The day I'm on the set of Final Destination 5 (in 3D), they are shooting a complex bridge collapse scene. As the rain falls outside in Vancouver, the press is kept warm, plied with snacks and coffee, and given interviews at regular intervals.
Two of the actors we talked to that day were P.J. Byrne (who can currently be seen on the big screen in Horrible Bosses) and Miles Fisher (who is on The Single Life TV series), and while I wasn't familiar with their work, I did become a fan during the course of our chat — especially when Miles talked about how doing this movie made him contemplate his own mortality and what he would do, if he knew when Death was coming to collect.
Q: Are you two the comic relief of the film?
P.J. Byrne: No.
Byrne: I think everyone is a little bit…
Miles Fisher: P.J. is…you’re going to have a hard time not laughing. We’ve literally had to cut because I’ve been in tears laughing so hard.
Byrne: And Miles is my PR agent, apparently. I like that. That is very nice. Thank you, sir.
Fisher: I’ve just been crying because of my performance.
I’ve seen P.J. do improv and he will wreck people.
Fisher: He’s got on problem, though - he can’t turn it off.
Bryne: Oh, no. Now there is the pressure. I’m honestly unfunny right now. Completely unfunny. Thank you, buddy. I love you very much.
Being serious for a second, can you talk about who you play in the movie and are you guys involved in this bridge scene?
Fisher: We are. Everybody is. I play Peter, who is a kind of middle manager. So all of us work at this corporate paper company and it’s a very large company. The reason they brought us all together is because we begin the film on this big corporate retreat. I’m a middle manager who is a kind of nice ambitious guy that is fairly assuming in the beginning. I’ve known exactly what I want my whole life and I’m dating my boss’ daughter. Nobody is in competition with me. My character is a very logical guy so 1+1 = 2. Then as the film progresses we all take a bit of a turn. I take a unique one.
Byrne: I play Isaac in the movie. Isaac is the guy at the office that you can’t stand. Everyone has that person in the office that you absolutely hate and I’m that guy in this movie. Isaac really thinks about three things. He thinks about girls, himself, and he thinks about getting girls for himself. That is Isaac’s sort of mantra in life. So that is me.
Had you guys seen the previous films before signing on to do this movie?
Fisher: Yes. I’ve seen all of them. It wasn’t just that I watched all of them after I got cast in it. I remember seeing the first one while I was in high school. For us it was such a huge cool film. We all went over to a friend’s house and saw it. I had seen all of these films and I’ve grown up with this franchise. Its been about 10 years now. There was this sense even in just talking with the producers before the casting announcements were made that this would be very different. There have been all of these rules. For one, the franchise is very loyal to its fans. In part because the fans know exactly what they are getting when they go see a Final Destination movie. There are over the top spectacular death sequences and etc… The audience is in one the gimmick or the gag, which is to say that you know that every 9 minutes or so something unbelievable is going to happen. You’re anticipating it and the narrative is kind of winking at you because you think they are going to die one way and it tricks you into something else happening and then disaster strikes. That happens here except I think it’s a little more nuanced.
Bryne: Another thing on top of what you are saying is that there is a beauty also in having 4 previous Final Destinations. You have a lovely track record to look at and go, “This works. This doesn’t work. This is what people love. What other elements are in there that we can help push the envelope for to really showcase what does work?” I think what they are doing in 5 is that they are like, “Let’s push the envelopes. Let’s make people sit on the edge of their chairs. Let’s really use the technology of 3D. That is why Steven [Quale] is here, who is this 3D master. Let’s use his skills. Let’s up the writing. Maybe we can also add some comedy elements. Maybe there is some room for improvisation as it plays out that maybe wasn’t played up in the other movies. “ So I think if you are taking all these elements and you’re putting them into this one I think you are hopefully going to have a great product.
Fisher: Another thing to add to that which I think makes this movie unique in the franchise is that we are not a bunch of 20 and 30 year olds playing 18 year olds. We are 20 year old and 30 year olds playing 20 and 30 year olds. In part it’s because the audience has grown up with this franchise. So there are no highs choolers and there isn’t that hot risky chick in college or the jerk dude. These are working professionals, who have really only known each other sometimes for a year. There are few relationships that are for life and sometimes they are for 3 months because of working in a corporate office together. The movie starts with us all getting ready for this corporate retreat.
Bryne: Yeah. It’s putting us where the zeitgeist of America is. You are used to watching The Office here You are used to seeing these grownups working in the office now and those are the sort of programs that are on television and in the movies. So you’re like, “Oh, this is me.” So to go adding another element of like, “How do I make this movie more relatable to the audience? How do I put the audience in our seats and let them go on the joy ride with us.”
