Elisha Cuthbert's room at San Francisco's Ritz Carlton had a western exposure so we sat down in late afternoon warmth to have a chat. Her beauty was unnerving, all the more so for being so natural. I couldn't stop thinking about how Elisha has the dubious honor of teaching Paris Hilton how to drink whiskey.
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Michael Guillén: Elisha, a few years back every Sunday night I used to sit down and watch my favorite t.v. show, which was 24, and I would just yell . . . .
Elisha Cuthbert: At me?
MG: . . . at your character Kim Bauer for making such horrible decisions.
Elisha: [Smiling.] Right.
MG: So I'm happy that in real life you've been making great decisions with your career, the movies that you've been choosing—The Girl Next Door, the remake of The House of Wax, and now Jamie Babbit's The Quiet. The Quiet is some of your finest acting to date and the camera loves you. [She laughs.] Congratulations!
EC: Thank you!
MG: Could you describe your character Nina Deer in The Quiet?
EC: Where to begin? Well, she's 17, and Nina is going through not only adolescence during this film but also some really difficult times in her life, dealing with her father and him sexually abusing her. It's a very deep and intricate role that requires her to be one way with her friends and one way at home and to find a balance between them. She's dealing with some rough things in her life. Not just adolescence. Adolescence is rough and this is tenfold. So that alone is quite a lot. But then at the end Nina sort of discovers herself, luckily through the character of Dot [Camilla Belle] who comes to live with her. Nina thinks that she can talk to Dot and I don't think Nina would ever have that opportunity with anyone else. So Dot helps facilitate the transformation and change in my character, which is so great.
MG: I know you don't like to play roles where you're a victim. Do you consider your character in The Quiet to be a victim?
EC: Yeah, I do. But at the same time I don't think she's aware of it, which is the beauty; but, I think she's aware that it's wrong but still isn't quite sure and still is very much in love with her father and I think from a young age was just brought up that way and in this environment and doesn't know any different. But you know that she's ashamed of it because she goes to school and she hides the fact. That all makes sense for the typical situation. Nina had to be vulnerable at times, which was hard for me, that's why this has been the most difficult film for me to date because I just had such a hard time doing that. Everything about Nina was wrong to me. I think that's why I took on the role. I wanted the challenge and anything that scares me is appealing. I went for it but at the same time there were moments on the set—one moment in particular where I was filming with Martin Donovan and we were shooting some of the bedroom scene stuff—I just had to take off and go into the set bathroom to cry and bawl, because I wanted to punch him. I wanted to be sick, ill really, because that's so not me and—of course I'm playing a character—but you can't help but get emotionally involved sometimes and this was the first instance where it really affected me beyond the action/cut that was hard.
MG: How did you become involved with this project? I know that—not only are you an actor—but you're also an associate producer; how did you become involved?
EC: I had gotten the script through my agents very early on in the process. They said, "They don't have any financing for this film but we read it and we think you might respond to it." Originally they thought of me for Dot. I got the script and I thought, "Wow! What a great movie! What a great story! It's so dark and so different from everything I've done except there's a triumph at the end, which makes it all worth it to me." I went in and I met with Jamie and I said, "Dot's great and she's dark and I can cut my hair and do it dark and get that sort of introvertedness …" and she looked at me and she said, "You're talking and you're oozing Nina to me." And I thought, "The cheerleader?!! The pretty one?! I don't want to do that. Can't you see that I'm so much more than that?" She said, "Just go back and re-read it with Nina in mind and I promise you, you're going to see, it's good." I went back and I read it, I read Nina, and I thought, "You know what? She's actually more complicated than Dot is and hiding this secret life that is so painful and then also to be experiencing teenagehood." I went back to Jamie and I said, "You're right. We've got to get this movie made." We ended up getting financing in Austin through the school and filmed it in Austin. I also was involved in the casting process and things like that. A little bit more involved.
MG: Did you enjoy that?
EC: I loved it! I loved it because I think I've done enough films and worked enough and long enough to know how it all works now. When you get a little bit, you want more, you want more, you want more. It's important to stay motivated and to stay interested. I think I've got a lot more going for me than just going out and being the actor in the movie. Especially on films like this that I feel connected to. That I feel needs to be made. If I can do that, that would be great.
MG: It was Burnt Orange who produced it?
EC: Burnt Orange Productions, which was an Austin-based company that was affiliated with the University of Texas. They had a lot of money to spend and they decided to spend it on making a series of nine different independent films that would help facilitate internships for their film program.
