Sony TriStar will release their Halle Berry The Call (formerly The Hive) on March 15th, 2013. In the film, “ When veteran 911 operator, Jordan (Halle Berry), takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life.”
Abigail Breslin, Justina Machado, Tara Platt, Evie Thompson, David Otunga, Michael Linstroth, Michael Eklund and Morris Chestnut also star in the flick directed by genre fav Brad Anderson (Session 9) and written by Richard D’Ovidio (Thir13en Ghosts).
I drive into the parking lot of an unassuming corporate park in Thousand Oaks, CA. You know the kind of place I’m talking about. A lightly wooded area, adjacent to the suburbs, that houses tons of office buildings that all look alike. Sort of like Office Space actually.
I’m at the right address, I know that. But the building has so many entrances I’m sort of confused as to which one I should use. Eventually I’m like, “whatever. I’m sure this place has a lobby so I’m just going to walk in and figure it out. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Right?”
Wrong. I enter through the most wrong door possible and almost land on the set of the film! By “almost” I mean I emerge from the doorway only to stand under a piece of scaffolding on a narrow walkway that the cast and crew use when they don’t want to be in the shot. Oh, and I almost bump right into Halle Berry as I do so. Not in a “oh hey” way, either. No, I was one more emboldened and confused step from flat out knocking her down, which would be no way to begin things. As it is, she didn’t even notice, continued on her path and was all the better for it.
The set for The Call (which was still called The Hive when I visited) is massive. They’ve built an entire 911 call center floor in the middle of this anonymous looking office building. Dozens of call desks manned by supporting cast and background players are organized in its expanse. I’m not sure if all 911 call centers are this sleek, but the look is certainly cinematic. Huge widescreen TV’s play fake news reports while the performers recreate what I assume is the typically urgent milling about that goes on in these places.
I meet up with several of my fellow journalists and we are guided up to the building’s second floor. It’s an open-air lobby so we have a good vantage point to see the entire set from up there. The cameras have just started rolling on an important scene.
Halle Berry is seated at her desk when an urgent call comes in. If you’ve seen the film’s trailer you know just how urgent. Abigail Breslin’s character has been kidnapped by Michael Eklund and is calling from the inside of a car trunk. The camera dollies across the floor as Berry lays out some very specific instructions in regard to keeping calm and and trying to remain safe. It’s a little hard to make out every bit of dialogue from our perch above, but there’s no mistaking the sense of urgency here. They shoot the scene several times as director Brad Anderson guides Berry through the moment. It’s a longish take, well over a minute, and there’s a lot of lines. What’s remarkable is that Berry is able to nail incredibly fast and specific dialogue in take after take without a hitch. I get the feeling that Anderson has what he needs early on and that he continues filming because she’s on a roll and there’s a chance he might get something even better.
From there we head into a large cafeteria in the rear of the building for a chat with Michael Eklund, who plays serial killer “Michael Foster” in the film. Immediately after he sits down I’m sort of shocked at how mild mannered and reserved he is. I mean, is this the same guy that was so full of bluster in The Divide?
Eklund begins to, softly, open up about his character. “I guess you could call him the monster of the film. Though I don’t like to think of him as a monster. The conversation I had with Brad Anderson, it was important for both of us to portray the serial killer of the film as an average guy. Your ordinary Joe. Someone who could live next door to you. In most movies they portray the serial killers as monsters. Grisly, twitchy eyed freaks. In reality, these guys you just pass by on the street. You might bump into one in the grocery store and you don’t even know.”
There’s also an existing template for this guy in the real world. “I based Michael Foster on two serial killers. Well known guys. Richard Cottingham and Andrei Chikatilo, who were very interesting guys themselves. The common denominator between them and my character is that they were family men. They had wives and kids and a life outside of what they were doing.”
What’s the process like to get to that dark place? “Hmm. It’s an interesting process. Every movie is different but for myself I kind of use the method technique. A lot of substitution from real life. There’s a lot of my own personal stuff going on, obviously not the same [stuff] as Michael Foster. But there’s an addiction that he has [to killing]. Once you make the choice that your character is evil and bad then you’re going in the wrong direction because these guys don’t believe that they’re bad guys.”
Right after Eklund gets up screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio takes a seat and opens up about his inspiration for the film. “My wife was listening to an NPR segment and she heard an operator talking about her job and they played a bunch of calls. She brought it up at dinner and we were talking about how when you see one of these calls, you never get to see the other side of it. And they’re having to envision what’s going on with the people they’re talking to and that can send chills up your spine.”
It’s a movie about a call center, how do they make sure it’s not just static the whole time? “Every 10 pages you’ve got to take it in another direction.” As far as research goes, “Halle went down and hung out with the operators and we’ve actually got a few operators [onset] as well.”
D’Ovidio then went on to describe the real call center the film is based on. “The call center in Downtown LA, the windows are bullet proof. There’s a moat of water around the outside of the building so it can withstand an 8.5 earthquake. They have two backup generators. They tell everyone where to go so if they go down, the city is pretty much on hold.”
We also catch up with David Otunga, a WWE wrestler who is making his first feature appearance as Officer Devans in The Call. Otunga’s sort of a fascinating guy, and not just because of his successful transition from wrestling to film. Prior to his career in the WWE he was an attorney who graduated from Harvard Law. He practice in Chicago for about a year until he decided he wanted to be in entertainment, which I’m guessing is a fairly rare thing to successfully manifest. As he puts it, even though he’s in a Brad Anderson/Halle Berry movie, “if things don’t work out I can always go back to practicing law.”
After our interviews conclude we’re given a tour of the various car trunks that are used in the film, and they’re even more claustrophobic than you’d expect. Abigail Breslin has to spend a good chunk of the film in one of these, so you’d think they’d open it up a bit for comfort’s sake and then use a wide angle lens to tease out the tightness. But nope! They’re super small. And they back up the level of detail that I saw recreated onstage in the call center earlier.
If this attention to intensity and detail is present in other aspects of The Call, I suspect we may have a taut thriller on our hands on March 15th.