For actor Luke Evans, a fun part of the gradual release schedule for his film “High-Rise” has been having the opportunity to talk to a number of people after they’ve seen the movie. “It seems to stick with them for quite a long time afterward,” the actor said in a phone interview. “Without question, people always have interesting their opinions on it — and they’re not shy to share those thoughts.”
“High-Rise” (opening Friday), directed by Ben Wheatley, based on the 1970s novel by J.G. Ballard, stars Evans, Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss and Jeremy Irons in a film about an eclectic group of people living in a seemingly luxurious high-rise building, but organized into a vertical division of individuals and families based on class standing.
Evans explained that along with the opportunity to work with the all-star cast and director Wheatley, the script — and his key character — attracted him to being in a project that presents a metaphor for how easy it can be for society to break down to barbaric levels.
The actor said, “It was so intriguing to be living in a world created by a writer who wrote this in the ’70s in Britain. He obviously was fascinated by the class structure of that time and he wanted to push the boundaries in this dystopian manner. It’s interesting to think about it in comparison to what is happening to our world today. The film shows human nature in its extremes: the good, the bad and the very ugly.”
Evans, known for his roles in “Fast & Furious 6” and the “Hobbit” movies, plays Richard Wilder, a documentary filmmaker who frankly is not successful. On top of that, he’s a serial cheater on his long-suffering wife, played by Elisabeth Moss.
“As an actor, this was such a rich role to play,” said Evans. “My character does show all the colors of his personality — from the charming, chauvinistic alpha male, to this creature you would be terrified to meet on the street or in a dark alley. It’s interesting to see the decay of human nature in all its different facets.”
Unlike so many films dealing with dystopian societies, there are no prisoners in “High-Rise,” a fact that intrigued Evans. No one is trapped in that building, even as it begins to fall apart structurally — and that physical collapse leads to the collapse of the organized societal structure in the high-rise.
“The front door of that building is always open. Anyone can leave whenever they want to, at any time. But no one does. The cars are shown in the car park — and no one is seen leaving. They would rather stay and remain in that law-breaking society and go back to their primal instincts than escape to a society with its established laws and rules.”
A key thing to note here: While the setting for the film appears to be an extremely slick and high-end building at the beginning of the movie, things quickly begin to go wrong as there are power outages and other breakdowns in how the building operates.
Asked to recall some of the most memorable moments he had making “High-Rise,” Evans described one particular exercise Wheatley asked him to perform just prior to filming a very raw scene with Sienna Miller.
“Ben wanted me to record into an old 1970s tape recorder — but just my character’s name. He had me repeat, ‘My name is Richard Wilder,’ ‘My name is Richard Wilder,’ over and over and over again. Ben told me, ‘Just keep repeating it. Just lose yourself in that process. Become more animalistic and see what happens. I’ll tell you when to stop.’
“I think that original take was eight-and-a-half minutes long. It was extremely disturbing to do it. I could see Sienna Miller watching all that from the corner of the room. Because the scene that came after that was the rape scene. It helped us all get into that dark place to film the scene. I lost myself. I became a cypher in the end. Some people who repeat the same thing over and over get into a zen or meditation mode. That wasn’t the case here. I felt like Wilder had to remind himself he was losing his identity. He was losing control over himself in this building that was controlling him.”
While author J.G. Ballard died 10 years ago, Evans liked to think about the kind of conversation that might have resulted if there had been a chance for the two men to meet.
“Not surprisingly, it would have been interesting to know where his inspiration for my character came from. There’s a lot of characters in the film who people have speculated are related to real characters in Ballard’s life — or people he knew of. With Wilder, I’d like to ask Ballard, why did he become such an animal in the film? What was that supposed to represent?
“Naturally, showing my vulnerability as an actor, I’d also like to know if I did it right in the film!”
Evans closed by reiterating that “High-Rise,” like such earlier films such as “The Lord of the Flies” that focus on the breakdown of a social order, “shows us that it doesn’t take much to get society or civilization to degenerate. That’s what was represented by the building, this modern, sophisticated, sleek high-rise in modern London — giving almost everyone a beautiful view of the city around them. Yet, it was interesting to see how fast society can decay if the right buttons are pushed — and if the wrong person is put in charge.”