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Elisha Cuthbert—The Quiet—07/12/06

Once a correspondent for Popular Mechanics for Kids, Elisha Cuthbert's adult stardom came with the role of Kim Bauer on Fox's TV serial 24. After appearances in Old School and Love Actually, Cuthbert took the title role in the popular teen comedy The Girl Next Door and fended off demented killers in House of Wax. Now Cuthbert has joined the ranks of Hollywood producers while also starring in The Quiet. Cuthbert told me all about it at San Francisco's Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Groucho: How did you become involved with The Quiet and what led you to sign on as producer as well as star?

Elisha Cuthbert: Well, I sort of had gotten the script pretty, pretty early on in the process, and we weren't sure if it was going to get made or not. And I just felt so strongly about the movie and liked the idea of it and the topic and sort of the style of the film, and then sat down with Jamie, the director, and talked with her and just thought, "You know, she's the perfect person to make this film," and I figured, "How are we gonna get this made?" and "How can we get as much money as possible?" And I signed on as an associate producer, and sort of was in on the casting process and sort of the creation of the film and the development of the film. And then just went on and acted, and then it was out, you know? So it was really great. And, that's sort of how it all kind of came about.

G: So you didn't have to worry on a day-to-day basis about your producer hat?

EC: Right. But at the same time I was very involved in making sure that wardrobe was done correctly. I mean, we had an actress on our movie—Katy Mixon who plays Michelle, my friend in the film—her first film. And I wanted to make sure—I kind of had this, subconsciously, motherly type "Okay, is everyone okay? Is everything going smoothly? And we'll talk to Jamie and just sort of—" Yeah, always staying aware of those sort of things which were really important to me.

G: As an experienced actress, you knew what you needed out of a producer so you could be that conduit, I guess.

EC: Exactly. And you know, when you're shooting a movie like this—it's for a little bit of a smaller budget than most, things happen and you have to sort of expect them and be prepared for them and had to let the other actors know about it and go, "This is kind of the way it's going to be" and "Are you comfortable?" and "How's it going?" and sort of just do that. And that was pretty much the extent of my job onset. But before that, trying to get it made, and putting my name attached to it, and being helpful in the casting process.

G: The last time I saw you, you were actually doing the rounds with Joel Silver for House of Wax

EC: Oh God, yeah. Which is like a whole other thing. Right.

G: He's quite a character. I was curious if you had sort of learned any "do"s or "don't"s from him about producing?

EC: Yeah, I feel lucky that I met Joel towards the later side of his career because I think he really sort of mellowed out. You hear all these stories—classic quintessential producing stories about Joel Silver—and really, I never once had a problem. And I actually was extremely impressed with him. When really intense things would go down, he really kept his cool. And obviously getting what he wants—he's tough. But you always get that phone call ten minutes later and him going, "Is everything okay?" He actually taught me a lot. And I'm very impressed with him. I really like him a lot.

G: He does seem to have learned the gift of mellow over the years.

EC: Yeah, I think he's toned down a lot. Kids'll do that to you.

G: At first, your role of Nina in The Quiet seems like kind of the opposite of a teen role model. First of all, did you enjoy playing the kind of cruel aspects of the character? You even burn a teddy bear in this movie.

EC: Yeah, it's pretty rough. No, she's going through a lot of things. And I think when she discovers everyone else's secrets, and she realizes that she's not the only one hurting around her, she doesn't know how to deal with it, you know? There's a lot of reasons why she does the things she does. And I think she's really trying to figure out Dot. And a lot of that is sort of stemmed through that negativity and the...brattiness. And that also comes with the whole seventeen-year-old aspect of it. I had to find ways to go, "Okay, how are we going to play seventeen?" I mean, at the time, I was twenty-two, twenty-three. And here I am playing a seventeen-year-old. Not just physically, but mentally getting into that place. It was really difficult. And I don't know if I could ever do it again. So I'm kind of proud that I have it. But, you know, trying to go there—because everything at seventeen is so important. And I could only imagine with going through what she's going through in the film—I mean, being sexually abused by her father is just heartbreaking.

