Eli Roth Interview

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

We had a chance to sit down with the legendary Eli Roth to talk GrindHouse, The Cell, Hostel 2 and more! Needless to say this interview is for you die hard horror fans! Eli Roth burst onto the film scene at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival with his debut film Cabin Fever, which he produced, directed, and co-wrote. Cabin Fever polarized alot of horror fans. You either loved it, or you down right hated it. Either way I loved it, and it is to this day one of the more fun horror films in my collection. Produced independently on a low budget, Cabin Fever was the highest selling film at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival, after a frenzied bidding war between seven studios. Cabin Fever went on to be Lion’s Gate’s highest grossing film (no pun intended) of 2003, opening on 2,100 screens, and has to date grossed over $100 million dollars worldwide in theatrical, home video, and DVD sales. Roth’s second film, Hostel, which he wrote, produced, and directed, (Executive Produced and Presented by Quentin Tarantino) was a massive hit worldwide, opening #1 both at the box office and on DVD. Produced independently for a nominal budget of $4 million dollars, Hostel has to date earned $150 million dollars in theatrical and DVD revenue.


Both of Roth’s films garnered overwhelming critical acclaim around the globe, with glowing review from The New York Times, Le Monde, Rolling Stone, Empire Magazine, Film Comment, Entertainment Weekly, and Premiere Magazine. Roth has been profiled and interviewed in such publications as G.Q., Elle, The New York Times, Esquire, New York Magazine, I-D Stuff, and Maxim magazine. He has appeared on numerous television and radio programs, including MTV’s "Total Request Live,” "The Jimmy Kimmel Show,” "Best Week Ever,” "The Treatment” with Elvis Mitchell, and "The Howard Stern Show.” His name has become so synonymous with horror that in 2006 he had twice been an answer in the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. Roth is widely credited for bringing back the current wave of R-rated horror films that revived the box office, and his films have redefined the movie studios perception of low budget horror films.


Roth is currently in post production on Hostel Part II, due for release in June 2007. Future projects include an adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller "Cell” for The Weinstein Company. Here is what he had to tell us this past weekend.

Q: So Eli we're hearing you had to audition and you were freaking out?

Yeah. I was freaking out because I was supposed to start this other movie I was doing called "Hostel 2" that Quentin is the executive producer of and he called me and I got a call from Pilar, his assistant, who I'm friends with, and she's like ‘Mr. Tarantino would like you to audition for a role in Death Proof.’ I said that's really weird because I'm not an actor, but the role was kind of a dorky Jewish guy trying to have sex with Jordan Ladd and failing miserably, and I said well, that's something I've been doing for 5 years so it's pretty in my zone.

I was actually casting Hostel 2 when I had to drive down to Venice in a hour of traffic with actors waiting for me and I drive and I go to Quentin's casting office, and of course he's not there. It's just a video camera. I looked at the sign-in sheet and the name they had before me was Derek Richardson from Hostel. ‘What are you doing here, aren't you like a big director?’ I'm like ‘don't ask, don't ask.’ So then I sit there and I read and I could not have been worse. I did everything that I was conscious of what I don't want to see in an audition I did. There was an air conditioner going, and Mary who is really cool goes ‘is the air conditioner distracting you?’ ‘Yes, it's the air conditioner and the fact that I'm picturing Quentin watching the video tape later laughing his ass off at me.’ She stopped tape and we actually did it again and I felt good and that was it, and then I got another call from Pilar and she said Mr. Tarantino would like you to audition again to come in for a call-back. I'm like oh no this is getting serious. I'm like the jokes over.

So now I have to go to his house which is fine because I go to his house a lot, but I sit there and now I'm like I go to his house and I sit down and there he is in the screening room with Mary and we come in and we read and it seemed to go well, but I'm having this out of body experience because he's right there and acting out the scene with me and gets really into it, and I was like this is so weird. Then it went really well and he's like ‘hey, do you want to come over later? I just got a 35mm print of Sergio Martino’s Sex with a Smile with Marty Feldman and Barbara Bouchet. Come over and watch it.’ I'm like ‘sure.’ So at 4:00 I left his house for like 4 hours then I came back at 8:00, and it's was just the 2 of us watching this movie. But I couldn't mention anything about the afternoon; I mean I couldn't talk about it because it was so weird.

