Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore and Ashley Bell Discuss the “Brilliant” Minimalism of ‘The Day’

By  · Published on November 25th, 2012

Editors Note: The following interview was conducted in September 2011 but has never been published before today. It is finally seeing the light now because The Day is finally hitting DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, November 27.

In an interview posted earlier today, director Douglas Aarniokoski and actors Cory Hardrict and Michael Eklund discuss the beneficially miserable conditions of shooting The Day, a post-apocalyptic thriller about a band of starving survivalists who go up against a group of cannibals. After talking with them, I sat down with Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore and Ashley Bell to talk about their own experiences making the film and developing characters they were given little background on. Monaghan and Ashmore also addressed aspects of The Day extra-diagetically relating to their work on Lost, The Lord of the Rings and the X-Men films, while Bell discussed her role as a kick-ass action heroine, which I’ll admit is the highlight of the film. Someone should give her a franchise besides the Last Exorcism films.

Dominic, your first line in the movie sounds like it’s almost a wink to Lost fans.

Dominic Monaghan: Do I say, “Where are we?” That’s weird, that “where are we?” line. Something happened on set that day when we were filming Lost. It was kind of a throwaway line. We were doing the pilot and I said that line, and J.J. [Abrams] came over and said, “We’re going to do that again and the camera is going to come down and swing into you.” And I did it, and then Ryan Burke, who is J.J.’s producer, came over and said it was killer. It’s just kind of an innocuous line, and I’ve had people come up to me on the street and do it.

So it was just kind of an accident in this film?

Monaghan: I don’t know, but I didn’t do it. It could have been the writers. They know Lost. So it could have been for the fan boys and girls, but you’d have to ask the writer.

I don’t know if you know this, but your characters from the different X-Men movies are really great friends in the comic book.

Shawn Ashmore: I didn’t know that.

[Ashmore and Monaghan high five]

Monaghan: Is that right? That’s cool. How do they know each other? They’re the same generation of X-Men?

I guess. I read X-Men a long time ago and your character (Bolt) wasn’t introduced until the mid-90s. I guess your characters bonded over their shared background. So, Ashley, now you just need to be in an X-Men movie. After all the kick-ass stuff you do in this movie, you’ll probably get to do some other action movies for sure.

Ashley Bell: I hope. From your mouth to God’s ear. I’ve been saying, the second I read in the script that Mary has a rolled cigarette dangling from her mouth and is clutching a shotgun I called my managers and said “This, I have to do this.” To play action is so much fun.

And more and more there a lot of female action heroines. For women to be that empowered is pretty great.

Bell: Yeah, that’s really what struck me tremendously about the character of Mary is that she’s a really strong female. I know that growing up I really enjoyed watching movies with strong female leads and I just hope for there to be more of those roles and those characters. It so sets a precedent in how to kick ass and take names, and I loved it.

This movie has a very bare bones back story. You get a tiny bit of the childhood friend stuff. You get a tiny bit of where Mary came from before she met up with these guys. How much time did you guys work with the director and the writer or just yourselves to come up with, in your head at least, who these people are? Or what happened in the world that got you there?

Ashmore: That’s what I thought is fascinating about the script when I read it. That there’s no real explanation. I got halfway through the script and I didn’t know if it was a zombie film, or what. The dread, and the feeling in the film that it’s so important to keep moving, and I just didn’t know what it was. I think that post-apocalyptic world has been explored before, but what I liked is that there wasn’t too much back story. I’m always disappointed when too much is said, and I liked not quite knowing exactly what was going on. What’s chasing them, why it happened. As an audience you’re left off-balance and constantly trying to catch up. “Is it this? Do I understand what it is? Is it post-apocalyptic nuclear? What is it?” To me that’s what I really loved. If you knew what that threat is then you can start to rationalize it. When you’re never quite sure what you’re facing, what that enemy is, you’re always struggling to cope with that.

