October 28th, 2012

The Monster’s Within: LF Meets... Michael Eklund & Eron Sheean

By Dan Collacott

Errors of the Human Body recently premiered in the UK at Frightfest, a dark and cautionary tale about genetics and the destructive nature of grief. The film has also garnered great critical acclaim globally and is one of the sleeper hits of 2012 (and my personal favourite). IFC Midnight haved landed the distribution rights for the film so look out for a full release soon.

Eron Sheean, writer of pitch-black apocalyptic horror The Divide, returns as director. Sheean also cast Divide star Michael Eklund as tragic lead, Dr Geoff Burton, a scientist whose life collapses after he loses his son to a rare genetic disorder. 

The story follows Geoff as he returns to the world-renowned Institute for Molecular Cell Biology & Genetics in Dresden. He teams up with former colleague and lover Rebekka (played by a superb Karoline Herfurth) on their top-secret project - a human regeneration gene. Geoff soon finds himself trying to uncover a conspiracy at the Institute, whilst wresling with his own demons, relationships and past. Watch for a cameo from our own Rik Mayall also! 

The film is beautifully shot within the clinical and snowy surrounds of The Max Planck Institute in Dresden. Much of Geoff’s back-story is told through flash backs that blur between past and present, which in turn keep the pain raw and at the forefront.

The scripting, dialogue and pacing are all measured with a sense of thoughtful calm. The film relies as much on powerful, silent visuals as it does dialogue, to deliver the emotion of the piece. One example of this is when Geoff silently screams in the cold night air, an action that exemplifies his isolation and suffering. Errors is a deeply psychological film that artistically balances horror and drama, building tension slowly until the intensity and cruelty of the morality distorting final act arrives.

We were privileged enough to catch up with director/writer Eron Sheean and actor Michael Eklund to talk about Errors, The Divide and their careers to date.

What was the highlight of working with Michael and what made you cast him as Geoff?

Eron: Watching him perform everyday was a highlight! I cast Michael for a number of reasons, primarily he’s a brilliant actor and importantly a great collaborator and very committed. Also I knew he could bring sensitivity and commitment to the role of a complex and burdened man.

Can you tell us a little about the filming of Errors, what it was like to work with the other actors and what Eron was like as a director?

Michael: The experience of making Errors will always be a marking point on the timeline of evolution as myself as a person, an artist, portrait artist, and becoming a man personally.  Making Errors occurred at a very specific time for me. Filming the movie was a creative outlet in the truest form, and that was also because of all the other actors involved. I was surrounded by so much inspiration. It came in different sizes, colours, personalities, and ethnicities... and that is why making Errors was special. To be part of something defined by so much passion, heart, dedication, was eye opening for me. I learned more, and I grew more as an actor and as a person. This passion spilled over to all of the crew as well.  There are only a handful of gems from an experience point of view that come your way in your career and Errors was definitely one of those shining gems. I had no idea that I was going to find that rare treasure I was searching for all the way out in Dresden Germany. All of the other actors were masters of their craft and the crew was no exception. We had a variety of people from all walks of life and experience levels and the combination of everyone made this experience unforgettable. 

What was it like teaming up again?

Working with Eron again was exciting for us both. Our first collaboration was on the film The Divide. Immediately we had a positive, professional and communicative working relationship. Our artistic minds and creative sides work very similarly. We don’t need to speak many words when speaking. Sometimes it is just done with a look... but we understand each other.  So working with Eron on Errors was like coming home. In more ways than one. Eron's mind works on another level. His eye picks up on things that cannot be seen.  And the exciting part is that Eron has just started cracking his surface, and when that surface and his creative head opens fully I want to be there working with him to see what spills out.

Geoff looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders; there is a sadness and burden conveyed just by your movement and physicality. Eron said you visited the families of those who had lost their children to build the character. Can you tell me more about what it took to get into the mind and body of the character? 

Michael: This was a huge undertaking. And probably the most emotionally and unemotionally driven role I have had to bury myself into in my career. It was important to me and Eron to get it right.  There is sadness and a dark cloud that follows Geoff. He cannot run from it no matter how hard he tries or how far he runs, even to Dresden Germany. I rooted myself in my own life walking this cloud.  This limbo state... almost like a bad dream. Focusing on my own pain and loss.  I have never had to go through the events Geoff has had to deal with in his life, but there were parallels in other ways. Building a character such as this one was challenging.  I cannot say it was an internally happy experience playing Geoff, but there was a responsibility there that I took upon myself to portray a character going through the process of handling and not handling grief.  Riding that balance was challenging and rewarding. Taking on the guilt, sadness, pain, and suffering involved with playing Geoff always takes a toll on your own psyche.  But I understood the foreign feeling of a man at a cross roads in his life and finding himself running from his past. As well as the choices he has made and the consequences that come with those choices.  It took absolute everything from me.

