Ethan Hawke and Jason Blum Talk Violence in Movies and More for ‘The Purge’

From Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes comes the home invasion thriller The Purge, which explores the idea of a society where once a year, for a 12-hour period, all criminal activity becomes legal.

For this latest “Purge” we meet the Sandin family, who find out just how vicious society can be once they’re terrorized for harboring an intended victim inside their home.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, The Purge was written and directed by up-and-coming filmmaker James DeMonaco. During a recent press conference for the film, we heard from both Hawke and producer Jason Blum about putting families in jeopardy, violence and much more Purge-related fun.

Check out the highlights from the press day for The Purge below.

Question: Why do you like to put people in jeopardy?

Jason Blum: Well, I think good suspense and horror is all about creating situations that are relatable, throwing a wrench into it and then watching how people react. I think the most honest responses you’ll see are when people are inside their own homes or in their most private spaces. I also think that’s where you feel safest so when you’re threatened in the place you feel safe, it makes it that much more terrifying.

Question:  Ethan, why do you think families in peril make for good suspense and horror films?

Ethan Hawke: Well, the family in peril trip is kind of obvious, in that it’s everybody’s biggest fear.  There’s a moment in the movie where you see the husband and wife loading guns, and he teaches her to take the safety off.  It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Nightmares are a strange thing.  Your worst fear is sometimes something you enjoy thinking about, for some strange reason.  I don’t know why that is, but it’s some kind of fantasy that people play out. “What would I do to protect my children?  I’d do anything.”  And then you watch it play out; I’m petrified of such a thing.  I don’t really enjoy thinking about it.

Question: Did you and Lena rehearse together to cement the family dynamic?

Ethan Hawke: I have to say that my favorite element of the script is Lena Headey’s character. She and I did a movie together when I was 18, and she was 14 or something, in England, and I always thought she was a magical actress.  We didn’t even have any scenes together but I remember thinking that there was something really special about her. I’ve watched her from afar, her whole career, and she’s just a terrific actress and she plays this part so interestingly; it’s my favorite aspect of the movie.  I think partly because I’ve known her for so long, it made the whole family dynamic really easy.

Question: So what made Ethan the right guy for this part?

Jason Blum: He and I have known each other for a long time now- we’ve been friends for 20 years and he was very resistant for a long time about doing a horror movie so I spent a long time talking him into Sinister which he enjoyed so much so at the end of making Sinister he said, “let’s do another one” and so that’s how he became involved on The Purge.

But I like to work with actors who aren’t normally in these kinds of movies; I really like to work with theater actors, who tend to do a lot of independent movies, and I just like to keep working with those kinds of performers. They tend to really try and make a good movie; with Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne on the first Insidious- I wanted that story to feature people you wouldn’t normally associate with scary movies because I think it makes it a more interesting mix while you’re watching.

Question: Ethan, can you discuss was it that you liked about doing Sinister and being in that type of movie and what was it in the script for The Purge that made you want to return to the horror genre?

Ethan Hawke: Well, I got this script when we had just finished Sinister; Jason gave me this script. Over the years, we have both loved James DeMonaco, the guy who wrote and directed this movie, so Jason said, “Hey, you’re not going to believe it, but I just read this crazy script by James DeMonaco,” and I was like, “Let me read it.”

I love genre movies, especially when I was younger. One of my first directors was Joe Dante, who had directed The Howling and Piranha and Gremlins, and he had taught me a real love of what was possible with a genre movie. He taught me that a good genre movie is a really scary, really fun thing to go see on Friday night, but also that it can have some subterranean political message.  And The Purge is perfect for that and in a way, Sinister was too.

But good genre movies are a little bit like trying to write a haiku; there are certain things that you have to do to fulfill the audience’s expectations, but inside that, you have complete freedom to talk about whatever you want. In a way it’s wonderful because you get to make a movie that deals with all these socio-political issues.  Who wants to see a movie about gun violence in America and class?  But if you set it in this terrifying, fun roller coaster ride of a movie, you can talk about whatever you want. That’s been the game that genre movies play when they do it well.

Question: Can you talk about the design of the masks for The Purge?

Jason Blum: We produced this movie with Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s company and Andrew and Brad who work over there were very involved creatively through everything- pre-production, production, post- you name it. We had a really great partnership and we’re working on other projects together too. They really were supportive especially since James had never done a horror movie before; on all our other projects, our directors have worked in the genre before. And so I really give James and them a lot of credit for really focusing on the masks and I think they did a really cool job with what they chose. It was a conscientious choice for us to make them look like a face ‘gone wrong’ too and I think it’s really effective for that very reason.

Question: We have seen in real life what happens when there is no law enforcement and what kind of anarchy that can create; how realistic do you think this premise is and what do you think it says about society?

Ethan Hawke: I think it plays into an age-old human fear; whenever any of us see glimpses of revolution or riots on television, or absolute anarchy, or when you’re younger and kids in the schoolyard act like a pack of wolves, it can be really terrifying. It’s extremely violent film with an anti-violent message- it’s almost an oxymoron.  Our country is obsessed with violence and our right to protect our violence, and people call you unpatriotic if you’re not violent.  This film heightens it; it just exaggerates it. That’s what the best Philip K. Dick stuff does, and that’s what this is trying to do.

Question: Does it blow your mind that both Before Midnight and The Purge are rated R?

Ethan Hawke: It does- it’s amazing (laughs); it’s almost like something out of The Purge that Before Midnight would be rated R.  It’s fascinating to me that it’s all because of a breast [in Before Midnight].  I see PG-13 movies with my son that have a death count in the thousands it seems like sometimes and I never know how they come up with it. Our country’s relationship to sex and violence is a fascinating conundrum to me; it’s both puritanical on one level and libertarian on the next.  It’s funny.  As we did interviews and stuff, it was only the American press that was so concerned with Julie’s breasts.  We did interviews with people all over the world and they didn’t ask her about her tits- but here, everybody was like, “By the way, can we talk about your breasts?”  It’s fascinating; we’re like little abused children who never saw a titty. And yet, The Purge is absolutely terrifying.

It’s just the truth of what we prioritize; I don’t even know what to say about it. On Sinister, Scott Derrickson worked so hard not to get an R; any time I did an improv scene that had the F word in it, we would have to go again.  He wanted no cursing; there’s no blood in the movie but it was just so damn scary that they gave it an R. I never know the rhyme or reason for what we decide children should and shouldn’t see.

Read Dread Central’s The Purge review here!

Directed by James DeMonaco (writer of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Negotiator), The Purge is produced by Jason Blum of Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister) and Platinum Dunes partners Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form (The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) as well as Sébastien Kurt Lemercier (Assault on Precinct 13). It stars Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, and Adelaide Kane.

Look for it in theatres on June 7th.

In an America wracked by crime, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity—including murder—is legal. The police can’t be called. Hospitals suspend help. It is one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking.


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