Eric Christian Olsen plays American Adam Goldman in the new horror-thriller “The Thing,” a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic. Olsen’s character is part of an international research team stationed in the desolate Antarctica that makes a startling discovery when they stumble across a creature buried in the ice. Olsen, who is a series regular on “NCIS: Los Angeles,” saw the film in terms of its human relationships: “There’s a monster out here, but it’s about what we’re going to do to each other under the guise of self-preservation that most interested me,” he explained.
MoviesOnline sat down recently with Olsen at a roundtable interview on the Universal Studio backlot in Hollywood to talk about what it was like to star in his first horror movie. He told us what made him want to be a part of the project, how paranoia makes trust a terrifying idea when you’re fighting shape-shifting aliens, and why it was a bruising experience shooting in extremely cold weather and dealing with all the practical effects. He also discussed working opposite co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead who he considers the toughest character in the movie and he updated us on his upcoming projects.
Q: What was it like working in such a cold climate?
Olsen: We shot the first couple of exterior scenes at 10,000 feet right on the border of Canada and Alaska. I remember walking over to craft service, freezing, and seeing all this food and I was like why is there so much food here? And the server responded that’s in case we get snowed in. It was like the grizzly guy shoveling stuff. It was Mary and I and one of the other Norwegians. That was a perfect moment to make you think about the isolation and claustrophobia you can feel in a place where there is nothing for miles and miles. There was nothing for 300 miles. The only time I’ve ever felt that way was when I was on open water and you can’t see land. You look around and there’s nothing anywhere you look. It’s kind of a terrifying feeling and that’s what this was. But freezing cold and the potential for snowstorms that would last five days. There’s a reason no one lives up there.
Q: Were you familiar with John Carpenter’s version?
Olsen: Oh yeah. My first reaction was why would they ever do this. Then you realize it’s a prequel and you go back and watch the opening scene where there’s the two crazy Norwegians who are trying to kill a dog and they jump off and everybody’s dead, and you realize there’s a story that leads up to that moment. That’s the success of this film because it dovetails not only the film but also the type of storytelling that Carpenter did in that first one. I’m not a horror fans as much as I’m a fan of thrillers. A perfect moment in the history of thrillers is when we’re testing the blood. We have a similar scene when they’re checking the (fillings). The paranoia plays into all of us. Trust is a terrifying idea of not knowing who we can rely on.
Q: That looked like a scary scene.
Olsen: With this they had eight guys all dressed in black working levers on this giant practical robot coming towards me crawling. They spent months making these things. They kept pushing back the shooting because they weren’t ready. There’s no way to fake that when this thing is dragging across the floor. That scene took eight days to shoot. When it actually gets above me and lowers itself down, there is an extension on the head that pushes onto my head. You can see my face getting smushed. There’s no way to recreate that with CGI. They used CGI to fill in the seams and the holes. We’re going to make the movie Carpenter made in practicals. Those screams were real.
Q: Do you like that this is an adult horror film?
Olsen: I’ve never done a horror movie. I wouldn’t have made the other version. All these people having sex right before someone gets stabbed. This is ridiculous. The original terrified my dad when he saw it. This is a thriller. One of my favorite movies which is similar in tone is “Zodiac.” It’s about trust and paranoia and who this person is. One of the things I played in this movie. Everybody has their weapons to fight against it whatever it is. Mary’s got flamethrowers and Joel’s got knives. My character doesn’t have anything except the fact, and I pitched this to Matthijs, is that he’s not strong enough to be on his own so his only weapon is alliances that he uses with other people. He originally attaches himself to Sander and then realizes Mary is a stronger creature and goes to Mary. And the scene where they’re checking the teeth and he loses that, that’s his only weapon and he’s left with nothing.
Q: Were there bumps and bruises?
Olsen: I do a show called NCIS LA and my first episode was an MMA fight scene with LL Cool J and I came home that day and my girlfriend just laughed at me because I literally was black and blue. The only other time that ever happened was shooting that alien attack scene. We were in that room for eight days and I’m covered in blood for half of it.
Q: How was it working with Mary?
Olsen: She’s a rock star. She’s our Ripley. She’s the toughest character in the movie. One of the nicest human beings I’ve ever worked with. I’d work with her again in a heartbeat. She’s incredible. She made everything better (than what was in the script). She’s incapable of not telling the truth. Everything she says is true.
Q: How about working with the others?
Olsen: I’m 100 percent Norwegian. I almost didn’t end up getting the movie because they freaked out. You’re American and you’re Norwegian and you’re going to look the Norwegians. So they made my hair darker. They’re all full blown Norwegian stars in Norway. Ulrich is one of the creepiest bastards I’ve ever seen in my life. He is so good. Joel’s one of the most talented actors of my generation. I don’t know if you saw him on Broadway when he was acting with Cate Blanchett doing Streetcar. He’s the real deal. This kid can act. I’ve been a friend of Ade since Oz and Lost. He’s incredible. Trond is like the Brad Pitt of Norway. Christopher, the guy with the big red beard, I’ve been trying to get him to come over and do NCIS for like the last year. He’s amazing. We had a great cast. (Marilyn Manson music starts playing.) I feel like I just walked into a cage match. When I found out about the movie and knew they were heavy into casting the lead girl and guy, when they got Mary, I was ecstatic, and when they got Joel, I was like this is the kind of movie they want to make. They’re hiring (real) actors. That philosophy came across the board. They had options of taking names for some of these other roles and they went with the best actors. That’s true for all the Norwegians too. (More loud rumbling sounds start up.) This is like a bit. This is like a FunnyOrDie video right now. Somebody’s going to walk through with a weedwhacker in about 10 seconds. A marching band. What the fuck is happening here?
Q: Are you doing more FunnyOrDie skits and what else is on your agenda?
Olsen: Someone just got shot. Straight out of Compton. I’m on NCIS: LA and that shoots for about 10 months a year. That’s pretty time consuming. We shoot about 60-70 hours a week. I did a movie this past summer called Celeste & Jesse Forever with Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg and Chris Messina and Elijah Wood. It’s kind of the best, heartbreaking romantic comedy I’ve read in a decade. I was like I have to do this movie. I hunted them down and said I have to be in this movie. We’re on episode eight (of NCIS), so we’ve got 16 to go, and that’s the best job ever because I’m like the 12 year old dream version of myself—an undercover cop shooting bad guys and diving through windows. It’s such a fun job. We’ll see for the summer. We’re talking about a few projects. A couple of comedies. It would be fun to go do another comedy. This will be my thriller for a while.
(He gets up to leave.)
Q: Can I get you guys anything? Do you need some more Minute Maid? (Laughter.)
“The Thing” opens in theaters on October 14th.