Max Irons & Jake Abel (The Host)

Max Irons & Jake Abel (The Host)

It was a cold and blustery Wednesday, but I didn’t let the low temp get to me. I was far too excited to interview Max Irons (Jared Howe) and Jake Abel (Ian O’Shea) of Stephenie Meyer’s latest book-to-film, The Host.

After a nervous wait, we were finally shuttled into the opulence of Augusta room in the Atlanta Four Seasons. Things went so well, we were allowed an extra five minutes of chat. Jake, Max, I & other lucky fan reporters covered everything from, dancing to desert driving, and even the possibility of life on other planets.

SHAKEFIRE (SF): Did you read the book?
MAX IRONS (MI): I got through half of it before the audition.
JAKE ABEL (JA): I read it all after I had the part. I just locked myself in my room.

SF: Do you think that director & screenwriter Andrew Niccol stays true to the book?
MI: Absolutely. Which so often isn't the case. Before we started shooting we had two weeks of rehearsal which we were all involved in; Stephenie was involved in, Andrew was involved in. It was very collaborative and we discussed what we thought was important and the essence of certain scenes were still maintained; which I think is very unusual. So I hope; what I hear from people who've seen it; the essence of the book is still very there.
JA: Even Stephenie herself said that she feels Andrew almost elevated it at times. The aesthetic of the film; how the Seekers look, and how the people dress and the world and the location of Shiprock, where our cave is. She said all of these things were much more cinematic than even she envisioned. So, not only did he take the best parts of the book and condense it down into a hundred odd pages, but he also visually brought it to life.

SF: In the movie, you do a kind of complicated dance. How was it? Did you already know how to dance like that?
MI: I like to think I've got rhythm. But no, we had a half an hour rehearsal. About a month passed and we were cool to do it, we had about 15 minutes to rehearse. You gotta think about it, there's about 50 people over there watching you and they have no qualms in yelling, "Yeah, that looks terrible. Max! Lift her up, come on." But it kind of--it looked a bit thrown together, which I think was nice. It was fun; it was one of my favorite days actually.

SF: I want to know, the shoot must've been grueling. I mean the location of your base. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like?
JA: The interior of the cave was on a soundstage in Baton Rouge, LA. So, that was pretty interesting. Step outside for tea or smoke if you wanted to. It was amazing. It was a life size cave built inside a soundstage. The only thing that wasn’t there were the mirrors they ended up putting in post. But our exteriors were out in the desert in New Mexico, which was incredible, it was gorgeous.

SF: So you went out there?
JA: Yeah, really really beautiful. We have this nice shot of us trekking through the desert towards the cave and ended up doing that for about two miles. They just kept rolling we had a helicopter. They didn't end up using {the footage}, but the helicopter would come in and skim right over us. It was pretty nuts. But it was a lot of fun; we had a great time out there. There was a lot unadulterated land and it’s still kind of pure and really beautiful.

SF: In a true post-apocalyptic scenario, where would you go?
MI: I've thought about this quite a lot, I'd like to think I'd survive. I think I'd build an underground den in the forest. Who's going to look for you there? People stay in the cities in these movies. Why would you stay in the cities?!  Zombies everywhere, the aliens are buzzing around--GET OUT! Get a gun and hide in the forest. Steal food; eat squirrels. It's so obvious!
JA: It's so easy!

SF: Are you an accomplished squirrel hunter?
MI: I could hunt a squirrel. I'd make a bow & an arrow; a rudimentary bow & arrow. Or use my gun.

SF: Max, the age difference between you Saoirse is the same portrayed as it is in the book.
MI: it is pretty much, yeah.

SF: How was it working in that realm? Was it outside of your comfort zone cause she's 17?
JA: Nope, that's right in there.
MI: Strike that from the record! I'll just say this. Firstly Saoirse’s very mature, secondly, I'm very immature and thirdly, Saoirse’s father was about five feet away from me at all times and he's a tough Irish guy so, I’m not going to over step that line.
JA: Did they save the kissing scenes until her 18th birthday? Cause she had her 18th birthday on set. I don't remember.
MI: They might have for legal reasons.

SF: After looking after looking at both of your resumes; you both have done a lot but this could put you over the top on the Hollywood "It List". How do you feel about that? Are you ready for that? Do you feel that with this movie?
JA: You know, that's the great unknown and I'm glad it's not our job to worry about it. I will say that if it allows--and I think this goes for the both of us--to work with the directors that we really want to work with and we really respect, then absolutely, 100%.
MI: It's funny that you say the Hollywood "It List" as an idea. I think if you think about it in those terms, you're doomed to fail. Because if you look at the Hollywood "It List" this year; there's very little resemblance to the year before. So, if you think about it in those terms, you're going to beat yourself up. I think all you've got to do is worry about the work. Do the work while you're doing it; try to get the next good gig after.

SF: So, focus and not worry about the outside stuff?
JA MI: Yeah!
MI: It's sort of inconsequential. It's great to be appreciated and that sort of thing, but you can't control it. It's going to go up and down.
JA: And we're lucky right now there's nobody outside of set with cameras yelling our names, continually reminding us that we're not these people that we're trying to play at the moment. It'd be a shame to see that go away.