Then I got the call and she's like it's bad news, Quentin really wants you to be in the movie and now since the shoot got backed up and backed up, and I said I'm leaving tomorrow for Prague and I told Quentin I really want to do this but how ..I'm prepping for Hostel 2 and I'm 7 weeks out from shooting, and he's like ‘no, it's just a big scene in a bar and you'll come down and we'll figure it out.’ It's Grindhouse and if you disappear and that's what happened. I told everyone during one week I'm going to evaporate and I will go to Texas and be in Quentin’s movie. It was actually great. The production offices synced up so that I'd be there doing a take and then like a PA would come up to me with a bunch of designs that I'd have to approve but it was exhausting. Afterwards I came back and they were like let's try this and I was like this is how Quentin does it on set. It was great. It was like I got this kind of last minute master crash course on directing. I had so much fun and Quentin kind of let me go.

There’s a scene at the bar and he says yeah, just make up some stuff about Kurt Russell. I'd never met Kurt Russell and I was so excited to be in a scene with him. There I am just rattling off insults like ‘can we get a chicken soup for Stroker Ace over here’ just going off on him. After the first take, Quentin goes cut and the whole crew breaks out laughing. And Kurt just threw a whole bowl of nachos, hit me in the head, and he said ‘you dick,’ and I said I'm sorry, I'm sorry, you're my hero.

I was doing what Quentin told me. I remember for the close-up of the big monologue Quentin did one take and he said let's go to lunch. I said whoa, whoa, whoa, you just can't go to lunch, dude. It's like Quentin Tarantino monologue in close-up. I get more one take. Quentin and I are friends so he's like ok but we're going into a meal penalty so don't fuck it up and ‘action’! Right before a take like in the steady cam shot where everyone was pounding drinks and there was one shot where he's moving through and everyone’s drinking and he comes to me and says we're running late and we might go into overtime and don't fuck it up, ok ready go.

Q: Are you more sympathetic towards actors now?

Eli Roth: Well, yeah, I was always sympathetic towards actors as is evidenced by Hostel. It was actually great to do that to get in their mind set but it was also bad because I saw the stuff that went on in the trailers and the stuff they talk about the director and the stuff in the make up trailer that's just stuff I shouldn't know.

Q: You directed the most controversial shot in the movie in a way the cheerleader--the infamous cheerleader shot?

Eli Roth: Yeah.


Q: Can you comment on that? It seemed we saw a lot of it the other night.

Eli Roth: Honestly, when I shot that trailer for Thanksgiving I really thought there was no problem with anything. It just shows that genuinely out of touch I am. It was a girl with a full frontal labial shot at the camera landing on a knife which seemed like no problem to me. It's an exploitation movie. It's my job to exploit. If I don't exploit this girl I have failed as a director. These guys are expecting a lot from me. We showed it to the ratings board and that trailer wound up getting more comments than Death Proof and Planet Terror combined, but the ratings board was great and we said we still want to have the moment. So what if we scratched the film sort of like a scratch ticket and literally take out the full frontal nudity, just kind of clever editing so it actually isn't there but kind of cut together with trick photography, and they were great about it. And they even let me keep the turkey sex. It's not having sex with a turkey, it's a cooked turkey. It's not having sex with a live turkey. That would be gratuitous, but someone having sex with a turkey with a decapitated head on top of it, so it’s more of a turkey/human hybrid really.

Q: Are you going to shoot Thanksgiving?

Eli Roth: Here's part of the problem. I had so much fun shooting that trailer that's all I want to do now. The whole trailer is just money shots. It's one money shot after another. Killing, nudity. Normally you have to write the kills and write the story and the subtext and make excuses for it, but this is just pure, unadulterated, gratuitous sex and violence and I felt like I was 13 years old with my video camera and my friends and I'm like ‘are they really letting us do this’, I can't believe it. Let me tell you, I heard that Stanley Kubrick did a lot of takes on Eyes Wide Shut. It was nothing compared to the amount of takes that we did once we had that cheerleader naked and bouncing around. She was great. She got it on the first take but we did take after take after take. We finished early. We had like 3 hours and we said how much film do we have? Lets just do it again and she had a smile on her face the whole time. It was great.

Q: Can you give everyone here an exclusive on Hostel 2? What I'm really curious about is Jay. Why is coming back? What is he doing in the movie?

