We Have "Eyes" for Aaron Stanford
Cute Aaron Stanford is one "hot" actor! He plays Pyro, the fire-shooting X-Man in that film series and, talk about hot, Aaron had to spend two months in 115 to 120 degree heat in the Moroccan desert to film his role in the jarring horror re-imagining of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. Since the actor spends most of the movie covered in blood and grime it was refreshing to meet the Aaron looking clean and casual in sweater, shirt and jeans for our interview in Beverly Hills.
Aaron likes to split his time between big mainstream pictures and small, meaty indie flicks. He has produced Runaway co-starring with Robin Tunney and appears in Flakes with Zooey Deschanel and is in Live Free Or Die. A grad of prestigious Rutgers University, the young actor started his career on the stage with work in his home state Massachusetts and in London. He's never acted in a horror film, certainly not one as grisly as "Hills" and he's never played a young husband and dad. We asked about his experiences on set and the wild and quick transition that Aaron had to make from family man/victim to hot superhero. Tune in....
TeenHollywood: What attracted you to this role in "Hills"?
Aaron: I took the part for a lot of reasons. I thought it was a pretty interesting story and I looked at who was involved and they already had a stellar cast already in place. A chance to work with people like Ted Levine and Kathleen Quinlan? I said, 'I could do worse than that'. It was Fox Searchlight. They seemed like a group of really intelligent and passionate people. I thought 'I want to get involved with them'.
TeenHollywood: You shot way out in the Moroccan desert. Was that interesting for you?
Aaron: It's a pretty daunting thing to even be transplanted to the place that we were, to go that far away from anything that you recognize, to be in Morocco in Northern Africa. That was a pretty interesting experience, just completely immersing yourself into this entirely alien culture and I think it left a lot of us off-balance a little bit which we were able to use in the film.
TeenHollywood: So the grueling shooting conditions helped you?
Aaron: Oh yeah. Definitely. It helped the family come together because we had to. There's no place else to go so you have a forced intimacy. We got to know each other really well. Just being uncomfortable 24 hours a day for two months puts you in sort of a fragile state.
TeenHollywood: What did the cast do off set when you were so isolated?
Aaron: We played a lot of poker actually and we just tried to find things to do like rent 4 wheelers and tear around the desert and take a look at what's out there. We made a trip to Marrakech through the Atlas mountains. We were invited to eat at the home of one of the drivers so we could eat a traditional Moroccan meal and see how they do it. There's no utensils. You wash your hands and they bring out two roast chickens, put them on the table and you grab the meat right off the bone and eat it communally and there's a siesta afterwards. Stuff like that passed the time.
TeenHollywood: Is this the kind of horror film you would personally rush to see?
Aaron: Yeah. I think this does look like a smart film. I'm not a horror film fanatic but I love smart horror films and I love the re-make of Dawn of the Dead which I thought was a very, very intelligent film about people put in extreme situation where all the laws and rules and safeguards of society are just thrown out the window. What do people do in these extreme situations? How do they behave? It turns out, for the most part, that they're just as dangerous as the monsters that they're confronting. That's sort of one of the things that I liked about The Hills Have Eyes is that it was ordinary people put in this very extraordinary situation and what happens to them. What do they do?
TeenHollywood: There were some very gruesome scenes. [Warning: This film is R-rated for plenty of gore and brutality] Is it hard not to take that off the set with you?
Aaron: It was brutal, yeah. But, there were some things that really did stay with me. [Some things] didn't hit me that hard because, first of all, you're removed from it because it's a special effect. You're not seeing it at the time but listening to some of the interactions between the characters inside the trailer and watching what some of the women looked like when they came out, it stays with you a little bit. Then again, there's also the fact that working on a horror film like this and seeing that stuff every single day for two months, you get pretty inured to it. You have lunch with these mutant cannibals who've got piece of flesh dangling off the side of their face. It's a normal, everyday thing.
TeenHollywood: Was playing a married man something different for you?
Aaron: Absolutely. I've never played anyone anywhere close to my age before so, yeah, getting to play a young husband and a daddy was great.
TeenHollywood: Would you have ever gone on a family vacation like the one in the film?
Aaron: Yeah, I would've absolutely but Doug [his character] is very squeamish about it. He's a very domesticated and civilized man and he likes his creature comforts and doesn't like to go outside of his safety zones but he needs that cell phone. It's his lifeline. The first thing that goes is the cell phone and everything else gets taken piece by piece. But I'm very different. I love cross-country trips. I love exploring. I love adventure so I definitely would do that.
TeenHollywood: Can you say what you would personally do in the horrible situation your character is in?
Aaron: Oh, I don't like to. I tried to for the movie and I think it was pretty honest. Doug is in a state of shock. He's frozen. He's never experienced a situation like that before. It's so far outside of his realm of experience that he doesn't know what to do and he freezes. But, then, eventually, he realizes that he's got no other recourse. He's got no choice. He's lost everything and he's got this one opportunity, maybe to get a piece of his life back. I think that's what a lot of people would do. Whether it would be successful or not, is a whole other story.
TeenHollywood: You really go through a gauntlet of abuse. Did you get any injuries?
