Tucker & Dale vs. Evil has been a massive hit on the festival circuit, even nabbing the coveted Midnight Audience Award at this year’s SXSW. The horror-comedy involves two best friends who, while on vacation at their mountain cabin, are mistaken as backwoods murderers by a group of preppy college kids … with gloriously gory results.
The film marks the directorial debut of Eli Craig, who hit the jackpot in casting his perfectly-paired leads: Alan Tudyk, known for his roles in Firefly, Serenity and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, as Tucker, and Tyler Labine, now appearing in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as Dale.
In a conversation indicative of the fantastic (and rare) chemistry between actor and director, we sat down with Craig, Tudyk and Labine at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss the film’s inspirations, preparations and especially notable collaborations (PBR as a salve, anyone?).
Spinoff: Tucker & Dale has garnered Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead comparisons – what do you guys make of that?
Craig: I think the hard part is there’s nothing really quite to compare it to. It’s a different type of horror-comedy, really. The comedy comes first in this. People compare it a lot to Shaun of the Dead because that’s the easiest reference. I mean, it’s one of the funniest horror-comedies made in a long time … but it’s very different, it’s very much more of an American sensibility. The humor is broader, it’s more like … physical humor.
Spinoff: And Eli, this is your first feature – so what kinds of influences were you pulling from for this, or were you trying to do something completely different?
Craig: I wanted to try to do something different, but, you know, it’s … I looked at everything, I used to be a big fan … I still am a big fan of Evil Dead, but when I was younger I watched it kind of obsessively.
Spinoff: What do you think about the Evil Dead remake?
Craig: I dunno -- I’m excited. I would love to see what Sam Raimi does with it now, because he’s had so much experience as a filmmaker – it’d be a blast to see, with a big budget, with all the scenes…
Labine: Is he remaking it?
Spinoff: No, there’s a first-time director attached but Diablo Cody is polishing the script.
Labine: Woah, oh – many emotions coming up now. So it’s gonna be, like, esoteric and wordy and too cool for school. (laughs)
Craig: To me, you can’t ruin an earlier movie by having something else that’s different. You can’t. You can’t take away what Evil Dead is already.
Spinoff: See also: the Star Wars prequels.
Craig: Right? Star Wars is still awesome!
Spinoff: So how did you zone in on these two guys to play the leads?
Craig: Tyler and I met about a month before shooting. I dunno [to Tyler], how did you originally get the script?
Labine: I got it sent to me through my Canadian agent…I remember I read it and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is really, really funny,’ but I wasn’t sure. I had never heard of Eli and … he happened to be in Vancouver, and I met with him in Vancouver and … I mean, I loved what he wanted to do with it, I loved the script and honestly we were both kind of taking a chance on each other. I’m not exactly a well-known film actor…
Craig: …and I was saying, “You know, you’re not auditioning, you’re not doing anything. I want you to play the lead.” And I mean at that time in your career it must’ve been a little unusual …
Labine: It was totally unusual!
Craig: But I wanted Tyler – I’d had an obsession with him for a while.
Spinoff: And how did you get Alan on board?
Craig: Well, this is the luck really of filmmaking … Alan came to us – I dunno – three days maybe before … he met Tyler.
Tudyk: I arrived a week before we started.
Craig: But you were hired the end of the week before the week we started shooting. But really Alan had read the script, and we had some casting issues with Tucker. You know, obviously an important character. And so Alan read the script and basically thought … What did you say that you thought when you read it?
Tudyk: Well we talked on the phone, and my main question to him was how the comedy was going to play out. I’ve seen comedy-horrors – you can think of ... Scary Movie-type horror movies – that’s one style of comedy. If these guys are actually reacting to these crazy things that are very funny to an audience member but it’s not funny to them – they’re not goofing on it, but to watch it be funny … and Eli was absolutely like, “You play it like somebody just jumped into a wood chipper.”
Craig: I’m so glad it made sense in that phone conversation!
Spinoff: Were you nervous?
Craig: Hell, yeah! And you know, there’s so much going on – it was in the middle of pre-production and I remember getting off the phone and going, “I just sounded like an idiot!” (laughs)
Spinoff: Did he sound like an idiot?
Tudyk: No, I got done and called my agent and was like, “Absolutely!”
Labine: Same with me!
Craig: But it’s also this thing with actors … you know, I want to be very clear what I’m doing but I don’t want to reach too hard … because I feel like if you act like you’re desperate nobody wants to. It’s like wooing a pretty girl.
Labine: In our meeting … it was pretty cute, actually. You showed up with like a binder with like photos and stuff and it was like – it was just at that level where I was like, “Aw, look at this …”
Craig: He’s a geek!
