Offering to nobly help a stranger who you just met try to achieve their goal, particularly when their plans have the potential to put your life in danger, comes with an alluring romanticism that implies you’re an upstanding citizen. But when your bohemian lifestyle, particularly your lack of connection to any particular community, is ultimately revealed, your initial willingness to help and sense of selfless become ambiguous. That captivating debate of a person’s true motives and intentions is compellingly presented in Taylor Kinney’s character, Aiden, in the new supernatural thriller, ‘The Forest.’

The psychological horror film grippingly explores Aiden’s dark psychological nuances as he offers to help the lead character, a struggling American woman, find her missing twin in Japan in a seemingly selfless way. Kinney effortlessly infused Aiden with a questionable debate of whether he truly wants to help her find her sister, or if he’s solely using her to further his own ideas, in ‘The Forest,’ which will be released in theaters nationwide on Friday by Gramercy Pictures. The at-times suspicious and vague motives of the movie’s lead male character were not only developed by the versatile actor, but also by intriguing first-time feature film director, Jason Zada, and resourceful and skilled producer David S. Goyer, who also came up with the initial idea for the story.

‘The Forest’ follows a young American woman, Sara (Natalie Dormer), who journeys to the Aokigahara Forest in search of her twin sister, Jess (also played by Dormer), who has mysteriously disappeared. Once again frustrated at the irresponsible behavior of her twin, who took on a teaching job in Tokyo, Sara makes the 6,000-mile trip to Japan to try to find her, much to the concern of her husband, Rob (Eoin Macken).

After visiting the school where Jess teaches, Sara determinedly sets out to search the title forest, where her sister was last seen. Before embarking on her search, Sara meets a charismatic and expatriate journalist, Aiden (Kinney), at her hotel. She agrees to let him accompany her on her journey, and agrees he can write about their journey in an article he’s working on about the Aokigahara Forest. The two are aided by forest guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). He searches the area every few days for bodies, as the forest is historically associated with demons in Japanese mythology, and is a notoriously common suicide site. While their guide tries to persuade Sara to not stay in the forest overnight, she’s determined to continue her search for Jess, particularly after finding her tent and belongings.

Aiden agrees to stay with Sara throughout the night, during which time her sense of reality becomes increasingly distorted by the forest’s malevolent spirits, who are making her question reality. Still determined to discover Jess’ fate, she is forced to face the angry and tormented souls of the dead that prey on anyone who dares to approach them. Sara even begins questioning her guide’s motives, as a result of the influence of the spirits that are waiting for her at every turn. Her persistent drive to find her twin plunges her into a frightening darkness from which she must fight to save herself.

Kinney generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘The Forest’ during an exclusive interview at New York City’s Essex House Hotel. Among other things, the actor discussed how he became interested in playing Aiden in the supernatural thriller after he met Zada, and they discussed the things that intrigued and excited the actor about the character, and what he thought he could bring to the role. Kinney also explained that he also enjoyed working with Dormer on the movie, and embraced their decision to allow Aiden and Sara’s relationship to naturally form on screen after the characters meet, instead of mainly building it during rehearsals.

ShockYa (SY): You star as Aiden, the tour guide who volunteers to take a young American woman, Sara, into the Aokigahara Forest in Japan to search for her twin sister, who has mysteriously disappeared. What was it about the character, as well as the screenplay, that convinced you to take on the role in ‘The Forest?’

Taylor Kinney (TK): I received the script and then met with Jason Zada, our director, and we started bouncing ideas off of each other. We spoke about things that intrigued and excited me about the character of Aiden, and what I thought I could bring to the role. We also discussed the things I liked, as well as the elements that I didn’t like. I also knew that Natalie was attached, which also interested me in taking part in the film. So between Natalie being a part of the movie, and my meeting with Jason going well, I said “Yes, I’d like to be involved.”

SY: Speaking of talking to ‘The Forest’s director, Jason Zada, what was your collaborate with him like as you began developing Aiden’s backstory and inspirations?

TK: Jason has the qualities that I look for in a director. I like that the lines of communication were so open that I could voice my opinion. I also like having a director who pushes you to take chances, and says, “Try this and see if that works.” That’s as much as I can ask in a director.

SY: Once you were cast as Aiden, how did you form your on-screen working relationship with Natalie, who plays the film’s main character, Sara, as well as her twin sister, Jess?

TK: I loved working with Natalie-she’s a sweetheart! I didn’t know too much about her when we started working on the movie, but I did know a few things about her from some of her film work. So I was excited to be able to work with her. We didn’t meet each other before we started working together, so we didn’t know if the chemistry was going to be there on camera. But it ended up working out well-I really had a good time working with her. Given the opportunity, I’d love to work with her again.

SY: Since Aiden meets Sara for the first time on screen, did you have rehearsal time with Natalie before you began filming to build their initial chemistry? Or did you feel it was more beneficial to have your characters’ relationship develop on screen, and not have as much rehearsal?