There is something inherently comedic about the Final Destination films. It’s a set up and then the kill is the punchline in a way. Is the comedy that you are brining character driven, meta, self aware of what the movie is, or is it based off of the characters?
Fisher: I’ll let you talk more about that but I just want to begin by saying that my audition scene for this was a scene against my immediate boss that is played by David Koechner, who is just appallingly funny. I remember going in and we didn’t have the full script because everything was top secret. I was reading this scene and I kind of blow up at my boss because a couple of deaths had just happened and this doesn’t just make sense. I think part of the comedy that you were talking about in the franchise earlier is that there is nothing subtle about the deaths in Final Destination. They are so over the top and so gruesome that you almost have to laugh at them. Well, I did not get the note where you are supposed to be “in on it” and be all “What does this mean?!” in kind of broad casting. I literally went off the book and said. “Seriously. What the fuck is going on? What the hell is going on?” and I just kept on until the casting director had to say, “Alright. Let’s just continue on.” That is a long way of saying that I think a bit of the comedy is “What if this happened in real life?” You know? “What if we are real working professionals?” What we are talking about the other day about was “What would you actually do if you know that on Thursday you were going to die.” If you were all on this journalistic trip for a week in Canada and in two days four of you are dead. It’s a little weird. One person dies very tragically and then two more people die. Half of you are dead and it’s weird. And then you’re like. “I got this theory that death is coming after us” What do you do? I think it’s much funnier if as your character you take it really seriously. I think that is a little bit of the tone. At least, that is my character.
Bryne: From my perspective, in anything you do, whether it is a drama or a comedy, you want to make sure that it is grounded in reality. The dramatic moments are going to come from that and the humor is always going to be more believable, genuine , and honest. The beautiful thing they did in this movie was that they kind of gave us a nice little diving board in the comedy area. It was like, “We are going to give you an area to go off and do your thing.” And that was great. Maybe that wasn’t there as much as in the other films. So with myself or with Koechner we have that opportunity to play in that world but always at the end of the day be honest, genuine, and grounded. The more real I am the more that it is going to relate to you as an audience member. I also think that the joke is always better. Don’t get me wrong. I love the uproarious laughter, but sometimes that quiet laughter is sort of wonderful to me as well where you are tapping your friend like, “I can’t believe that just happened.” But you also don’t want to miss a thing that is going on so you don’t want to laugh because you don’t want to miss a great moment. That is what I always try to strive for.
Can you talk about any improv that you got to do for this film?
Byrne: I’m trying to think about it without telling you about the deaths.
You can’t improvise the deaths. That is obvious.
Byrne: No. It’s sort of infused with how we die. [laughs] I don’t think so. No. My answer is “No.”
Fisher: You will notice it with where P.J. and Koechner are going. There is a difference between the cast because our characters are a little bit more serious. When the camera is on them you will notice the gaffers chuckling and they are in more of a funny mood. There are people sneaking looks into the monitors more often and laughing when the camera is not rolling. A lot of times that is not because of what is written on the page.
How does working with the 3D cameras change your mannerisms, acting, and your improv skills?
Byrne: You’re constantly learning as an actor as new technology comes out. You have to deal with it and play with it. This is how I sort of learn as an actor. So I went to Grad School and got my masters in acting and doing stage and plays. When you are on the stage it is like tennis. You have to do these large movements to play to people that are 300 feet away from you in the audience. As you move into film it’s like film is more like ping pong and everything is a little bit more over here. In 3D it’s actually even less. They are rack focusing and the venue where you can play is even tinier and tinier. So you really have to train yourself as an actor to do everything that you are doing to give them these tiny little focus moments. For example, let’s say we are falling off of a bridge and you know you get this moment with the camera where you are going to go by. In 3D you don’t necessarily have a lot of time to play that big moment out here like, “I love you so much! Everything is amazing! Oh, my god! Don’t die!” and then you are off. So you really have to trick yourself into having this magical imagination and you are just in this moment to go, “Don’t die!” and then you go off. That is what is like with new technology and 3D. It is honing your craft even tighter and tighter. It is more your eyes and more your face. It is an interesting new venue.
