Untraceable is a cautionary tale about a post-modern serial killer who murders his victims with traps based on the number of hits his website (www.killwithme.com) receives, and then streams their death live on that same site. Part thriller, following FBI Cybercrime Special Agents Marsh (Diane Lane) and Dowd (Colin Hanks) attempt to catch a killer, and part commentary on the most deadly edges of todays narcisistic and voyeuristic society, the film involved a lot of prepation for its stars and a lot of bad luck for kittens.
Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier sat down with Diane Lane in Los Angeles, CA to talk about what she learned about the world of cybercrime, the violence inherent in modern society and the experience of her family being in the center of an ever-growing awards show buzz...
EI: What were some of the other things you did to prepare for the role?
DL: Within the film, there is a lot of radio conversations that are happening in my character’s car. She is going to and from work, and you try to catch snippets of the commentary that people are feeling the need to say something about because it’s so shocking. It´s like we are having a play rehearsal of that because we are talking about the movie and it´s not happening, but to even have a film that deals with something like this, it could happen. It gets that kind of conversation going and I think it’s good because it is a shocking reality check of all these elements combining in a certain way. It´s scary... that is the point of the movie.
If you like being scared, then I recommend seeing the movie. That is the point – to get people talking and saying, “Gee, I hope the FBI keeps staying one step ahead of people who would conduct such a thing.” After and before 9/11, there will always be stuff. There were people who were employed to come up with Doomsday scenarios and they actually hired screenplay writers to partake in this so that the government could think outside of their own little box. They try to imagine what criminal minds could come up with next.
I watch the news, I listen to things and the state of the world today, and I was flabbergasted that when we filmed the screenplay that we had, there was some technology that we weren´t sure existed yet. In the interim and its release, it does exist, and if you are really motivated, I suppose you can hack into anybody´s computer – even the GPS program on an automobile so the map will show where the person is intending to go, but in fact it will be guiding you to another location. They did this, and you sit there and go, “Well there you go.” Somebody had some spare time on their hands. I think you should do other things...
EI: I understand you spent time training with the FBI: How was that?
DL: That was fun. That was the most fun I had on this filmmaking experience. The job was pretty harrowing, as you can imagine, but the preparation was really fun. I really liked the firearm training days, because it´s fun firing off large ammunition. [Laughs] It´s a thrill, and I found out I´m not a very good shot.
EI: Did you tap into any of the personality traits of the female FBI Special Agent who taught you about what they did in the real-life Cybercrimes Unit?
DL: When I´m acting, I feel quite accountable to real people, so meeting her set the standard really high. I had great respect for not only her choice of a career, but also how seriously she took it – enough to follow through on it. I liked the fact that she was a working woman, her job exists, and she is real. When I visited the FBI and spent time with the woman who is my role model, basically, she was amazing.
EI: Were you surprised that the FBI had a special unit to specifically fight Internet crimes?
DL: Oh yeah. When I saw the amount and the nature of the types of white-collar crime, that for the most part, goes on on the Internet, I was so grateful that there are literally employed angels who are interfering with malcontents. The need for angels online to intervene with the bad guys online is sad. I was so naive. I didn´t even know, until about five years ago, that computer viruses didn´t just spontaneously occur in nature like viruses do... [that] they were created by people who have nothing better to do with their techno-fabulousness ideas than to go around and inflict harm on everybody. It´s like arson but with a big IQ. I don´t understand. I can´t wrap my brain around that. But there are so many different people with angry agendas. For me, I am always looking for the motive. That is what I deal with in my line of work as an actor, and that´s what these criminal investigators do. We have some things in common.
EI: Did you have to also look at some of the horrible websites that Colin Hanks has said he saw to prepare for the role?
DL: Probably not as much as he did, because I am a wimp in reality! But I sat with my gal, as I call her very endearingly, and we went through some things online. Within five minutes, things were occurring there that I wished I hadn´t seen. This is the thing – there is an appetite that certain people have to see certain things, and it will always exist. I remember when I was a younger teenager, and the boys were into the Hulk comic strip or whatever, and oh boy... what a waste of time boys are when they are in that stage. Anyway, then there was this video floating around called Faces of Death and basically now it´s on television.
These accidental… I never saw it because I didn´t want it in my head... but the accidental demise of people. I just thought, "What is this about?" I was fascinated, even then, that these young boys were comfortable or daring themselves to become comfortable with this. It told me a lot about human nature, and there is a demographic on the Internet that this movie struggles to say, “How far is too far?” and it is an indictment for sure.
EI: Did you like the fact that your character was a woman doing a traditional man´s job?
DL: Absolutely. You could be anyone at a keyboard and a screen doing her job. It´s a non-ageist, non-sexist profession. The female FBI agent I trained with was a mother of teenagers. The kids are doing great. I was very impressed with the need for her job and the fact that she was the one doing it. For me, that was a piece of information that I never had before, because my references were all from the movies, and they didn´t look like her.
