I recently got the chance to talk to Michael Eklund about his role in ‘The Divide’. Here, Michael talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on the project, and about how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Michael. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘The Divide’ is in selected UK cinemas right now. What is the general plotline surrounding the film?
First of all…it is my pleasure. The plot line of the film begins when a cataclysmic event devastates New York, and eight strangers find themselves taking refuge in the basement of their apartment building, which is a converted fallout shelter designed by the superintendent Mickey played brilliantly by Michael Biehn. With only a little food and water, the group are at least safe from the horrors outside..or are they? As tension mounts, they try to govern themselves and their sanctuary becomes a living hell and everyone is forced to fight for their survival in the only way they know how. It’s not a romantic comedy, that’s for sure.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the film….
What can you say about Bobby? You know those friends you have that are always in a good mood and always have something positive to say? That’s not Bobby. Bobby is the kind of guy that stares at you while you sleep, and will steal your last smoke. He’s fun to have around and you can rely on him to have a good time…but that good time usually ends up with your mug shot being taken with a newspaper and a tub of ice cream under your arm. Bobby never gets angry, he just gets sad and depressed. So he is always moving…becuase if he stopped he would break down and be forced to deal with himself. His right side of his brain dominates over his left side. Bobby can convince you to try anything. He even convinced a friend to marry a dog to lift a curse because he saw it on TV one time late at night. He’s desensitized to the world and its sins due to the media, and believes dragons do exist. He is fascinated by nude male statues and has a theory that staring at woman’s breasts is good for men’s health, which is why he keeps a Roman and Arabic sex manual under his bed. Yep…that pretty much sums up Bobby.
Given the fact it’s a bunch of people who are stuck together in a bunker, would you say you can identify with your character or even anyone else’s?
I was once stuck in an elevator for five minutes and was forced to drink my own urine to survive…so yes I could identify with my character easily. But seriously I don’t think anyone could actually identify with their characters in this film…which is why some of us embraced the darkness of it all. It allowed us to explore and open those doors that we all have inside of us. A few of us opened those doors and a few of us didn’t…the ones that did had the best time working on this film because we knew we were surrounded by the support and trust of each other in a very safe environment. If you could fully identify with your character…it wouldn’t have been as much fun.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Originally I helped a friend with his audition for the project. He was reading for Bobby. I had a feeling he was going to get it…I just had this funny feeling about the project from the very beginning. The next day I received an audition for the project, I was also reading for the Bobby role. The director Xavier Gens and the writer Eron Sheean watched my audition and called me to discuss the role. Afterwards I flew to Winnipeg for the day to meet Xavier and Eron…we talked about the film and the role of Bobby. Xavier and Eron were amazing because they wanted to hear my ideas regarding the character and were sincerely interested in what I was going to bring to the character. They were looking for that. They incorporated my ideas into the script right there in the meeting. Both Xavier and Eron love to collaborate with the actor…and that is fun and artistically fulfilling when you get to do that.
How has the reception been to the film so far? I’ve heard nothing but praise for Xavier Gens…
Xavier is an amazing director and an even more amazing person. He let us have full control of the direction of our characters. We shot the film in continuity…which was interesting and fun. Every day new developments would emerge in our characters, things that were not in the script and could not be predicted. When those pieces of truth were given life Xavier embraced them and the life of the characters and story would adjust accordingly. I would find myself in the lounge of the hotel at the end of the night with the writer Eron Sheean going over the script adapting these new changes that were occurring into the next days work. It was so fun to work that way and have the freedom to do that, and that was because of the way Xavier works. He expects the best from you and to breathe life into your role and we wanted to give him that. My favorite review so far was something like: “After you’ve seen ‘The Divide’ you will want to take a shower”.:..Haha! It’s been interesting. The people who love the movie LOVE the movie, and the people who hate the movie HATE it for all the right reasons we were trying to achieve. This isn’t a safe film, and is very different from anything I think people are expecting. ‘The Divide’ makes you feel something, and whether those feelings are good or bad, it does make you feel…and that is all I can ask for.
How would you say ‘The Divide’ is different from other sci-fi films released this year which have the apocalypse, sci-fi edge to them?
I wouldn’t say ‘The Divide’ is a sci-fi film. I’d say it is more of a dark drama, dealing with themes of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good. This film will leave you with something. it will take you on a journey into the hell of mental psyche, play with how you think, feel, perceive, and reason and it will make you feel dirty, and everyone should feel a little dirty sometimes. It’s nature. Clashing instincts towards society and personal values, morality versus immorality, there is no good or bad…just survival. Those are all themes we battle with everyday. This film takes those battles and flips them upside down in an extreme way. Did I mention I wear a purple dress in the film?…I don’t think any other film has that.
The film stars Lauren German, my old friend Michael Biehn and Milo Ventimiglia – what was it like working with them on-set?