G: Yeah. I noticed when I was watching the film that there were these touchstones that—in a subtle, sort of on-the-nose kind of way—were touching on a lot of teen issues is what I'm trying to say.

EC: Right. Right.

G: One being low self image and obviously that comes—

EC: I'm fat. I'm this. I'm ugly. My hair sucks. I'm fat, I'm ugly, my hair sucks—it's just this huge circle of not knowing your place or not being confident enough. And you understand where her reasonings come from.

G: Yeah. Well, the seeds come from her father—

EC: Right.

G: Always asking her how she looks.

EC: Exactly. But then there's situations where you're in high school, and you're discovering yourself and you're seeing other girls and you're seeing the magazines and you're seeing what is supposed to be normal. And it just—I think everyone can relate to this film... either bring you back to high school, [or] if you're in high school know what this movie is about.

G: She's redeemed in the film, Nina, by reaching out. First, abstractly there's that great scene where you plug your ears at the movies. And then, later on by dealing with Dot on an interpersonal level. How did you see the development of the growing understanding of Dot from Nina's point of view?

EC: You know, I felt like she was made negative towards her in the beginning because she thought here's this great—here's this girl who hasn't had to deal with the stuff that I've dealt with. Here's this girl that has it easy. And as the course of the film goes on, she realizes that she's just as messed up as I am. And I think that's what helps her develop a friendship with her because I don't think that Nina could do this with any other person. And if it wasn't for Dot, she would never be able to escape it. She wouldn't go to a counselor; she wouldn't talk to Michelle. And she certainly wouldn't go to her mother. So it's almost a blessing that she has found Dot. And I think she discovers that through the course of the film. Until the end, and obviously, it just becomes that much better. But I think the idea of her understanding that she's just as messed up as Nina is is a good thing for the two of them.

G: Kind of liberating.

EC: Yeah.

G: I wonder, did you do any kind of dabbling and research about your character, who pops painkillers, and obviously there's this horrible sexual dysfunction that she's dealing with?

EC: Yeah, we had a lot of discussions about, I think, people who have been in this situation before and what their reactions would be and—you know, it's amazing how, even though she's getting sexually abused by her father, she loves her father. I mean, this is all she knows.

G: Yeah.

EC: And we discovered that a lot of the times, people think that this is normal, this behavior. Because, as a child, you don't know. I mean, parents are the people who are supposed to form you into the adult or the individual that you are. And if that's where the affection and the emotion is coming from—if that's what it is—I think that's what you know. But she knows it's wrong. There's something unhealthy about it that she understands. But she uses it to get what she wants. You know what I mean? So she—this is normal to her. This is her life. And in most cases, that's exactly what the situation is.

G: We see her at the stage where she's become fed up with the situation.

EC: Exactly. But how many years has this been going on?

G: Yeah.

EC: And Jamie and I like to think it's from at least seven or eight—

G: Wow.

EC: It's a long period of time. And I talked to a couple of psychiatrists—Dr. Drew [Pinsky, of Loveline] is actually a friend of mine. And I called him up and asked him about this film. And he sort of gave me some pointers. It's unfortunate that this is going on, and I'm glad that we made a movie like this and I got to play Nina because, you know, I've already had people come up to me and say, "You know, I had to deal with that," and I just love the way the movie ends because it's so positive.

G: Yeah. This is something I was talking to Jamie about earlier. It did strike me as I was watching it—even though it's a very mature film—it is kind of a teen film.

EC: Exactly, yeah.

G: And like The Girl Next Door, this one's rated R. And I wonder: do you feel it's likely to find it's audience? Do you have a feeling about the rating?

EC: You never know. The thing is, to me, I feel like you can make a movie that doesn't cost 300 million dollars and be entertaining. This is a movie that I would go see. But I like smart films. I like movies that get me thinking. And it was about women. It's almost, in my own personal feeling of it, very feminist. I think that this deals with three women that are going through different things. And come out slightly triumphant, in my opinion. This movie to me was really great. And I hope that it has a following. I hope that people come and see it. But, you know, we're in a day where Superman is the big thing. But I believe there is an audience for this. I think people will really enjoy it. Because it is smart.

