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Q&A: Director Henry Hobson on Schwarzenegger, Breslin and the Makeup of “MAGGIE”

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Opening in select theaters and on VOD today, Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate’s MAGGIE is a different, more dramatic kind of zombie film, featuring an equally distinctive performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Wrangling it all is first-time feature director Henry Hobson, who discusses his cast and more in this exclusive interview.

Having cut his teeth as a titles and graphic designer on everything from Academy Awards telecasts to genre projects like the FRIGHT NIGHT and THE THING remakes and THE WALKING DEAD, Hobson took an atypical approach to casting his lead. Wade Vogel is a farmer trying to keep his family safe during an undead apocalypse, but has not been able to prevent his teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) from being bitten. As she slowly succumbs to the infection, MAGGIE becomes a moving, sometimes shocking mix of horror film and parable about dealing with terminal illness (see review here), and Schwarzenegger rises to the challenge of his most emotional role yet. FANGORIA spoke to Hobson (pictured below at left with Breslin and Schwarzenegger) following the movie’s premiere at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival.

FANGORIA: The first and most obvious question is: Why Schwarzenegger for this film?

HENRY HOBSON: Good question! When I read the script, the role of Wade was this protective father who has failed, and what I wanted to do was provide a kind of shorthand, and find an actor who would give the impression of that protective quality from shot one. So we wouldn’t need to go into detail with scenes of him protecting people in 20 different ways, or walking into a bar and everyone respecting him. I wanted to cast someone who would do that without you even thinking about it, no exposition, no nothing, and Arnold immediately jumped to the top of the list. I did meet with various actors over the time we developed this, but when Arnold came up, it was a really intriguing idea; he’s been the hero in everything he’s done, and to now use that against him and have him be a father who has failed to protect his family was a really intriguing idea—to use his strongest qualities as a kind of narrative aid.

MAGGIEHOBSON1

FANG: Since he plays a Midwestern farmer, did you ever consider having him suppress his accent?

HOBSON: I think there’s a degree to which it’s softened, and there are certainly moments where some of the accent is held back, but I felt that if we took it away too much, it would become a distraction, because everybody knows him. The way I looked at it—and I got asked that question early on—was, Arnold is now one of the biggest American icons; everybody knows him. In the U.S. in general, everybody kind of blends in, and you don’t even think about it. He’s like American royalty, so the accent was fine. And since I wanted him to play a kind of restraint, I think that softens it just enough to not be distracting.

FANG: How was it to work with him on a role that was well outside his comfort zone?

HOBSON: It was incredible, because coming into it, it was a new experience for both of us, with me as a first-time filmmaker and him as a first-time dramatist. So we were able to really collaborate, and feel that kind of trust where we were able to work together and find things out. I wanted to bring a kind of Clint Eastwood quality that we see in his later roles—that kind of action hero turned subdued elder statesman, yet still a powerful figure. You can see a lot of that in Arnold, and I was intrigued by the potential there.

FANG: The MAGGIE script has been around for several years now; when did you become attached to it?

HOBSON: I became involved relatively early on; I think around 2010 or 2011, on the cusp of that, December or January of those two years. At the time, I was working on the titles of THE WALKING DEAD, and it was completely bizarre; no two projects know about each other, so it was very odd that these two came up at the same time. So I was working on that, and then I got involved with MAGGIE, and we slowly began to meet with people and find the financing. Arnold came on board two years ago, I think, and that was when we were able to truly get the money and get the momentum going.

FANG: At what point did Abigail Breslin become involved, and was she your first choice to play Maggie?

MAGGIEHOBSON2HOBSON: Abigail is an outstanding actress, and she was on the top of the list. She pretty much shines in everything she does, and she came on maybe slightly before Arnold. At that point, she was known for having played in ZOMBIELAND, and it was a bit like, “Wait, she’s done a zombie project.” But then I met with a number of other actresses, and there are quite a lot of zombie films out there, and it was like, “Oh, you’ve done one as well.” And in everything Abigail’s done, she’s brought these amazing, charming qualities, as well as this kind of Gothic look, where she feels very vulnerable but also has a certain power. She brought a lot to the role, and she was able to mix up a lot of emotional moments.

FANG: Did the script go through many changes over the years you’ve worked on the film, especially given the other zombie projects that have come out during that time?

HOBSON: Well, because of things like THE WALKING DEAD, THE RETURNED, LIFE AFTER BETH—we started to see other projects kind of encroaching on a script we’d been working on for five years. And it got to the point of like, “Oh shit, maybe people have seen this before.” When the screenplay first came out, there was a complete freshness to it. So there were a few changes we had to make to keep the momentum going and make sure the tension was always there. There were changes we considered making, trying to ramp things up in places, but we wanted to stay as true to the original script as possible.

Still, there were a couple of scenes cut; one was a barbecue scene where a relative comes around, but we felt it didn’t add anything to what we already had in the film. So we made a tough decision to remove it, because there were some great performances there.

FANG: What went into the decision of how gruesome to make the film, and how far to go with the makeup FX?

HOBSON: I worked with a really strong New Orleans makeup team, and then I just stumbled across someone. My storyboard artist, Matt O’Toole, was a Brit who had just moved to New Orleans and hadn’t found many ins in the film industry. One day I asked him, “What’s your background?” and he handed over his résumé, and it was THE HOBBIT, HARRY POTTER [laughs], every major fantastic film relating to makeup and special effects. And I was like, “What? We’ve been looking for…” So he came on board with the makeup team, and together we drew up a very specific plan of, you get bitten and you’re affected slowly up one side of your body, it hits your face, so you could still look human on one side, zombie on the other. We took a deliberate approach of not being pure gory with Maggie, because you want to be able to look at her for the whole film. If, like, her jaw was falling off and flapping around, it would make for very uncomfortable viewing.

FANG: Where do you see the film’s place within the zombie genre?

HOBSON: Interesting question; hopefully, it’s on the peripheral. It’s like, DAWN OF THE DEAD is the center point, 28 DAYS LATER is a little further out, and then you’ve got SHAUN OF THE DEAD, LIFE AFTER BETH, that comedic side. I like to see MAGGIE as sitting in the outside space, as one of the more odd, artistic examples. It’s sort of an oddball outsider.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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