Actor Brady Corbet, "Funny Games"
At just 19 years of age, actor Brady Corbet has built his career on unusual roles in nontraditional films. His first feature role was in Catherine Hardwicke's teen sex-and-drugs drama "Thirteen," and followed that up with a turn as a traumatized young man who thinks he's been abducted by aliens in the film "Mysterious Skin" (with a starring role in the disastrous live-action "Thunderbirds" sandwiched in between.)
His latest role is as one of a pair of young men who torture a family of three in the film "Funny Games," a shot-for-shot remake of the Austrian film of the same name. I sat down with Brady to discuss Michael Haneke's directing style, making tough movies, and seeing co-star Naomi Watts naked.
WARNING: THERE ARE POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
The first thing I want to know is, did you see the original "Funny Games" before you were approached to make it?
BC: I had, yes. Years ago. I loved it. It was the first film of Haneke's that I'd seen, and I thought it was challenging and shocking and kind of brilliant. It kind of led me to his other films, some of which I liked better, and some were even more important like "Code Unknown."
I actually just watched "Mysterious Skin"--I had it on my DVR but hadn't gotten to it, so I decided to watch it last night.
BC: Oh, great! Did you like it? Oh yes. Very much. But in comparison to "Funny Games," both of them are kind of shocking movies, and it does a lot of unconventional things. Is that something you look for in movies?
Yes, absolutely. I definitely don't look for movies just to be shocking. I look for movies to be sincere. In the case of "Funny Games" it's not sentimental but it is sincerely intelligent. I just try to work with great auteurs as much as possible.
I've been reviewing movies for several years, and this is the first time that a bunch of us stood around afterward trying to figure out what Haneke is trying to say. Can you share your take on the film from the inside?
I think the film, being about more than just film violence, the film is just about film itself. It's about the power to manipulate. Haneke wants to feed you images, and he wants to manipulate you, but he also wants you to understand that you are being manipulated. He thinks it is more honest, and it is. I think that something as on the nose as the rewind, as much as it frustrates people there is something quite exciting about it. It's the first moment of on-screen violence in the film, then he takes it away from you. Builds a bloodlust, then takes it away.
As we were walking out of our screening, the phrase "torture porn" came to mind, and this is almost like emotional torture porn, but kind of using the torture to illustrate a point. I guess, then, it's almost the opposite of torture porn.
It's the antidote. You know, "torture porn" has become a bit of a buzz word that people throw around as kind of an explanation for why it is we find this fascinating. It's funny, because I was having a conversation with someone about "Hostel," and even though I don't think it's particularly well-made, I think "Hostel, Part II" is not a…I don't know about the first one, but the second one seemed to actually be about something. (Hostel, Part II) seemed to be kind of a satire as well, and Eli Roth is not as articulate or as eloquent as Haneke, but I actually think he and a lot of people have tried to make statements about violence while making violent films. The thing about "Funny Games" that sets it apart from the others is that it actually isn't a very violent movie at all. There is no on-screen violence, aside from when I get shot, and it's not exploitative of Naomi at all, when we force her to take off her clothes, it sort of plays on her face. If you can get past the initial trauma of it all, it actually is a fairly easy film to embrace and have a kind of dialog with.
Since you mentioned it, as I was considering what questions to ask you, I thought "Isn't it the peak of an actor's career to have Naomi Watts standing naked in front of you?"
(laughs)Yeah, sure, I mean she has a great body. (laughs): How was that scene? Was it uncomfortable at all? She's very experienced in matters like that.
Yeah, it was difficult for her, but you know, she's old enough now that it just doesn't matter. A pair of tits is a pair of tits. It's nothing. It doesn't matter, and it's not what the movie is about, and she really doesn't care. And like you said it's not exploitative at all. The way it shows her, I don't think it even shows her fully nude.
Yeah, never. Haneke is very respectful, and actually he would never come into the room with her until she put a robe on. He was always behind a monitor somewhere. He was great with her. He's a very respectful and lovely guy. He's tough, but he's an amazing person.
In remaking the film virtually shot for shot, was Haneke very specific with what he wanted as far as direction, or did he give you any opportunities to kind of go out on your own? Was it very much walking a straight line?
We had a little bit of room, but not a lot. He was very exact. It was like "wipe your forehead here and rest your right hand on the counter here. However, beyond physical gesture, you had as much room to play with a character's emotion, especially Michael (Pitt) and I, because he wanted it to be kind of a skit.
I was trying to coordinate my feelings with the villains--you Michael Pitt--against the family, and I found I had a little animosity toward Ann and George, because they were so weak, and they were so unwilling to fight.
That's about a few things. First of all, it's a statement about genre clichés. (It's a takeoff of ) "why are you running upstairs? Run out the fucking door, you bitch!" I think Haneke enjoys frustrating people this way. He enjoys creating smart but weak characters. He often said to me "I'm not a strong man. I don't know that if someone did this to me that I would be able to protect my family. I'd try, but you never know what you're going to do in a situation like that." As much as we all would like to think we'd do anything to protect our loved ones, it's just not always the case. Sometimes we're just too paralyzed with fear.
Can you tell me about Peter in general? I don't know how much you got into his background, but who is he leading up to him kind of indiscriminately murdering people? We're just a device in the film. We're the tapes in "Cache." I don't think we have a history. I don't think Michael and I have a past or a future. We're just there to serve a purpose. I just didn't think that much of motive or purpose, because there is none. I think that's where some of the fascination of this movie comes in. It's not even a story necessarily, just a long statement about a variety of things.
Yeah, it is. Haneke is a professor, so he can't help it. He's teaching a class. This film more than anything he's ever made…that's the reason you pay the price of admission, is to be taught a lesson. And some people are like "who the fuck is he to teach us a lesson?" But who the fuck is anybody? At a certain point you might as well follow an intelligent man down that path. I think there is something to be learned from him. He's made nine films and nine of them are pretty much perfect in terms of him achieving exactly what he set out to do.
Moving on to "Mysterious Skin," like "Funny Games" the material was hard to watch at times in that it was very raw and got very specific and went a step or two farther than most mainstream movies to. Can you talk a little bit about that, even in comparison to "Funny Games."
"Mysterious Skin" was a very emotional experience. It was a great experience, but that was a lot tougher on me, because I was playing a victim, and of course you find when you make a statement film, that people do share their own personal experiences with you. On "Mysterious Skin" I'd have people patting me on the back saying "this happened to me when I was a kid." In the case of "Funny Games" it's all so stylized and peculiar…I haven't experienced anyone saying "I know what that's like…I experienced a home invasion last week." The film doesn't aim to make light of it, but it's not really that realistic of a scenario. As the film pushes forward you realize how stylized it is.