Director Mark Tonderai has to be thrilled with his The House at the End of the Street and its tie atop the box office this past weekend. Movie Fanatic caught up with the horror film’s helmer in Hollywood for an exclusive chat to talk about his number one film, the glory of stars Jennifer Lawrence and Max Thieriot as well as what filmmakers inspired him to pick up a camera and make a life of it!
Movie Fanatic: How do you craft a twist in a film without people seeing it coming, while it still makes sense?
Mark Tonderai: It’s hard. You don’t want to give away too much and you want to make sure the clues aren’t too oblique because then people aren’t going to get it.
Movie Fanatic: This film has been done for over a year now. How validating is it to have it open and hit?
Mark Tonderai: It’s really hard to have a film finished over a year ago -- sitting there because people don’t know. You get work by more work. It’s been really difficult because no one can see what I can do. They can’t see the scope of the release. They can’t see anything. So it’s been a really difficult year for me. I know the film’s good. I know it plays well. I know it’s good and I know people are going to like it if they give it a chance. So it’s been really frustrating to sit here.
Movie Fanatic: Well, now it’s out. How you feeling?
Mark Tonderai: There’s something so unique about it. You know it’s in the ether and there’s a lot of people working really hard around it. I’m really soaking it up. This is where I’ve always wanted to live. This is where I’ve always wanted to release a film. My film’s opened on 3,000 screens. You kind of go to yourself, “This is what I’ve been working for my whole life. Everything that I’ve been doing has all been about this moment.”
Movie Fanatic: When you were filming The House at the End of the Street, Winter’s Bone, X-Men and The Hunger Games hadn’t come out yet… What did you see in Jennifer Lawrence that made you cast her?
Mark Tonderai: I think for me, Jennifer Lawrence, she’s not classically beautiful in terms of like Greek Doric systems, but she is. I’ve always been that kind of a guy. I’m talking really about angles. In terms of filmmaking, especially mainstream filmmaking, the lines and the angles are quite safe. And she’s not.
Movie Fanatic: How did her talents aid your storytelling?
Mark Tonderai: She fits into my viewpoint and what I feel we should have been having in a high school girl. Whereas someone else’s interpretation might have been more of a Gossip Girl look -- that glossed-up look or whatever it might be. But that’s not how I see the world and she totally reflects that. But in the end she’s just a great actress and you can see it. She’s carrying the film so it all made sense to me. I knew that I needed somebody who was strong and ballsy.
Movie Fanatic: And Max Thieriot is sort of the yin to her yang…
Mark Tonderai: I think he’s phenomenal. He’s so low management. No problems. Nothing. Not one problem. When it’s time to come on, he comes on and does it. I think a lot of actors don’t get it. A lot of actors are really selfish. I wish people were a lot more cooler about things and he’s so cool about it. I really hope this film puts him on the map.
Movie Fanatic: The cinematic influences are all over in The House at the End of the Street. What was your biggest personal influence?
Mark Tonderai: It’s always a tough one because you always sound incredibly pretentious. But, for me it’s always the obvious ones. It’s usually the alpha male directors, like (John) Ford and (Sam) Peckinpah. Something happened in Hollywood where we went from the guys who lived it and then kind of talked about it to the guys that sat in the back of the classroom studying the guys that lived it. You get people like Nick Cassavetes who’s just hanging on to that kind of alpha male, but it doesn’t happen much anymore. So I loved all those guys because they led from the front. Also, (Billy) Wilder and I think (Brian) De Palma’s fantastic. Sidney Lumet’s a huge influence. I always felt I wanted to meet people like Sidney Lumet and Tony Scott. I always preferred Tony Scott to Ridley Scott, always. He will be missed.