Eric Christian Olsen scored numerous critical notices early on in films like Not Another Teen Movie, Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, and The Last Kiss, before landing his current gig as NCIS / LAPD Liaison Officer Marty Deeks on CBS’s hit TV series NCIS: Los Angeles in 2010.
Now, the 34 year-old hopes to transition his success once again to the big screen in the horror genre as research assistant Adam Goodman in a new prequel of the John Carpenter, and originally Howard Hawks, classic The Thing. Like many fans of the original films, Olsen was equally apprehensive about doing a new version of a classic.
“Well, at first, I just heard they were doing The Thing,” Eric recalls, And so I thought it was a remake, so I was horrified of that because I was a big fan of Carpenter’s ’82 version. And then, when we got a script for it and realized it was a prequel, you kind of realize that opening scene that Carpenter does and you don’t know where in the world you are and you got Norwegians screaming and trying to kill a dog and the whole thing blows up, and they go back to that Norwegian base and you have the radio operator that’s on the phone versus dealing with whatever catastrophe is happening at the moment, I think there’s a lot of gold to be mined in dealing with that origin story of how we get to Carpenter’s scenes.”
“So I just got very excited about doing it,” he continues, “And after sitting down with [director] Matthijs [van Heijningen Jr.] and realizing that the producers and Universal were all on board to do that type of thriller, that kind of philosophy towards this genre, and I got really excited. They got Mary Elizabeth [Winstead], who I have always been a fan of, and Joel Edgarton, who I think is one of the best actors of our generation, and Addy [Akinnuoye-Agbaje], who obviously, I was a fan of from Lost, and Ulrich [Thomsen]. They went out and got great actors. Like the ’82 version, it’s character-based storytelling and for me, that was really enticing.”
Eric claims he was not prepared at all for the likelihood of freezing his behind off during the film’s shoot in the Port Lands up in Canada.
“No, because I had never done this genre of film before, as for numerous reasons, so I really didn’t have any idea,” he says, “Because you watch a movie and even though you make movies, you’re still delusional about what kind of effort goes into it.”
“The big attack scene in the rec room when it goes after me and it goes after Addy and it goes after Kristofer [Hivju],” Olsen adds, “And the two flame-throwers are going, that whole sequence took eight days to shoot, so I’m spending so much time lying on the linoleum crying for help and utensils are flying through the air and they’ve got me hooked up with explosives for the special effects, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I signed on.”
Olsen also says that he took the tough weather conditions and long hours of the shoot in stride.
“That’s more account for philosophy towards what we would be do for a living,” Eric says, “And there isn’t a moment when we don’t realize how lucky that we do what we do, and I think if you lose that perspective, you’re in trouble as an actor. Fame is a gimmick, so there are days where they are tough, you’re stuck, we buckle down, hour 15, you’re definitely tired, you’re definitely hitting your limit, but there are far worse jobs to become involved in.”
Eric says that one of the highlights was shooting the film’s death scene when Adam’s face melds on another guy.
“That’s a pretty fantastic death scene,” Olsen says of it, “If I had the scripted lines out, I don’t think I would have done justice to what they did.”
Olsen gives us his perspective of how fans of the John Carpenter film have reacted to the new prequel.
“The immediate reaction is just anger and murderous rage because people think we tried to do a remake,” he says, “Then, we you explain the prequel and talk about how our story dovetails into Carpenter’s story and that we lay the groundwork for it, then they get more interested. And then, they freak out when they find out we got a female lead, then you talk about Ripley and you talk about Alien, then they go, oh, it’s going to be a love story and they freak out. And we go, no, no, no, there’s no love story, there’s no sexualization of the female character. It’s got that same testosterone and that same drive and that same slow-burn as what Carpenter celebrated in ’82.”
“So the knee-jerk reaction is one of overreacting because we have such an appreciation for the ’82 version, but that’s a good thing,” Eric continues, “And I think that’s a good thing because everyone that was a part of this movie went into that knowing that we had a responsibility to do justice to what he did. As people have seen it now, especially that last sequence right before the credits and through the credits, people love that and there’s something very fulfilling about origin stories because you have what you already seen in prior films and then if you have a good story that leads into that and you understand how it fills all the gaps in that story, I think that’s really fulfilling as an audience member. I went and saw Rise Of Planet Of The Apes and I thought, this is not my type of movie. I got dragged into it. Then, by the end of it, it is what it is, I was fulfilled, knowing how we got there, and knowing how the characters progressed.”
