Professional storm chaser Pete Moore (Matt Walsh) is determined to get the ultimate tornado on film in Steven Quale’s action-packed disaster thriller, “Into the Storm.” The newest and most inexperienced member of Pete’s team, Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), is equally determined to impress his boss but finds himself out of his element when he goes after the once-in-a-lifetime shot. Opening August 8th, the film also stars Sarah Wayne Callies, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Max Deacon and Nathan Kress.
At the film’s recent press day, Walsh and Sumpter described the appeal of the script, what drew them to their characters, their real life encounters with tornados, what it was like driving the ultimate storm-chasing vehicle — the Titus, the balance between practical and CG, how they filmed the scenes where their characters go into the tornado, how Sumpter’s wirework experience on “Peter Pan” helped him film his encounter with a fire tornado, what became of the found footage the actors shot, Walsh’s upcoming Season Four of “Veep” and a comedy he directed entitled “A Better You,” and Sumpter’s feature films “The Squeeze,” “Take Down” and “The UnBroken.”
QUESTION: How did you get involved in this project?
JEREMY SUMPTER: For me, I’ve been a big fan of the weather my whole life. Growing up as a kid, “Twister” was my favorite movie. I heard about this natural disaster tornado movie called “Category 6,” which is what the original title was called, and when I read the script, I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to go in.” They sent me in. I went and met the casting director. It’s all handheld, right? I originally went for one of the other roles. I was too old. I looked too old at the time, but they liked what I did. I came back and met the director, reading the same role. I just grabbed the camera off the casting director’s stand and started to film myself going around the whole room and kept filming everybody, just because it’s a handheld, found footage movie. I got really involved with it. They loved what I did. So I go, and I’m in the middle of working on a show called “The Glades” for a couple weeks, and I got a call and I said, “Hey.” “So they’re making an offer to you.” I’m like, “What? I thought I was too old?” He goes, “No, they’ve written a new role in for you called Jacob, who is actually a tornado chaser.” When he said tornado chaser, I was pumped. I just completely forgot about the other role because I wanted to play a tornado chaser anyway. So, in my head, I kind of got what I wanted and I was very happy about it.
MATT WALSH: For me, it was an opportunity to do an action movie and, like Jeremy was saying, to drive a kick-ass storm-chasing vehicle and run around and play with explosions and fire. I’m a young boy at heart, I guess. I just enjoyed the opportunity to go in for something like that. And the story was neat because it is three disparate story lines that because of this emergency they intersect. My character Pete starts out as kind of an a-hole. And by the end of it, he’s sort of redeemed. That’s always interesting as an actor to have a little bit of built-in change.
Q: How would you personally handle an emergency like you experience in the film?
WALSH: What I relate to in Pete is obsession. I have been obsessed with things in my life, like I have pursued things single-mindedly and other parts of my life have fallen apart, especially when I was a younger man, be they alcohol or fame or whatever I was chasing. So, that part I relate to Pete, being single-minded. Pete’s obsessed because of financial reasons, because his career is starting to fail. He’s worried about he’s never going to get it and he built this vehicle that took him so long to build. This is the summer he’s got to get it. I think I would chicken out. I would probably never leave the Titus. I would never go outside. I would probably send someone out like Jeremy’s character to do those things.
SUMPTER: If Jacob didn’t do it, he gets whipped.
WALSH: You wouldn’t get paid.
SUMPTER: He gets his hands tied to a pole and he’s just tortured.
WALSH: You wouldn’t get to party in South Padre with Arlen’s character.
SUMPTER: My character’s a guy who’s new to this. He just came in. He’s a rookie. His buddy Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta) brings him on board. I was just an extra cameraman. Pete takes him under his wing in the sense that, “Okay, I got this guy who I’m going to boss around and hound him to get the shot.” But it turns out he gets more than what he had bargained for when he came on board. And that’s kind of Jacob. He’s just a kid. He’s just new to the thing.
Q: In an emergency, would you be as daring as Jacob?
