ELI ROTH and BARBARA NEDELJAKOVA talk HOSTEL

Interview by Mark Walters

 Eli Roth is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood, particularly when it comes to horror films.  His last movie, CABIN FEVER, was a huge success, especially considering it's tiny budget and modest cast.  Now he's teamed with Quentin Tarantino to bring a shocking new horror film to American audiences.  There's no doubt about it, HOSTEL is going to leave an impression on filmgoers everywhere.  The story deals with some young guys backpacking in Amsterdam, and ending up victims or a cruel torture house.  It's sick.  It's disturbing.  It's also brilliantly original.  I had the pleasure of sitting down with Eli and one of the film's stars Barbara Nedeljakova, who plays the manipulative Natalya in the film.



MARK: This is really cool.  I loved CABIN FEVER, and I thought this was great.  I think you're kind of on a roll here.

ELI: Thanks.

MARK: I know it's been talked about a lot already, but tell us a little something about how this idea came about.  You had said you stumbled across a website?

ELI: Yeah. like three years ago when I was doing CABIN FEVER I was talking to Harry Knowles, cause we were shut down, we had no money and the movie was unfinished.  We knew Harry from AIN'T IT COOL NEWS.  Somehow we talked about what is the sickest thing you could find on the internet.  And Harry said "I found a site that's the most disturbing thing I've ever seen."  And I said you've got to send it to me, so he sends me this thing, and it's a site where in Thailand you can pay $10,000 to walk into a room and shoot someone in the head.  And you do it just for the feeling to know what it's like to put a bullet in someone's brain.  It would almost feel like somewhat of a sexual act.  And it was so disturbing because they said the people you were killing... they almost made it sound like they had volunteered for it, and that the money would go to their families, part of it.  These are like dirt poor people that have not made it, or are gonna kill themselves, or are sick.  It was basically like a life insurance policy where you are executed, so to speak  And we talked about is this real?  How could someone sign up for this?  And you know, whether it's real or not, somebody conceptualized it.  Somebody actually though of this and went to the trouble of doing this, of setting up this site.  It just seemed too real, so after CABIN FEVER came out I met with Mike Fleiss and his friend Chris Briggs, the guys who did THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake.  And we found that we liked each other, and each other's movies, and thought we should partner on something.  Briggs had this idea, he said "I want to make a movie called HOSTEL about backpackers, but I have no idea what it's about."  We started thinking and I was like Jesus, that's such a great title, and I love that universe of backpacking and traveling all over Europe.  For a long time I thought about it, and then it suddenly hit me, I thought oh my God the hostel is just the neck, it's about this thing entirely.  And so I thought about it and just saw the whole movie, it just clicked.  You know I wanted to see a movie like AUDITION or SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, or even like THE VANISHING, the Dutch version.  So I was actually talking with Quentin Tarantino and saying I'm not exactly sure what to do with my next movie.  After CABIN FEVER I'd been offered a lot of studio movies, comedies and horror films, and I'd just turn them down.  They just didn't excite me, there wasn't anything interesting.  You know I'd get like 30 or 40 million dollars to shoot a film, and for what, to what end?  So I just kept turning stuff down, and I was developing other projects, but the scripts weren't ready.  I thought Jesus, I've got to shoot something!  I kind of didn't want to follow CABIN FEVER up with another low-budget horror movie, and then I saw SAW, and I said why the fuck not?!  I mean I know how to do this.  I know how to make a movie with a low-budget and make it look like it's a 15 or 20 million dollar movie.  I know how to do that, so why did I shut myself off to thinking that way?  I told Quentin this idea, and he was like (Eli does a near-perfect Quentin Tarantino impression) "Are you kidding me?!  You've got to fuckin' do this!  This is the sickest fuckin' idea I've ever heard, you've gotta fuckin' do this right now!  If you do this right, it could be a classic America horror film."  So I was out the door, drove to my house, unplugged the phone and just started writing.  Banged out the script.  This was like not even a year ago.  I finished the script in the middle of November, next week I was on a plane to Prague to go location scouting, in January I tied up the financing, February I was prepping, and in March, April, May I was shooting.  It was so fast.  So it all happened in a year, or a year and two weeks.  Crazy.