Did the final edit or Errors surpass the vision you had for the film?

Eron: Yes, because you have something in your head, but if you remain too fixed on that you miss what’s in front of your eyes. It’s a little like relying on storyboards too much and missing better opportunities for staging and shots and taking in what the actors bring to the choreography. Also working with my fantastic editor Patrick Wilfert, we would find new ways to combine and change things. That said there are always things in your head you will never rise to.

The cinematography is very beautiful; yet full of hauntingly sterile shades of white and grey, can you tell me more about the aesthetics?

Eron: The film’s aesthetic is really born out of the location, as is the story, so it only makes sense that this is the look of the film. Also, it best suits Geoff’s state of mind and sense of isolation. But the film is not just this as it progresses the colours warms up and the sterility changes.

Tell us more about filming at the Max Planck Institute?

Michael: Filming at the Max Planck Institute was an honour.  They opened their doors to us and allowed us to shoot the film in the institute while they were all working.  There is a very realistic look to the film and that is because of this.  With out the generosity of everyone there we would not have a movie.  I would also like to give a special thank you to Jussi Helppi who was my personal mouse-handling trainer and technical expert.  Jussi represents only one of the many at the Max Planck Institute that helped us so much.  Friends were made on this movie, friends for life...and that is the best way to describe what it was like filming at the Max Planck Institute. 

You and Karoline Herfurth seemed to have a very natural on screen chemistry, what was it like to work with her?

Michael: Ahhhh.... sweet Karoline.  Our chemistry was very real.  She is a true artist and beautiful soul.  Another friend for life.

Is there any of you and your experiences within the character of Geoff?

Michael: There is always a large amount of myself in every role I play.  Obviously the stakes are different and the degrees of experience in my own life varies. But the is always a large part of yourself being stripped away in front of the cameras, you feel naked at times.  You feel beaten down and exposed.  I just release those parts of me and tell the story of the character.  With a talented director like Eron by your side you know you are safe to do so.  And he does the rest.

What was the most difficult scene in Errors to film?

Michael: The moments that I find most rewarding always seem to be the most challenging.  The final sequence when Geoff is alone and strips off his outer layers and burns his last source of connection and lifeline to his wife before he does the unthinkable….. was by far the most difficult.  The attempt to act to the best of your abilities and go to that darkest place imaginable required, can be absolute torture.  To understand and feel the mental state of giving up so much, all that you have, and giving up the last gift you have, the gift of life, as well in the conditions we were shooting in will always be the moment in Errors I will look back on and remember. It was where I left a part of myself, there with Geoff’s departure into his darkness and grief. 

Errors is hard to pin down in terms of genre, how do you describe the film?

Michael: Thats why Errors is special.  It doesn’t have a specific box to be put in.  Errors at its core is a drama with a realistic science fiction edge.

Errors has been likened to the Cronenberg short Crimes of the Future, which is a pretty obscure reference to be honest but are there any films that inspired Errors or The Divide specifically or your work in general?

Eron: Yeah, that is obscure; I don’t recall the film that well. My taste is too varied to pin point one influence over another to be honest. I guess I like filmmakers that tackle tough material and create unique cinematic worlds with a distinct voice…

Errors touches on the boundaries of ethics and how science interferes in nature, where do you think we should draw the line in terms of what we do to 

A) Find a cure for a disease or illness 

B) Ensure our children are genetically perfect or designer? 

Michael: I say whatever works.  Push the envelope.  If science can make our world a better place with out hurting anyone in the process than go for it.  Our minds and imaginations are infinitely boundless. But what do I know about such things? I am just an actor that rents his body out to people to tell stories.

What was the hardest part of making Errors and what did you enjoy the most? 

Eron: Hardest part was getting it off the ground! And shooting in freezing conditions in the middle of winter in Dresden, Germany. I enjoyed seeing the crew having a good time (not always) realising their own creative visions for the film. I love being in a room with all the ladies making the costumes with their espresso machine!

How did the acting process and methods change between playing Geoff and Bobby in The Divide?   

