Writer/director Peter Sattler makes his feature film debut with IFC’s Camp X-Ray, a gritty, timely drama set in the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Kristen Stewart stars as a soldier newly assigned to guard the high level prisoners, Peyman Moaadi plays a prisoner who she makes an unexpected connection with, and Lane Garrison co-stars as a fellow soldier who shows her the ropes before stepping out of line and destroying their burgeoning friendship.
In support of the film’s release on October 17, 2014, I had the opportunity to talk with Garrison about his role in Camp X-Ray, his emotional connection with the story, and what he thinks of his co-star Kristen Stewart. Garrison also briefly discussed his upcoming projects: Better Call Saul and The Messengers.
Is it true that making Camp X-Ray changed your opinion of Guantanamo?
Lane Garrison: “It’s funny that that made national press because at the time I was at Sundance when I said it – I always just speak off the cuff – and I was asked that question and I didn’t realize it was going to sort of catch fire. But, yeah, I’m a Texas boy through and through and I went into this movie thinking the way a lot of people think, which is these guys are all guilty of terrorism and they’re all guilty of 9/11 and they should all just rot down there. These are people who want to blow buildings up and schools; these are the most evil men on the planet. And, that was my philosophy. Then once I started doing this movie, I realized, ‘What if there’s one person that’s down there who is innocent?’ You know the rules don’t apply down there so what if one man got picked up on the battlefield who was just trying to get to his family? He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The way things work down there, there is no courtroom setting, there is no proof, and some of these guys are locked away. Once they’ve been down in Guantanamo, no other country will really take them so they’re sort of in limbo.
I think there’s 143 detainees still down there that have nowhere to go. It really changed my thought process to say, ‘Hey, no matter what their circumstance is, I think everybody deserves their chance in court and to present the facts, damn it, innocent or guilty.’ It really changed my thought about what’s going on down there.”
When you initially read the script which was obviously about a difficult and controversial subject, did that automatically draw you in or did you have to think twice about jumping into a project like Camp X-Ray?
Lane Garrison: “No. You know what? The script was so good and Peter Sattler wrote the script and also directed it, and he’s going to be around forever. This is his first film and he’s just a phenomenal storyteller and a phenomenal filmmaker, but it doesn’t scare me at all. More than anything I think the subject matter of Guantanamo… Yes, is there controversy around it? Absolutely. But hen you read this story, it’s really about human beings and their circumstances and overall humanity. When you can break down what it is, then I don’t really get scared about the subject matter.”
What is it that sets Peter Sattler apart as a filmmaker? Why do you believe he’s going to have a long career?
Lane Garrison: “Well, working with directors and, especially as an actor, you want somebody that has a clear-cut vision. I mean, nowadays because of the editing process and everything else, you’ll get guys who are just technical directors, who will shoot 30 different ways just because they’re just going to let somebody choose the scene. Whereas Peter, even if you had an idea, Peter would really think about it before he’d give you his answer and usually it was, ‘No. I see it as this,’ which is great.
Kristen and I wold come to Peter like, ‘What if this?’ and he would give us the time of day and he’d be like, ‘No, I think it’s more like this.’ It’s almost like you’re going into war to begin with. You want to follow the general who’s got the vision, and he definitely has that. It’s his storytelling and I just see him doing great film after great film. In fact, I’ve been bugging him, saying, ‘Hurry up with your next one because I want to be in it!'”
In general do you enjoy working with writer/directors?
Lane Garrison: “Absolutely. Well, I started as a screenwriter myself so I’m a big fan of writer/directors because to write it you have to envision it first. So for a writer to direct too, I always find that so powerful.”
But do you ever find that when a writer is also the director they’re a little more precious with their words?
Lane Garrison: “They are, but I feel like great storytellers know it’s not about ego or what I say, it’s about what’s best for the film and what’s best for the story. Most great writer/directors will tell you, ‘Here’s the gist of the scene. This is what we need to convey, now if you deviate a little from that that’s fine but it has to have the emotional gist.’ When they say that, you go, ‘Oh, this is a good guy.’ I mean he’s basically operating without any ego of, ‘Oh, it has to be this line,’ and ‘I wrote this line,’ so I respond to that. Peter is that way a lot. He would definitely say, ‘This is the gist of the scene. If we deviate a little bit, that’s fine. You guys just emotionally connect to it.'”
Did you feel the need to do more research on the subject matter or was it all pretty much there in the script?
Lane Garrison: “I did research. We all watched this documentary on Guantanamo Bay that National Geographic did and we also read a book on Gitmo. Obviously we couldn’t fly down there, which would’ve been great.
But really for me and some of the personal research…I don’t shy away from this…because of my past and my past mistakes I’ve been to prison before. I spent two years in prison and that was enough research for me playing this man because I dealt with a lot of guards during my stint in prison that were pretty desensitized and pretty evil. I understood now after reading the script and trying to put on the other pair of boots as a prison guard where those men came from. So that was the big research for me. And part of my time inside, I think, also helped Peyman [Moaadi] because we would sit and talk about what it’s like to be locked up in a cell, away from people, isolation, what that pain feels like, and what range of emotions you go through. It was a really powerful and sort of cathartic movie for me to be a part of.”
I was just going to ask if it was a cathartic experience because you’re reliving it but through a different perspective?