Eric also discusses the unique mix of CGI and traditional practicals used for the special effects in the film and how he felt seeing it all come together in the final cut.
“Your fear is that they are going to do CGI,” Olsen recalls, “Universal stepped up, the producers fought for it, to get all these practical effects, so the scene when I’m being attacked, that’s an actual 300 lb. practical run by eight guys, all special effects guys. They’re all walking toward me and they’re lowering it down and this mechanical effect scene side of it when they extend the neck, and then they paint the CGI in it. I think ‘82’s Carpenter version is groundbreaking for its special effects.”
“Therefore, ours, we have to do that combination of practicals and it’s the best practical that Universal could find, and then kind of filling in the fluidity of it with CGI and that makes all the difference,” he continues, “From an acting standpoint, reaction to something that’s real, it becomes a visceral reaction versus something that you create in your head, audiences have become very smart now and they can tell the difference and they feel cheated, I feel cheated when it’s not real. I feel cheated when I watch CGI, that you can tell that there’s nothing worldly about it, nothing tangible about it.”
Olsen also mentions what it was that made him choose The Thing as his first foray into the horror genre and what made it so different
“I think there’s something beautiful about that kind of decade of this genre in that audiences are a bit more patient and that they told from a character standpoint,” Eric says, “By the time that you get into act 2, and what we talked about with that slow-burn, and I think that kind of fear is different from the fear that a lot of movies being made now go for. I think now it’s like something jumps out and a guy with an axe and someone gets naked and goes waterskiing and someone else dies and it’s the kind of scares that never leaves any pinpoint on you.”
“And 80’s thrillers,” he adds, “If you think about Jaws in the 70’s, if you think about Poltergeist, if you think about The Thing and The Shining, it’s like a violin crescendo builds into this second half, builds into this third act to the point where it’s the kind of scary that stays with you long after the movie’s over. And so, it’s trying to find a script that does that. That’s what I’ve gone to. And one of the movies that I loved that came to theatres was Zodiac and I think that’s a perfect example of that. Nobody saw the Zodiac. There’s a perfect scene in that movie where Jake Gyllenhaal goes downstairs and he’s just having a conversation with a guy and nothing’s happening except this conversation and it was so brilliantly told leading up to that point that I was terrified. I was terrified at that moment and I felt that was a perfect example. That’s a great movie where we saw it, you got to find a blend of the two. I think that’s what they were trying to do obviously.”
We asked Eric if doing The Thing whetted his appetite for more special-effects-driven films down the road.
“Yeah. I love [producer] [Eric] Newman and I love [producer] Marc [Abraham], those are the guys from Strike,” Olsen replies, “I love their Dawn Of The Dead remake. I thought that was great. I loved 28 Days Later. I had a nice conversation with Eli Roth and it was a project we almost did together a while back. I think that, under the right circumstances, I would definitely delve back into this genre.”
Olsen talks about the kind of new fans he may possibly acquire from having done a recognizable entry like The Thing.
“I think I’m a fan of anyone that’s a fan of something, if that makes any sense,” he says, “If people are passionate about something, then I appreciate that. I know that there are die-hard fans of this kind of genre and my hope is that they’re happy with the movie because that’s who you make the movie for.”
“What’s weird about it is I’ve been doing this now for only like 11 years,” Eric adds, “But we’ve been doing so many diverse and contrasting genres from comedies to dramas to action to broad comedies and now this is a thriller, that I can always tell when people come up and they’re about to introduce themselves and say something, I can always tell what project they’ve schemed and what they are coming to talk about based on how they do it. So it will be kind of fun to see how the fans of this genre of filmmaking, how they introduce themselves.”
We boldly asked Eric how fans of his role as the younger version of Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas character in the prequel Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd react when they encounter him.
“Everyone saw that movie, those that really appreciated that movie that were much younger,” Olsen says of them, “I’ve talked to people about it, that movie is the absence of any kind of storyline. I mean, it’s just nonsense. Derek Richardson, I’m doing everything we can to keep together some kind of sanity. It’s impossible.”
“People usually come up and they’re kind of embarrassed by the fact that they like the movie,” he adds, “They’re always like, ‘Oh, man, oh, man, oh, man, you…oh, man.’ It’s like you know it’s going to be Dumb And Dumberer, they’re just as embarrassed to like it as I am that that I was so magically a part of.”
Olsen then talked about fans of his other more notable roles in The Last Kiss and Not Another Teen Movie.
“You get people that watch The Last Kiss, like their eyes turn bright red,” Eric says, “Because that movie was much more of a coming-of-age drama about kids coming to find their way through life and there’s sex in it and there’s betrayal and it’s heartbreak, but I’m naked in it through a large portion of it, so people come up and they’re immediately blushing, they’re immediately like, ‘I saw The Last Kiss,’ And I know where that’s been. They are fun.”
“From dear fans, I get a lot of high fives from people, screaming lines from Not Another Teen Movie,” he continues, “People know of my quotes from that movie than I do, that’s a movie that plays on Comedy Central like every week. I ran into a Comedy Central executive that’s like, ‘No matter when we play it, it starts off with a couple hundred thousand and then a million and then, 1,500,000, and then, like every time we play it, we get 2,000,000 viewers, every time. People turn it on and they don’t turn it off.’ Which is crazy, but I get a lot of high fives from that, a lot of chest bumps.”
Eric also shared with us what people are to expect as NCIS: Los Angeles begins its third season.
“There’s incredibly likable characters, revealing characters on a large scope, which is exciting about television,” he says, “[Martin] Scorsese talked about it, that with Boardwalk Empire is that a movie can go 120 minutes to tell an arc and with a TV show, you’re hoping you can get five or six episodes before you get cancelled. But on a show like this, they’re telling stories over seven years. We’re on our third season. We can go on like four or five or six or, God knows, we can do ten. And the kind of story you can do from that broad of a canvas, I think, is really exciting. And that’s why everytime, above all things, I’m a fan. I love going and watching movies, I love watching television, and so I get really excited about reading the new scripts and finding out these reveals about the characters.”
“And this season has been rather fantastic for that, with Callen’s (Chris O’Donnell) backstory and we were shooting an episode recently where we meet Sam’s (LL Cool J) wife,” Olsen continues, “And that, in itself, I think, is an incredible moment. But the story that leads up to that moment, everything in that episode that happens prior to that moment makes it phenomenal. There’s a bunch of new stuff for Kensi (Daniela Ruah) and Deeks and that relationship, which people are attached to, which is the most flattering thing ever, because I agree, she’s fantastic and so much fun to work with. There’s a lot of things coming up this season and I think it’s really finding its balance. It’s really starting to hit its stride.”
Olsen also talks about the importance of having the budding relationship between Deeks and Kensi be slow.
“I think it’s interesting because we all have these ideas in our head about how things would play out,” he says of it, “I think the keys of that are more interesting than any kind of reality of that. I have no power over that, but I am sure they are going to take their time with that. I don’t know how other shows have done it. I don’t know what anyone else has done, but if it ain’t broke, man…”
“So I think that’s going to continue,” Eric adds, “I mean, I know it is this year and that’s what makes those moments so great, because when two characters are so drawn together and circumstances and other relationships are doing everything in their power to keep them apart, that’s a much more interesting arc.”
Eric also talks about what it’s like to shoot NCIS: Los Angels on location there.
“It’s like a dream, to be honest,” he says of it, “Because everybody has this fantasy when you’re 12 years old of running around with guns shooting bad guys and diving over cars and shooting chase scenes and dodging rocket launchers and that’s what we’re doing. It’s absurd. It’s the greatest job ever. And L.A. is such a tourist town, there are people here from all over the world, and because we’re always shooting in the hot spots of L.A., we get a good interaction with people from all over the world and I love that.”
“And nobody handles it better than Chris and LL Cool J because they all realize that if not enough people are watching the show, we don’t have a job,” Olsen adds, “So it’s actually really fun, because a lot of times, we’re shooting a scene and we have extras on one side of it and we have 15 extras and then, behind the camera, we have 500 people watching us shooting a scene, which is great, because those 500 years go home and watch the TV show.”
We noted to him that filming in that kind of scenario was like a segmented version of live theater.
“Yeah, I never thought about it like that, but you still get take two, so in live theater, the stakes are raised a little higher than when you go, ‘Cut, we’re going to go again, because I was terrible,’” Eric says, “But, I mean, it is fun to go out and film with a bunch of people.”
“You’re right,” he continues, “The energy is definitely different when you’re shooting on location than it is when you’re on a soundstage and that’s really fun. And now that you mention it, I think I am more aware of how different and energy that dynamic is.”