MARK: Wow.

 ELI: Yeah.  But that's how it happened, it was really quick.  And it kicked me in the ass to get it done.

 

Jay Hernandez is not having a very good time in this scene from HOSTEL.

 

MARK: So Barbara, how did you get cast in this film?

BARBARA: I went to a casting session, and got to do the scene where Natalya takes Jay to go see....

MARK: The "art" show.

BARBARA: Yeah, the "art" show.

MARK: Where you get real mean all of a sudden?

BARBARA: Yeah, where she shows him who she is.

MARK: Was it hard for you to play a very mean girl like that?  Sometimes actors have a hard time if they're a very nice person naturally.  It's like "How do I be a total bitch?"

BARBARA: It wasn't that hard to be mean and be weird.  And I sort of enjoyed that.  I like it about her that she had two different places.  That she's so mysterious, and then she showed that she's a bitch and she's cruel.  She's cold.  And also what really helped me is the makeup, when she looked horrible.

ELI: Like 400 girls came to audition, and no one even came close to Barbara.  There were some interesting choices, but Barbara came in, and she was it.  She was just coming in to read for Vala, and I was like "No, you have to read for Natalya."  And she read it, and just understood it.  We talked about the script.  I read an article in the New York Times about these girls that were taken from Odessa, and sponsored out to be a cocktail waitress in Televiv and would wind up in these brothels.  It was all run by the Russian mafia, and they talked about how they were trafficked through Slovakia. I think it came out in '98, this article, but I though about these girls.  I wondered what is that like?  They must just become numb, and a lot of them kill themselves after.  And we talked about how I wanted her to go through a horrible phase, and she was able to find that darkness.  But she just got it right away.  I wanted someone that was beautiful and seductive, but could really just turn cold.  And this horrible person comes out, and you don't know if she's really that horrible, or if she's just fucking with you.  She's just fucking with Jay Hernandez the whole time.  With Barbara, she just had something about her that was like this young Monica Bellucci, Maria Schneider, or Angelina Jolie quality that you're both fascinated by and is mysterious.  But if you get too close, you get burned.  She was really able to get that.  The whole film is really about exploitation, and that's why at the beginning they're in Amsterdam talking to these hookers the way they're talking to them.  They just look at these girls like they're just a ride.  And yet they're the ones who kind of wind up like the hookers in the window.

MARK: It's like a mouse trap.

ELI: Exactly.  It's sick.  The way Babs looked in the spa, that's how she naturally looks.  It took about four hours of makeup, and I was like "More track marks, more pimples, more track marks..."  And then in that scene in the pub where they just look so fucked up, it's almost like you're seeing Oz behind the curtain.  You're not supposed to walk in that room and see them that way, and they're still trying to do their "Hey, come over and have a drink."  And they're so fucked up.  It's weird when that happens, when sometimes you see someone and you know someone, and you kind of see this other side of them.  They kind of let their guard down and you see who they really are, and it's terrifying.

MARK: That's an interesting scene too where you get that moment.  Svetlana says "I've already seen this show" and she doesn't want to go.  So it's almost like she's maybe not into it, but Natalya is into it, to a certain extent.  Because Natalya is all smiles and like "Oh yeah, come on I'll show you the art show."  It kind of makes you wonder.  Like you said before, these girls that get put into this, and one of these girls is doing it but doesn't want to do it.

ELI: Yeah.

MARK: I thought that was interesting how you threw that in there, instead of having them both go.

ELI: Well there's that.  Thank you, I'm glad you liked that.  There's also that feeling of like when you're with a friend, and you and that friend have hooked up with a girl and her friend, but then something happens and you're stuck.  Somehow you need help, but it's not from the one who was your girlfriend but the one who was with your friend, who you sort of know but don't know.  And now you're kind of dependent on them but you don't have that same connection.  It almost makes you feel more vulnerable, or less comfortable.  Less safe, you know?