Lane Garrison: “Yeah, it was very powerful and it was very emotional for me to step back inside of a prison facility. Luckily you can yell cut and we can leave, but just seeing the razor wire and the cells and everything stirred up a lot of emotions for me. In a way it was fun to play the other guy. It was fun to not be the prisoner for once and play the guard.
This was a very emotional project so how did you deal with that on the set?
Lane Garrison: “We were dealing with some intense material and obviously there was dark and powerful stuff going on, so Kristen and I, because of that, in between takes we built a driving range at the prison. We’d play basketball. She’s a phenomenal athlete. I’m a big athlete. We would be joking in between takes just to lighten the mood because where we were shooting and what the subject matter was.
I loved working with her. She is a true professional and she is incredible in this movie. This is the best thing she’s done. It’s her best performance yet and it’s going to put her in another league.”
At the end of the day when the shoot was over, was it easy for you to fall asleep?
Lane Garrison: “You know what? It wasn’t with this one. I mean, I took a lot of memories with me, and a lot from the past too, and I’ve really lived in this guy’s shoes. Luckily it was only just under a month we shot this film, which is incredible. So luckily I didn’t have to live in that world for too long. But, yeah, I definitely took this guy home with me.
It’s funny. Kristen used to joke with me and when I’d come to set and in between takes, she’d just say, ‘You’re a little too good at this. You’re taking this a little too far.’ I had to walk away from it, from playing Randy when we were done. I really believe that people are going to respond to this film and respond to all the actors in it and the storytelling. I’m glad that I went to that dark place and I’m glad that I emotionally got there and lived in that world, so I think it definitely helped.”
Did you create any kind of detailed backstory for your character? Did you figure out where he’d been prior to being assigned to Guantanamo Bay?
Lane Garrison: “Yeah. I mean, I always build my characters from inception of birth on. I do a whole bio breakdown and I’ve known guys like this who were military guys growing up in the South, where that sort of false bravado comes from a lot. I made Randy from a little town in Texas, and I built a whole backstory for him. I’m the kind of actor who works from the outside in. The minute I put on that uniform, I lace my boots up, I feel like a new man and I sort of found this guy’s walk and talk that way. But I always do a bio breakdown on it.
Another thing I always tell people is I build my own iPod soundtrack for a character: what the character would listen to and where he’s at emotionally. This guy, it’s not my favorite music in the world, but it was sort of the heavy metal, P.O.D. thing going on. I usually connect a song to a character. Music is very powerful in my life and it helps me emotionally connect. I easily map out songs for different themes and what this guy would listen to and what he was listening to before this thing happened. So, that’s really important.”
You were talking about Kristen’s performance and there’s one scene in particular that was very powerful between the two of you. How difficult was that to film?
Lane Garrison: “It’s always an interesting thing because you’re filming something that’s so intimate, yet there’s 100 people watching. It would be one thing if it was like this passionate love scene but this was kind of aggressive, violent, and uncomfortable, and I think it helped us having everybody there because we wanted it to feel uncomfortable. Now, I will say that in between each take I was definitely running to the craft service cart and popping breath mints like there’s no tomorrow. [Laughing] Just to make sure Kristen’s like, ‘Oh my god, you have perfect breath!’ It was kind of funny in that sense.
But working with Kristen, she’s a young actress who is a movie star. She’s going to go so far because how trusting she is and how willing she is to go through whatever level we need to go to to get the performance. And we just went all in. It’s not in the film, but on the first take I told her to hit me as hard as she could. I said, ‘Do not hold back.’ We’ve earned that trust and she did it. I got so angry that I punched through the wall. I punched straight through the wall and went insane. I thought that for sure that would be in the movie. Everybody was clapping and going nuts and it really helped set the tone for that scene. It didn’t make the film because Peter felt like he wouldn’t have been redeemable after that, after going to that level. I was shocked by it, Kristen was shocked by it, but I understood when I saw the film. But having that happen on the first take helped us get to that intensity. It’s actually my favorite scene in the movie.”
I know I’ve only got you for another minute or two, but can you say anything at all about what you’re doing with Better Call Saul?
Lane Garrison: “All I can say is Vince Gilligan is a genius.”
Lane Garrison: “He’s got the same team, the same writing team, and is using even the same directors from Breaking Bad. I can say that I play a bad guy. My storyline involves Jonathan Banks’ character, Mike, but that’s as far as I can say. They’ve already been on my butt about the non-disclosure agreement. But I will say this, the show is going to be great. The writing and directing are fantastic. I’m really excited. I’m such a fan of Breaking Bad, and I just met Bryan Cranston at the Emmys. We talked all about Better Call Saul, but he was the kindest, most humble human being on the planet. I was like, ‘You’re my hero. I want to be like you when I grow up.'”
Breaking Bad was so fantastic, I just don’t know how they’re going to live up to it. It’s going to be tough.
Lane Garrison: “It is going to be tough. It’s going to be different, but then they’ve got such a great writing staff and Bob Odenkirk is amazing. It’s going to be great.
I’m doing that and I’m doing The Messengers, too, which is also in Albuquerque. That’s a fun show. It’s a sci-fi show dealing with a group of people trying to prevent the apocalypse. It’s a lot of fun filming. I’ve spent a lot of time in New Mexico and I’m enjoying it. [Laughing] Any time I’m out of California traffic, I’m happy.”
Follow Us On: