From The Wolf’s Mouth: An Interview With David Hayter – TADFF 2014
It was just before Werewolf Night at the 2014 Toronto After Dark where GEEKPR0N met with David Hayter the writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake to have a chat about his new film Wolves.
GEEKPR0N: What gave you the idea to make Wolves? Where did it come from? What were your inspirations?
David Hayter: Well. So people came to me wanting to do a werewolf movie. I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to do or something I could even pull off. I started to think about it, and I started to talk to people who wanted to see a good werewolf movie. And I started thinking about what had been done before and what makes a good creature film and I feel like the creature has to be used as a metaphor for something human: to tie it to us and make it feel real.
And I started thinking about the time in my life when I was going to high school in Canada actually, when I was about seventeen. And I was filled with rage and violence. And you’re dealing with sex for the first time: and, you know, all these crazy and roiling feelings, and you become almost a monster to yourself, or at least I did. But whereas in most werewolf films the goal is to destroy the creature, if the metaphor is this unformed sort of rage within yourself your goal is not to destroy that but to control it and to focus it into more positive aspects: so like protecting your family or the woman you love or whatever. I started thinking that’s kind of an interesting take on it I haven’t really seen before, so in a way it is sort of semi-autobiographical.
GP: Yeah. You mentioned in another interview that there were some semi-autobiographical elements in Wolves. I was curious about what those may be.
DH: When I was seventeen we took a tour of Toronto Harbour for the Prom. And I got into a fight — into an argument –with a football player and he took a swing at me and I knocked him down and then I got into a fight with pretty much the rest of the football team and they had to turn the boat around. So at the beginning of the film you see [the protagonist Cayden] beating up a football player. And there is also a scene with him in a car making out with his girlfriend and where that occurred, where we shot that, was five hundred yards from my old highschool on little lane where I used to go with girls to park and make out. There was a lot that came from my life: from my journey, strangely enough.
GP: That’s really interesting. I actually saw an advance copy of the film, so when you started mentioning all those scenes, I just thought “Wow: this sounds very familiar.”
DH: Yeah. I mean a lot of that stuff really happened to me and I got expelled back in the day, got yelled at by the principal and all these things. I wasn’t necessarily a wolf, but I was a fairly vicious young man: for a short period of time.
GP: Yeah. Well, I guess one part of the movie that sticks out me is the idea of what is the most vicious part of the werewolf: the animal part or the human part. If anything, the animal part is the most honest.
DH: Yeah. That’s right. And that’s really sort of the point of the film which is wolves themselves are not inherently evil. I mean wolves are very noble creatures who mate for life, only kill for food or defence like I say in the movie. And yeah, so it’s the human side that dictates whether or not the creature is going to be evil, which, again, is something that I don’t think has been done in this genre before.
So, you know, the idea was to create a wolf who by the end is a hero and has abilities that hopefully, like in a vampire movie the audience members say “I want that,” or “you know I wish I could have that power” which you don’t typically get in movies like this: usually werewolves are just horrible, ugly, hairy lunatics.
GP: And yeah, it’s interesting that even when you look at the wolf in mythology, there are various different facets of that, but the whole idea is that the wolf is supposed to eat the sun even: while at the same the sun is supposed to come out again from the maw of the wolf.
DH: Right. You got Romulus and Remus raised by wolves. You know, they are not an intrinsically evil creature. They are a frightening creature to have to face if you are out in the wild. But I find them very noble and very beautiful and I wanted to bring that aspect to the film.
GP: I see. You said in your San Diego Comic Con 2013 panel that you watched a lot of werewolf films to study the strengths and weaknesses of your particular wolves?
DH: Well, I feel like An American Wolf in London is the greatest werewolf film ever made. You know I think the creatures hold up to this day and the design work is just astounding and the movie itself is just a miracle. There’s the dream sequence with the Nazi wolf men who come in and shoot his family and do all these horrific things. And the design on those was so striking and spectacular and each one was different and individual and that was a great inspiration to me on how to execute the design of a wolf man.
And there were a number of other movies I looked at on elements for what I didn’t want in the movie: so like the long nails or the pointed up ears or the snout. These are elements which I felt altered the human body in ridiculous ways so I wanted to minimize these elements as much as possible and come up with my own.
GP: I found it interesting how you were talking about your make-up team and how they found that nice balance between the elegance and grace of a wolf and the symmetry and proportions of a human being. I think the design that best strikes me as fulfilling that is the character of Angelina.
DH: They made her a whole wolf body and wolf breasts. Yeah that was the goal. I wanted the first werewolf love scene to be on camera and it’s hard when you’re covering up a woman with hair to retain beauty. But wolves are beautiful and so we worked very hard to retain her femininity in the execution of that and I think that Dave and Lou Elsey, who are academy award-winning creature designers, executed that in a pretty beautiful way. But I think I wanted them to all have this beauty, with the exception of Wild Joe who’s pretty twisted, but I wanted them to have this elegance and power and beauty that I think wolves have in real life.
