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SOUND OF MY VOICE, while much more so Science fiction than a
terror tale, is a quiet, compelling and character driven film, hauntingly built
to stick with you and your thoughts long after it ends. FANGORIA sat down with
those behind the Zal Batmanglij-directed cult story, and in this first talk
with lead actor Christopher Denham, we explore the different layers of thought
it evokes in its tight, and beautifully constructed running time.
In SOUND OF MY VOICE, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna
(Nicole Vicius), a couple and documentary filmmaking team, infiltrate a
mysterious group led by an enigmatic young woman named Maggie (Brit Marling).
Intent on exposing her as a charlatan and freeing the followers from her grip,
Peter and Lorna start to question their objective and each other as they
unravel the secrets of Maggie's underworld.
FANGORIA: One of the most interesting things about the movie
is how it touches on people reacting to turbulent childhoods, especially in
Peter’s case. The abused can become abusers or wash their hands of it, and the
way he reacts to his own mother’s choices is intriguing, as I think he knows
full well there’s a danger he might be overtaken in the same way.
CHRISTOPHER DENHAM: Yea, there’s definitely some sort of
deficit in him because of his childhood, and he knows he has this gap that
needs to be filled, sort of. Whether that’s conscious or subconscious, I don’t
know, but I think whatever Maggie is, or claims to be, she can do something
that Lorna can’t do. She can fill that gap better than Lorna can, and when she
unearths this stuff in him, when it all comes out, he kind of knows there’s no
turning back. He is just this blind allegiance to her, after that, I think. And
ultimately, it’s not really a movie about a cult, necessarily. It’s about a
longing for family. That’s all a cult is, a family in funny outfits, or
FANG: What’s your favorite scene, or moment, between Peter
and Maggie in the film?
DENHAM: I love the scene—not because of the performances,
but how it’s written, the construction of the scene—where, it’s hard to say
without divulging too much, but the scene where Maggie is asking Peter to do
something that is perhaps morally ambiguous. She’s testing his faith. He has to
do something that is questionable, and “is he going to do it or not,” is the
essence of the movie. The construction of that scene is so tense to me, I loved
that when I first read it; the ping pong of it.
FANG: Absolutely, I think that scene in particular is the
most compelling in the film and it’s because Maggie is so good at disarming
your character in that way of being self deprecating and letting her own guard
DENHAM: It’s the first time we see her drop the act, sort
of, but even that might be an act. We never really know how many faces she has,
but it’s very interesting to see that aspect of her we haven’t yet.
FANG: How did SOUND OF MY VOICE come to you, in the first
DENHAM: By blind luck, thankfully. I was lucky enough that
we have a lot of friends in common, and they thought of me for this role, so we
met maybe a year before we started shooting and they showed me the script and I
loved it, and the role. We got on the same wavelength about it and you know, a
year went by and I didn’t hear anything and then one day, I got a call asking,
“Can you be in Los Angeles in two weeks?” I was like, “Yea, finally, someone’s
giving them the money to do this thing.” I knew it would be an uphill battle.
It’s not an easy movie to define. That was the process, basically. It wasn’t a
lot of talking about it. It wasn’t an audition, necessarily; it was just talking
and figuring it out.
FANG: You mention it’s a hard movie to pin down, and that
translates to its production. You know it’s a small film, but you’re not sitting
there thinking it looks microbudget.
DENHAM: That it looks cheap, or something.
FANG: Yes, exactly. It’s well thought out, and planned and
beautifully constructed. Was it a tiny, pressured production?
DENHAM: You felt it was rushed in terms of time, but I’d say
for an independent film, our crew had like 30, or 40. That’s still sizable for
other things that I’d heard about or even worked on, where you’re really just
talking about a DP and a boom.
FANG: Kind of Joe Swanberg-esque.
DENHAM: Yea, which I’ve worked with him too, and that’s
completely different. That’s just him, holding the camera. So, this, we had
PA’s and stuff like that, but the time is where you felt it. It was a less than
three week shoot, really long days, but that’s Zal’s talent. He can make you
feel like you have all the time in the world, when you have essentially three
takes to get it. You have to move on. You have to make your day. Zal is really
good with actors in terms of giving them the space to do their thing.
FANG: What’s that like, in the sense of being pressed for
time and in a whirlwind and then following its premiere, there’s a year between
when someone like Fox Searchlight picks it up and now you’re here talking about
DENHAM: It’s all been a new process for me. I think it’s
just so cool, because essentially what it was, is anyone can go out and get a
camera and do this kind of thing. It wasn’t that much money, and then a studio
buys your film. It’s not that it’s going to make a billion dollars or anything,
but they’re incremental films. I think,
maybe before this, I was a little cynical. I thought, “Oh, well you can’t get
into Sundance unless you have some big star in your film.” Not necessarily.