Monaghan: I loved it, that’s one of my favorite things about the movie. It allows credit to the audience, that they’re smart enough to try and think about it themselves. It’s almost like when you read a book as opposed to a movie. With a book, in your own mind you can create visual images. You can create your own back story and ideas. My favorite scene in the entire movie is when Shawn and I sit down and are thinking back about an old bunch of girlfriends and what they’re doing now. There are these tiny little glimpses into these people’s lives but unfortunately they have to live from moment to moment. It’s brilliant. There are so many layers to those characters.

Ashmore: As far as preparation and back story, when I first sat down with [director Doug Aarniokoski and producer Guy Danella] they said they didn’t really want to do rehearsals, they didn’t really want to do table reads. They wanted us to come prepared and leave it all on set. I did a lot of work on my own to create a story for my character and how I thought everyone would interact, but we didn’t do a lot of the talking until we got on set and started working. I think that’s an interesting way to do things because you don’t really have any expectations and you’re surprised by the other performances and the other actors and their ideas.

Monaghan: I love watching movies in which a big event happens but they don’t fully explain it. They leave it up to you. The Matrix is one of my favorite movies. One of my favorite moments is a scene where Neo is coming to the end of the movie and he’s starting to realize that he’s “The One.” He’s running down the street and he grabs a cell phone from a guy and calls Tank to find out where’s he’s supposed to go. And when Tank answers the phone, Neo says, “It’s the Wizard.” They never reference where that comes from. He just says, “It’s the wizard.” Tank knows it’s him and for some reason he’s calling himself “The Wizard.” And it’s so killer that they don’t explain it and that they expect the audience to go along with it. It lets the audience decide for themselves.

Bell: My character hides such a huge secret for the course of the film. So I kind of lucked out having that back story written in for me. Because of that secret she hides, she has to turn against all she’s known and been raised with and ask why. Figuring out those motives and that internal strength that she does possess is what I focused on. That and working out all the time. I pretty much sat in my refrigerator wet and naked to prepare.

Dominic, in the biggest roles you’re known for, you kind of start out as the tagalong. Was it a nice change that you’re kind of the leader of this gang?

Monaghan: We all try and do something that we’ve not done before. The opportunity to play an American and a leader of a gang, for whatever that means. I don’t necessarily think that he’s the leader. I think Shawn’s character is so in his own head that he’s not able to do it at this point, and Cory’s character is sick. Mary’s kind of the outcast, and so he’s just, “Well, fuck it. If we have to get from A to B then I’ll be the rude and curmudgeonly leader.”

I heard that the water coming in through the roof ended up being really cold. The other guys were talking about how the experiences of being cold and wet brought you guys together.

Monaghan: I don’t think anyone was as cold as Ashley. Being in a frigid stream, it’s cold in there.

Bell: It was so funny to be in that stream and look down and see the whole crew in parkas. And I’m in my undies clutching a shotgun being ambushed. It got so cold that at one point I think my pocket warmers froze. To work in those conditions was cool. It made it a tremendous amount of focus and just in terms of getting to how intense the shoot was and how fast we all came together and bonded in an instant. When you see the film you can feel how palpable the cold is through watching it.

Ashmore: They easily could have built a set on a stage and shot exteriors and interiors, but performance-wise and for us being in those elements ‐ we were inside a house shooting but the windows were knocked out and the thing was ready to fall down, essentially. Just having those elements and being able to interact with that makes a huge difference in the performance. It makes your job that much easier when you’re sitting by a window shivering. It brings all that reality to it, so you don’t have to think about creating those circumstances. It’s right there happening. I think that’s a huge benefit as an actor to have all that stuff done for you.

I know when you guys first met the producer and director about the film that they tried to convince you not to do the movie. What was your response to that?

Ashmore: It sold me, to be honest. They wanted to do it as real as possible. If you’re given those opportunities and those elements and you don’t have to put all the thought and effort into creating those circumstances, then you can focus on telling a story and making it happen. It was going to be brutal and cold, and that’s exactly what it should be. That’s what the characters are going through, it’s what makes the story that they’re trying to tell so perfect.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.