The Hitcher - On the Set

On the Set: 'The Hitcher'
Remake pits two students against the peripatetic psychopath
By Hanh Nguyen
November 15, 2006

TAYLOR, TEXAS -- On a humid July night, two bedraggled figures holding
hands -- and guns -- pick their way across a lonely Texas road toward a
run-down motel lit by a glowing neon sign. The couple's desperate
appearance and situation signal that "The Hitcher" is back.
Based on the original 1986 film about Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell),
a young courier who unwisely picks up the murderous hitchhiker John Ryder
(Rutger Hauer), the latest horror remake by Platinum Dunes ("Texas
Chainsaw Massacre") adds a third player to the mix. This time around,
Jim (Zachary Knighton) and his girlfriend Grace (Sophia Bush) are on a
Spring Break road trip when they encounter the hitcher (Sean Bean),
who tries to pin his crimes on the innocent couple.
"We had the whole take of ... making it less of a quiet movie and more
sort of a love triangle thing going on," says freshman director Dave
Meyers on the set just outside of Austin, Texas. "I say that metaphorically
because there is sort of a weird relationship with the girl in the middle
of these two guys."
One leg of this irregular triangle is Jim, just a "regular guy" who suddenly
finds himself on the run.
"We're looking for lodging, hence the hotel," says Knighton about the
scene he's shooting. "This is three-quarters of the way through the movie
and we're at wit's end, so we're basically looking for a place to lay our
heads instead of sneaking around. But the cops are looking for us, and
we're kind of sneaking behind these [big] rigs."
As the new addition to the story, Grace moves from happy-go-lucky college
student to a resourceful fighter when confronted with the ruthless killer.
"She's a girly girl but she's got that sort of 'I can hang with the guys' side,"
says Bush in between takes. "She sort of gets put to the test. I think there
is that instinctual thing when a girl is with her significant other, to really
look to him for strength, or want to be taken care of. She's got to sort of
learn to go without that ... finding the real strength that she's always
sort of thought she had."
Meyers also wanted to update the film by dealing with some of the logic
problems that the original posed. This production devised a new reason
to pick up the hitchhiker since people are more cautious of doing that
nowadays and tried to understand Ryder's interest in the two students.
"He's looking to die. He chooses one of the kids as sort of that person and
that's the reason he's obsessed on them," explains the director. "He's not
just a random dude chasing people, popping up out of nowhere. He kind of
evolves into that and starts to realize that they are the ones, kind of
like if he was a demon and looking to retire. He's looking for one of
God's creatures, the purest person he can find to corrupt. That's part of
his secret fantasy."
Bean, who plays Ryder as sort of an American everyman -- until he gets
homicidal -- tried to get inside his character's head, which at times was
an unpleasant experience.
"He's very intelligent and he's very calculated," says Bean while relaxing in a
hotel cafe. "There's no real murder weapon of choice. He just uses whatever's
at hand. To get some satisfaction, he would like to pass that feeling on to
someone else. I think with Grace, he's quite fascinated by her -- by her
independence and her strength and her character. And he wants to pass
on what he has on to her.
"I watch television to see parallels between the character and certain
individuals that do some monstrous things and become killers," he
continues. "So there's that kind of scary element to playing the part.
It's fun to do, but it does have some psychological effect. You find those
feelings coming through when you're playing the part and it's quite
disturbing and quite unsettling. You realize just what type of guy you're
actually portraying, but I suppose that's the way you would feel if you
were a mass murderer."
Balancing the quieter, menacing aspect of the thriller is plenty of physically
taxing, violent action. Jim and Grace get their first clue about Ryder's true
nature shortly after they pick him up and Grace is chilling out in the back
seat, listening to music.
"[Sean] had to grab me by the back of the head and shove my face into the
car seat from the back seat," recalls Bush. "We went for it. I had bruises all
over my right side 'cause that's the side that hits the seat when he pulls
me. It was fantastic. I got to work the next day, and me and the hair and
makeup girls are joking around and we were like 'Look how sick and twisted
we are.' We were so excited about it because you sort of come away with
battle wounds that service the rest of the movie."
Throughout the film, Bush and Knighton found themselves running,
grappling with actors playing police officers, shooting guns and even
stunt driving Jim's muscle car, a blue 1970 Oldsmobile 442.
"We did quite a few stunts with the 442," says Bush. "I did a 360 spin
in the car with a stunt driver that was amazing. You know, 400 feet
down a highway in the pouring rain. It's sort of things like that. It's a
very physical movie."
The original film also had its share of memorable, physical scenes, such
as when a diner waitress is chained and then dismembered between two
trucks or when Ryder plants a bloody finger among Jim's french fries.
While some form of the first scene survives in the remake, it's not so
certain that the latter will appear in the update.
"None of us are really clear on that," says producer Brad Fuller. "The
reason why I can't definitely tell that it will or it won't be there, is
that a finger in the french fry, when it happened, was an unusual
experience. Now, it's a way to make money. That moment automatically
loses that terror because it's become a joke in our society. So we're
trying to figure out a way to do something and not produce a laugh."
"The Hitcher" thumbs its way to theaters nationwide beginning
Friday, Jan. 19.


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