MG: You were working with the students directly? How was that for you?
EC: They were amazing and blew me away actually. They were just as excited to be on a movie set as we were. Because this was a real movie. This wasn't mock-up or pretend or imagine we're in this situation. This was the real deal. If we mess up, we mess up and we lose money. They were amazing and so consistent and ready to put in the hours. We shot this in four weeks and we didn't have a lot of time or a lot of money, but, they made it happen, which is great.
MG: You were talking about the complex nature of the role of Nina. Between Nina and Dot, I felt the two of you carried the dark seriousness of the film, but the film is also comic and that seems to be Jamie's trademark, that blend between the comic and the dark. What was it like working with her?
EC: Great! And to have a female—I hate to say whether male, female, whatever!—but for me, it made me a lot more comfortable. The content of this character and the things she's going through are so personal and so intense and to be able to go to Jamie and say, "I need a minute to deal with this and then I'll be right back." She helped me with that. She also kept reminding me, "You're 17, you're 17, you're 17" because I do, I think, in my real life exude a certain confidence and maturity and I always had to keep reminding myself that she's 17, she's 17, she doesn't talk like that, she talks like this, and Jamie kept me focused on that too, which was great. She never got overwhelmed. She was just always very consistent. And that's what you need. You need someone that knows what they're doing. She was great.
MG: Another one of her themes that she uses a lot is popularity as a mask or defense mechanism. You didn't want to play the cheerleader, but as the popular cheerleader it was a moving role because it was a conflicted and confining persona …
MG: … and you knew all this other stuff was going on underneath.
EC: I think she dealt with that in her first film too where there's a cheerleader but she's dealing with a lot of stuff that maybe people don't see on the surface. Most people in the world have one way they want to be perceived and then also are dealing with things in their own life. Nina is a really big example of that. And I think Jamie is fascinated by that. Jamie is very interested in topics that have to do with being uncomfortable but shouldn't be uncomfortable and putting those out there on the table. It's easier to watch these sorts of topics in a film and see it resolve than to maybe deal with it in real life.
MG: What' s your take on The Quiet's final scene where Nina and Dot are shown wading through a creek in the moonlight? What does that mean for you?
EC: Not only was it beautiful—and romantic!—but it was about her finally discovering that, "You know what? We're going to be okay" and that, as much as Nina maybe had been upset about what Dot had taken revenge on, I think she discovers at that moment, right after they bury everything and put it away, she goes, "Why did you do it?" Nina wasn't talking about her own father. Nina was asking her about Dot's father. I think at that moment she realizes that what has just happened is a good thing. Because right away you don't really sense that from Nina. I think that is a moment of clarity and the calm after the storm.
MG: I agree it's a beautiful scene. Your ensemble of co-actors, do you have anything you'd like to say? About Edie Falco…?
EC: She was very quiet making the movie. In the movie she's spacey and sometimes I thought, "Wow, that's an interesting choice" or "Oooooh, that's interesting" but the way it came across on screen just blew me away. Things I never even noticed because I was doing Nina. I was into Nina and all of a sudden I'm watching it on the screen and I cut to Edie and her eyes are rolling in the back of her head. I never saw that when we were filming. Those subtleties are so poignant in the film. I was just blown away by her. I thought she was great. Martin and I didn't do a lot of talking because, obviously, it was a little bit awkward. Camilla, and Katy Mixon who plays Michelle….
MG: Very funny.
EC: Blast! And it was her first film so I was walking her through a lot of it. I said, "Don't be worried about it. Don't get nervous. Don't freak out. Go in there and just do what you imagined and what you read the first time you opened the script and just go for it." She'd go, "Yeah, yeah, okay, okay, I got it, I got it." And then she'd go out and nail it. And I'd be like, "You nailed it! That' great!" Just crack it up. We had a good time making it.
MG: I anticipate that the film is going to do well so congratulations and thank you for your time.
EC: Thank you for your compliments. I appreciate it.
MG: You bet!
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Sony Pictures Classics will be releasing The Quiet come late August. Elisha's next film—Captivity, directed by Roland Jaffe—is in post-production. In Captivity she plays Jennifer, a woman who—along with her husband—awakes to find herself held captive in a cellar. Following that thriller, you will next hear Elisha as the voice of Cleo in Cat Tale, which is currently in pre-production.
Photos courtesy of WireImage.
Cross-posted on Twitch, where Kurt has likewise posted the trailer for The Quiet.