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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

March 7, 2008

In the supernatural thriller Shutter, young newlywed couple Ben and Jane Shaw (Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor) are haunted by ghostly images lingering in photos they develop after a bizarre car accident. Wanting to get to the bottom of this unsettling phenomenon of "spirit photography," Jane takes it upon herself to do some investigating, even as she and Ben are just beginning to settle down into their new home in Japan and assimilate to the foreign culture. But as she unravels the mystery behind the disturbing pictures, she unearths a dark element in her husband's past that she must reconcile.

In this interview, actress Rachael Taylor, who managed to score quite a bit of attention in her short time onscreen in last year's blockbuster Transformers, talks about working on Shutter and filming on location in Tokyo.

Click here to check out our Shutter Giveaway and win the unrated DVD!

The Interview

MEDIA: You pulled off the American accent very well in this movie...

RACHAEL: Oh, thank you!

Is that something that's difficult for you?

It is. Well, it's more difficult when you're shooting in Tokyo, you know? It's one thing doing an American accent while you're in America, but it's another thing doing it in a foreign country. But you try to be diligent and you try to work hard on it. Because I know, as an Australian, I'd be kind of sensitive if an American actor completely massacred the Australian accent. Which has been done before, I'm sure. But you try to be diligent and sensitive about it, so thank you. [laughs]

We've heard it's easier to mimic an American accent than an Australian one...

It's true. And there's actually (I won't go into it because it's long and boring) specific reasons why it's easier to adjust from the Australian accent to the American accent rather than vice versa, because the particular shapes that we make with our mouths just make the transition a little bit easier...You know, I think accents is one of the great pleasures of being an actor, and I really like working in that. [It's] the key to unlocking a character, often. If you don't have the sound of them right, then it sort of all falls apart for me. [laughs]

We're told that you're a skeptic of spirit photography, but did you ever see anything in your research for this film that surprised you?

Yeah, absolutely. I was not skeptical about spirit photography, especially because I had very little understanding of what it was before I shot the movie, but in terms of the world of the supernatural, I was kind of just...You know, I wasn't categorically a non-believer, but I wasn't categorically a believer, either. So I sort of sat somewhere in the middle of just not being sure. And then I started doing research on spirit photography, and it's fascinating. It is a true phenomenon, and there are pictures that have these inexplicable images in them, which is fascinating to me. We can't explain them. There's a light mark, or a water mark, or a technical problem, or whatever--they're just these funny, funny images.

Did you see anything that convinced you there might be some supernatural truth in this phenomenon?

I think I have the same sort of personal thesis on it that the film does, which is that if a spiritual message needs to make itself heard, then it'll find a way to do that. I think that's probably a fair call to make. Like if something is so emotionally potent that it needs to find a way to surface, then I think, absolutely, it's possible.

Did you ever get spooked during filming?

Sure. I mean, we shot in some pretty spooky locations. 3 o'clock in the morning up on an abandoned road, and in an old abandoned hospital that was still semi-functioning and had construction going on in a part of the corridor, and I'd be endlessly getting lost to go to my green room. [laughs] And we shot in this old abandoned Japanese house. I mean, there were some really spooky locations.

This was your first time shooting a movie in Tokyo. How would you describe the experience?

It was incredible. It was tough. I mean, shooting in a foreign country with a non-English speaking director is certainly a challenge. But it's kind of cool because they're the same challenges that the character was facing, so you got to kind of use that--you know, she's going through that "fish out of water, Lost in Translation" experience of not knowing who she can trust and what everything really means. And that's kind of the same experience that I had personally.

Given the language barrier, how did you work with director Masayuki Ochiai? Did you have a translator?

We had an incredible translator. But having said that...I mean, translation is certainly useful, but I really felt that I was isolated in terms of performance, that I really had to make my own choices and was left sort of stranded on my own. Which is not to say that Masayuki Ochiai isn't good at what he does--he's absolutely good at what he does, and I think he understands how to create a creepy scenario very, very expertly. But it was good to be kind of left on my own and have to listen to my own instincts as an actor, and not just be a warm prop and be told where to stand and how to look and what to say, you know? It was kind of cool to have to lock into my own instinct, because obviously the character is going through a particular kind of internal turmoil as well, and doubt, and questioning her relationship, and dealing with the issues of betrayal of trust and secrets and revenge and lies, and all of that stuff. So it was really challenging.

Did you find yourself in any funny situations in Japan because of the communication problems?

[laughs] There were plenty of them! Just the classic Lost in Translation moment of you ask a question, 20 minutes of translation happen, and then at the end, the answer is like, "Yes." [laughs] I remember Josh and I went out for sushi one night, and we were trying to order two glasses of water...And they were like, "Do you want tea? Coke? Beer? Fish?" And so like tuna would be put down on the table. We're like, "We don't want tuna, we want water." And like sticky rice would be put down on the table. It was hilarious. And I still don't think we actually got the water. They put two, like, cans of Coca-Cola down on the table and we went, "Cool. It's wet, we'll take it." [laughs]

What was one of the hardest scenes for you to shoot?