Eli Roth: Well there's a lot different storylines that I wanted to continue and think of. I was trying with Hostel 2 to divert for a moment; I was trying to think of what would I want to see if I were watching the sequel and if you took out the credits the first one – boom, what happens next? There are other storylines that I wanted to introduce and I wanted to see tings from the killer's point of view and I wanted to see girls getting lured there and I wanted to make the movie feel like that sequence when he's in the locker room with the business man saying how did you do it and how did you kill. That scene and the scene in the pub with the girls where he's trying to ask them questions but he can't really get answers but he's not sure if they're answering him or it's lost in translation, that kind of uncertain, uncomfortable sort of really awkward creepy tone. That's what I wanted the whole movie to feel like, but I literally wanted the movie to pick up the next cut of Jay Hernandez and the train if you just take out the credits of what happens next.

Q: Do you know what other movies that are being shot that are being released totally overseas?

Eli Roth: I think overseas the concept of a double feature--there's some non-English language countries that have never had a double feature before. So to say come see a double feature. I think it's so much conceptually for them to get around that it's easier for them to sell it as separate. That's what I've heard anyways.

Q: What's going on with Cell?

Eli Roth: Cell, the writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski are writing it. They wrote 1408 and they wrote Ed Wood and the People vs. Larry Flint and now that I'm getting closer to locking picture on Hostel 2, I've been meeting with them more regularly and they're working on the draft. My first question when I adapted it was can I deviate from the book. Am I going to piss off Steven King? I heard he was mad at Stanley Kubrick. I don't want him mad at me. Apparently Steven King said do whatever you want. My feeling is that you always do what's best for the film. There are certain elements that will make the book great, but first and foremost you owe it to the movie. I'm looking at movies like Steven King adaptations like Carrie and Creepshow, I mean Creepshow is dead on and The Shining deviates and it's still a great film. I think the key word is that it's an adaptation of the book and not a replication of the book.

Q: That opening scene sort of defines the book and are you going to preserve that?

Eli Roth: Yeah. I love the opening but I want to keep that not in the same chaotic tone, but I want to keep the tension of the opening 40 pages of the book going throughout the whole film and introduce other elements, because I think the book for me where it looses tension is where suddenly you don't feel like the phone crazies are trying to kill them. You feel like they're steering them and I find that it's finding other ways to make it so that you still feel the tension that any second you can get killed carrying that out throughout the whole film.

Q: A Boston setting?

Eli Roth: Yes, Boston definitely.

Q: Are you going to have Steven King cameo in Cell?

Eli Roth: If he'd like to, sure. There’s always room. That's a good thing about Cell because it's like crazy people running around and trying to....and everybody gets cameos. All of you will be in Cell. You'll all die in Cell. Everybody who wants to get killed, there's room for plenty of blood for everyone.

Q: Are you going to have to shoot in Boston or just set it there?

Eli Roth: We’ll see. I'd love to shoot in Boston.

Q: Getting back to Hostel 2 for a second, what is your running time? Have you gone before the ratings board?

Eli Roth: Right now the running time of the movie is about 93 minutes with front and end credits. It’s pretty tight and I don't think it needs to be longer than that and I don't want it to be shorter than that. We're going before the ratings board now. I was waiting for Grindhouse to be over. I was like I can't do this to these people. I can't hit them with both the Thanksgiving trailer and Hostel 2 in the same week. That's just not right. I was waiting until Grindhouse was cleared up and got our R rating on that and we're getting our date to submit to them.

Q: Getting to the stuff you might have to cut, do you have a lot of stuff for the DVD or are you already thinking of that?

Eli Roth: For Hostel 2? Actually today I was just over to the editing room editing some deleted scenes and other stuff for the DVD when I got the call ‘hey, we're doing the press junket. Can you come over?’ I'm like ok, cool. Yeah, there's always extra stuff for the DVD, but stuff for the DVD is stuff I cut for time. It really depends on how it goes with the ratings board. The goal is to make a better, scarier movie. I think you can easily make a more violent movie. You can just show body parts being chopped up and there your movie is more violent but that wasn't my intention for Hostel 2. I really wanted people to come out of the movie and say that was better than the first movie and scarier. And yeah, it's got the violence you expect from Hostel and it's gruesome and gnarly, but I just wanted to make a better, smarter, scarier film.

Q: There was talk a little while back that maybe you were going to some Masters of Horror stuff or is that just rumor?