Fisher: You can’t downplay how technical it is. The last thing you want to do when you are acting in a scene is to be self conscious and aware of things outside of the story that is being told. That is tough when…an example in 3D that wouldn’t exist necessarily in traditional film is that we will be in the middle of a very serious scene. We will almost be in tears and something dramatic has happened. You are in take 4 and it’s great and you’ve got it. All of a sudden you hear, “Cut.” and you’re like, “What happened? Is everything ok?” and it will literally be that a single strand of hair came out. In film you wouldn’t even notice it but because a single strand of hair came out towards the camera it totally screws up with the depth. In 3D it throws everything off. So it looks like there is a huge blurry kind of fuzz coming out because you are in close up but it is 3 inches closer to the camera. Stuff like that is a little bit tough. Another thing is that, unlike P.J., my background is not necessarily on the stage. I kind of got into this by always having a camera around and shooting short films and videos. I’m very much a product of the digital camera first generation era where you are so used to “Click.” “Ok. Let’s see what we got.” “Click.” “Oh, check it out. There is bad lighting. Ok. Let’s click again.” I bring that up because I like looking at playback all of the time. I like seeing what the director is trying to do, what is the visual narrative, and how is he capturing that. A lot of actors don’t like it because it takes them out of it. I like it that as soon as we are done with the take I can go back and look. In 3D it’s tougher because you have to go to the tent, put on the 3D glasses, and it’s very high tech. Then 18 other people are gathered around that are color specialists. It’s just so much more technical that that accessibility is not there so you kind of have to drown it out. These things look kind of like aliens. They are always on cranes and it’s one camera like this and one camera like this and they are inverted. They are kind of hovering around you like in Will Smith’s 4th of July movie. It’s a little disorientating at first, but it looks impeccable.
Byrne: Steve is a master. The one thing about Miles that you are going to love, and this is a thing that I’ve always learned, is that there is no right way to be an actor. You don’t have to go to Grad School or improv or whatever. So when you are going to see Miles you are going to be so impressed and then adding the 3D thing to it. It does take this gift of being in the moment when they are like, “We are going to get one shot at this.” There is going to be a car falling behind you and these bars flying through your back and you are going to have to have one moment of really genuine honesty on your face to capture it perfectly. Wait until you see Miles do it. I don’t want to give any more away but you will be like, “That is incredible.” Just know that he didn’t give 5 or 10 takes. He got 1 shot to make it gold and that was it. We were then moving on because it’s big expensive stuff.
Have you guys given any thought about what would be the worst way for you to die in real life?
Byrne: I’ve thought about what I would do if death was stalking me. If I knew that I wasn’t going to die at 80 and die maybe next Tuesday. I thought that I would first get a gigantic life insurance policy for my wife for $20 million. That is going to be super. I would probably fly out first to Tennessee and get the master Jack Daniels taste or pick up the best barrel of Jack Daniels with me. Everyone can come to that. Then I would go to some open field in Montana that is beautiful. I would probably fly out a chef and have him make me a wonderful porterhouse. If I am still alive I would want a hot dog from Frankie’s in Waterbury and then I am ready to die. That is how I would want to die.
Fisher: But you’re getting on planes. You’re making it so easy for death to find you.
Byrne: Don’t tell me that part!
Fisher: What happens if in real life your buddy actually did that? Where he is like, “No. I’m literally going to die on Tuesday so this is what is happening.” You would be like, “Alright. Well, you are nuts.” and that is it. You go on with your own life and stuff happens.
Byrne: Maybe that should be your bachelor party. That is a kind of nice bachelor party. It will have that ominous death thing in the air. But it’s just a bachelor party so let’s really go for it. That is all he wants.
Fisher: You should suggest that to Prince William.
Byrne: I do have to call him and congratulate him.
Fisher: We have literally for every single day for the last 3 months of work shown up having to tell a story that aggressively involves death. So I think on the off time there has been a lot of blanking that out. Nick and I were shooting a scene yesterday and a lot of it was intense reaction shots to this bridge sequences. When it is one of the largest cities and the major throwaway of commute blows up, falls down, and crashes – that is a lot of people dying. You shoot reaction to that all of the time and after awhile it’s tough. He was just saying, “I don’t know who else to see from real life actually dying.” That is why it is nice to have a good comedy. I mean we crack each other up all of the time almost just to get out of that.
Byrne: We deal with a lot of heavy stuff every day clearly because you want to put your mind there like, “We are dying and we are losing friends.” A good thing about it is that we have also developed these wonderful relationships. I mean this is one of the best casts I have ever worked with and have built beautiful relationships with. We literally spend 15 hours a day together in these crazy bizarro predicaments and we will go home and hang out together at night. We will go have Sunday night dinners at each other’s rooms every weekend. It’s a wonderful cast. Hopefully you will see these great wonderful relationships. Hopefully you will see them play out and our love for each other and our bonding.
Everyone dies in these movies, basically. There is a good chance that your characters could bite it, too. Hypothetically speaking, how involved were you in your death scenes?
