And I agree with that. For something to be completely evil is to be nothing. Satan has good attributes—intelligence, for instance—but they are corrupted. I cannot reconcile myself emotionally to alternative understandings of evil.
So much in this film is about portals and the tension between perception and reality, and of course the Doors show up a few times in the film's soundtrack. In what ways does Jim Morrison loom large in your imagination?
I think a lot of my appreciation for the Doors' music, which I love, originates with my discovery of them through seeing Apocalypse Now. It's my second favorite film of all time. There is a dark mysticism in the Doors' music and I first experienced it that way in that movie and with repeat viewings. I heard "Light My Fire" on the radio growing up. And then in my early college years and after seeing Apocalypse Now, I really got into the Doors more.
These ideas of dark mysticism and doors of perception and being on one side of the material world and being able to step through to the other side and of people being strange—they play pretty obviously to what's going on in the movie.
In my films, I either want the music to be very subtle and very buried or just put it right out in front and be super blunt with it. In this case the bluntness of who the Doors were and what their music represented worked in this movie.
One thing that struck me when I had the opportunity to sit down with several members of your cast was that this group had become very close-knit through the making of this movie. How important is it to you to cultivate that sort of collegial spirit on set? And how do you go about it as a director?
It's different with every film. For being a genre filmmaker I get really good actors. I don't love celebrities. I love actors. I love what they do. I love creating an arena in which they can do unexpected things. With this particular film, it became a much deeper, much more personal collaboration of relationships than I was expecting.
Much of this started because Joel [McHale] has been my best friend for 13 years. I knew him when he was in Seattle trying to get into local plays for free. So there was a comfort level there.
Then Edgar [Ramirez] and I became incredibly close in preproduction—we built his Mendoza character together. At first, he passed on the role, so I asked him to lunch to find out why. He started talking about his Venezuelan priest friend who was dealing with drug addiction. Through working on the character together, he joined the film.
And by the time we got to set we'd become quite close. Joel already knew Olivia [Munn]. Eric [Bana] and Joel hit it off—they both have backgrounds in comedy. These are all really good, nice people.
But then in showing them some of the research videos—exposing them to some of the exorcism videos, in particular—the seriousness of the subject matter hit them. I showed them things I wouldn't show anybody otherwise. Suddenly, all of them realized that we're trying to make a real movie here—something that really happens in the world. You don't have to believe evil in order to be disturbed by the profound human suffering in the video.