put the audience through so much before it kind of becomes abusive.
Is that the best part of making an independent film?
Yes, this film is independent in every sense of the word. We made the movie we wanted to make. It wasn’t until after the final edit was completed that Level 1 saw it and acquired it. It was already a totally finished movie with not a frame changes from what Will wanted. It all came out.
Thanks Neil! Well, I have to honestly say that this was one of the most frustrating, fun, terrifying, thrilling and aggravating films I have seen this year. Thank you to writer/director Will Dickerson for sticking to your guns (read his article about the film DETOUR at www.thewrap.com) and to Neil Hopkins for letting his brilliance comes through in some unexpected ways that just absolutely made the film.
Now it’s your turn my movie babies to see DETOUR in theatres and tell everyone you know about this film. Everyone will leave the theatre talking, asking and answering questions and discussing the biggest question of all – what would you do?
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