Marley Shelton plays Dr. Dakota Block, an anesthesiologist married to a super controlling doctor (played by Josh Brolin) in Robert Rodriguez' zombie pic, Planet Terror, one half of the Grindhouse movie. Brolin has an interesting perspective on what sets Grindhouse apart from other movies: "You know normally in any other film the things that don’t work get cut out. Whereas this film, the things that didn’t is what was used," explained Brolin.
Did you have to know the grindhouse world in order to get into character?
Marley Shelton – “No. Everything in this film was down literally on the fly. I kind of modeled Dakota after the classic Hitchcock ice queen blonde, at least in the beginning. Sort of this exacting, very precise, disconnected, sort of cold and very efficient person who’s very doctorly. And then as the night unfurls, she unfurls. Because her hands, which she uses as a doctor, are rendered useless she’s forced to resort to getting in touch with her primal self. She has to become a survivalist.”
The ‘hand’ stuff is so outrageous. Did you come up with anything or was it all Robert Rodriguez’ script?
Marley Shelton – “This guy has the wackiest imagination. It was all in the script, you know? We tweaked little dialogue things here and there. But it’s really amazing, especially seeing the film finally and seeing the balance of melodrama, humor, scary moments, bloody, gutty, gross moments – how he balanced it all because I think the movie really plays.”
Did you try to do anything with your hands messed up just to see if you could?
Marley Shelton – “Yeah, I did. Really, what you quickly realize is that it’s all about the elbows. You can kind of see it in the cut where I’m trying to get Tony to leave and he wants to take all of his animals with him. He drops his backpack and I pick up the backpack with my elbows. I’m like, ‘Come on! You’ve got to go!’ That’s how you see that shot where my hands are literally up here. And I have to use my elbows to drive.”
Josh Brolin – “Even doing this interview process when I say something inappropriate she hits me with the elbow.”
What or who was your frame of reference in playing ‘Block’?
Josh Brolin – “This is going to sound weird, but it’s true. There wasn’t really a reference other than me and Robert just having a really good time and riffing and what we wanted to do with the voice. Every time I’d ask Robert about a line, he would always do it like this [dropping his voice really low]. I just started doing it like that and it kind of went from there. I mean, yeah, the reference was really when we went to Quentin’s and we watched movies that Quentin would screen. We’d see The Cat Ate My Brain or we’d see Vanishing Point or Zombie, or we’d see all these other movies. There’s a tonal quality to those movies that we wanted to match, and also the earnestness in playing it that we wanted to absolutely do because the extremes of what’s going on, kind of that instigates the humor as opposed to what we’re doing.”
Was it clear from the onset that it was supposed to be humorous?
Josh Brolin – "I think anything that is that extreme is going to be funny and I don’t think they intended it to, really. I mean, there’s scary parts but I think the scary parts come more out of the behavior. I mean, look, every shot you see the amount of blood that comes out of somebody in every shoot. That’s very exploitative.”
Marley Shelton – “He told me that he was after making…he made up a new phrase called a goreball comedy. He loves the screwball comedies, the Howard Hawks comedies of the 1940s, and you see that with Rose and Freddy especially, that kind of witty banter, kind of sharp-tongued wit. And then really he’s been wanting to make a zombie movie for a long time and so he’s like, ‘Hmmm, maybe I’ll just merge the two.’ So he came up with goreball, which I think is kind of cool.”
Did working on the scene in Death Proof have a significantly different feel from doing Robert’s Planet Terror?
Marley Shelton – “Well no, because Quentin spent so much time on Planet Terror and we shot both movies at Troublemaker, which is Robert’s permanent soundstage/home. We used pretty much the same crew on both except for some changes. So no, at that point it was like one big happy family.”
Isn’t it interesting that the men are creepy in Grindhouse and the women get to be badass?
Marley Shelton – “I know. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Robert and Quentin, their female characters always kick ass in the end. We may be victimized for a while, but we get our moment of revenge and triumph.”
How was life on the set? Did Rose McGowan have to walk around with a cast on her leg for most of the shoot?
Marley Shelton – “I felt really bad for her. She had to wear a green cast so that she couldn’t move her leg. It had to be really uncomfortable in the Texas heat. We were shooting in the dead of summer. It was pretty rough, but there was a lot of camaraderie - especially with the Death Proof babes. You get a bunch of girls together it’s just trouble with a capital T. We had a lot of fun.”
Josh, you did a lot of movies in the ‘80s. Do you feel like you had any real grindhouse experiences? I know they were big budget studio kids movies.
Josh Brolin – “No. We were talking about that in the other room whereas you look at the great movies of the ‘70s, even if they were exploitation films which we have a whole new appreciation of because of Quentin and because of Robert screening all those movies. Then you see movies from the ‘80s with the feathered hair and all of that, and you just can’t help but laugh. They’re awful. So no, to answer your question. As an actor, no. But as a passionate lover of films of the ‘70s, through what we did with Quentin and Robert we became so incredibly educated with those exploitation films and really could see what was good about films as opposed to just badly made scratched films.”