The Movie Waffler Interview - ALONE Director John Hyams and Star Jules Willcox | The Movie Waffler

Interview - ALONE Director John Hyams and Star Jules Willcox

alone jules wilcox
Hyams and Willcox discuss their new survival thriller.

Interview by Mike Vaughn

In director John Hyams' new thriller Alone, Jules Willcox plays Jessica, a young woman making a long drive back to her hometown in the wake of a tragic loss. When a mysterious man begins following her, Jessica finds herself in a fight for survival in the remote wilds of the Pacific NorthWest.

Hyams and Willcox speak about their new film, which is on US VOD now and will be released on UK Digital in December.

[Q for John] You've worked in both television and feature films; do you prefer one over the other?

John Hyams: It’s always been feature films for me so I never really thought in TV terms. However in the last eight or so years I really started seeing things change in that realm. A lot of the things that I loved most and the kind of stories I’m interested in telling, the outlet for that seems to now be in the long form. So right now, my home is at Netflix, which I’m currently in the second season of a series and I am doing another show with them as well. Alone was kind of lucky because as I said it's becoming harder and harder to explore those things in a feature-length space. This is a rare exception of a movie I’ve been trying to make for a long time. I was thrilled to get a chance to do a movie like Alone. I’m not sure how many opportunities I’ll be moving towards in features because right now the long form is something I seem to be enjoying.

Was it a refreshing change of pace to work with such a small cast?

JH: Yeah it really was. That’s what I loved about Mattias Olsson’s script, which was so stripped down. In many ways it afforded me the exercise I’ve been looking for. As a filmmaker, I am always looking to find these stripped-down elements and stories. In many ways in the projects I’ve been working on I always saw myself stripping them down and stripping them down. And, here was this script that started out that way, there was no fat at all, it was all just meat and bone. That idea of going through this journey with a protagonist who’s by herself the whole way through. I love the challenge of just putting a protagonist and antagonist together. At times there is this concern of "is this enough for the viewer?" But it was that challenge that kept us going to invent and create scenarios. It was a great exercise and I learned a lot from it.

The film is very dark. Would you say it’s essential to keep things light on set?

JH: You know, I think my job is to figure out what each actor wants and what kind of environment they need to perform in and then provide that for them. I think it's less about me deciding what that specific environment is and more about what they need. But in the case of this and getting to know Jules and then bringing Marc Menchaca (who plays the villain) in, what we realised is that the most important thing for the two of them is that they really supported one another, that they had each other’s back. I mean you can look at it and say you can keep them separated and have him be hostile to her all the time. That’s going to translate but also once you spend a better part of the month shooting something, sustaining that might not lead to a better performance but lead to exhaustion. However, they could energise each other. We could be in the most miserable settings and then still laugh and, you know, have fun and keep our spirits up, then after shooting leave the set and go have a beer and laugh about it. It was really important that we had a lot of fun in order to create this kind of grim tale.

[Q for Jules] Having time to get to know Marc must have been very helpful?

Jules Willcox: Yeah, because it gets really dark and it gets really intimate and we had to really build trust with each other as we had never worked together before. I had worked with John before and Marc had worked with one of John’s other collaborators so he knew what we would bring but he [John] didn’t know what it would be like when the two of us got together. There’s a sort of magic that happens when two actors come to set and they do their things and how they play off of each other. I think what happened with Marc and I is that we just kind of buddied up right away and both of us just really wanted to tell this story the best we could. He’s so present and such a great actor that it was easy. Although he is so funny that he would like to try and break me up during some takes (laughs). Once by signing Nessun Dorma, the entire thing (laughs). It was during a close up of my face; I don’t think they used that take but yeah, he’s a kidder.

This seems like it must have been an emotionally and physically exhausting movie for you?

JW: It was, very much so. I’ll tell you; I actually broke my foot early on. It was actually the first couple days of shooting. It came up like, do we keep going or do we stop? And John was really amazing, he really let it be my decision whether or not we keep going. I couldn’t not tell Jessica's story. Once I started it, I had to finish it. It’s just that those first couple of weeks were so challenging and that was more the emotional stuff such as the driving scenes, where my character is getting out of Portland and just dealing with her grief. I wanted to be able to get into the physical part and having that, you know John says that it's never worth it to get injured on set of course, but we used it and we were even able to make some script changes that ultimately benefited the film. For me, it just made it just that more real and poignant in terms of the danger, the pain and just the fragility of life.

Was it hard to shrug off such an emotional character at the end of the shooting day?