Aaron: We did a lot of stuff. The stuntmen took the real heavy lifting. If you see me flying through a window, that's a stuntman. But, a lot of the fight sequences, the outdoor fight sequences, falling down, getting my face banged against the dirt, that was all me. I had a few bumps and bruises here and there. Maybe I was stiff a couple of days but we got real lucky. We were taking some chances out there too. We were running across expanses of desert with chunks of razor-sharp rock. The girls are wearing open-toed sandals and I just don't know how they got away with it but they did.
TeenHollywood: Ouch! You really made us care about the characters in the movie.
Aaron: Alex Aja [the director] wasn't about making a splatter festival. He said 'there are so many horror films out there where characters are just disposable. You don't care about them. They're not real and they're there for the purpose of being bumped off one-by-one'. Something he really wanted to do with this movie was make these characters believable, make them real, make you care about them. So, that once these awful things start happening, there's a cost. I respected him for that.
TeenHollywood: Can you talk about your appearance in the film? You've got glasses and a beard. You look very different from Pyro!
Aaron: Well, the beard was to put some age on me, yeah. But, have you met Alex? He looks exactly like I do in the film. So, I showed up [to meet the director] and I had longer hair and a lot of stubble and expected to have him go real conservative with the look, real clean-shaven, everything but Alex saw that I looked just like him and he said [in Alex's French accent] 'I like this look. Let's keep going with it. Grow the beard a little more. Keep the hair long. I like]. Then, the glasses were just, he's a nerdy guy, gotta have glasses. It was fun. It's good for an actor to have stuff like that. It helps you get into it a little more.
TeenHollywood: Had you seen the original "Hills"? What did you think?
Aaron: I enjoyed it. I see why it's a classic. It was made the same year I was born so to think that Wes Craven was able to make that kind of movie back then and with the ludicrously small budget he had is a wonderful feat.
TeenHollywood: How was working with the two dogs and the baby who played your baby daughter?
Aaron: That baby was superhuman. It was amazing. I think that baby is the best actor in the movie. The baby could cry on cue, was emotional whenever you needed it, just by chance. Instinctually, it knew what it was supposed to do. When we needed it to be quiet, it was quiet. When we needed it to be cranky, it was cranky. When we needed it to sleep, it was sleeping. It was really incredible and the dogs were great. They are a good dog. They were good sports. They're German shepherds. Not dogs that are supposed to be in the Sahara desert. It was very tough on them but they were very good boys, very well-behaved and did what they were supposed to do.
TeenHollywood: The "bad guys" are atomic bomb mutants. Did they look pretty real to you?
Aaron: Obviously these mutations are stylized but Alex and Gregory [co-writer] did a lot of research on mutations that happened at Chernobyl and Nagasaki and they tried to incorporate some of those things like the claw hands that some people developed. I think Ruby [a little mutant girl] has that and some other things that they tried to remain faithful to.
TeenHollywood: What was the toughest scene for you and why?
Aaron: There were two toughest scenes. Physically, it was the fight scene with Pluto [a huge mutant] which got shot over five days and keeping up that kind of intensity for five days, physically, was pretty difficult and then, obviously, walking into a trailer to discover that your wife and her entire family have been slaughtered and your baby has been taken from you, is a very difficult place to go to psychologically. So that was hard too.
TeenHollywood: What about when you were lying with all the body parts in the freezer? Ewwww.
Aaron: That was gross! It's disgusting but it wasn't that difficult because, basically, what I had to do was lie there and every once in a while, start kicking the thing [demonstrates pounding on the lid]. But, you had to ease yourself into this tub of cold, red goo and slide in amongst the body parts and have them arrange pelvis bones on your body. Then, after you've been in there a while you get used to it and you're arranging like arms to be pillows and everything. Oh, I'm comfortable now. [laughter]
TeenHollywood: We're not going to say who survives but what do you think about the end of the film. Is it over for them?
Aaron: Well, it's set up for a possible sequel but if Ted [the actor who plays the family patriarch] was able to walk back to the gas station then they'd be able to walk back. There's food and water there. Basically they've been through the worst of it. I'm sure they can survive. I think that's the idea.
TeenHollywood: Was it bizarre to go to shoot X-Men 3 two weeks later?
Aaron: It was more relaxing. There was a little time off and then "X-Men" is such a big movie that you have a lot of down time. It was funny. I went from the tip of the Sahara Desert where it's 115 degrees in the shade to Vancouver in the rainy season. I didn't know where I was.
TeenHollywood: So was it weird going from playing this young dad role to playing Pyro?
Aaron: It wasn't weird because that's what I do. You're an actor and you transplant yourself from role to role and there was very little time in between, like two weeks but I had already done Pyro so I was familiar with the territory and it was pretty easy to slip back into.
TeenHollywood: Is your role in X-Men 3 bigger?
Aaron: It's bigger. He's become Magneto's right hand man in this movie and in "X-2" he's very ambivalent. He's not sure where his allegiance lies. He's friends with Professor X but he also has this urge to spread his wings and find his power with the brotherhood. In "X-3" he's definitely off the fence. He's decided where he wants to go. He's with the brotherhood and he really is allowed to fully explore his power in this. He's off the leash.
TeenHollywood: What do you set on fire this time?
Aaron: Everything [laughs]. There's a lot of explosions, a lot of things being set on fire.
TeenHollywood: Do you think the mutants in "Hills" could hold their own against the mutants in "X-Men"?
Aaron: No. Of course not. Mutants in the X-World are super heroes, man. These guys are just deranged cannibals.
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.