Labine: (laughs) “… he wants to make a good-looking film.” And it was the furthest thing from looking like an idiot, it wasn’t desperate.
Tudyk: He had a bottle of pre-mixed cosmos sent over, which I then poured into a nice, big martini glass with the umbrellas and all the extra things in it and I drank it as we did the phone call. And it was like wooing me!
Craig: It was a trip, though, because we had one day of rehearsal. One day!
Labine: It wasn’t really rehearsal. It was like…sitting around, reading. We talked.
Tudyk: We got so much done in that afternoon!
Craig: It was a killer day – he [Alan] came up with the idea beer – in particular Pabst Blue Ribbon – healed all wounds. Like, both psychologically and physically. So whenever he was injured he would be using this as a salve. There’s these little details that both these guys came up with.
Spinoff: It’s like duct tape, only you can get drunk off it!
All: (laugh) Totally!
Spinoff: So, Eli, your actors really contributed to your script – to the point where they added some of their own ideas in.
Craig: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I’m very open – come up with the funniest idea that’s in the script. So it’s helpful to work with funny people.
Tudyk: That’s not usual, either, for a writer-director, especially. I’ve worked with some writer-directors who, they’re very precious with their words because they brought this thing on a journey that you have not witnessed and it finally got to this place where … they’re working on it longer than you can imagine and you want to come in and go, “Right. I don’t want to say any of this. I’m going to say something else.” And, you know, there can be a lot of … proprietorial angst.
Labine: You can see their heads spinning. It’s like, “Oh. Is that so?” [To Eli] It’s not like you didn’t have any of that, though – the things that you wanted to stick to … we did battle a little bit from time to time … and the ones he really wanted to stick with he stuck with and I think it paid off.
Craig: Or sometimes you just say – usually for me I’ll let an actor do it their way first and then see how it works. And if it works, great, then fine. But sometimes I’ll bring them back around to my side – usually if they get to try it once…
Labine: … That makes us sound so immature, like, so dumb … like … you gotta let an actor have his bone for a minute, you know … then take it back … (all laugh) Now we’ll do it the right way.
Spinoff: Tyler and Alan – how did you prepare to take on these hillbilly-type roles? Did you call upon any personal experience or do any method acting?
Labine: I learned how to be a hillbilly from impersonating Alan Tudyk. (all laugh)
Tudyk: I’m from Texas and I have some very rural roots and – they’re good old boys – they weren’t full-on hillbillies, they’re a couple guys who like to go fishin’. And I definitely know people who are a couple guys who like to go fishin’ and that’s the beautiful simplicity of their lives. And so the accent, and all of that …
Labine: … That was funny because we both tried to reach for the West Virginia thing and Alan said, basically, “I know I’m going to fall back on my Texas accent,” and I was like, “Well, I have to sound like you! We can’t have two different accents!” So I just … I’d been studying this West Virginia accent tape … and we watched some YouTube videos and we were like, “You know what? Let’s just go with what we know, which is authentic.” So I really just mimicked his accent.
Spinoff: Did you guys hang out at all to get in character as these two “good old boy” best friends?
Labine: As soon as we met we basically started hanging out.
Tudyk: We had a couple of beers and figured out where our characters were from, their whole backstory. And just started getting into it, like, working right away because we didn’t have much time but that’s … that again is not a normal thing. Usually people go, “Oh, I’ll be in my hotel. Let’s get to it later.”
Labine: Yeah! And we weren’t even staying in the same hotel, I was over at like another part of town and I remember at one point we looked at each other and we were like, “Shit! This is what actors do man! This is good!”
Spinoff: Well, this was a smaller shoot – you guys were working in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, right?
Craig: Yeah, and let me ask Alan a question: When you work on Transformers, for instance, what is the difference in the work style on a movie that size and that scope?
Tudyk: Every process is different. I mean, that’s the Michael Bay world, so … there is a lot of writing and rewriting, it just happens on the day when money’s burning. And [on Tucker & Dale] we didn’t have that luxury. We had to get everything we had to do that day. There’s no, “We’ll get it tomorrow.” And even if we hadn’t solved what we were going to do about the problem – there were things we’d flagged in our one rehearsal day – we knew they were an issue. We were all approaching the day with ideas. The only problems I’ve had on movies is when you don’t have a day with the script when you do what we did. Because what happens is you show up on the day and people go, “OK, I have an idea, I have an idea, I have an idea.” Everybody brings their ideas, and you waste your day.
Spinoff: It sounds like it kills the chemistry, too.
Tudyk: Well, if you have the time like we did, everybody lays their stuff out and bats it around a little bit, sometimes good ideas rise to the surface, other things falls to the wayside and by the time you get there those ideas have even morphed into other things.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil arrives on Video On Demand Aug. 26 and in theaters Sept. 30.