EI: Why does your character have a desk job instead of just working at home?
DL: The character chose a desk job so that she wouldn´t be endangered in the line of duty, having lost the father of her child already. There was some talk earlier about the fact that she doesn´t want to be leaving the office and going into the arena of where the crime occurred. The closer you get to the crime, the more vulnerable you are as a law officer. It´s interesting... there was a scene that was written and I think we never filmed it, or it got edited out – I can´t remember – but it was more information that people didn´t need to know. I can understand why you would rather stay home to go to the office rather than go in, but she had to get beyond that, and that was a plot point at one point.
EI: Your character is very much a take-charge kind of woman. You have often played women with vulnerabilities. Here there is stll some vulnerability, but Agent Marsh can really take care of herself and she does. Was that an appealling change for you?
DL: I don´t disagree with your question, but being vulnerable and being empowered ought not be mutually exclusive. Being highly capable, being highly autonomous, unfortunately can sometimes lead to being so independent that — people do need people. It´s like that song. When you have a career, and when you have a child, as in the case of this character that I play in the film, it´s hard to begin a relationship. Where do you start?
The father of her child was killed in the line of duty we glean from the story later on as we go into the film, and the fact that she is raising her child without another parent, except she does have the benefit of the grandmother there wonderfully played by Mary Beth Hurt, but I understand. I went through enough time as a single parent and it´s easier in some ways to just do it alone without having to explain yourself to the other parent: This is how I´m doing it and this is why.
It´s also hard when you have a career and she does. Her job is incredibly demanding and she doesn´t make up her own hours. The fact that she can ask to have nighttime work, so that she can be there in the day for her child is great. It´s great to be a film actor because as hard as it is to travel and be away for three months I can fight to have a whole year off and be home. It´s a trade.
EI: Do you have any new rules at home about how long the kids can stay on the Internet or what websites they can visit?
DL: Well, we do our best. That´s all you can do, right? There is nothing scarier about being a modern parent than the invention of that alternate universe that young people today feel is theirs. They feel that they are entitled to it, at anytime of the day, all day long with their thumbs going.
EI: Would you call this film torture-tainment like Saw or Hostel?
DL: Is that a blog term?
EI: That´s a term critics have come up with.
DL: It´s not a horror movie, it´s a thriller, and... I don´t know, I´ve never heard that term before.
EI: Basically, you watch people being tortured and are supposed to be entertained.
DL: I think if anybody is doing that, they deserve to be stopped by somebody as nice as me [Smiles]
EI: Did you do a lot of the physical stunts in Untraceable?
DL: Oh yeah, I did a lot.
EI: How did you handle the stunts, like hanging upside down?
DL: I´m good at yoga, so that helped.
EI: Did you have a stunt double that scene?
DL: Yeah, she got credit and she does her thing. I work with her a lot – the same gal – and she´s very wonderful at what she does. We are the same in jeans, and that´s pretty much what they see. It´s the blur of jeans going by at that moment.
EI: When you look at a world filled with violence, as an actor, where do you feel your place is in it?
DL: I think it´s a statement of our times, and I´m a girl of my time. I don´t want to live in a bubble – in my craft or in the world. I can´t, because I would be cheating myself out of my generation and the world we live in. I love how uncomfortable everybody is because that tells me I made the right choice. I think that comfort is overrated, and if I´m worth my salt in this business, it would be because of the diversity of the roles I´ve been able to pull off, hopefully.
I was thinking about all the different parts I have played recently, after a day of this yesterday, going home and wrestling with these questions. I thought, honestly, that´s why I felt so challenged by the offer. It was kind of a dare. I knew if I didn´t do the film, then someone else would. I didn´t want to chicken out because when I had my criteria in front of me, the main one was acceptable to me. It´s not misogynistic. It´s not a sexualized negative message. There is no subjugation of women. The poster is not going to be offensive to me or in front of a kids’ playground.
This is in our picture and those are the people that are entertained. It´s the entertainment industry. I´m not in a ballet here. Even some ballets deal with pretty tough issues, if you were to film it rather than do it poetically with pirouetting... This is the story, this is the movie, and it´s not Must Love Dogs.
EI: The film is certainly not Must Love Cats!
DL: [Laughs] I should have worn my T-shirt.
EI: What does it say?
DL: I don´t want to give too much of the movie away by what the shirt says. On the back, it has a kitten logo and all the great one-liners from the movie. It´s funny. It has an FBI logo on the front...
EI: What do you think Untraceable says about the state of our society?
DL: I don´t know. Honestly, I like the fact that it brings up debate on that subject. I like the fact that it raises some shackles and makes people afraid. For ten bucks and two hours in the dark, if you are going to a thriller, you ought to be afraid. I like that the premise was intelligent within our time. I think ten years from now, we´ll have other concerns and this one will be in a bubble of current now-ness. In that way, it´s very zeitgeist-affiliated. I remember different times, different concerns, and how of-their-time thrillers were. I just watched a show with my kids over the winter break from school, and we were looking at the Cold War bunkers that still exist, looking at the hi-tech things we had to communicate with our allies. They made this thing look like it came from a spaceship. It was just practically in my lifetime.