Byrne: I was really truly involved hypothetically speaking in my death. But you have to remember that we are dealing with 3D. Steve is a very technical guy and he has a very clear image of what he wants. So you are sort of in that box that you get to play in, but he was cool about letting me go off. But also as an actor when I saw how I was going to die I was like, “I want to do this so badly.” I was like, “What are the chances that I am going to get to die like that 3D ever again in my career? I don’t know. But I will sign up to that movie now.”
Fisher: After reading the script and then coming on….because there wasn’t a lot of time between all of us being cast. I think all of us definitely had our own, like you said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “Maybe I will suggest this...” But as soon as the first day came and Steve walked us through the production design all of our mouths were dropping. It was like, “So what you guys thought was going to happen….this is going to be much, much cooler.”
Byrne: Fingers crossed. Let’s hope so.
If you’re the guy in the office that everybody hates does that mean that I, as an audience member, want to see you die?
Byrne: Yes. I hope so. Maybe he is the one guy that you kind of don’t mind that he is going to get it. You’re like, “Yes! This is good! Finally he is getting his due!” That is what I hope. Or if you are just a lovely person that doesn’t want me to die that is just an anxious filled moment as well. So I guess it works both ways. I covered both bases on that. But I hope so a little bit. Ultimately at the end I’m going to play it so real and honest that it’s actually like, “Oh, my god. He is going to get it and I love that it’s going the wrong way.” But when it really comes to those final moments hopefully then in those last moments I will switch your mind to like “Who wants to see anyone go that way? That is a terrible disgusting way.” So I give you that full thrill ride of “Yes! He is going to get it!” and “Oh, my god. Maybe he shouldn’t. That is disgusting. I don’t want to see him die.”
Fisher: I really want to see you die.
Rory Cutler mentioned to us that there is a set of prequels for this scene that you guys are shooting now. Does Steve show you that stuff ahead of time in order to get an idea for the vision and tone that he is going for?
Fisher: He did. It’s almost the next generation of storyboarding. Because this stuff is so technical you have 300 people that are all working together so at the point when the director says, “Action!” it’s only your opportunity to ruin it. He definitely wanted us to know what is going on. Plus, it takes so long to shoot these sequences. They are so complex that when you are at the 57 second mark to the first minute and you are just getting those 3 minutes and you are like, “Wait a minute. What happened before? What are we running from?” and then we see the thing and we know what exactly is happening.
Since you are the guy that everyone wants to see die do you get the most elaborate death in the film?
Byrne: I don’t know if it’s the most elaborate, but it might be a little bit more drawn out to actually take you on that full journey that I was talking before. It’s like, “I’m so siked. He is finally getting his comeuppance.” and then maybe you are laughing along in these moments and then it’s going to switch when it gets really real and you ultimately know what is going to happen.
Can you talk about working on Horrible Bosses?
Byrne: Horrible Bosses was a great experience. I’m so lucky to have been in that movie with that extraordinary cast. It is just filled with famous people. I’m like, “How did they even put me in this movie? This is crazy town.” Seth Gordon is a great director and I, as an actor, personally say that every time I get unleashed and they let me go and have free range is when it is the greatest and most euphoric moment for me as an actor. Sometimes I don’t even know where my own brain is going to go and what is actually going to come out of my mouth. So hopefully what ends up on the screen is a positive experience for the audience member and it makes you laugh. I also might have said some things where it’s like “My mom shouldn’t see that film.”
Fisher: Now you’re doing a film that your mom shouldn’t see.
Byrne: Oh, yeah. Her poor son passed away. But that should be a great movie. It’s coming out right before this too. That is another New Line film and I have to give them kudos and thank them. They made a very nice summer 2011 for me. They really did.
Fisher: I want to say another thing about this whole cast and this film. You guys can attest that there is a large fanbase for this franchise. So far its been every 3 years that a new movie has come out more or less.
Byrne: It’s 2.4 years. Just want to get the math right.
Fisher: There is a little bit of pride I think of all of us being actors. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a little bit like College Football and now we are all on this team. There is no overlap from the last great team that won a championship and there is a little bit of feeling of “The big hyped team from 3 years ago – I know we can do better.” And all of us are very bullish on this film speaking for itself. I don’t know if that makes sense. There is just a real sense between the players and the coach to extend the metaphor a little bit.
Byrne: It does make sense. There is a lot of history. So like you went to Notre Dame and you are the class there now. You have a lot to live up to. So let’s do the best we can and get the national championship. Let’s win an Oscar. We are going to win the first Oscar for a horror film ever. P.J. Byrne said that. You can quote me.
I think Silence of the Lambs might…
Byrne: What? Terrible film. Terrible movie. Never saw it. I don’t know what you are talking about.
Byrne: Overrated. Who was in that movie?