Humanity divided: A conversation with The Divide’s Michael Biehn and Michael Eklund

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Q&As
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A scene from The DivideWith the end of the world on the horizon (if you believe in the Mayan-related predictions), 2012 is the ideal time to release any “last days on Earth” pictures. But it’s unlikely any of them will match the intensity and squalor of The Divide. The post-apocalyptic thriller from French director Xavier Gens slowly and graphically peels away the layers of humanity in a sealed basement as the outside world crumbles. But with time and despair, civility erodes and people become cruel and barbaric. We had a chance to speak with two of the film’s stars, Michael Biehn and Michael Eklund, after the movie’s red carpet premiere at last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

The obvious question for both actors was what attracted them to such a nefariously dark project. For Eklund, it was the opportunity to work with Gens as he was a fan of the director’s previous work (Frontière[s] and Hitman). His interest only grew as more details were revealed, including the casting of co-star Biehn, and the decision to shoot it in chronological order. “I said ‘sign me up.’” But after expressing all this interest, Eklund still had to audition for the role. “By luck Xavier watched my audition and liked it.” And then the collaboration process started.

The devolution of Michael Eklund's Bobby in The Divide

Biehn, on the other hand, hadn’t seen any of Gens’ work but was fascinated by the character of Mickey. “I told him how I wanted to change the character of Mickey and he was all ears,” says Biehn. Agreeing the script needed work, they immediately began collaborating on developing Mickey’s personality. Biehn was also attracted to the process Gens had laid out. “He wanted to work as an ensemble; a group of people who were improving and writing certain scenes… it sounded very interesting.” However, a mask of complexity and torment can be difficult to maintain for 35 years. “I think the older you get, the more you realize how difficult life can be,” he says. “I think it plays into where I am psychologically now. Not like Mickey, but a little more solitary.”

The Divide benefits from two significant, behind-the-scenes influences: shooting it in chronological order, and the freedom given to the actors to stray from the script and improvise. In addition, the actors were placed on food restrictions similar to that of their characters’ limited rations, creating further irritability and actual weight loss. As a result, the narrative evolves organically, adding a distinct and disturbing dose of reality to the performances.

The devolution of Michael Biehn's Mickey in The Divide

With nearly 100 film and television roles to his credit according to IMDB, Eklund jokes that he never says “no” to a job. More seriously he explains that when offered a project, he accepts it and then looks to distinguish it from anything he’s done. “I try to play the role in a way that I haven’t played the role before,” says Eklund. “If I’m playing something similar, then I’ll try to approach it in a different way.” He also has a personal trait he likes to bring to his characters: “Never play the comedy, and never play the seriousness.” This is evident in his portrayal of Bobby, who retains a sense of humour right to the very bitter end. “I always think the darker the subject matter, the more humour that it’s going to need,” says Eklund. “Because you need those moments of a breath of fresh air to take the audience out of how drastic and intense the film is.”

Biehn’s career is a collection of intense roles. But despite the trend that creeps up in his résumé, he is not actually a horror fan. “Horror is not really a genre that I feel comfortable with; it’s a genre that I don’t care for very much,” he says. “It’s odd my career’s kind of swung that way.” Instead, he considers the slasher movie a stepping stone to better things, similar to a beginner’s workshop for directors. “It surprises me why a guy like Rob Zombie, who is such a talented director, would stay in that genre,” Biehn adds. “Usually you’ll find directors will start off in that genre and show they can do something really good, like Evil Dead, then go on and do all sorts of other stuff.”  Nonetheless, he considers The Divide a “psychological horror movie,” while his sophomore directorial effort, The Victim, is a murder mystery that includes some torture and gruesome shots. But in case you’re wondering, Biehn thinks “The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever made.”

Finally, even after portraying a devolution into the darkest depths of humanity, Eklund is not ready to dismiss his will to survive. “I’ve thought about this for a long time and I think I’d be a fighter,” he says. “I’d try to survive as long as I could. I don’t know how long I would last, but I would try to survive as long as I could.”

The never-before-seen cut of The Divide opens in select theatres in Toronto on January 20th.

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