Eli Roth: Well, the Master's of Horror stuff--it would be really fun to do one but I haven't had time. It's something that I enjoy the show and I would love to do it and Mick Garris and I kind of have an open invitation to do one, but it's literally just been syncing up my schedule to figure out when I would do it. Kind of Grindhouse and Hostel 2 at the same time was a bit exhausting, and I just want to rest up for a few weeks and then just jump right into Cell.

Q: What is Jay Hernandez’ character doing in Hostel 2? Can you comment on it?

Eli Roth: You guys will find out when you see it. But it's literally going to pick up exactly where the last one left off.

Q: Speaking of gross and gratuitous, did you have a hand at all in the Hostel 2 poster and what is that?

Eli Roth: I wish I could take any credit for the Hostel 2 poster. That is wild boar meat. That’s the marketing at Lionsgate. They just put that meat. I thought that was brilliant, because the genius of that poster is that if it were hanging at the supermarket, you'd go ‘oh, let's have steak tonight,’ but in a movie theater with the words Hostel 2 – ‘that is the sickest thing I've ever seen!’ And it's all the power of suggestion and I like that. There is obviously comparisons....it's mostly aware that anytime people see women in a horror film, all they say is that all these girls are just pieces of meat and literally in Hostel Part 2, they are. They are the bait, they are the meat for these ....they are the grist for the mill. I thought it was a really smart poster and really, really disgusting. I love it.

Q: Have you heard of M. Night's Green Effect and are there certain similarities with The Cell?

Eli Roth: I've heard about M. Night's movie and about The Signal. I'm not really concerned about those films, and I think from M. Night's script I think it's going to be different enough, but I think end of the world, apocalypse is on everyone's mind these days, unfortunately more so. I think it comes in waves. Remember in 1984 when The Day After came out and it was nuclear war. I think we're in an apocalyptical phase in culture right now.

Q: So no romantic comedy?

Eli Roth: I think that Thanksgiving is very romantic. I have a very romantic scene in the car with Jordan Ladd and I think it's comedic. I honestly feel that all movies--that's my idea of romantic comedy, truthfully, is Thanksgiving. I think it has a lot of romance.

Q: What's your favorite holiday horror?

Eli Roth: God, there's so many good ones. Growing up in Massachusetts every year there was a new… in the 80's, there was a new holiday horror. Ok first there was Halloween, then there was Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night then there was My Bloody Valentine then there was April Fool's Day and Friday the 13th. And you're like when is New Year's Evil and the Thanksgiving one coming?

It was just so fricking obvious because we had two full time working Pilgrim plantations in Massachusetts. You either go to Sturbridge Village or you go to Plymouth Plantation, and you go out there and you say ‘do you have television’ and they say ‘we know not of this television’ and you say ‘yeah, did you see the fucking Celtics game last night?’ And they're like ‘Goddamn it, DJ missed that free throw.’ And you just try to bust like the Pilgrims and they be ‘we churn the butter’ and you're like ‘how did you get here’ and ‘what's that in the parking lot’ and you don't see horses, you see a Chevette. That was a big deal, Pilgrims in Massachusetts, and I've always wanted and been dying for that.

I loved My Bloody Valentine. The style and look for this one we were going for is definitely--if you see on the DVD there's a German and Italian trailer for Maniac, but my DP and I watched The Prowler, Maniac, Silent Night, Deadly Night and Mother's Day. Do you know Mother's Day is hands down my all time favorite? I wasn't friends with enough girls shockingly to have a dance at my Bar Mitzvah so we had arcade machines. We had Qbert and Frogger and Ms. Pacman and we watched Mother's Day. And that's what we did and literally it was 40 fat little Jews in the basement cheering on decapitation and look what happened. This is what happens when you watch violent movies growing up.

Q: What about today's remakes? There are so many remakes these days and now they're doing Piranha and Prom Night and all this.