Milo, Michael, Rosanna (Arquette) and actor Ivan Gonzalez will be part of my actor family forever. I touched on it a little before, but I feel we are all bonded for life. We all inspired one another, challenged one another and pushed one another beyond our own original prejudgments we may have made on ourselves and our own personal limits. When an actor does that for one another it is a form of professional brother/sisterhood. Making a movie such as this one where you are literally thrown into one room together and forced to deal with and live with one another within your characters as well as professionally, mentally and artistically takes a great deal of bravery and great deal of respect for one another. We all felt very safe with each other, and we relied on each other’s support. We all worked very differently and that is the beautiful thing that comes out of an experience like this one. We all shared so much, gave so much and took so much from each other in every way. We had to love each other in order to do it everyday. And when the film making process is over that bond just doesn’t fizzle away and die. It is solidified forever. I couldn’t have asked for a more talented, brave, giving and supportive cast and director. We all gave and took as much as we could from each other…and I thank them for that. They are my pals.
Let’s talk a bit about you Michael. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
Magic. The magic you feel when you open yourself up and give yourself over to another world. A world you have not experienced or felt in your own life. And when you can do that it affects you and can change you. And that is magic. Magic of the imagination. I felt that magic for the first time at an early age when I sat down in those red flip down seats in a cinema and the reflecting light hit the screen displaying the projected image, telling me a story and taking me on a ride and an adventure. I wanted to feel that and be a part of that. I wanted to act upon it and those feelings it created inside of me. To cause a response. Whether in myself or in others.
What does a Michael Eklund day consist of?
I don’t think an average day in the life of myself would be very interesting to anyone…even for me most of the time. Because it is my life. I live with myself everyday. You can never get away from yourself even if you wanted to. I think that is why I like acting. I can leave myself at home and be someone else for a while. And if you are lucky it is someone who is far more interesting than yourself. I will leave that question up to the imagination. It will be far more colorful than anything I could tell you.
What has been the most memorable experience of your career so far?
By far making ‘The Divide’ has been my most memorable experience. And that is not just a stock answer. I am sure my cast mates would also agree. There was something special about making that film. It bonded us for life in a way that can not be described. Friendships were made that I will have forever. We went through war together making that film from an artistic collaboration point of view. It was an actors playground and an actors cast. Surrounded by so many talented, imaginative, strong minded, and creative artists forced us to bring our best. You had no choice. If you didn’t you were left behind. Most of us worked hard and pushed ourselves to the limits…both mentally and physically. I actually went blind for three days making ‘The Divide’. As a cast all we had was each other and none of us could have done it alone…we also had a great leader in Xavier. Coming out on the other end of being a part of something like that is rewarding and challenging at the same time. The others will know what I mean by that. The days on set with my boys (Milo, Ivan, and Michael) and the nights we shared outside on the steps were some of the best days I have shared with anyone while making a movie. Those moments are rare and we all will continue to search for them again. After ‘The Divide’ I made a movie in Dresden, Germany with the talented writer of ‘The Divide’, Eron Sheean, called ‘Errors of the Human Body’. It was his first feature film as a director. That film was also another of the most challenging experiences of my life and career. It was a completely different kind of movie but soul-searching and emotionally intense in the same kind of way. When you are finished you are left to deal with yourself…and that is part of the experience. When that happens it becomes a memorable experience for yourself. Eron also pushed me to my limits on that film…and I thank both Xavier and Eron in doing so on both films. It is what I look for in a project now. Once you literally taste the blood, sweat, saliva and tears of your cast mates and yourself – it changes you and nothing compares to it afterwards. The search always continues.
Would you say you go for a specific type of role? You have such a wide range of sci-fi esque projects on your IMDB listing…
No…there is no specific type of role I gravitate towards. Thank goodness. That would be boring. As long as it is emotionally challenging, interesting and inspires my imagination as a human being and as an artist, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it is a drama, comedy, sci-fi, or thriller…if the character being painted has any depth and the story has legs it’s all the same to me. Like I mentioned before, as long as it attempts to push me to my limits, breaks me in some way and tries to inspire something, change something and cause some sort of evolution…I would say that is my type of role. It wouldn’t be any fun if it didn’t.
What’s coming up for you in 2011? I hear you’ve just completed a few projects – ‘Pressed’. ‘Sisters & Brothers’ and ‘Errors Of The Human Body’….
Yes! I have a few more surprises coming out soon which I am very excited about. Including those titles you mentioned, as well as a film called ‘The Day’ directed by Doug Aarniokoski, which is another post apocalyptic action thriller. Another film I’m in is called ‘Gravity’s Pull’ which I filmed in Havana, Cuba, early this year with my friend Gil Bellows. ‘Errors of the Human Body’ is in post production right now and is shaping up nicely and will be out next year. I am starting a new film soon called ‘Ferocious’ with director Robert Cuffley, which will be our second film together and I’m also attached to another film shooting next year called ‘Lucid’, which will be filmed in Scotland. Other than that I am just trying to enjoy living the average day…what ever that consists of. 😉
Thanks for the interview!