Exclusive: Scott Walker talks Frozen Ground and working with Vanessa Hudgens and Nicolas Cage
In THE FROZEN GROUND, the new film starring Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, and John Cusack, an Alaskan Trooper seeks a believed serial killer in Alaska. Based on a true story, THE FROZEN GROUND brings to light the sensitive nature of investigations, particularly when dealing with a victim who barely escaped. Today we spoke with writer/director Scott Walker about his debut feature film which hits theaters on August 23rd, 2013.
Flix66 – Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, and for making an incredibly interesting slow-burn of a film, in THE FROZEN GROUND. I have just a few questions for you. When did you decide you wanted to make movies?
Scott Walker (Walker) – I, well, I always loved films when I was growing up. But I grew up in New Zealand. And uh, in those days there wasn’t really, there wasn’t any Peter Jackson doing what he is doing now so it was never really a thought, you know. You can’t make a living making films. So, I got into advertising. But I always was a huge film uh, you know, I loved the, sort of the escapism of sort of going into different worlds and different places and I was in advertising which is a great, creative industry, it’s world-wide, you can travel places, you get to work on exciting ideas and you get to send them out to audiences and people react to them. And I was in London doing a mythic story structure course with Chris Vogler and I my own Agency at the time, we’d just done a lot of the big global launch for XBOX, and we were doing really really well but I was like I just wanna, well, I kept doing more and more film courses and so eventually someone said to me What are you doing? Why don’t you just make films? And I said OK, I will. And I went home that night and said to my wife I’m going to shut my agency down and teach myself how to write and direct. And she was like Great. Scary stuff.
Flix66 – That’s great, awesome.
Walker – Yeah, that was 8 years ago.
Flix66 – Was it a difficult jump for you, to move from your career in advertising into filmmaking?
Walker – I don’t know, I kind of never think about anything as being difficult, you know? It’s like once you make the decision, and leap, you’re kind of on your way and then it’s just learn and learn. No, I never did film school. I left school with I was like 16, 17 and never did University. I was like, I’ll just teach myself, which was something I learned from my father. And, uh, so it was just the time. The time and persistence, if there was any difficulty, was just in keeping at something for 8 years and then eventually you get to the end and you’re like Wow, now I have a film and, you know, it’s Nicolas Cage and John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens and an amazing supporting cast, incredible.
Flix66 – What drew you into this true story? What made you want to do a story about the Alaskan serial killer?
Walker – Well, it was actually NOT wanting to do a film about an Alaskan serial killer that made me want to do this story. I never set out to do a horror or even really a thriller with the idea that I was going to set out and find a serial killer and make a movie about him. I’d been working on something else which was completely fictional, which was about a victim’s perspective on some horrific events all fictionalized, and that was when someone said Have you heard about Robert Henson, that’s very similar to what you’re working on and when I, well, I did an enormous amount of research just to understand the Henson case before I called any of the real people. Because, it’s just, what happened was… awful, and I didn’t want to glorify what he did or even really commercialize, because it seems commercialized, what he did. So, I spoke to, originally, some of the troopers who worked the case. I started with one of the main ones, Glenn Flothe, who is the majority of what is Nicolas Cage’s character is based on. And he said look, I’m not a hero, I don’t want to be a hero, I was just doing my job. The real hero is Cindy Paulson, you need to find her. And, um, I thought of him when I interviewed her. I interviewed her for about 50 hours over a week, and there was just something amazing about these two people who were totally different walks of life and yet they came together and had this amazing kind of relationship. A very paternal relationship in that he really genuinely cared about her and she had no one in the world that she could trust. And yet he had to get her to trust him. And I know that’s a very interesting drama. It just happens to have a police procedural in there as well and it revolves around a serial killer. But to me it was always Cindy is the heart of the film and what sort of drew me in was something on that level, much more of a drama, was what I was aiming for.
Flix66 – I love that. I really liked how the movie really focuses on the relationship between the Trooper (played by Nic Cage) and Cindy. I enjoyed that dynamic; the relationship between someone in law enforcement and a victim/potential witness is something not really explored in a lot of movies. Am I hearing you right, that was kind of the beginning of the process and this film sort of grew out of that, is that right?
Walker – Yeah! Yeah, I say it was, but it was sort of a cliché. It was a little journey. When I first went to meet Cindy, the real Cindy, she just happened to be flying to a state where Glenn was also flying, in the same state to testify in a cold case. And I rang him and asked if he would be interested in coming with me to see Cindy and he said Yes, I would so I flew there, picked him up, and went to find her. And it was the first time where had seen each other for 25 years, and they were both in tears and Glenn said he was just thinking in the end, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this film but I’m so thankful that I got a chance to see her again because that was a dream of mine, to see her one more time, and make sure she’s okay. And um so just the amazing, on that level, was, and that’s how the film grew and trying to understand this relationship. And both of them, especially her, were incredible about what they told me. About her life and unfortunately I just can’t, you know, a lot of it is too graphic and upsetting to put in a film and things have happened to her. But I tried to show elements of it, and also the dynamic of her being that she had no trust, no vulnerability, because that would get you hurt. So…
Flix66 – Speaking of Cindy, the person who plays her is Vanessa Hudgens, best known really prior to this (with a little bit of a diversion in SPRING BREAKERS earlier this year) but best known for her work on HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. She’s great in the film, but how in the world did you come to decide on her?
Walker – In the casting process I knew that I would have no time. I imagined that I would have no time for rehearsal – or be given very little time for rehearsal – and I would be given no time on set, you know, things are moving so fast. We shot the whole film in 26 days, still had 175 scenes in the script at that stage, so it was going to be going, like, so fast that to me it was always about casting. I needed to know absolutely that whoever was gonna play that role can deliver the toughest emotional scenes. And so I chose 3 scenes that were all really really big, like the biggest scenes. We had every agent in town wanting their actress who they represent to be in the film. And I said I’m really only interested in 17-23 year old actresses and I think there was like 80 to 100 that we’d seen and they were starting and then we were putting them on tape and I was working with quite a big number of them one-on-one to try to help them with their performance on tape. And then Vanessa came in late; she’d been filming something else, this was well before SPRING BREAKERS happened, and she came in and I hadn’t even spoken to her to give her any sort of direction, and she came in and did the skate land scene and to me that was the scene, that was the make or break scene in casting. Like if someone can come in and do that scene and deliver a performance that hit every one of those … well, that scene has a lot of very specific emotional beats in the script that they need to bring to life in a very specific way. If they can do that then the rest of it is going to be easier. And she did. She came in and did that scene and I was like Wow, I feel like everyone who saw her performance in the room, and then on tape, were just amazed. And really, it was a bit of a no-brainer. It was like ‘Wow, she’s like streets. She’s done such a phenomenal job’ and then it was just really like, okay, I need to throw you in the deep end and I need you to spend time with this vice cop and hit the streets, do this and this, and then I need you to spend a lot of time with the real Cindy and really understand the childhood of this character and where she sits between a child and a woman. And she was like ‘I want it. I just so want to do this.’ and it was a huge opportunity for her to live this character and she just did a phenomenal job.
Flix66 – Just one last question, what’s your favorite movie of all time?
Walker – Awwww… (gasps) I don’t know, I’ve got so many. I mean Ridley Scott, Michael Mann, Paul Greengrass, any I mean, well, I love Gladiator, so maybe that’s one of my favorites. I don’t know, I wouldn’t put it down to any one film I love, I’m very eclectic and there is a mix of all types of films I love.
Flix 66 – Thank you so much and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I really enjoyed the film and was really looking forward to this chat.
Walker – Great. Thank you so much too.