Eli Roth: I know because I get offered all of them first. I'm not saying before those guys but I’m on the short list. There’s always a few guys they go to right away as soon as someone gets the rights to remake, and I don’t mean to say that disparagingly. Everyone kind of gets them at the same time. My feeling is I love original ideas and I think you've got to support original ideas, but without remakes we wouldn’t have John Carpenter’s The Thing. We wouldn’t have Chuck Russell's The Blob. We wouldn't have Phillip Kauffman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We wouldn't have the Hammer horror of the 60's. So I think that you can't just blanketly ignore remakes. You can't just go ‘why they are doing all these remakes.’ You can on one level but I mean come on, if Zach Snyder hadn't directed Dawn of the Dead we wouldn't have 300, so everyone needs to keep that in mind. As long as it's a good movie, I'm all for it. It's not conceptually doing a remake, yeah, I wish there were ideas, but I wish there were more original ideas, but if someone does a remake and does a great job with it and makes a great movie, I think how is that a bad thing?

Q: Did you attend Quentin's marathon movie sessions?

Eli Roth: Oh yeah. All this stuff grew out of that. I remember Edgar Wright when he came to town, we went over to Quentin's house and we did an all-night horror-thon. We watched Blood Spattered Bride and Zombie and Torso and it's great. The great thing about Quentin and Robert too, with Quentin is he really can open up your eyes to a whole form of cinema that you may have never seen before, sort of the way he did with the crime filled 70's and the Blaxploitation and then Karate films and Kung Fu movies, and people look at movies like this differently after Quentin says ‘hey, you know what, I know you're all making fun of the dubbing, but look at how good this action is. This is actually a great fight scene.’ It kind of gets you over making fun of....you say, ok I get it. They didn't have much money, they didn't have big name actors, but there's actually a lot of great stuff in here.

There are a lot of films that Quentin has that you can't find on video or maybe an old VHS or you can't find them on DVD. After the screening of Cabin Fever at the LA Film Festival, when the next night when Quentin invited me to go over to his house, and I couldn't believe we watched Howard Berger's print of War of the Gargantuans. There's this horrible musical interlude in the middle of this film where this woman sings ‘And the words get stuck in my throat’ before the gargantuan eats her and literally when it came on everyone started singing it. I didn't watch this since I was a kid and I hadn't seen it on video. It was such a fun bonding moment. Experiences like that when there's these movies from childhood, there were these movies that I'd always wanted to see that I'd never seen before, and Quentin would run them on movie night. And it's great. He'd always have good popcorn and these fun people there and sometimes I'd go over there and expect a huge crowd and it's just me and him. I'd go oh wow, he's got his projectionist and it's just for me, and we'll sit and watch 3 or 4 movies in a row with trailers and just talk about movies.

Q: Do you have the acting bug now or will you just pop up in your own movies or somebody else's movies?

Eli Roth: I think that 3 times I've been in movies now and all 3 times I've been trying to have sex on camera with Jordan Ladd and either getting ripped in half, decapitated, or you think I'm going to get killed, and probably if they had followed my storyline, I'm sure Kurt Russell would have run me over because I was such a dick in the movie. I think as long as I can continue to attempt to have sex with Jordan Ladd and then get killed on camera, definitely. But I'd only do it for my friends or someone like....

Q: You had a cameo by Takashi Miike in the first one. Can we expect any special surprises?

Eli Roth: There will be some, you will see.

Q: Do you have any reaction to Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz?

Eli Roth: Hot Fuzz is a masterpiece. That was another screening. We had a screening of Hot Fuzz at Quentin's house. It was so loud our ears were bleeding by the end of it. I was in awe. It was so well done and so funny and I cannot...he made it look like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie in the best possible way. I could not believe he genuinely....Edgar, Simon and Nick, their writing is so...there's nobody like those guys. Their writing, the direction, the acting, it’s so sharp and so tight. I've been a fan of them since the series Spaced and it's just incredible to watch. It's like finally you feel like the geeks are starting to get power and the people who should be getting money to make movies like Edgar Wright and Zach Snyder and Rob Zombie. It's great to see these people finally starting to get budgets and getting the freedom to do what they do well. It's a great time.

Q: Are you going to work together?

Eli Roth: We'll do something together. We’ll be involved in some way in something.

Q: Nothing brewing right now?

Eli Roth: We're going to have a birthday party together. That’s about it right now. That’s in April. We have the same birthday which is kind of cool.

Q: What will be your next project?

Eli Roth: Definitely the next project is sleep. I'd like to shoot it next but there's no ....we're going to wait and see when the script comes in and then there's actually just a number of factors. I'd like to make it my next project, yeah, I'd love to.

Q: Sleep did you say?

Eli Roth: Sleep. I haven't slept in like a year and a half. I need sleep.


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