JW: Good question. You know when we finished in November, I think I went straight into the holidays with my family and except for the couple of months of my foot healing, otherwise I feel like there was, for me, a catharsis in the film that hopefully the audience gets to experience as well. I think the last frames of the film were really a beautiful moment for me to let it go as soon as it was over. Also, I think we did a really great job on set of keeping things light because it was so hard and so heavy subject wise. Marc Menchaca just happens to be one of the funniest people on the planet so you know we had some good laughs and I think we were able to shed those characters pretty easily.

john hyams alone

[Q for John] The bulk of Alone takes place outdoors. I’m assuming that was a huge challenge, filming in the elements?

JH: Oh yeah it was. I think a lot of people would say that a lot of the work is done for you as an actor being out in the elements. It was really cold and wet and when you're in the Pacific NorthWest the weather is constantly changing - it's raining then it's getting cold. But then we're also making rain, dumping rain on the actors with our rain towers. So, yeah, the physical environment is very much a character in the story, so feeling that, and the obvious discomfort of that, just kind of plays into everything. The one thing you have to do is not lose patience with that, because you still have to try and get the shots that we want. Of course, some part of you just wants to get out of that and get warm but there is another side of it that is just the most fun thing in the world. The reason why a lot of us like to make movies is because we like the adventure of it. We like to do our version of climbing a big mountain and so sometimes the more challenging the environment it makes it more exciting. As miserable as it was, it was kind of thrilling.

So you feel like that outdoor stimuli enhances the actors' performances?

JH: I think it does. It’s like you go through something there and then it's like, let's do it again. And you can see that it’s like "Oh, not again" and they sort of laugh, like, "you gotta be kidding me!" So yes, everyone, not just the actors, it’s the crew, it’s the camera operator, it’s the boom operator. It’s everybody that’s trudging through this stuff. Then you know the sun is going down early every day since we’re filming in the fall, so every night we would do this power drive home where it's like completely pitch black and you get home and basically pass out the second you sit down, and you wake up the next morning and go back to the location and the sun is rising; it's incredible, you just are ready for another day’s work. Then the day beats you up and you go home again. Making a movie is like a sprint and a marathon at the same time.

[Q for Jules] Jessica is such a pro-active and strong character. I’m assuming these are the traits that most appealed to you in this role?

JW: Absolutely, from the time I was a kid I wanted to be an action star. I wanted to be in Die Hard or Indiana Jones, or The Long Kiss Goodnight where Geena Davis plays this assassin. I remember seeing that movie and saying, “I want to do that!” I think as women we don’t usually get to do as much action as our male counterparts do. Maybe that’s not true anymore but it feels that way. Just having the opportunity to use all my recourses physically; I am so pleased that I got to do this. Even with the challenge of being injured it just makes it that much more exciting and raw. John is also so fantastic with action that I always felt like I was in great hands.

What would you say was the main message or takeaway from the movie?

JW: Hmm...I would say for me going into it, the film was a metaphor for grief, the grief Jessica is experiencing but also trying to run from at the beginning of the film. Ultimately, we all experience grief in some way and we think we’re not going to survive but we've got to fight. To me it's just finding that will, that sheer will to live and survive and trusting your instincts. Those are the things I think are the main takeaways from the film.

[Q for John] When can fans of Black Summer expect season two?

JH: Well, we had been shooting season two and then got interrupted in March by the pandemic. But I am now back here shooting for a week now. We basically have another seven weeks of shooting but I am happy to say Black Summer is one of the first shows that Netflix is bringing back. We feel really privileged and thrilled that they chose us to do it in this environment. There was a lot of thought and regulations that is going on with this production but it’s a challenge. Like any production there’s always a curve ball that’s getting thrown at you; all of us who do this, a big part of our job is problem solving. This is just another example of that and this is a very physical show. I’m actually about to go shoot all night long with rain towers pouring on our actors, so…(laughs) some things never change.

[Q for Jules] What upcoming projects do you have coming out?

JW: I have a funny little role in Sofia Coppola’s new feature called On the Rocks. That is premiering next week at the New York Film Festival. I can't really say much more about it but I think it's going to be a really wonderful film. Sofia is such a great filmmaker and so visionary - it was just a dream to work with her. That comes out October 23rd in the US (October 2nd in the UK).

You also have another thriller called Cover Me?

JW: Yes! Cover Me just came out on VOD last week (in the US). That one stars Jesse Metcalfe and Danny Trejo. As I said it's currently on demand.