G: And I do think the thriller aspect—it makes it easy to cross over into the multiplex audience.

EC: Exactly, yeah. And it touches on a lot of different things. It's like American Beauty in that sort of—in its vibe. It sort of feels like that to me.

G: It's a pretty lean film. I was wondering if any scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor?

EC: Uh, yeah. Yeah, actually, quite a few did. We shot in four weeks, so I think Jamie sort of tried to get as much as she could, and obviously they finessed it afterwards. Yeah, there's a scene between Michelle and I where she comes on to me in a much more aggressive and stronger way. And you're just like "This poor Nina." I mean, she's getting abused from all different angles. So I think it might be sad for Katy Mixon because I think her character had a pretty big arc, you know? And that's why I say it's about three women. Because in my opinion, it still is. But that was taken out just because it was confusing. And we didn't get to touch on her as much as we wanted to. But what else got—I think that's about it, really. And we actually added more intense scenes with my father and myself. In the original version it was actually less. And now it's even more. So it's even harder for me to deal with. But, that's good.

G: Nina has this secret relationship going on, but all these other sexual options keep cropping up in front of her—shoved in front of her. Did you see her giving any serious thought to those other options, or wishing she could make that leap?

EC: No, I think she was just like—every time the topic of "You're seventeen. You haven't had sex yet," and she's thinking in her head, "Oh yes I have." And that idea is just wrong for her. She doesn't enjoy that. And I think she's confused by the fact that everyone is so into it at the time. But I don't think she would want to make any sort of—you know, you either go one way or the other—one, in which you need to have sex all the time and you're out there and that to you is normal. And it's the other way where you don't feel comfortable unless it's with her father. And it's very deep. There's a lot of stuff going on that, in this film, is very hard to understand and explain, but I think that in the course of the film, we try and do the best we can. And try and come out with a positive feeling.

G: You and Martin Donovan, who plays your father, have obviously some very intense scenes. Did you set out to break the ice first or just kind of dive in there with method acting?

EC: He tried to, and I just wouldn't have it. I just feel like—it was so difficult. Everything about me wanted to push this character away. Everything about me wanted to say this is wrong. I can't do this. But that was the reason why I wanted to do it. The fear of it—just sort of anything that can challenge you and push you is important. But aside from that, it was tough. I mean, I can't sit here and say that was the easiest role in the world. I mean, it was by far, the worst so far.

G: Yeah. I think it results in your best performance to date.

EC: Thank you. I remember going into the bathroom before shooting wanting to like bawl my eyes out. Because I thought, here we go, I'm going to have to get into this situation and go there and make it feel like this is normal. And everything about that was wrong to me. So it was tough. It was really, really tough. Thank God there's only a few of those moments. Otherwise I probably would have died.

G: You can't keep that up too long—that intensity.

EC: No.

G: I'm guessing it's kind of hard to imagine Keifer Sutherland as your father. He's kind of a live wire, I guess, right?

EC: Yeah. He's pretty out there. But extremely talented and a lot of fun. Very professional.

G: You came back to 24 after a year's absence, for a few spots there. Was it interesting, or awkward or different to jump back in the saddle, or was it just like—

EC: It was awkward at first because we wanted to do something with the character that wasn't sort of redundant. And also not similar to sort of the attacks and the craziness and the panic of the original first three seasons. And I think we came back with the right approach and it was nice to see me back. I was just really happy to be there. And these guys—the crew, the whole cast and the producers on this show, have seen me since—or have known me since I was seventeen. So it's nice to go back. It's like home. In a weird way.

G: And do you think you'll be coming back to TV?

EC: You know, it's so funny—last season, before I ended up shooting, everyone asked me that, and I kept saying, "No, no, no." And they called me like a week before we were about to shoot and asked me to be on the show, and I said, "I just told all these people I'm not coming back. They think I'm a liar now." So now I can't even say because, as of now, I don't think I am. But they could call me a week before and say, "Hey, come back." So I just sort of play it by ear. And if they did ask me back, I would go in a heartbeat at any moment. It's my TV show, you know? I don't really care about any other show, or want to be on any other show. But 24 is home for me.

