As called for in Bertino"s story, the lead actors were put through the wringer far more than the trio of Strangers. "This role was emotionally, and especially physically, draining," says Tyler, who was additionally stricken with tonsillitis during the shoot. "Usually, on a movie, there are a couple of scenes that you know will be tough to do, and you think, "I"ll just have to get through that particular day." This was two months of that. We worked long hours. It was by far the hardest film shoot I"ve ever been a part of."
In addition to sustaining actual cuts, bruises and sores, in addition to the throat trouble, the actress was obliged to be made up with fake blood and have black paint brushed under her fingernails and over her hands. "In The Lord of the Rings, I only had to do one sequence on a horse," Tyler says. "On this shoot, I would come in each morning, clean and showered, then get disgusting. It was an amazing challenge every day, and I didn"t know I had it in me. But by the end of the shoot, my body was gone."
To help realize Bertino"s desired sustained pitch of heart-pounding, breathholding fear, both Tyler and Speedman often ran sprints on and around the set, returning to their marks just seconds before the writer/director called, "Action!" Tyler estimates, "I probably ran a mile a day. Scott and I would be all out of breath and sweaty."
Bertino notes, "Liv definitely connected to what Kristen was going through. We talked a lot about the physical demands beforehand, and she worked incredibly hard. Also, she"s barefoot for basically the entire movie. There were times during the shoot when I would look down at her bruised feet and feel horrible that I hadn"t written, "Kristen is wearing tennis shoes."
"Despite the actors" endless days of running, crawling and hiding, stunt coordinator CAL JOHNSON provides, "The Strangers isn"t a stunt-heavy movie. But even with the little stuff, we still needed to take the time to figure it out and protect our actors and stunt people." Johnson himself stepped in to double for an actor in one of the film"s most shocking moments.
Given that The Strangers is her maiden effort in the genre, Tyler also developed a "screen scream." The performer provides, "I was really worried at first, because I had no idea what it would sound or look like. All of a sudden, this huge scream came out; I think I terrified everybody."
Bertino agrees: "Liv is an amazing screamer. She and I talked about not doing "practice screams," because I wanted to capture the horror moments as they happen for Kristen. On the first take of the first time she had to scream, I had my fingers crossed, and she really let loose. It shook us up. Beyond that, there are violent scenes that get played out in this movie, and some of them were upsetting to people on set to watch. Everyone became attached to Kristen and James, and to Liv and Scott."
Speedman adds, "For the heaviest emotional scenes Liv and I had to play, Bryan kept two cameras going so we wouldn"t have to shoot all day. With those heightened moments between characters, you don"t want to repeat things over and over. Bryan was also comfortable with our doing things that had not been in his script. He wasn"t overprotective of it."
Similarly, the actors playing The Strangers were free to explore their characters" shared dynamics, since, as Bertino says, "We give no outside information. Kristen and James don"t have any, which is a perspective"or lack of it"that adds to the horror."
Weeks says, "Being in a world where we are so desensitized by the Internet, TV, war, video games, YouTube, I felt we had lost what should be a basic human response to violence and, more specifically, to death itself. In some demented way, we were trying to reestablish those feelings of guilt and sorrow by experiencing the violence firsthand." Ward adds that what helped her with motivation was to believe that "these people don"t have a lot to say. They want to dominate something for the first time in their lives, controlling the situation."
Margolis concurs: "I think my character has the nerve to do what she does largely because she"s wearing a mask. In her regular life, she doesn"t have any power or control. But when she puts on this mask, she controls everything." Behind the Masks
The design of the masks for The Strangers was as important to the film as the design of the Hoyt house. Bertino states, "I wanted the masks to feel basic and accessible, and to represent imagery we can all recognize and respond to. When we walk into a room, we look at people"s features, at their eyes. We wonder, "Is this person friendly"" With that taken away, Kristen and James are even more vulnerable."
After several drafts of designs, the masks for Pin-Up Girl and Dollface were created in vacuform plastic; The Man in the Mask"s was made out of cotton. Weeks offers, "The fact that these are the kind of masks anyone could buy anywhere, or put together, just makes the whole scenario that much realistic."
For all their simplicity and on-set familiarity, the masks still cast a chill. Liv Tyler reveals, "I have always found masks of all kinds creepy, because you don"t know what"s behind them. At first, I couldn"t bear to be near them at all."
Scott Speedman agrees: "It was hard to look at these. There was a deadness in the eyes, like a shark"s. Pin-Up Girl"s mask was really quite scary. Laura turned into a whole different person when she put it on."
Margolis surmises how unsettling it was to play a woman who delighted in capturing and torturing her prey: "What I found so terrifying was that there was no humanity in her. It doesn"t seem like there"s a person who feels and hurts, and that"s part of why my character does what she does. To play her, I did have to tap into things in myself that I don"t want to believe are there."
Surprisingly, the trio of actors warmed to the process of wearing their masks while performing. "There weren"t many difficulties and I was not uncomfortable," says Weeks. "You can convey a character through so many things other than your face"your movement, your posture, the way you breathe. The mask became another part of me, and I could convey every emotion with it."
Ward muses, "It was freeing, in a way. Because of my regular job as a model, I had a very strong reaction to wearing the mask. I was not as self-conscious. I could get in there and be as scary and menacing as I wanted to be"and feed off of the reaction from having a mask on. There was a power to it."
Margolis also found the experience to be "kind of liberating." She adds, "If anything, it was more challenging for Liv and Scott, who didn"t get to see any emotion on our faces."
Speedman confirms, "I didn"t ask the three of them what their thought process for their characters was. But it worked!"
As shooting ended, the cast and crew looked back on their experience and on their thoughts on the thriller they made. "It"s a love story, a drama and a horror movie," says Tyler. "The film has different elements and levels to it. Oftentimes, scary movies are about the scares. This film is so different. To be truly afraid"and showing it"is shocking not only to other people, but also to yourself."
"What happens in this movie could happen and does happen," reflects Speedman. "What"s scary is how real it is. Hopefully, we let the audience in a bit with this, and that"s different than most horror movies. You get to sit with these people for awhile and get to know them."
Of his hopes for the project he started on those late nights several years ago, writer/director Bertino concludes, "So often now, people go to the movies and are distanced from what"s happening on screen because it could never happen to them. We strip that away with The Strangers.”