SUMPTER: Well, I’ve been through a tornado. When I was a kid, it came through my home. I actually looked outside my window and saw the trees going down like this (gestures), back and forth. I yelled to my teacher, “Miss Jackson! Miss Jackson! I think there’s a tornado or something coming.” She didn’t believe me. Five minutes later on the radio there’s a tornado coming through our school. We had to all go into the hallway. So knowing that, would I run outside the tank?
Q: Would you get that close outside of a vehicle to film something?
SUMPTER: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. One of the things I would have loved to do to promote this movie is, you know that show “Storm Chasers”? I watch that show all the time. I was hoping to maybe talk to the publicist or something and say, “Hey, why don’t you set me up for a cameo appearance, a celebrity version of “Storm Chasers,” to put me in the storm, and let me go with those guys and film a tornado because that would be amazing?” I’m the guy that would love to do that.
Q: Like Pete?
SUMPTER: No, not Pete. No. I’m not an a-hole. (Laughs)
WALSH: (Laughs) That’s fair. That’s not me. That’s my character.
SUMPTER: It’s not Matt Walsh. He’s awesome.
WALSH: That’s not Matt Walsh.
Q: Did you do any research for this movie?
WALSH: I too grew up in the… Kentucky is not the Midwest but it’s… Is it the Midwest? It’s the South.
SUMPTER: There’s tornado alley and stuff. The bottom left tip of Kentucky kind of goes into it.
WALSH: It touches Illinois. I grew up in Chicago and the same thing. Inevitably, I feel like two or three times every summer you would hear that eerie siren that goes off. It feels like it fills the whole county, like it just goes everywhere, and there’s a certain static electricity in the air that I remember as a child. There’s an odd green hue or something different and you just feel that. It’s quite terrifying.
SUMPTER: It starts turning yellow outside.
WALSH: Of course, you see all the thunderstorms and the winds and things like that, before the actual funnel cloud comes through. So, many times a summer, we were terrified by tornadoes, but fortunately I was never in the path. Neighboring towns were hit by them quite often in Joliet and certainly the suburbs of Chicago where I grew up. I’ve seen several funnel clouds as a kid, too. They’re cool if you know they’re like two towns over, but they’re scary as hell if you know they’re coming your way.
Q: How did they film the scene where your character goes into the tornado?
WALSH: Well, it was completely in a studio, not to disappoint you. There were several stages. All the shots inevitably took two or three phases to shoot, but inside that when Pete has his finale thing there, just green screen everywhere, lights. There was rain and wind obviously always, people with bags of leaves throwing them into fans. Then there was one section where they had the vehicle anchored in the front, but a giant crane was swinging the back of the vehicle around like crazy. That’s basically how they shot it.
Q: The look and emotion on your face was fascinating. Was that cool to play?
WALSH: It’s a neat moment to play because of where it is in Pete’s life, right before it maybe ends — we don’t know that. It is neat to play that moment because it is like what he’s been chasing. To see what he describes as the eye of God, the face of God, rather, is a neat thing to play.
Q: How did they create the weather for the storm scenes? Did they pour the rain?
WALSH: Always. Every day.
SUMPTER: (joking) They had this weather magician. They would have him on walkie every day so when we started rolling, he would call in the clouds, and the clouds would come in and generate all this wind.
WALSH: A sorcerer. I think he was a weather sorcerer.
SUMPTER: A weather sorcerer, yeah. You don’t want to talk to him. You don’t look him in the eyes. He’s really weird.
WALSH: Fortunately, he lived in Michigan which was great for us.
SUMPTER: No, we had days where it was just sunshine and it was beautiful out, and we were supposed to be running through a tornado. We had these big, giant rigs that held up these big sun blockers – that’s what I call them – these big curtains. When you line three of them up, it was the size of a football field that covered the whole town in shade. I’d never seen anything like it, by the way. They were awesome, and they shaded up a huge area. And then, they put the wind and rain in there and we shot. Obviously, we’d wait for hours sometimes for clouds to come in. Every little cloud that came in, it was like, “Roll the camera.”