The car accident, just because I've never been in a car accident, touch wood. [knocks on wood] It was just its own particular thing, and fortunately Josh was with me and he was really, really supportive around that. He was like, "When you have a car accident, you use every bit of strength that you can to protect yourself from that steering wheel." Which you don't actually know, really, if you haven't been in a car accident. And that's usually a director's job, and Masayuki Ochiai absolutely said what he could, but the language barrier, of course, made it difficult. So there's just certain things that you do in a car accident, I guess, that are very particular to that experience. So Josh was really helpful in guiding me through that.

You just did the whole knocking on wood thing. So apparently you are a little superstitious in some ways...

Yeah, there we go. [laughs] And I have this other kooky little thing that whenever I see a crow, I break a circle with my finger for some reason, because apparently it's bad luck when traveling. My mother's thing.

Any worries that a ghost might have followed you home from Tokyo?

[laughs] No, I don't worry about that on a day to day basis. I'm not checking my pictures at this moment to see if there's a spirit in them. But touch wood anyway. Touch wood and break the circle of evil with the crows...The crow thing is really absurd because if you're driving in the car and you see a crow and you take your hands off the steering wheel to do that...It's absurd, because that's not protecting you while traveling.

Did you watch the original Thai film that Shutter is based on?

No one told me to, but I wanted to see it just because I appreciate that remaking a film in the horror genre is a sensitive thing, because people become very loyal to the original film, and of course, they've been remade in the West to varying degrees of success. So I wanted to know what I was up against. [laughs] And it turns [out] I was up against a lot, because it's a very, very good film. But it was one of the reasons why I wanted to do the movie, because I think it's such an interesting film. It's not just a horror movie about a haunted house--it's dealing with some really interesting issues within a relationship. So I felt there was enough for me to explore as an actor. And also the perspective of our film, the American version, is very different to the Thai version. It's more of a male perspective, the original Thai film. It's about him running away from his past and trying to forget his past, and the American version is more about the female character trying to unpick his past. So it's really quite different.

Were you at all affected by your awareness of the previous film?

A little bit. Like you want [the remake] to be respectful. And I'm a filmmaker, so I understand that it's a hard thing to remake someone else's piece of art. And it's a tricky thing, and you've got to be sensitive and you've got to be respectful. And I hope that we were. I didn't direct the film, so I can't be responsible for the whole thing, but you want to try and be decent about it and not completely butcher it. I don't think we did. But sure, you think about it.

Have you gotten reaction from horror fans who have very strong, outspoken opinions?

Yeah. I only made the mistake once or twice of going online and Googling yourself. And then you never, ever do it again. [laughs] But you know, I think the responses to this movie are either really, really positive and they adore it and they're like, "It's a kickass female horror movie and we love it," or they're like, "The original was better!" because they have that allegiance to the original film. And I think that's a really great response, if people are in any way split or divided. And mostly from what I've seen, people have been positive about it. But I think any response is a good response. And these are passionate people, the horror movie fanboys. That they get involved in film in that way is really cool. I'm never personally offended by it.

Do you like horror films in general?

I do, actually. I mean, that's not to say that that's all I want to make for the rest of my career. [laughs] But I like the kind of spectrum of emotions that you get to play with when you do a movie like this, you know? You're dealing with such rich and potent emotions. Every day you go to work, you're dealing with the threat of death, and the world of the supernatural, and spirits and betrayal and secrets and distrust in a relationship, so you're playing stakes that are very, very high. And I think that's great for a young actor, to have to be thrown into that world when you've got such an array of colors, from the start of movie where it's like blissful, happy newlywed to the end of the movie where it's like complete distress.

How method do you get with those kinds of ever-changing emotions?

People will say, "Are you really scared when [your character is] scared?" I think it's kind of your job to be. Actors have different techniques, but I personally just like to use my imagination. So I'm like, "What if you were really my husband and you really betrayed me?" And that's enough to get me pretty furious, you know? [laughs] But that's what I like about the film, is that it's not playing an irrelevant female character that's blonde and young and in a ghost house and just having horrible things happen to her, but she's proactive in terms of the story--she's proactive in trying to figure out what these supernatural images mean, and she's proactive in trying to get to the bottom of what this secret is. And then, obviously, when she finds out, it's a very changing thing for her. And based on her own personal morality, that's not something she can forgive. And I think that's the mark of a strong female character.

Had you always aspired to be an actor, or is it something that just sort of randomly happened?

No, I had always wanted to act. But I grew up in Tasmania, so there are limited opportunities for a budding young actor when you live somewhere between Melbourne and Antarctica. [laughs] So I waited till I was 16, 17 to make the jump over to Sydney and start trying to audition and get work. And I always wanted to go to theatre school, but ended up just working instead, which was necessary because I was broke. [laughs] So yeah, I had always wanted to do it.

It seems so many Australian actors and filmmakers have made a successful transition to Hollywood, especially in recent years. What do you think is behind that trend?

You know what I like to think it is? I think that it's actually more to do [with]--and you never hear good things anymore--the openness of Americans and the filmmaking community. What I think is so great about living here is that there's an incredible openness for outsiders and people that can bring new perspectives to the artform--people from the UK, people from Australia, people from all over, you know? There are great Spanish films that are being released here now, and great Spanish filmmakers. And I think the fact that we are willing to open our doors to the foreign filmmakers and foreign artists is why this place is still the place to be a filmmaker. You know, this is an incredibly open country. I think everyone's just open to outsiders in general. It's not like there's something in the water in Australia. It's just like, "You got something to offer, come on in!" And I like that.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you very much, guys.

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