In addition to keeping the writer"s vision intact, the team wanted to further anchor the project with an actress who was fresh to the horror genre. Bertino provides, "Liv Tyler is that rare actress who is beautiful, yet also accessible. When I found out she was interested, all it took was one meeting for me to want her in this movie."
Tyler, an audience favorite since her days as the immortal Elvish princess Arwen in Peter Jackson"s blockbuster fantasy The Lord of the Rings trilogy, read the script and was quite impressed by what she found. Tyler enthuses that she "couldn"t put it down. It was the first time in a couple of years that I knew I was reading something I absolutely wanted to do.
"I saw layers in it of love story, drama and horror"all of them unconventional," continues the actress. "I especially liked Bryan"s way of saying a lot, but not saying everything. Often in movies, it"s all spelled out for you, and the dialogue is very explanatory. But Bryan doesn"t write like that; he writes how normal people communicate"with questions lingering. I knew it would be interesting to act that."
Recently seen as an unwilling lycan in the action-adventure films Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, Scott Speedman signed on to star opposite Tyler as the other half of the besieged couple. Of his interest in the role, he offers, "Kristen and James are not "chosen" because of sins from their past, or because they did something wrong. There"s no supernatural element; like the Manson family, The Strangers just want to harm." Speedman also found what others who had read Bertino"s script were shaken by. "Bryan doesn"t just go right to the scares. The audience actually gets time to breathe with the characters before things get scary as hell. That got me interested from the first pages." Not only was Speedman excited about the project after he read the screenplay, he couldn"t agree more with the casting of the film"s Kristen. "While this was one of the better scripts I"ve read, I also knew that if Liv Tyler was doing the movie, it was going to be good. She always is very organic and alive on screen, and she could generate chemistry with a bedpost."
Tyler returns the compliment to the actor with whom she would spend many days huddled in shared fear. "I"ve never worked so closely with another actor before; we"re in almost all our scenes together. Scott was generous and giving, which helped us convey the intimacy the script called for"showing that Kristen and James care for each other."
Both Speedman and Tyler were astonished to find that the author of such a powerful screenplay was, in fact, their junior. "With Bryan, I thought, "I can"t believe I"m working with a director who"s younger than I am,"" Tyler continues. "But as the writer and the director, he saw the big picture"not only of Scott"s and my characters, but also of The Strangers and the movie as a whole."
Bertino was just as proud of the efforts his Kristen and James gave the project. He shares, "I was very fortunate that Liv and Scott brought so much to what I had written. We were able to take things from them and add in extra elements for Kristen and James. This was so helpful in establishing their characters before things get rough, and also for the scenes that have little or no dialogue and are in long takes."
With the terrorized couple in place, the filmmakers were ready to cast the group of relentless intruders. Casting The Strangers called for a unique auditioning process to find three performers who could elicit pure terror in the audience while their masked faces (which are never revealed) show zero affect. Bertino and the producers knew that filmgoers, by not being able to read the expressions of the unwelcome visitors, would project pure terror onto their upcoming actions...and find even greater sympathy for the couple"s plight.
Executive producer Sonny Mallhi reveals, "We asked actors to tell us who The Strangers were to them. This helped us find performers who are not typical horror movie villains, which was part of Bryan"s motif." For example, the willowy actress Gemma Ward looked exactly like what Bertino pictured for his Dollface (hidden by a kewpie-doll mask that is framed by waxen yellow hair). While she appears sweet and innocent, the first Stranger to whom the audience is introduced is extraordinarily intimidating.
Of The Stranger who comes knocking first, Bertino elaborates, "All during the scripting, I had a look in mind for Dollface. This woman would have to be beautiful and seemingly very warm, but with an underlying darkness"perhaps even darker than the other Strangers. When I met with Gemma, I knew she was ideal for the part, especially because she has a lot going on behind her eyes. For a young woman, she has an old soul. Because of her, the character went to a different level than I had anticipated; she has great instincts and would bring little touches to Dollface every day."
The supermodel, who has her first major film role in The Strangers, reveals, "I"m a huge fan of scary movies, and reading Bryan"s script I thought, "Wow, this is different." This story is so raw and intense. No amount of pleading from Kristen and James will talk The Strangers out of what they have come to do. To get inspiration for Dollface, I read "Helter Skelter," so I could get a feel for twisted girls and how their minds work when they reach a certain point."
Recently seen in the sports drama Glory Road, Kip Weeks, who plays The Man in the Mask (a monster hidden behind a cloth, scarecrow-like mask), feels that "these three cross all rational lines, which is their choice. Knowing that any one of us, at any time, could encounter a situation like Kristen and James do made the story so intriguing to me."
Of the solitary male Stranger, EP Mallhi notes, "We wanted The Man in the Mask to be scary, but not in the manner of the iconic masked characters in horror movies. Kip is tall but not hulking, and he is able to convey how his character wants to do all these horrible things."
The role of the third Stranger, Pin-Up Girl"with a face covered by a "Betty Boop-type" mask"went to Laura Margolis of the ABC series Dirty Sexy Money. "Laura just had this sense of the character," says Mallhi. "She"s also shorter than Kip and Gemma, which matched up well with Pin-Up Girl being, arguably, the meekest of the trio."
Margolis remembers, "The script was a page-turner; I couldn"t read it fast enough. There was so much depth to the characters of Kristen and James, and to what The Strangers do to them and their relationship."
Cast to play Kristen and James" unsuspecting friend Mike"who arrives pre-dawn at James" family"s vacation home to pick up his buddy"was Glenn Howerton. Known for his comedic role on television"s It"s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Howerton jumped at the chance to make a scary movie. A fan of horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, Howerton enjoyed that Bertino"s non-supernatural script was smart. "It was less about turning the corner, the cat jumping up and meowing and everybody screaming, "Oh!"" Howerton offers. "The scares are less obvious. They"re the best kind: psychological."