FANG: Especially these last couple of years.
DENHAM: Yea, and it’s like a whole crop of films have come
out like that and I really enjoyed and
are not by any means, cookie cutter.
FANG: Speaking of not cookie cutter, and the aforementioned
Joe Swanberg, who recently toed the line into horror with V/H/S, there’s a lot
of films lately that have these more dramatic readings until they fully give
themselves over to the fact that they’re genre.
DENHAM: Oh god, yea, look at Ti West. He’s one of my
FANG: Exactly, have you seen V/H/S?
DENHAM: No, not yet.
FANG: Joe’s segment is the best. It’s easily the scariest,
and he just totally gave himself over. I think there’s a really interesting
bend in which a lot of the “indie kids” want to play in these types of films,
and will admit they grew up on them.
DENHAM: That’s the same with me, Brit and Zal. We’re not
ashamed of it. We love science fiction, we love horror films. Zal always talks
about THE TERMINATOR when he talks about this film. I think it is a badge of
honor. It’s like, “what if you take the pyrotechnics out of it? What if you
take the Hollywood big production elements out of it, and you’re left with the
fundamental, elemental human questions?” Then it becomes really interesting.
FANG: There’s a piece in the film that involves you
swallowing some electrical equipment. Did you? Did you even have the impulse
DENHAM: I did not actually swallow it, but there were other
things that did really happen. The vomit—Zal wasn’t a dictator, he didn’t make
us vomit [laughs]—we had this concoction that was like a cream of mushroom
soup, or something, and it was just so bad. One of the kids actually threw up
and the smell of that, even though they cleaned it up, made other people throw
up. So, it became a domino effect. There was some reality to some of that
FANG: Once the film reaches a larger audience, how ready are
you to do the handshake on command?
DENHAM: [Laughs] I would be prepared to relearn it. Zal and
Brit had to do it the other night, and it came back to them like riding a bike.
I had to stumble through it; I guess because they did it so much learning how
to develop it. I’d forgotten it. It was embarrassing.
FANG: What was your main attraction to Peter? Do you, like
much of the world, share that longing for new family?
DENHAM: That was definitely a hook into the character for
me, this idea of—I guess it’s anybody who lives in a big city, but I’m sure
people feel it in the suburbs too. Maybe it’s generational too, but you feel
rootlessness, you want some kind of collective identity.
FANG: Well, the film feels really informed of the weirdness
DENHAM: Yea! There is a distinct L.A. loneliness to the film.
All these people are together in one place, but you also have these vast spots
of open land, and it is lonely. I feel like there are these kinds of groups
more there than in New York. You’ll have a vegan cult there, or, they’re not
all as dangerous as Maggie’s cult, necessarily; just organizations that get
together and have some sense of identity. We always talk about making this film
felt like a cult, or any independent film where you know everybody in the
group. You know all the crew members, and someone knocks on your door at 9 p.m.
and tells you have to be at this location, at this time, and then here’s the
lines you’re going to say. It’s very cult-like. I can see the appeal.
FANG: There are a lot of cult-centric stories happening.
There was just a documentary at SXSW called THE SOURCE that I hear was very
even handed in its approach to judging them. And then there was MARTHA MARCY,
do you think it’s related to the air of something impending with 2012? Do we
need to get together and prepare for something?
DENHAM: We were wondering what was in the water that year
before Sundance, and why so many people were making films about cults. I don’t
know what it is, I’m not smart enough to know what the hell that could be, but maybe
a sliver of it is this idea of a mistrust of leadership. In many ways, Maggie
is definitely a politician. She speaks in platitudes about the future, or
whatever. She’s kind of a blank slate. Like, this Mitt Romney thing and the
Etch-A-Sketch. I understand that, I understand why he has to be that. People
need to see what they want to see in you, you’re a Rorshach, and that’s what
Maggie is, and maybe that has something to do with all of these cult films now.
We’re trying to figure out what why we’re trusting these people to lead us.
FANG: Do you have anything genre coming up?
DENHAM: Yea, there is! I love genre stuff, I’m all about it.
Barry Levinson is directing a horror film called THE BAY, and then Ben
Affleck’s film ARGO.
FANG: Can you talk THE BAY?
DENHAM: I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, but it is
found footage. I’m a part of a science group that comes to the town to figure
out what’s transpiring there.
FANG: What’s that like, a horror film from Barry Levinson?
DENHAM: It’s so interesting to mash those genres up, the guy
who’s known for ensemble dramas. He’s someone who’s so good with actors, giving
us direction about something really horrific. It was really cool.
SOUND OF MY VOICE is out April 27. Keep an eye on Fango for more with director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling.
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