The secrets to casting the perfect punks
Assembling the right cast for a movie like Green Room is a difficult but essential task. Despite the buckets of blood, guns, and stomach-churning broken-limb makeup effects, it's still a chamber drama at heart. It could be a splatter-filled stage play. The kind you bring a poncho to if you sit in the first row.
The movie only succeeds if the actors playing these young punks can draw you into their secret language, make you laugh at their inside jokes, and get you invested in the psychological turmoil of their escape. Without a strong emotional connection, the characters are skinhead canon fodder.
To add to the difficulty, this was new territory for Saulnier, a rising filmmaker coming off the 2013 success of his excellent low-budget hillbilly noir Blue Ruin. That movie's cast mostly consisted of high school buddies; this one stars Chekhov and Captain Picard. And casting a movie is more logistically complicated than simply finding your leads.
"The peripheral roles for Blue Ruin were designed to require less of a commitment from actors because we were only asking for three to five days of their time," explains Saulnier. "For Green Room, we had people trapped in a room, so we had to ask for pretty full commitments from everybody because the whole film takes place in about 16 hours."
But this time, in addition to a slightly larger budget, Saulnier also had the assistance of casting director Avy Kaufman, a veteran of blockbusters like National Treasure, The Bourne Ultimatum, and The Sixth Sense. And, thanks to a gritty script with a killer hook -- John Carpenter-esque punks-vs.-skins siege thriller -- he had the perfect bait for actors in their 20s looking to take a risk on a small production. In addition to Yelchin as the lead, he cast Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat, Skins' Joe Cole, and English actor Callum Turner as the band members. Rounding out the cast, he secured indie favorite Imogen Poots for the important role of Amber, the band's only ally in increasingly hostile territory.
"They weren't typical boyfriend or girlfriend parts," says Saulnier. "For Imogen Poots to get feral, get face-painted, wield a shotgun, and kick some ass -- it's a new opportunity for her, and she embraced it. She signed up immediately."