GP: Certainly even in the case of Wild Joe, you can see the definite personality there and the distinction between the other ones. For instance, you can see that Wild Joe looks different from Connor.
DH: Yeah, Wild Joe has serious problems. Now the other thing we did which was very important to me was a lot of the facial effects are swept back from the face as opposed to down and pointy and swept back. And the masks are glued down where the muscles of the face are so that when they act their expressions come through. There is one point where Lucas hears something devastating, I won’t say what it is, but his face falls and you can see his expression come over him and you see it through the layers of makeup and the latex. The makeup team did that well.
GP: Yes, the expressions of the characters definitely came through well. There are many fans of your voice-acting: especially with regards to your role as Solid Snake in Metal Gear. So I just want to clarify. Did you actually make the wolf sounds behind the characters’ voices in Wolves?
DH: I did. That’s a very good question and you’re the very first person to ask that. And yes. I do the backing growls on Lucas [Till’s] wolf dialogue and some of his snarling and growling. And there’s an incredible voice and creator actor named Dee Bradley Baker who does Connor’s — Jason Momoa’s character. And Jennifer Hale — who’s my friend and one of the top female voice actresses in the world — does Merritt [Patterson’s]. Yeah, there are a few times, and particularly, where Lucas’ girlfriend punches him in the face and he growls: and it sounds just like Solid Snake. Not only do I do that, but I play two different newscasters in the film so you hear my voice throughout.
So the wolves’ voices are made up of the actors doing their dialogue with me, Bradley, and Jennifer doing growling accents and a combination of animals that were put together. I think we used gorilla snarls for Wild Joe, a lion for Connor and actual wolf sounds for Lucas. It’s a really cool process putting together those vocals.
GP: This isn’t your first time in horror film. Last year you worked in a movie called The Devil’s Mile. At the same time, you’ve also written the first two X-Men movies, The Scorpion King, and Watchmen. What was it like switching from these other genres of film as an actor and writer to the horror genre as a director?
DH: Well, you know, it’s funny Wolves isn’t really a horror film to me. I mean, hopefully there are scary elements to it, but I look at it more as an action film. I think one of the things I learned is if you are going to do a murder scene: more blood … like lots and lots of blood. You really can’t have enough.
And you know, it’s like everything else. From an actor’s perspective you are always trying to avoid getting the blood in your eyes and your mouth. But beyond that a story is a story. And every story I do relies on tension: whether it’s action or horror or suspense. It’s sort of all the same tools. It’s great fun. I mean: the freedom to do a horror movie is really fun: where you can mess people up and do terrible things and sort of check your morality at the door. That’s a very cool aspect of it.
GP: I believe, in another interview you gave, that you thought of Wolves as a hero’s journey and there was one scene in particular that caught my eye where Cayden, John, and his wife Clara are watching The Lone Ranger on the television and I thought, “Oh god: you totally went there.”
DH: Yeah well, we needed something on the TV. I’d written that something was on the TV but we couldn’t get it. Anything you show on the TV we have to clear. And then a production assistant brought me that clip and said “I think we can get the clearance on this.” I actually had to get clearance from the Lone Ranger’s daughter and Jay Silverheels’ — Tonto’s — family, to use that clip. I wrote them a really nice letter and they let me use that clip. It’s a funny clip but it also represents the idea of “I’ll shoot if I have to, but not to kill.” And that’s the hero’s dilemma. When you’re fighting a murderous group of people how do you defeat them without sacrificing your own morality? In a weird way that is kind of what Cayden’s facing.
GP: Exactly. I mean, in addition to the reference towards the Lone Ranger’s weapon of choice, it was a very nice bit of foreshadowing with regards to Cayden’s choices: of dealing the beast inside of him and his own sense of morality when dealing with opponents who are also beasts but have no such compunctions. I mean, what do you do in those kinds of situations?
DH: Right and what do you do when it’s a life and death situation? I mean, you don’t want to kill but sometimes it’s got to be done and even the Lone Ranger had to face that. And plus I wanted the film to be funny in places and it was a fun place to put that. It’s also sort of the show that Tollerman would watch — an old farmer out in the middle of nowhere — just putting on the old Lone Ranger show.
GP: Based on how you ended the film, is there room for a sequel?
DH: I think so. Yeah. We discussed Wolves in the city and how we would bring back some of the people. At the end teeing them up to go off to the larger world and indicating to the audience that there is a larger world with these people out there. So yeah: there’s certainly room for a sequel if people are interested.
GP: If only to go further “back east,” as you put it.
DH: Yeah. Well, we haven’t even gone into the West coast wolves. We can do a battle reminiscent of the rap battles of the nineties.
GEEKPR0N would like to take this opportunity to thank David Hayter for his time as well as the Programming Manager of the Toronto After Dark Christian Burgess for arranging this interview. Wolves will have limited release in select theatres November 14, 2014.