SF: What advice would have for teenagers pursuing a creative career, especially in acting?
MI: That's a good question.
JA: Keep your integrity, most of all, and work harder than anybody else. There's always someone, when you reach a level success, there's always someone beneath you who is similar to you and knows who you are, has your number and is coming after you. I know that because I was that guy when I was 16. I said, "I'm going to work so hard so that when the time comes when we compete, I might not win, but I'm going to give you some competition."
MI: Take a chance, take a gamble, and don’t take yourself too seriously. When I was in drama school in third year you get to do auditions. You get to watch all the new people trying to get in. It was always the ones who, when they were thrown a challenge, accepted it even if they might look a bit silly or they might fail. And when you look at great performances, (to Jake) you mentioned Johnny Depp the other day in Pirates of the Caribbean or Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. Those kinds of performances always require a leap of faith.
JA: Be willing to fail?
MI: Be willing to look like an idiot
JA: Yes, continually and perpetually.
MI: when I got into to drama school I was told; for part of the audition; to pretend to be a piece of bacon frying in a pan. And I was doing that in tights; leggings.
JA: It's because of your bacon work. Your bacon intensive was solid!

SF: Jake, you worked with Saoirse on The Lovely Bones
JA: I was in a scene with Saoirse that she was physically in, but we did not interact. So to say I was in a film with Saoirse, yeah I'll take it. But I did get to know her then. We did spend time with each other in Pennsylvania and New Zealand. I got to know her parents there. It made it a little easier when I finally had to do a screen test with her. Her father was there, I got to see him again and to see Saoirse again was a real treat. And our audition scene was an intimate scene and it helped break through those walls because there was that hint of familiarity. And that really helped.

SF: Obviously this situation is different. She's grown up and you're kissing her in this movie. It's definitely a step in a different direction.
JA: It's definitely a different direction and I couldn't be more thankful for it. She's an incredibly talented actress and doing scene work with her makes our job infinitely easier, as it does when you're working with anyone of that sort of caliber.

SF: Are either of you sci-fi fans?
MI: Yeah.
JA: Absolutely.

SF: What is your favorite sci-fi?
MI: 2001 Space Odyssey
JA: I've gotta say that one and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
MI: Gattaca's pretty good!
JA: Gattaca ain't bad!

SF: In this movie, the future is very shiny, very fashionable, streamlined. But what was the most challenging part of filming?
JA: There was a day I had to thresh wheat in the cave and they sprayed it with some sort of chemical. I went for the first slice and it just kicked up all of these particles, shimmering particles, that were choking and very unhealthy. Suspiciously unhealthy, I'm sure.
MI: Didn't we have to sign something?
JA: I don't know. There was a lot of stuff in the air that was very concerning, that and when we got in that fight, all the dust that got kicked up. It was pretty gross, congesting on set.
MI: I had to do a scene that was actually cut, I can't believe it. Which was I had to drive over a hill--
JA: Oh, right. I was in this one.
MI: Yeah you were-- I drive over a hill and round these serious corners. Now, I'd just gotten my driving lessons, this is the desert, so you're driving on dust in a jeep from the 50's with no power steering. Big boulders everywhere to crash into and explode. And I'm going on the radio, "How fast do you want me to do this first take?” and they went, "As fast as you can!” Good. There's no speedometer, so I have no clue how fast I was going. So I did it and it was alright, I got through it and then they put Jake & Saoirse in.
JA: No seat belts.
MI: No seat belts.
JA: I was Saoirse seatbelt. I had my arm out the window, the placid face right, sweating and Saoirse just kind of clamped onto my arm.
MI:  A couple of lives were in my hands; my sweaty, shaky, hands.
JA: I was very impressed.
MI:  You didn't say anything then, you could've!
JA: Well, my life was on the line. But afterwards, I said I was very impressed. I don't know if I could've done it
MI: Thank you, buddy.

SF: How involved was Stephenie Meyer on the production? Did you get to work with her directly? Was she there?
MI: She was on set every day.
JA: Yeah, as much as she could be, yeah.
MI: But she was great. I mean, it's her creation, it's her baby. Consequently, we'd all go up to her, especially in the early days and ask, "How're we doing? Are we ok?" Wondering what I've done wrong or if she could tell us how to do it and she'd go, "No, you're Jared now. You're Ian now. IF you're doing something wrong I'm going to tell you, but just go with your instinct as you have been. You're getting it right. I trust you to take the wheel."

