In the new thriller Grand Piano, a stage-fright-stricken classical pianist (Elijah Wood) is informed he must perform his comeback recital perfectly or get shot to death. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Directed by Eugenio Mira (Agnosia) and costarring John Cusack and Alex Winter, the film opens theatrically in New York and Austin, Tx., today. To mark the film’s release, we spoke to Wood about tickling the ivories — and why it pays to hang out in Austin bars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Grand Piano looks like it was a very difficult film to make from a technical standpoint. What was the trickiest aspect for you?
ELIJAH WOOD: Playing the piano was the most challenging, certainly. The difficulty of the structure was largely in Eugenio’s hands, and by the time we started shooting all of that had been predetermined. So, the music, the time code that we were adhering to with the music as it related to the imagery, all of that was done in an animatic form. By the time we were shooting there was a sort of ease of process. It was technical and we had all these elements working together in tandem but it had a very clear structure. But the piano-playing was extremely complicated and stressful.
I had taken lessons as a child and had a basic understanding of the instrument but I certainly could not play like that. And I wanted it to look as accurate as possible. But at a certain point, once we kind of broke the barrier, so to speak, of the first couple of bits of playing the piano onscreen, I felt like I’d got myself into a routine of how to make it work and got comfortable with the instrument and comfortable with the process.
It does look like you are really performing those pieces in the film. Are there now bits of music which you can play on the piano for real?
There was, then. I’ve since forgotten a lot of it. But, yeah, there were bits that I could play.
The writer of the film, Damien Chazelle, also wrote and directed the Sundance movie Whiplash, about the intense travails of a young jazz drummer. Does he only write scripts which involve people being tortured via musical instruments?
Isn’t that funny? I haven’t seen Whiplash but I saw a bit of the short [it was based on], and yeah, there is definitely something there.
For most of the film your character communicates with John Cusack’s villain via an ear piece. How much did you actually work with him?
We shot all of his on-camera scenes, which is the bulk of the end of the film, in the first week. So we had that first week with him and then he recorded all of the dialog from the script of our interaction throughout the film. And then he left; he didn’t need to be there. So the bulk of my experience of working with John Cusack [chuckles] is hearing his voice in an ear piece and responding.
Did his voice ever start invading — maybe narrating — your dreams?
No. The piano was certainly in my dreams. The music was often on a PA system so we were living that music for three weeks straight. Yeah, it was in our pores.
In addition to Grand Piano, you’re also starring in Open Windows, which was directed by another Spanish director, Nacho Vigalando. How did this whole Iberian period come about for you?
Well, we have Fantastic Fest (the Austin, Tx.-based genre festival) to thank, basically. Because I had been a fan of Nacho’s — I was a fan of his film Time Crimes. Went down to Fantastic Fest 2010, met Nacho and Eugenio there. Eugenio had Agnosia at the festival. And I became friends with them. And then consequently we went back the following year and hung out again. And then I got the script for Grand Piano probably just because of our connection. Open Windows was something I had heard about as far back as 2011 as an idea that he had for a feature, this idea of there being a thriller and the entire movie takes place on the computer screen.
So the lesson here — as is so often the case — is that one should spend time drinking in Austin bars.
A lot of people meet each other there.
I recently spoke to the director Josh C. Waller (Raze, the about-to-be-released McCanick), who is also one of your business partners in the horror movie production company SpectreVision. Much like Colonel Kurtz, it seemed, he was in the wilds of Colombia about to build a village for a film.
God, that’s very funny.
How is that going?
It’s going really well. [The film is called] The Boy. They’ve built a motel from scratch. It’s based on this short film called Henley [directed by Craig Macneill, who is also helming The Boy] which played at Sundance a couple of years ago. It’s all set at a roadside motel, and there’s a thing that happens to the motel that [means] we couldn’t have used a real motel, basically. So we ended up having to build from scratch and what they’ve managed to do down there is really extraordinary. So, yeah, it’s going really well.
Check out the trailer for Grand Piano below.