G: In The Quiet, you tickle the ivories a bit. And you actually do your own playing, is that right? Just a little bit—I know Camilla Belle does most of the playing. There's one scene where—

EC: Yeah. At the end of the film? Yeah, I have one song—we have one Beethoven piece. And I had to learn that. It was pretty tedious. It's funny, because I have a feeling a lot of people will assume we are not playing.

G: Well, in the credits it does actually say—

EC: Does it say that?

G: It credits you both as playing.

EC: Oh, well that's good. Because I play the song at the end with Camilla, and Camilla learned all the pieces. I don't know how she did it. 'Cause I learned one and I was dying. I mean, it's hard. And I have very small fingers. And actually, my piano teacher said, "If you actually ever consider playing piano, you'd have to get the finger extenders," which they have for people with smaller hands. I think I have a six-key reach. And you need at least a seven or eight. So I guess my piano career is over.

G: Just like that—started and ended.

EC: Just like that. Exactly. But it was really nice. And actually, you get very satisfied when you watch a film and you put the effort into learning that. And you don't have to have a close-up on the face and a close-up on the hands. You can actually have a full shot and we're really playing. So if people know the pieces, they'll be, I think, pleasantly surprised that we're actually playing them.

G: You've done roles in comedies, dramas, a couple of thrillers here and a horror film—obviously you like variety. This is a long-range career choice.

EC: Yeah, get ready. Yeah, it's like I'm up for anything. Yeah, that's the funny thing. It's important for me. I mean, I'm just so tired of seeing people doing the same thing over and over and over again. I think acting is about changing who you are and playing someone different. I don't like to be safe, you know? I like to take risks. And if that means something flopping, then so be it. Because you move on to the next one. But I really care about creating these sort of personalities, these characters. I'm a little crazy myself. So you know it's easy for me. But I just—I like to do different things. And this is a really beautiful movie about women and their struggles and triumphs and—you know, the next one's gonna be me in a wheelchair. So, you know, it's one of those things where, as long as I understand the story and feel like it's worth telling, and the character is interesting, I'm all for it. Any genre.

G: What films, though, do you most enjoy going out to see—like on a Saturday night, what's the kind of thing that you enjoy?

EC: You know, I go to a lot of like—in L.A., there's the Sunset 5—I do a lot of independent films. I'm into seeing things like A History of Violence, and I like smart movies. I like movies that push you and make you think twice. I mean, I haven't gone to see Superman because it's not really—you know, I think I'd probably see that in a hotel somewhere or on vacation.

G: Or in an airplane.

EC: Exactly. Which I love. I mean, those movies are fantastic too. House of Wax was sort of my first experience making one of those and I had a blast. But I do enjoy seeing edgy films. I just saw The Devil Wears Prada. Loved it. But I'm obsessed with Meryl Streep. Who's probably the only actress that I actually am really interested in. And she makes me just want to go out and work after I see everything she does..."Get me on a set, immediately." But you know, I'm kind of all over the place. But I like smart movies.

G: You alluded to one of your upcoming movies: He Was a Quiet Man is the name of it, right?

EC: Yeah.

G: In which you're paralyzed. What can you tell us about that film?

EC: Well, Christian Slater plays our lead character. His name is Bob. And he's aged quite a bit in the film. You know, he has a comb-over, fake teeth—I mean, he's almost unrecognizable. In my opinion, it's his Monster. You know, like what Charlize Theron sort of had. And I sort of come into play where I'm this attractive woman who works at the office with him, and he thinks he would never have a shot with her, and circumstances lead her into a wheelchair. Paralyzed from the neck down. And he's the only one that actually cares. So they kind of have this interesting dynamic. And I never thought the script was funny until we actually saw the film. And I went—I played this as real and as honest as possible, and it was not written funny. It's funny. So it was great to see the realism in it. And to not move for the course of the film was pretty intense. You know, I stayed in the chair; I never really got out of the chair during work days. And it was tough. It was really tough. But it was challenging, and that was really exciting. And Christian is amazing. And the script is quirky and funny—like a dark comedy. It's really cool.

G: And I also wanted to ask you about Captivity, which you did with Roland Joffe.

