Many have used film as a way to inform the masses know about the many injustices that are taking place, whether it’d be on a national or global scale. The need to let them know about what’s going wrong in the world today through film continues on with “The East.”
In the film we’re exposed to a group of individuals who make it their civic duty to inform and in some ways protect many from the dangers of the corrupt corporations that take advantage of the system. Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page play a couple of the outspoken activists who strive to make their nation a better place through their own secret, and quite illegal, actions. As they continue their plans to target and severely damage the corporations who make it their agenda in their eyes to royally screw the American people, a double agent (Brit Marling) joins their ranks in order to take them down but then sees how right they may be in their actions. Much like their characters, Skarsgård and Page are both very much opinionated on the crooked dealings that are happening in the real world and how important they believe this film to be.
Ellen Page: First and foremost, it’s such a beautifully written script. It’s so suspenseful, entertaining, thrilling, but also brought to the forefront so many of the ideas that I’m already so interested in. And then a role like Izzy who’s incredibly obviously frustrated and angry about all the injustices that she sees in the world, but then to have the incredible personal, emotional connection in the story she has? As an actor it’s such a joy to be able to explore that.
As you were reading the script for the first time, did you have any idea what Izzy’s driving force was and what it was revealed to be?
Ellen Page: None and that’s a test of something that’s so well-written, similar with how wonderful “Sound of My Voice” was and how intriguing that was. Izzy’s story in particular creates such a sort of an emotionally devastating and unsettling — especially near the end of the film, for me that was obviously so intriguing.
Are you aware or intrigued by the possible corruption of corporations within America today?
Alexander Skarsgård: I find it very interesting and I think today, more than ever, they’re not being held accountable. I think with all the money and all the power that comes with that, and with citizens united, I think it’s made it even more difficult for the little guy to get his voice heard and to fight the big corporations and to get justice. Of course they’re not all bad and that’s not what we’re saying. It’s important to stress that it’s not, in this film and that’s what I think what’s so brilliant about the script is that it wasn’t preachy. I didn’t feel like they were trying to shove their opinion down my throat when I read the script. It wasn’t like oh, she works for the bad corporations and she meets these renegades who lives out in the woods and then she realizes that they’re the good guys and the corporations are bad. It’s much more than that and it’s much more complicated than that. It made me think yeah, of course it’s good that they’re being held accountable, because they’re not really. With all that money they bought Washington, that’s just the way it is. They buy all the lobbyist so they buy power in a way and they’re able to elect senators and people that basically will do whatever they tell them to. That’s just a reality of our system, which is dangerous.
Benji, Izzy and this group want justice, but what’s so interesting about it is what’s okay? How far are you willing to go? Is it okay to hurt someone? Benji is one of the most militant of the group and he’s like an eye for an eye if that’s what we’re dealing with here, but do you really believe that? And that’s what creates a lot of tension within the group. And that’s kind of what happens with their underground in that group, where actually some are willing to kill for. I think the fact that it’s not a homogenous group where we’re The East and we’re fighting for a just cause and Sarah, like the good old stockholm syndrome, falls in love with a guy and accepts their beliefs, it’s much more complicated than that. Even at the end of the film, they don’t agree on everything.
How did you go about into creating the character of Benji? Was it purely your own creation or was it more influenced by what the director and writers wanted?
Alexander Skarsgård: It’s important to him that he’s not the leader of the group. That it’s not a cult. It’s not him and his followers. In the first moment he has with Sarah when she’s taking off, she’s like “Oh you and your followers” and he’s very adamant in the fact that he doesn’t have any followers. That scares him. Hierarchy scares him. I think The East is a functioning democracy where they all vote on everything, and per definition if you have a leader in a cult and you follow that person, he wants you to think independently and wants you to question everything. I think that’s his idea. He wants you to wake up and stand up for your opinion. I think that’s what he finds attractive about Sarah in a way because when she comes she asks all the questions and she won’t just surrender and ask “tell me what you want me to do.” In terms of finding the character, it’s all about obviously reading the script, talking to the director, talking to the ones involved and then coming up with a thousand ideas in your head about who he is and 99% will be crap and hopefully you’ll find a couple of good ones and then that’ll be your foundation for the character.
Do you think folks need to be more aware of what’s going on with corruption in the corporate world?
Ellen Page: I think it’s hard because a lot of the information is so profoundly protected. When you make a movie like “The East” and people call it an idea movie it’s like well, no. This is all of the stuff that’s going on, we’re just making a movie about it. A movie that offers a different window of looking at it and a different perspective. I think people who work and being alive and paying your bills and feeding your kids is hard. It’s hard to have the space. Quite frankly, I’m in a privileged position to think about things, to read about things and to educate myself about things. A lot of people just don’t have the time. A single mom living in Detroit with kids is probably just doing what she can and it’s difficult. Do I think it would be better that people knew the atrocities that Monsanto commits or the influence of corporate money in government or government subsidies for our current food system that’s a disaster and not sustainable? Yes. That would be really great, but a lot of that information unless you look for it, it’s not available to you because that’s not the discussion that’s happening on mainstream news.
The collective of The East as a whole, the characters are all integrated. How did all of you get together? What did you do to establish the group’s relationship?
Ellen Page: It was pretty immediate and organic really.
Alexander Skarsgård: We became The East. We would not attack corporations per say, but we’d spend weekends together, cook, dance and hang out. I also think it comes from Zal [Batmanglij] and Brit [Marling] with their enthusiasm. That’s what got me excited in the first place, just meeting them. They’re so intelligent, so warm and generous and they love the collaborative process of inviting us in. There’s no ego. They wrote the script, but they’re like “All right, let’s just get rid of this scene. Let’s try it this way” and the love that process. I think we all do as well and it just created an atmosphere on set not only among the actors but with the crew. I’ve never experienced crew that were so… every single person was so excited about the project and cared so much about the characters. You would shoot a scene and after lunch the grip would come up to me or the make-up artist and be like “That’s interesting but why would Benji do that?” They really cared about the story and that comes from Zal and Brit, their enthusiasm of doing this together. We do this because we love it.
“The East” is out in theaters now.