“The Cabin in the Woods” looks like a typical horror movie about hot 20-somethings who get stalked by strange creatures while vacationing in a conveniently isolated place. But this being a movie from director Drew Goddard and producer Joss Whedon — two men who previously worked together on the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — there’s a bit more to it than that.
Fran Kranz, who previously worked with Whedon on “Dollhouse” and can currently be seen on Broadway in “Death of a Salesman,” and Kristen Connolly, who has appeared in films such as “Revolutionary Road,” recently visited Washington to talk about the project . . . without revealing its major plot twists, of course.
Among the topics covered: Goddard’s expertise in zombie eating habits; Whedon’s efforts to make sure Chris Hemsworth, who also stars in “Cabin,” became “Thor”; a Boston Red Sox connection between Kranz and Connolly; and the truth about the blood in “The Cabin in the Woods.”
Drew Goddard directed “The Cabin in the Woods.” But how often was Joss Whedon on the set?
Kranz: He was really involved. I’d just been shooting “Dollhouse,” but we were on our hiatus. So “Cabin in the Woods,” he gave his full attention. But certainly on set, Drew was the director. You felt that and you went to him because he was so —
Connolly: Drew’s such a good guy.
Kranz: He was so passionate — not that Joss wasn’t, but just in a different way. It was a contagious kind of thing. It was like young, excited — it was a fanboy kind of thing, you know what I mean? And he became the guy to talk to. He was the expert on how, like, zombies ate intestines. You would go to him with these questions.
Connolly: I think we both have a picture of him somewhere eating zombie guts but, like, really seriously. There is nothing ironic about it. He’s like, “No, no, it needs to be more like this.” [She mimics digging in and chewing.]
Kranz: If anything, he was frustrated, because they were doing it wrong. “No, this is how you do it.”
Connolly: It was amazing.
Kranz: He was definitely the leader. But Joss was there and definitely had his input, but he was there as producer not director.
What is Joss like to work with?
Connolly: He’s wonderful. He’s one of those people that, without even doing anything, makes you want to work hard and makes you want to do your best. He sort of inspires that in people. And you could see — I think everybody on that set, the crew, the actors, everybody — it felt really like a team.
Even on Facebook, I’m still friends with the hair and make-up team.
Kranz: There’s something there. People really do want to be their best around him. But he’s not demanding of it. He’s not tyrannical at all.
Connolly: He’s like the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.
Kranz: He cares about his workers and employees and actors. I know Chris Hemsworth — [Joss] called Kenneth Branagh on his own to encourage him to look at Chris for “Thor.” Chris did not ask him to do that.
Was he already going through the audition process when Joss made the call?
Connolly: I think he had already auditioned for it, but they were looking at his brother.
Kranz: They were looking at his brother, Liam —
Oh, whatever happened to Liam Hemsworth? You never hear about him anymore.
Kranz: [Smiling] Yeah, right.
Connolly: I know, poor guy.
Kranz: That’s hilarious. No, but [Joss] loves his actors, and the feeling is mutual. People seem to want to work with him. You know, his fans are so loyal to Joss but so are his employees. And it’s reciprocated.
You’re both trained actors. Fran, you’re in “Death of a Salesman” right now. Kristen, you’ve done Shakespeare in the Park, and you went to Yale Drama School, right?
Kristen: And Fran was at Yale undergrad, and we were there at the same time, which is great. But we didn’t know each other.
Kranz: We watched the Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, where they came back three games down —
Connolly: In the same bar.
Kranz: In the same bar. Every night we were there but just never bumped into each other.
Did you recognize each other from that experience once you started working together?
Kranz and Connolly: No.
Kranz: Which really surprises me. You’d think I would have hit on you at some point in those seven games. You’d think I would have done something.
Connolly: But that was, like, a really intense series.
Kranz: We were all focused on the game. That’s a good call. But I just see myself at that age being like, “Hey, how you doin’?”
Given your training, how do you apply that to the horror genre?
Connolly: In a way, it was almost like rehearsing different scenes from a play. Okay well, today we’re going to do this scene and that’s what we’re working on. You try to go back and say, ‘Okay, where am I coming from? What’s just happened?’ All of the same homework you would do in a play. I don’t know. I don’t think of it as actually being that different.
Kranz: In a sense, when we’re on set filming a scene, you do want to be open the way you are in a rehearsal process. You do want to take all these different risks. I remember there was a day when [actor] Richard Jenkins had this really wild take. This one take was particularly out there and we all kind of felt it and Drew went up to him and went, “I’m not sure. . .” and Richard cut him off and said, “I can’t be afraid to fail.”
He’s this great veteran actor, and it was really interesting to me — I’ll never forget it. That is how you should approach filming. Leave it all out there. Give as many different options as you can.
The other thing that’s sort of like a play, I’m guessing, is that a lot of this has to be completely in your imagination. Because effects and things are added in post. [Note: minor spoilers ahead.]
Connolly: Yeah, exactly.
Kranz:Yeah, it certainly helped that we really did have zombies.
Connolly: A lot of monsters.
Kranz: And a lot of stuff. There was stuff that was not there.
What about the blood? There could not have been that much blood.
Kranz: That was real, though.
All of that?
Kranz: Yeah. I’m pretty sure that was all real. No, for sure, for sure.
Connolly: Oh, I thought you meant that was actually real blood. [Laughs.]
Kranz: No — I know, you were giving me this look like. [He playfully shoves her.] You’re the goofiest. No, certainly that one room that gets really — that was there. That was the coolest thing. Because I loved horror films growing up and I made little bloody movies. I would make home mafia movies and Vietnam movies. I’d just make fake blood and cover myself. When I walked onto that set, I just felt like, this could be the last movie I ever make and I’ll be happy because that is the coolest thing in the world.
Did you look at specific horror movies before shooting this?
Connolly: Drew gave us, when we got to Vancouver, a list of movies to watch. We watched the “Evil Dead” movies and we watched, I think, the first “Halloween” movie. And we watched “The Descent,” which was terrifying. And then he gave us [gestures to Kranz] “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to watch together.
Oh, that’s interesting.
[They explained why Goddard showed them the Paul Newman/Robert Redford move, but the explanation is way too spoilery. If you see the movie and can’t figure out the connection, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tell you offline.]
Did you ever have any nightmares inspired by the movie?
Connolly: I had a recurring nightmare that I was going to be fired. That more than any monsters.
Kranz: That’s hilarious. I don’t know. I don’t remember. I think we worked so hard that I slept pretty well.
Connolly: It was exhausting. I think at the beginning, too, it was sort of like you would have dreams about what you had done at work. So I had a lot of underwater dreams, especially in those first two weeks. And then being fired. And then in one, you guys all knew I was about to be fired and it was awkward that I had shown up anyway.
Kranz: I’ve had that dream where I’ve come to set and been fired. I’ve had that dream.
Connolly: And nobody told me.
Kranz: There’s no need for nightmare monsters.
Connolly: We have career monsters.