I’ll admit it, I’ve never heard of an Escape Room. When I went to the Escape Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard for the press junket for Sony’s Columbia Pictures new psychological thriller Escape Room, I thought it was a real hotel, but discovered it’s a venue that houses several escape rooms – no, I didn’t go into any one of them!
The movie, directed by Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key), follows a group of people who are mysteriously contacted to participate in an Escape Room, the winner walking away with a considerable sum of money. But these rooms aren’t normal, if you don’t solve the puzzles in the time allotted, someone dies – literally!
Two of the movie’s players, Deborah Ann Woll (Marvel’s Daredevil) and Jay Ellis (Insecure, Top Gun: Maverick) came to the press day to speak about their harrowing experiences!
Debbie plays Amanda, an army infantrywoman, who was wounded in action during an IED explosion and now lives with ongoing trauma. Jay portrays Jason, an egocentric finance executive who is hiding a despicable incident in his past.
The movie opens on January 4th, 2019.
Can you talk a little about your characters?
Debbie Ann Woll: Fear kind of drives my boat, so I don’t have a lot of trouble connecting to fear. That’s easily accessible to me. However, anger I’m less comfortable with.
After Amanda has her panic attack, what I had read a lot about is that the defense mechanism is to slip into anger, and I wanted to really lean into that. I’m curious about that side of myself, since I don’t access it very often. It felt good on the day, I did go home feeling like I did find a little piece of that. I hope that it plays in the film.
Jay Ellis: Jason is a bit of a thrill seeker, and I live some of that personally already. I ride motorcycles, I’ve skydived, I’ve scuba-dived. I’m currently learning to fly. So there were some things that were easy for me to tap into.
I feel my work as an actor lies in finding the differences (with my character). I tapped into what does a traumatic experience like Jason’s do to a character, and why does it force him to then become this thrill seeker? (He’s) not going to back away from a challenge, (he’s) always going to be the best, be first and never quit.
His traumatic experience carries into this Escape Room, where it’s created a veneer that he has now, this wall. For the first time, he’s put in a situation that kind of mimics his traumatic experience, and we get to see what fear does to him. There are moments where we see how his fear causes him to put others in harm’s way.
You never realize what these high stress moments can do to you, and what life or death actually means to each of these characters, and who they become, their truer selves in some ways.
Which was the hardest room in the movie to shoot for you?
Debbie: The Ice Room. It was tough because we were in there for the longest time, and the mist that they were using to do the atmosphere, even though it was healthy mist, it got in your throat and your lungs, and all of us were having respiratory (problems).
People started wearing masks, because your voice quality changed and that (didn’t) match what you shot the day before. We had the (fake) snow that would get into everything. It was just a very grueling space to work in, so even though it’s one of the most stunning visually, we were glad to (move on).
Jay: Yeah, the Ice Room for sure. It was a challenging room to film in, because although we were in this big cavernous space, we were always confined to a small area. The ice was a little slippery the entire time, and there was a current that was flowing under it.
There’s also an incident that changed the dynamic of the film, because it changed the dynamic of the cast. Once the incident happens, the cast changes at that point. And we had spent five or six weeks together every single day, so that was a whole shift for us.
In the movie both Amanda and Jason are very physical, how did you prepare to play them?
Debbie: I looked it up to make sure I knew what the physical requirements were to be in the army infantry, and make sure that I could pass those. Every day throughout filming I was in the gym making sure that I could be believable.
Amanda’s been out of service for a number of years, so I didn’t have to look like I could tear a room apart, but there’s certainly a believable physical fitness level. And on top of that, making sure that we portrayed the truth, that vulnerability doesn’t necessarily destroy your strength, that you can be strong and still have these moments where you’re overwhelmed. I think that’s very true.
Jay: I’ve been an athlete for most of my life. I played college basketball and still work out quite often. I worked out five, six days a week while we were filming this movie, every single day on a strict diet.
Going back to who Jason is, he’s this guy who physically is always going to be ready.
And getting into the room where the fight scene takes place, at that point I had 8 or 9 weeks of training so I knew exactly where I was going, what I was going to do and how I was going to react. Also, how to prepare myself in case something went wrong, in case there was an accident of some kind. But our stunt coordinators were so specific, so dedicated and detailed in every single stunt in this film. So I went in, used my body and had fun. I love action.
Speaking of action, what can you tell us about the new Top Gun movie?
Jay: We’re filming it now, we’re three months in; we have three months to go. It’s a flying movie; there are some planes in it (he laughs). It’s been amazing and unreal.
Tom (Cruise) is one of the smartest human beings I’ve ever met, he’s one of the kindest people; he’s been giving and open. He’s told us, ‘If you guys need something on set, if you have questions, call me, text me, e mail me,’ which when Tom Cruise tells you to call him, everything time he says it my head explodes. Did Tom Cruise really say that? Every time he talks to you, you are the only person in the room. It’s the most amazing thing.
Tom’s teaching us so much, from filmmaking to acting to just talking about his 40 year career in making films. It’s like a master class every single day.