SF: Did you feel nervous about that at all?
JA: No, not really. There was never that sort of tone brought into the set. The two weeks rehearsal for me, I keep bringing it up, because it really was the intrical part of making this film for all of us. We were able to make mistakes or make suggestions and really figure out all of our relationships, as a whole, together. And that’s so important with this cave mentality, this survivor mentality. So there was really no pressure at all. Even with Andrew who adapted it, technically he's a writer of it as well and a director. You know we'd say, "Andrew, I don't like that. It should be this." and he'd make a joke about how bad the writer is, "Oh, he's a drunk! Ok, let's change it."  There was a lot of levity. I'd never seen anyone handle criticism as well as Andrew. Cause he separates himself as a writer and as a director

SF: If you could adapt any book into a movie, what would you choose?
JA: For a while I wanted to do Lonely Are the Brave, because I really want to do a Western or similar to a Western.
MI: Oh, yeah. Its Arthur C. Clarke again, we all read it on set, Childhood's End. Which I read years and years ago. It's amazing. You'd need a visionary director to do that.
JA: Yeah, it'd be a task. The Takeover is kind of similar to that, basically it's another alien invasion and it's non-violent as well. These spaceships sort of appear.
MI: And it takes over 40 years.
JA: Yeah it takes a decade to make the first contact. It has similar undertones to The Host because this alien invasion is also peaceful, which is something we hadn't really seen before and they kind of fix the Earth. There's no war.
MI: It's actually about pushing the human race towards the next stage of evolution. Which is such an interesting idea. Which Arthur C. Clarke is going for in the book of 2001.
JA: Right. A monolith might come down and push us along.

SF: Where the people that were Souls wearing contacts or was it all digitally done?
MI: Oh, contacts.
JA: With a bit of post work to enhance the glow. Those poor bastards.
MI: And I think it was very difficult, b/c when you wear them you lose your peripheral vision. You get tunnel vision. That plus the dust in the sound stage; not a good combo.

SF: I want to know what you're each working on next.
JA: I just wrapped a sequel to a film. It's Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and it comes out August 22nd in 3D. It was supposed to come out and compete with The Host the same weekend.
MI: Was it?
JA: They decided, "You know what--
MI: "Too much Jake!"
JA: Yes, first! And second, "You know, this would look good in 3D." So they decided to push it back.
MI: I just spent the last 6 months in Belgium in 14th century clothes doing The White Queen for the BBC. I'm playing a king, which I like.
JA: Naturally.
MI: It felt good. People bow to you when you walk through the room. You get a crown and a sword, it's pretty good.

SF: Did people actually taste your food for you?
MI: Did they taste my food for me? Is that a thing? No, they didn't! That never happened.
JA: A lot of research there, Irons?
MI: Shut up!

SF: Earlier you mentioned directors you'd like to work with. Who are those people?
JA: Oh, God. You know I made a list of these one time for this specific question and every time I'm asked it, I blank.
MI: Soderbergh. Fincher.
JA: Alfonso Cuarón. I would like to revive Stanley Kubrick
MI: Martin Mcdonagh, he's my favorite.
JA: Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson. Saoirse is working with Wes Anderson right now. We could sit here all day, but that's a pretty tight list. (To Max) And I agree with what you said
MI: Thanks, buddy.
JA: You have good taste.

SF: The Souls have a lot of really cool technology. What would be one thing you would want to keep if it were real?
JA: Probably the medicine. Because you can really get torn up and they just kind of spray some s--t on you and you're better.
MI: I'd like a little space pod. A bigger one so I could fit in it. A bigger space-pod please.
JA: For space traveling.

SF: You guys are both science nuts, so do you think we're alone in the universe?
MI: Definitely not. Why would we be? The odds are too much against us.
JA: If Stephen Hawking says, "We’re not alone,” that's good enough for me.

SF: Were you surprised by any of the post-production special effects they put in the film?
JA: It's funny, for it being sci-fi film, much like Gattaca, there's very little CGI. Which is really great. It's all pretty functional and physical stuff except for seeing the Souls themselves. The mirrors, I would’ve believed that they were there. We actually feared that the exterior of our cave in the desert would come off as CGI b/c it was so breathtaking in person that it looks like the filmmakers themselves created this cool looking mountain and went, "There ya go!"  So that was our fear, "This is too beautiful to be real."  But yeah, besides the eyes being enhanced just a touch. Not much else, which is really great. It really keeps you in the story, in that world. There's no laser guns & stuff, just real guns. People get shot.

SF: If you had a case to make for humanity when the aliens came, what would you say?
JA: Watch The Host! Cause you know before I saw it, this was a question, "Are aliens better than humans?" And I was like, "Well, I don't know. I could think about it." But after watching the movie, I was like, "Humans all the way! Look how amazing we are." Look at we can do, look at how we survive and look at how we can learn and change.
MI: Yeah, I think that's it. I think we can learn & change. Let us learn from our mistakes. I think every person, every species, I imagine if there aliens, we have to learn from our mistakes in order to evolve to that next step. So you know, back off! Let us do our own thing!
JA: Yeah!
MI: But can you leave a spaceship for us?
JA: a bigger, human pod.
MI: Just to play with, learn from.

SF: From their perspective we seem like savages.
JA: Then again, they're sort of peaceful savages with their non-hostile, peaceful takeover. It's not all black and white. So maybe we're more evolved than they are.
MI: So you can take that idea with you.
JA: That's one for the road. That's one to chew on for the rest of the day.

Maria Jackson
Interview by Maria Jackson
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