EI: How do you feel about the violence in Untraceable?
DL: I think that the premise of the film is frightening. The violence is equally frightening, in a different way. It´s one thing to understand that this is a possibility. You sit there and go, “I don´t want to imagine that this is a possibility because it´s too scary.” But the comfort level with R-rated violence is kind of a prerequisite for thriller entertainment. It´s not typically something that people associate me with necessarily, but I was happy to play the good guy coming up against the bad guy. I think by the time we actually get to him, I´m glad it´s me. It would be good to eliminate somebody like that out of being able to continue what they are up to.
EI: Turning to your husband [Josh Brolin]'s work for a moment; there has been a lot of talk about the fact that No Country For Old Men is also extremely violent.
DL: I can understand that.
Emmanuel Itier: Do you and Josh ever read each other´s scripts? Do you give each other suggestions on what you should or shouldn´t do?
Diane Lane: Maybe we should! [Laughs] I think that is where angels fear to tread – to come between an artist and his art, or an artisan and their craft, or somebody who has a wild hair to take a dare and do something that is out of character for some expectations. In some ways, that is the very reason you want to do it. I know of some of the things that Josh is preparing to do. [Laughs] They are going to be something... I can just go, “Wow!”
EI: No Country For Old Men could very well garner your husband an Oscar nomination this year...
DL: I know. The attention and critical acclaim has been 24 years in the making. I know a little about that.
EI: Does all the critical acclaim and attention that Josh is enjoying change anything for the two of you?
DL: No, nothing changes. It´s just that the topic of conversation is probably a little more work-oriented than before. It sure feels great to be having success and rewards for your work. It´s a crapshoot. Who knows when you are going to be in a classic film? Who knows if you are going to be in a financially successful film? Who knows if you are going to be in a cult hit? Who knows if you are going to be in something that nobody will remember? Nobody intends to make… ... how can I say it? If they wanted to do it on purpose all the time, then they would all the time. There is an element of gratitude that goes with something fortuitous. That is good to have in the house, Iit´s nice. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, they say. I agree!
EI: How is Josh handling all the praise? Is he getting prepared for a possible Oscar nomination?
DL: Nobody can ever prepare for that... I think it´s like childbirth.
EI: The real bummer about getting nominated this year woudl be if the Academy Awards ceremony are cancelled like the Golden Globes.
DL: I know. That would be a bummer. But the year I was nominated, they “cancelled" the red carpet.
EI: Because of the war?
DL: It was merely referred to as 'bombing' at the time. My joke about getting nominated for an Oscar is that it was like having an epidural. It was easy, but the red carpet is always the hard part...
EI: One way or another, Old Country For Old Men is entering the list of great thrillers: Do you have a favorite thriller of your own?
DL: I guess Klute. I guess that would be my standard bearing. If you can do better than that, then you take the cake.
EI: Do you watch any of your own films on DVD or on TV?
DL: No, I don´t think so. I get a little embarrassed. Isn´t that funny? I watch a few minutes of it and then I get embarrassed.
EI: After doing Unfaithful and The Cotton Club with Richard Gere, what was it like re-teaming with your old friend in the upcoming Nights In Rodanthe?
DL: Oh, it was wonderful. I adore Richard. I love working with him. Richard is a great actor and a wonderful gentleman.
EI: When did you finish the film? Is it a love story?
DL: We finished filming on the 4th of July weekend, and yes, it´s a love story. It was about time we did a romance together! It´s not about a perfect couple, but that is the way movie romances are and the way that life is. So there is the conflict within what is romantic. They start as friends and they wise up that their relationship informs the rest of their lives very much. They are very affected by each other. Sometimes you meet somebody and you don´t know them for a long time, but they have a great impact on your life philosophy after that. It´s a nice message, and I liked the movie.
EI: In closing, and turning back to Untraceable: Your name is the one above the title on the poster? That is something that you fight to be in position to happen, but it is also something that brings some trepidation: Are you ever worried that if a film fails, the producers might blame you?
DL: Good – bring it on! What can I say? If there were trepidation, then I guess I got over it because I did it, and there it is. I don´t even have an answer for that: I guess it´s one of those things where it´s a greyhound race... I´m chasing a mechanical rabbit and I can´t really engage in that because it´s too objectified for me. I don´t even like to promote films, but I have to because it´s the fine print of my contract... I just like to do the film and then go, “Oh, it´s coming out!” Some people track their movies, but I just hide under a rock about it really... [Laughs]
Sony Screen Gems' 'Untraceable' is in theaters nationwide from January 25, 2008.