Q: How long was the production?
SUMPTER: Four months.
WALSH: We were in Michigan three or four months.
What was it like seeing the finished film?
SUMPTER: Oh, it was crazy. It blew me away.
WALSH: Yeah, because so much of what we were interacting with, fifty percent of it wasn’t there. We had each other, so the scenes were just us, and you could always react off your other actors. That was great. But, a lot of it, you’re just imagining eye lines. We’re just trying to agree on eye lines and things like that.
SUMPTER: Where the tornado is at.
WALSH: Yeah. And then, there was that running.
SUMPTER: There was the moment where we had four or five tornados all around us.
WALSH: Yeah. That was insane. So it was neat to see it come together.
Q: What did it feel like going through a fire tornado?
SUMPTER: It was hot. They gelled me up. They put the fireproof stuff all over me. And then, off I went into the fire tornado. The tornado tears through this big gas tank and it explodes. It just bursts into a ball of fire right there when it happens. I’m filming all this and I turn to get away. The camera gets knocked out of my hand by some debris, and I want to impress Pete so I go after it, because I knew I’d get a shot that he would love. I’m going after it and I can’t get to it because it’s too hot. And I go, and it’s just too powerful and overcomes me and sucks me up into the tornado. It was cool. They dragged me across the ground for about 25 feet, and then up I go about 40 feet. I’m screaming as I go up. And then, when you watch the movie, you just see me going up and spinning.
Q: So your “Peter Pan” experience helped?
SUMPTER: Yeah, the wirework was great. I did a year of wirework on that film, so for me, it was like riding a bike. It’s like you’ll always remember it. It will always be there and you will always feel comfortable doing it.
WALSH: We were saying that after the stunt was over he always came down almost like Peter Pan. Whenever it was like, “Cut,” they would drop Jeremy down and he would just naturally [land like Peter Pan].
SUMPTER: I’m up there swinging, “Ahhh!” “Cut!” And then I’d land.
WALSH: It was almost like a ballet.
Q: How many takes did you do?
SUMPTER: I personally asked them to do a couple more for me because it was just a lot of fun. I remember we did four or five takes being actually sucked up. But then, there were times where they just drug me and then not suck me up. So, they’d do a different angle, then they’d suck me up. When we did that, I wanted to do as many takes as possible. But we were moving along that day, so it was about four or five takes. That was it.
Q: Compared to traditional movies, this has a lot of found footage. How was that experience? Are you credited as the cameraman in the movie?
SUMPTER: When you see the credits at the end of the film, no, you will not see my name there. You will see the actual cameramen there, unfortunately. I wish I could say I shot those amazing shots, but when you see me filming, you see me film. But then, when you’re going through my point of view, it’s the D.P. and the camera guys, because I’m an actor. I’m not a cameraman.
Q: Is there anywhere to see the film that you actually shot?
WALSH: Well, there were hard-mounted cameras in the Titus, the vehicle we drove. So we were always making sure that was rolling. There were a couple inside, and there might be pieces of those set cameras. The cameraman would say, “Would you turn that on?” And then, some of the stuff we might have messed around in the vehicle.
SUMPTER: They actually had me film some of that, like where I had my camera. It’s like me filming Pete when he’s interviewed about the Titus.
WALSH: There was always a camera, and Lee (Whittaker) always had a camera. So there might be that stuff somewhere, but I don’t know how much of it ended up in the movie.
SUMPTER: I mean it was a real camera on certain scenes. Then, when it was raining, it’s the hard core stuff. It was this plastic, rubber-type camera. Those guys were using the real camera. I actually did record it. It would record it. They put tape in there for me. So, I don’t know how much of the stuff they used, but I did film a lot of stuff whether it was used or not.
Q: Are you ready for “Into the Storm 2”?
SUMPTER: Yes. It’s going to be “Into the Storm Takes on Sharknado 3.”
WALSH: You and I, can we be in it? We could. We don’t know.