EC: Yeah. In Russia. We were there for three months, and I like the movie because it was different—it had a twist. And it was about a girl in peril, and I figured, I think, by this time, I'm pretty good at that.

G: But more of a deeper psychological bent on that—

EC: But totally deeper and Roland Joffee, to me, was just "I'll do anything. Tell me when I got to be there, and I'll show up." And it sort of was just one of those situations. So it was fun. I kind of came in and did my thing, and the movie's got a really cool ending to it. And it's a lot of fun, and I can't wait for that to come out too. 'Cause it's quite good.

G: And now that you dabbled in producing—I shouldn't say dabbled—now that you've produced a film, are you looking to develop more of your own material?

EC: Yeah. I want to keep producing. I want to make movies that I'm interested in. I can be a part of the process. And that's a big deal.

G: You think you'll hang a shingle out one of these years? Have your own production company?

EC: (Laughs.) Yeah. Exactly. These are big steps. And I'm only twenty-three. But I'm on the right track. And I think one of these days, it would be really good to have my own company and start things and develop things from the ground up. And it's a lot of fun. You know, if you like making movies, then it's worth it. But you know, directing—and I'll also continue to act. Obviously, that's where my passion is. So it's kind of good. Maybe produce something that I'm not in.

G: What's been your most surreal moment in showbiz so far—"I can't believe this is happening to me" moment?

EC: I went to a party in L.A. I went to Prince's house. And I've been such a huge fan of his. And I think he was promoting his new album. And I guess was kind of out-of-shell and out partying a little bit. And it was right after the Golden Globes and he had an after-party. So I was there and I met him, but before I left I sort of got—snuck in—he sort of "Come over here" "What's he doing?" And I walk in and Joni Mitchell is in the middle of the room playing an acoustic guitar—and I'm Canadian, so to me that was like "This is insane." I mean, I was like "This is the most incredible thing that's ever happened to me." But I feel like I get moments like that every day. My life is just so exciting. A lot of fun and especially getting to come to all these different cities and shooting in different parts of the world. Just living a life of a lot of fun and a lot of excitement. And I kind of get surprised every day really.

G: Do you ever wish you had more time to carve out to just be normal? Do you make that time for yourself?

EC: Yeah. Actually, whenever I'm really not busy, I pretty much do nothing. Except read. I sit in my back yard and I read. So sometimes that's not all that exciting. And I love to cook. But so do a lot of other people. So that's kind of boring too. And, you know, I have a normal life. At the same time, you kind of—I like to travel and I like to, you know, be exciting and have fun. So I feel like I have a pretty good life going on.

G: And, of course, over the last few years, you've been steadily climbing the world's-sexiest-woman list. Is that a blessing and a curse?

EC: I've been kind of a roller coaster. I've been like nine, and then I've been like fifty-seven. And then, I've been like sixteen. And then I'm like ninety-nine. You know what all that's based on? "You got a movie coming out—we'll put you higher on the list." You know what I mean? It's one of those things where it's extremely flattering. And it's a lot of fun to sort of be out there and "Wow, I don't have a movie in the theatre right now, but they're still thinking of me." And that's really, really nice. And to be a part of that. But, you know, wait till they see this one. And wait till they see He Was a Quiet Man. And, you know, I gotta find myself a romantic comedy, immediately. Otherwise, I'll be off that list really quick.

G: Have you ever had any trouble keeping the boundaries between you and your fans?

EC: No. My fans are actually really great. You can tell that people may notice or—I think you create your surroundings when you're in this spotlight in a certain position. You sort of [are] comfortable with it or not be comfortable with it. And I'm certainly not experiencing what Tom Cruise is experiencing. But I definitely feel like if someone comes up and asks for a photo, I'm not uncomfortable with that. And they're really great. They don't bug me when I'm in the bathroom. And they don't bug me when I eat. And if they do, then that's fine. So it's all very relative. But it's good.

G: Well, I'm sure you're going to keep steadily climbing.

EC: I hope so, geez. Thank you. It's nice talking with you.

[For Groucho's review of The Quiet, click here, and for his interview with Jamie Babbit, click here.]

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