Michael: The acting process was very different between the two films. Eron always writes the most emotionally complex characters for me to play. Which is exciting. As an actor you have to be able to adapt to the different styles of the films you work on. These two films couldn’t be more different.  In the Divide there was a lot of freedom to explore the characters while we were making the movie due to the luxury of shooting in chronological order. On Errors we didn’t have that freedom but it was a different tone of film. The work had to be ready to go before hand. Geoff and Bobby were two different types of emotionally destroyed people.  They both had to handled differently. They both share the theme of loss but in very different ways.  With Geoff the work had to start before hand with the research of a man going through that kind of pain and loss where as Bobby it was found in the process of shooting. Two different films and two very different characters.  But both my most fun and challenging characters to play. 

The soundtrack is many ways superb because it is very understated and doesn't mask or overbear any of the horror or drama. Yet it is very effective and helps punctuate the moments between the narrative, can you tell me a little more about this? 

Eron: We tried to blend music and sound design in such a way that it was often indistinguishable yet we also wanted to use bold acoustic and electronic arrangements that comes namely from Anthony Pateras, the composer and Christina Meyer who composed additional music. I also recorded a lot of atmospheres of the lap equipment and the institute atmospheres to make it feel alive, as it really is a character in the story with its machines humming all night. There are also a lot of abstract sounds such as acutonic forks, which are kind of like a tuning fork used for ‘sound healing’ that create this perfect harmonic tone. We used those to a subliminal effect throughout because they are supposedly tuned to the frequencies of different planets and therefore represent different emotional states; at least that’s what I’m told. Either way it was a cool device.

What has been your most challenging role to date?

Michael: By far my most challenging roles to play have been Bobby from The Divide and Geoff Burton from Errors of the Human Body.  Both of which written by Eron.  I can’t wait to see what he writes next!  I also completed a film called The Hive starring myself, Halle Berry and Abigale Breslin in which that character was also a fantastic challenge.  Another trip to the emotional dark side.  I will need my own professional therapy soon after playing these characters.  HAHA.

Geoff is broken by the sacrifices he has to make for his son and the tragedy that surrounds that situation, do you sympathise with his situation and do you think you would also go to extreme lengths to save a love one?

Michael: Of course I sympathize with someone like Geoff. The amount of pressure, stress, guilt, heart ache, and grief someone like him has gone through and continues to go through, you have to sympathise with him, especially me who had to play a character like that. It is not my place to judge others or the characters I play.  I can analyse but never judge. And as far as to whether I would go through the same extreme lengths to save a loved one or at least help a loved one..... I hope I wont ever have to find out.  But I would do whatever the loved ones asked of me if it helped them.  I do know that.

You and Milo were very convincing brothers in The Divide, did either of you base that relationship on a relationship in real life or did it come about naturally?

Michael: Ahhh my boy Milo.  Let me first start by saying that Milo Ventimiglia rocks!  The relationship that was captured on film during The Divide only seemed convincing because the same camera was catching the real life friendship we developed while making The Divide.  Our relationship was not based on anything else other than the friendship that was formed naturally on screen.  Which is always the best way. 

After The Divide and the upcoming film The Day being both apocalyptic. What do you thing would wipe out humanity first, nuclear war, rise of the machines, aliens, virus/zombies, global warming and dwindling resources, natural disaster including meteorite collision? 

Michael: None of the above.  My answer is ourselves.  We do it everyday.  

What made you want to get into acting and what was your first break?

Michael: I saw my first movie when I was five years old.  It was Lassie Come Home.  It was my first movie theatre going experience and I found it magical, that was the beginning.  My first break was meeting a girl who told me it was possible to be an actor.  My first break was falling in love with that girl and believing her.

You have starred in a some of the most successful sci-fi TV series of the last decade, what were and are your favourites? Also what would be your dream role in sci-fi, film, series (including reboots)? 

Michael: I have been very fortunate.  Again it goes back to the character and their complexities.  My roles on JJ Abrams Fringe as Milo and Alcatraz as Kit Nelson are two of my favourites.  You are as good as the character, story/writer and director you have. I have been blessed to work with the best.  I don’t have a dream role. They are all dream roles.  Each and every one of them big or small.  

What's next? What are your ambitions for the future? 

Michael: My ambitions for the future are to continue to grow, change, explore, and evolve.  Anything else would be my own error to my human body. 

Eron: I have two films that I feel very passionate about at different stages of development, both as complex and hopefully as powerful, if I can be so bold. One is a ghost story about a war photographer and the other is from a British writer about Trepanation, where people drill holes in their head to cure depression, it’s very crazy – a horror love story satire.