Laurence Fishburne and Matt Damon star in the disturbing, possibly realistic sci-fi action thriller, Contagion, with Kate Winslet and Jude Law. The two of them sat down with Buzzine to talk about Matt's bald head, the possibility of an outbreak really happening, and the upcoming anniversary of 9/11.
Izumi Hasegawa: When you read the script, what was your reaction? How did the script persuade you to do the project?
Laurence Fishburn: I was kind of blown away by how smart it was, because a lot of what is being made now is stupid. So I was really very honored to be asked to be a part of it, because it's a really smart movie.
Matt Damon: I had a similar reaction. Actually, we were getting ready to do something else -- another project that we are still going to do -- and Steven (Soderbergh) called and said, "I've got this other thing and we've really got to make it now because it's really timely." And he said, "I think it's the best thing Scott (Z. Burns) has written." Which is saying quite a bit, and I obviously think a lot of Scott. So he sent it over to me with a note saying, "Read this and then wash your hands." And I read it and I had the same reaction that Laurence did. I just really want to be in this movie. It's a terrific, riveting, really fast read, and really exciting, and really horrifying, but it managed to be touching to.
IH: Matt, you've played both family man and action hero characters. Which type of character comes more natural to you?
MD: Obvoiusly the action guys come way more natural. No, if the director is good and the script is good, it all comes pretty naturally, and if those things aren't in place, it's impossible no matter what the role is.
IH: Would you be the guy who is extra prepared and overprotective, or let loose, in terms of an outbreak like in the movie?
MD: I think, with kids, I'm probably more protective than I've ever been now that I have children. I try not to be. My wife's name for me is "Red Alert." I sometimes just check to see if the kids are breathing, but no. I think it's a probably tendency to be a little overprotective without trying to be a helicopter parent.
IH: Do you have a stock pile of supplies?
MD: No. After the Northridge quake, I had. I put the flashlight by my bed for like two weeks and then forgot about it.
IH: The message of the movie seems to be: trust government but get a gun. Can you discuss some of the politics in the movie? What about the gun control aspect of the movie?
MD: I also was very aware of that in the second act. I haven't seen the final film yet, but that's about where this is taking place. You know that would be about where the zombies would come, and you're going to want a gun for that. I don't care who you are. That's not a political statement at all.
IH: Where was your germ paranoia before the movie and then after working on the movie?
LF: I ain't afraid of germs. And I ain't afraid of getting sick. Dying -- that's some other shit.
IH: Laurence, can you talk about the complexities of your character, who is somebody of authority in the film?
LF: It wasn't really that complex for me, once I talked to Dr. Lipkin, who had really strong opinions about how all this shit should sort of play out. He was with us every day, and he is really committed to what he does. He loves what he does. So we'd be working, and he'd be on his phone and he'll go, "Let me show you this." And it would be something that could potentially be an outbreak almost every day. He has some new disease that the CDC is tracking and keeping an eye on. So it became really easy to go, "Oh right, so the stakes for this thing that you do are always here." The personal stuff that I have as Ellis Cheever was telling my fiancé, soon-to-be wife, Sanaa Lathan, to get out of town, to leave, to pack up, to not talk. That's really easy. Any human being in that situation is going to do that, I think.
IH: Matt, how did you relate to your character?
MD: I thought a lot was easy to relate to. It was just on the page. Working with Steven is very different from working with anybody else. To give you an example of a day, we go and we shoot. We'd talk about what we were going to do, we'd figure it out, we'd execute the plan, and then we'd go back to the hotel and go to the bar. And in the back room of the bar, they'd deliver the footage, and Steven, Scott, and I, and Greg Jacobs, our other producer, and A.D., and Michael and Stacey (Sher)...we'd sit there and talk while Steven put on headphones and opened up his laptop and sat in the corner for 45 minutes or an hour. And then, at the end, he'd take his headphones off and he'd turn the computer around, and he'd show us what we shot that day, cut. So when you're working that way, it's like making a movie in your backyard with your friends. It's like the body is out on the operating table and wide open, and you talk about it. "All right, what else do we need?" It's very different from going off on my own and doing three months of research... It feels more like the hocus pocus is taken out of the experience. One of my favorite scenes that we did was this scene that I find out my wife is dead. You know very early on in the movie. And I went to Steven and I said, "Look, I don't know what to do." How do you do this scene? It's five minutes into the movie. We're not invested in me or her, we don't care. And Steven goes, "the slump?" Everybody knows the slump. You're down in the hall and just see that guy slump down. And I'm like, shit, I don't know. What do you do? We've got to find some shorthand to do. You can't dwell on this thing. We're five minutes into the movie. We had a guy there who had done this a lot, and we talked to him, and this doctor who delivered this news, and we asked for certain trends, like what happens? And he said, "Sometimes people fall apart, but there is this other reaction that we get just as much." And I said, "What is it?" He said, "Well, it depends on what kind of death it is. Is it the kind of death where you're not expecting somebody to be dead?" And I said, "Right, exactly," and he goes, "Oh, what you get a lot is absolute...it just doesn't...it's just too much." So they have this specific way that they put it, and Scott had written it. It was close. He just intuited it and it was close, but he had written words like, "She had passed away," and the guy says, "No no no. She didn't die." You have to be completely specific and look at the person, and you have the social worker with you. There's a whole script that they go on, and they expect you to not even get it. They expect you to go like, "Okay, can I go talk to her?" because that's the reaction that people have. So working with these guys, I get up in the morning and I'm freaking out about how the hell I'm going to do this scene, and I end up going to work and getting this scene that's really interesting, and I've never seen it done that way, and I totally believe that's the way. And these doctors who actually do it say, "Yeah, that's actually how it goes down a lot of the time." It's a very long-winded answer to a very short question.
IH: Matt, can you talk about your new look?
MD: Inspiration can strike at any time. About shaving my head? Well, it's for a movie. I'm doing a movie with Neill Blomkamp -- the director of District 9 -- and this is what the character looks like. And I did shave my head once when I did The Brothers Grimm. I had a wig. It was easier to get the wig on than lacquering my hair down. I just shaved my head. So I walk around in my regular life like this, and I love it. I can see why these guys rock the look. It's great in the summer time; really easy getting out of the shower.
IH: How important was it to use the right equipment and terminology in this film?
MD: Would you believe it if I was like, "Pass me the thingy." It might take you out of the movie. "We've got an outbreak of some hush-mish-a-ma." I don't know. Fishburne lost me with that performance.
LF: I did that for a long time, but I think that's how I got this job. So it wasn't all bad.
IH: Laurence, you had a lot of sweet romantic moments with Senaa Lathan in the movie. What was it like playing opposite her?
LF: It was wonderful playing with Senaa. Thank you for saying that. It's nice to know that feeling is there. We had one little thing. The only thing I really missed was that Thanksgiving thing we had -- that Chicago real estate, but in spite of that, it's beautiful. It's nice playing with Senaa. It's was as nice playing with Senaa as it was with Jennifer (Ehle).
IH: The anniversary of 9/11 is approaching. What do you remember about that day?
MD: I lived in lower Manhattan at the time, so I just remember walking out of my apartment and seeing it, and then going back and watching CNN because I was so hungry for information, trying to figure out what was going on. I just remember being glued to my television, despite the fact that it was happening right outside my door.
IH: What kind of movie is Elysium?
MD: I'm working up until the end of the year in Vancouver. The Blomkamp movie -- Elysium. It's a kind of sci-fi.
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Contagion' is released on September 9, 2011.