SUMPTER: Yeah, because Sharknados come back. We can come back. They’d put our pieces together.
WALSH: I want to see “Sharktopus vs. Terracuda.”
SUMPTER: There you go. I heard that was coming out. I want to do “Sharknado 3.” It’s a new world, and so, it’s like a swamp tornado meets the ocean tornado, and so there are alligator tornados.
WALSH: Battling shark tornados?
SUMPTER: Battling sharks. In the end, they merge into one big tornado and there are sharks and alligators and people get sucked up. It’d be kind of cool, right?
Q: I’m willing to bet Syfy would pay you at least $30 for that movie.
SUMPTER: “Sharknado 3.” Gark.
Q: Was it a cool experience to do a film like this since neither one of you have done something like this before?
WALSH: I haven’t. I’ve mostly done comedy, so this was a real departure. It was really fun. I found the driving the most fun. I’ve done some stunt driving, but they let me drive that big old vehicle.
SUMPTER: Yeah. You drove 95% of the time.
WALSH: We were hauling and whipping U-turns and driving up on stuff. It was really fun.
SUMPTER: The steering on that truck too was not easy. The turning radius was like this (gestures). So if you’re going to make a U-turn, a normal car does this, but this one wants to do this.
WALSH: Yeah. And then, you had outrigger camera units on the sides on top of that.
SUMPTER: And he drove. I mean, he was a champ. He drove the shit out of it.
WALSH: It was fun. We beat up that [truck]. I think we broke three of them.
SUMPTER: The clasp broke when we were in the middle of a take, and all of a sudden, water started pouring in. I’m like, “Oh God, I’m all soaked!” It happened every time someone would shut the door. I think that was your problem.
SUMPTER: If you shut the door too hard, the window would just crack, and they had to replace it. It’s funny, but they gave us so many problems.
WALSH: They put a sticker of the shark on the back. Do you remember that? Todd, the producer, did that, because like the shark in “Jaws,” it never worked. (Laughs) Todd says, “Get a sticker with a shark and put it right on the back. That will be our little inside joke.” You’ll see it in the movie. I think there’s one shot of the shark.
SUMPTER: There’s a shark. And then you know what the shark is for.
WALSH: There were times where it wouldn’t start and they had to tow it out. It was funny.
Q: How was the atmosphere on the set?
SUMPTER: It was cool. Working with everybody on this movie was great, because it’s a big visual effects movie. There was all sorts of excitement going on, so we kind of kept that. Although there were moments where we had to get in the rain, we were all like, “Don’t bother me. I’m getting soaked right now.” But it was a lot of fun. We all loved each other. I actually worked with Max Deacon recently. For the last four months, I was in Europe on another film we were working on together. So that was great to work with him again. But a lot of my stuff was just with Matt, Sarah (Wayne Callies), Arlen and Lee Whittaker. So we all got to become pretty close.
Q: Did you do karaoke together?
SUMPTER: Oh yeah.
WALSH: They did karaoke. The youngsters did karaoke and you did the mechanical bull one night.
SUMPTER: I did the mechanical bull a couple of times. I would just sit and I had bruises on the inside of my legs. My fingers were all numb, because I rode the crap out of that bull. I rode it good, too. And you could tell with all the bruises on my legs. But no, we went and karaoked every Wednesday night. It was a lot of fun.
Q: What was the song?
SUMPTER: “House of the Rising Sun.”
Q: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
WALSH: I’m going back on “Veep” for Season Four and I’m finishing a tiny little movie I directed called “A Better You.” It’s a comedy. So that’s what I’m working on.
SUMPTER: I have a couple films coming out next year called “The Squeeze,” which is a golf movie, with Shooter McGavin, Christopher McDonald, a gambler movie. And then I’ve got a film I just did with Max (Deacon) called “Take Down” that Jim Gillespie directed. It’s a survival type movie. It comes out next year too.
Q: Aren’t you also doing a Western?
SUMPTER: I have a Western called “The UnBroken” that I’ll start shooting early next year.