TK: That’s exactly how we built our characters’ relationship. We said hi to each other in passing before we began filming, but we didn’t spend a lot of time rehearsing together, just so that we could keep their relationship fresh. Our characters initially meet in a bar in Japan. The first time we really started working on the characters’ connection was while we were filming that scene. We figured everything out in front of the camera, and we couldn’t ask for a better situation.

SY: Since the movie’s story is based on the lure of the real Aokigahara mythology, what type of research did you do into that folklore before you began filming?

TK: I watched a Vice documentary on YouTube that follows a journalist who goes into the forest. That documentary was really beneficial and helpful. I know that Natalie and Jason went to Japan for about two weeks, and filmed some scenes there. Natalie was able to go to the real forest, but I wasn’t able to go. So my research was limited to my computer, (laughs) and what I could find to read.

SY: While the majority of the supernatural thriller is set in Japan, particularly the Aokigahara Forest and Tokyo, many of the film’s scenes, particularly the interiors, were shot in Serbia. What was your experience like of filming on location in Serbia, and having the sets stand in for Japan?

TK: (laughs) I started laughing because my mom was telling my friends and other family members, “Oh, Taylor’s making a film in Siberia.” (laughs) But I loved filming there. I film my show, ‘Chicago Fire,’ in Chicago, so I’m there for about nine or ten months out of the year. So making this film in Serbia was a welcome departure and change.

I grew up as a country kid, and I love being outside. So this movie was a treat for me. I love shooting outside on location. We had some nice weather, especially since we had a lot of night shoots. The mosquitoes were a bit much, but other than that, I really loved the experience.

SY: Since ‘Th Fores’ is a psychological thriller, what was the experience of mixing Aiden and Sara’s emotional journey, along with the physical challenges they face, in the forest? Overall, do you enjoy films that mix the psychological elements with the physical scares?

TK: Yes, I do. I grew up watching films based on Stephen King novels, like ‘Cujo’ ‘Pet Sematary’ and ‘The Shining.’ I also watched movies like ‘The Amityville Horror,’ ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘Halloween,’ which always stuck with me. Those movies are more cerebral than gory slasher films.

I like the idea of engaging in what you’re watching, and thinking about what’s happening. You ask, what is this character up to, and what is the outcome? You either get excited when you’re right, or you’re surprised if there’s a completely different outcome. I’m a fan of those types of films, so ‘The Forest’ was more up my alley. So you’re right; I do consider this to be more of a psychological thriller than a horror film.

SY: While the film is a psychological thriller, it does incorporate some laughs into the story, as well. Do you feel it’s beneficial to also infuse some humor into such an emotionally-driven story?

TK: Yes, I think it’s a full ride of all different kinds of emotions, and I’m glad to hear that people are picking up on that. I saw an early cut of the movie, so I don’t think they had the sound completely mixed, or all of the special effects included in it yet. I watched it by myself, so I also didn’t get to experience it with an audience.

But I would like to sneak into a theater and watch it with a full audience. I’m interested to see what they shriek, jump and laugh at, because I think we did a great job with all of those elements. I also think they did a really terrific job with the special effects make-up for the yureis.

I think the goal for a film like this is that people will see it with a group of friends and have a good night out, and talk about it afterward. Hopefully it creates a debate or conversation, and people will say, “What did you think of this? I thought it meant this! I didn’t expect this to end that way!” I think that’s what you can ask for when you make a film like this, as well as having the audience be entertained by it.

SY: Also peaking of ‘The Forest’s sound, how important do you think the score is for a psychological thriller like this one?

TK: I definitely do think it’s important, which is why it has its own category during awards season. Sound mixing for a film like this one is paramount-you need it, as it sets everything up.

SY: ‘The Forest’ features intriguing stunts, particularly once Sara and Aiden enter Aokigahara to look for her twin sister. Did you perform the stunts for the supernatural thriller, and how did you approach the physicality of the role?

TK: I do like performing my own stunts-I’m a kid at heart. I always liked being outside and wrestling with my brothers, as well as riding bikes, including dirt bikes and four wheelers. So anytime I get a chance to do stunts, I will do as many as the production will let me.

SY: Besides movies, you’re also known for starring on such television series as ‘Chicago Fire,’ which you mentioned earlier, and ‘The Vampire Diaries.’ How does your approach to working on a character on a long-running show compare and contrast to how you prepare for a film role?

TK: Well, with films, I think you get a little bit more time to develop your character, since TV moves more quickly and at a faster pace. Also, I think television is more of a writer’s medium, while film is more of a director’s medium. So I can invest more in my relationship with my director in film. I can ask, “What do you think about this and that?” So as an actor, I think I can get a little bit more of a creative license on films.

Interview Taylor Kinney Talks The Forest (Exclusive)
Taylor Kinney stars as Aiden in Jason Zada’s ‘The Forest,’ a Gramercy Pictures release.
Credit: James Dittiger/Gramercy Pictures

Written by: Karen Benardello

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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