North Shore native Zach Gilford, perhaps best known for his popular “Friday Night Lights” TV series, stars in “The Purge: Anarchy,” opening Friday. It’s the sequel to last year’s hugely popular film about a dystopian future America where all laws — including capital crimes — are suspended for one night each year. Needless to say, murder and mayhem rule those frantic and bloody 12 hours.
Back home recently, Gilford chatted about the movie, his thoughts on gun laws and what it was like playing the husband of his real life wife, actress Kiele Sanchez, in the film.
Q: Welcome back to Chicago. How is it being home — even for such a brief time?
A: I really miss it. In fact, I get excited about seeing the skyline and everything here — as soon as I get on the plane to come home. I just love it here. I just wish I could find a way to be here more.
Q: In this “The Purge” sequel, they’ve taken the action in a wider direction. How do you feel about the filmmakers expanding the action — outside of basically the main house in the first film?
A: I think it’s cool. I think it even retroactively makes the first film even better than it was, for people maybe watching the two films back-to-back now. This new film builds on the first one. It’s so cool, it started small and now we’re outside of the house. It’s a war zone and literally it’s all about how do you survive the night, and all the crazy stuff that goes on out there.
Q: You get to co-star with your real wife, Kiele Sanchez, who’s from our area — and she plays your wife in the movie. How was that for both of you?
A: It’s funny. One of the scenes that was in one of the trailers for the film was of our car breaking down at the side of the road. A couple of weeks ago, we were driving somewhere, and our own car broke down on the highway, and we had to pull over and we went, ‘This is eerily similar to something we experienced before — making ‘The Purge: Anarchy.’”
Q: Where did Kiele grow up? Did you meet here or in California?
A: Yeah, she grew up in Carol Stream. She went to Glenbard South. Everytime she’d say that, I’d say, ‘You mean Glenbrook South!’ She’d say, ‘No! It’s a different school!’ … We actually met working in Chicago, working on a pilot that was shot here. It was years ago. We were friends for awhile and then we just realized we were supposed to be married.
Q: What was it like being in a film like “The Purge: Anarchy”?
A: It was fun. Honestly, here are a few moments where you’re able to develop your character and show some growth and all that, but frankly for most of this movie you’re just running around, gasping and screaming and being chased and all that. So, when we had those moments were the characters could actually be talking and having a moment of some thoughtfulness — that was nice.
Q: Yes, this is entertainment, but is there a message here too?
A: I feel like it’s almost a nice thought that if people could just commit a crime once a year — and then wouldn’t do anything wrong for the rest of the year — that would be great. But, of course, real life doesn’t work that way. Don’t take this the wrong way, but this movie is almost too optimistic in a twisted way.
It’s really unfortunate, when you see the crime statistics and all the shootings like happens in Chicago and other big cities every single day. It’s kind of crazy, because most of the people working on this movie were pretty liberal and believe in gun control and all that.
James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed both ‘Purge’ movies is making a comment and a statement on society. It’s about how bad violence is and like this is where we’re headed almost.
He was shocked when the first movie came out and people contacted him and seriously said things like, ‘We should have a ‘Purge.’ There’s a couple of people I’d like to kill.’
And of course, James went, ‘No, no, no , no! That’s not what I’m saying. This is what could happen, if we had a twisted government situation.’
Q: You worked with your wife in this movie and you obviously worked with her before you were married. How was that? Was it easy to get out of your roles when you’d finish shooting every day?
A: We’re not such super-method actors that we couldn’t get out of the storyline we were in. You know how it is on sets. They call, ‘Cut,’ and you can have anything from 20 minutes to an hour or more, before you do anything else. If you’re sitting there and staying in character the whole time, that would get very draining. Now, there are roles like ‘Gangs of New York,’ or what Jared Leto did in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ where I could see you’d have to stay in character. But this was not one of those times.
Q: What was the toughest scene for you to film in “The Purge: Anarchy” ?
A: There’s a scene in this tunnel with this flame-thrower guy that was rough. We shot it in these old like shipping docks. There was a lot of dust. I’m not a wuss about that kind of stuff, but it was difficult, because the air quality — shall we say — was very sub-par. It was a whole day in there and it was completely black. You couldn’t see anything. You’d go out when you had a big enough break, and you’d go, ‘Oh! It’s daytime? Whew!’