MARK: Well it's also more horrifying because Natalya takes him to see his friend, who she was with.  It's this big reveal of "There's your friend."

ELI: Yeah, we talked about that scene, about how if he had said "Where are my friends?" and she had said "Come on, I'll take you", he never would've gone.  He's got this feeling.  And that's what I loved about THE VANISHING, where the guy just has to know what happened to the girl that disappeared.  He can't let it go, and it's ultimately his downfall.  The compulsion to know what happened.  He's almost trying to be like a hero in a movie, and she just laughs at him, and is just mocking him.  And he feels totally emasculated.  That's why I had them be like "Come on, have a drink."

MARK: (to Barbara) I think with all the deaths in the movie, in many ways you have the most spectacular one.  You think maybe she's going to make it, then BOOM she's not.  Such a great moment.  I heard in the screening everybody went nuts for that particular moment.  You get the coolest death in the movie.

BARBARA: Yeah, that was my favorite bit.

ELI: What did you think the first time you saw that?  You saw it in Toronto, right?

BARBARA: Yeah, good audience.

ELI: What did you think when you saw it with an audience?  Did you cheer?

BARBARA: I was applauding with them.  I was happy when I heard that.  It's so great that they loved it, even when I die.

ELI: But it means you did a really good job of getting them to hate you.

MARK: I'm sure you're a very nice person.  You were probably going up to people saying "I'm really a nice person!"

BARBARA: It's a complement that they really hated me.

MARK: This will probably lead into some pretty big roles for you I would think.  It seems like this is a really nice nice part.

ELI: Yeah the people from Screen Gems and Lions Gate were saying stuff like "She's gonna be the next Monica Bellucci" or "She's gonna be a Bond girl or MISSION IMPOSSIBLE"... those type of roles.  Screen Gems and Lions Gate said they already have movies they want to put her in.

MARK: Congratulations.  I hope it works out.  That's very cool.  Some of the other things I was going to ask you about were with the MPAA.  Being that you're doing these films on a lower budget, do you ever have trouble from the MPAA with things like gore effects and stuff like that?

ELI: No, it's one of the weird things about doing this.  We did HOSTEL as a negative pick-up, which means I basically go to the bank, they sign off on the scripts, and the studio pays me back once the movie is done.  But as far as running the production, I had total control of it.  I got spoiled doing two movies independent from studios, and now it makes me want to do more movies this way.  I can get my vision out there with as little interference as possible.  With horror movies, everyone is afraid of offending people.  That's the problem.  And that's why SAW II is so successful, because they said we don't give a fuck.  They're saying "Oh yes, there will be blood" on the poster, and people are going crazy for it.  The studios always want to play it safe, they always want to water it down, and that's why the movies suck.  Getting back to your question about the ratings board.  The ratings board has been great.  Honestly.  With CABIN FEVER I sailed through with an R with nothing.  With HOSTEL I expected they would have, so I threw in lots of extra gore, and they really didn't have a problem with anything.  I think they were too shocked at the end, in the train station with the fingers.  I took some frames out, but that's it.  It's really literally like four frames on each shot.  I was worried about the eye... no problem.  The thing that was great about the ratings board, having it say Quentin Tarantino presents at the beginning, I could say to them if the movie has Quentin's name and my name on it, nobody is going to accidentally walk into this film and be surprised by what it is.  No parent is going to bring their child to this movie and be shocked that there's blood.  With Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth, people know that means gore, and there's certain expectations that have to be met.  Whether that's true or not, that's what I said to them.  They'd seen KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2, and they were cool with it.

MARK: I'm glad that horror movies are starting to see a bit of a comeback.  There for a while it seemed like everything was pretty mundane, and had been done to death.  It looks like it's on it's way back up.

ELI: Well look at SAW.  I mean the budget was like $900,000.  The budget of SAW II was like 4 million.  It's great, you know HOSTEL we did for like 5 million.  The lower budget movies are the ones that are pushing it more.

MARK: Cool, I appreciate it.  Great meeting you.

ELI: Thanks man, great meeting you!

 

Find out more about HOSTEL from Lions Gate Films HERE.

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