A couple weeks ago, I was part of a roundtable interview with two stars of The Host, the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling science fiction novel. Max Irons plays Jared, a human survivor and rebel, hiding in an alien-invaded world. Jake Abel plays another human, Ian, hiding out in the same cave community as Jared. They’re both in love with the two different people, who just happen to share one body.
Max and Jake were a ton of fun to interview. We all talked about the film, how it was like to work with Saoirse Ronan and director Andrew Niccol, the interesting questions the film raises, their upcoming projects and Max’s funny fear of moths. Read on and get to know two of Hollywood’s soon-to-breakout actors.
Jake Abel: Well, I think the material is a bit more elevated. Stephenie’s writing is elevated, and the casting of the film, people like Saoirse Ronan as the leading lady, I don’t know of any other young actress that can do what she did in this film. She’s a presence, and it wouldn’t have worked any other way.
Max Irons: I think it brings up some nice philosophical questions about how we live, how we should go forward with our future, and how close-minded we can be as a species.
Can you guys describe the process of auditioning? Like how you got the roles, how you found out about The Host, and all that…
Jake: I was sent the script—an early version of the script—read that, and I went in. I initially read for Jared, and they brought me back in to read with Saoirse as Ian. Andrew Niccol, the director, called me the day before, and we discussed the character, and I took it in to understand it. I went in and did some of the kissing scenes with Saoirse in the room, but she was still 17, so we touched cheeks. But then, a week or so later, I got the call.
Max: Pretty much the same thing for me. In England, because I couldn’t go to LA, I put together a tape and sent it out. You have to forget about it, for self-preservation. You need to forget about these things. And then I got a call a month later saying to come in and meet Saoirse. We did the kissing with the cheeks. Then, I remember there was a list of actors put on the internet, which we [points to Jake and himself] were included in. At which point, I think we both thought we were out of the running. Some of these guys were big and tough and American, you know. Then I saw that you [to Jake] were cast, and I thought we looked slightly similar.
Jake: Yeah, yeah.
Max: I thought I’m definitely not going to get this part. So I completely forgot about it; the game’s up. And then, I got a phone call and went to the pub!
Max: Celebrate, yeah.
You both mention that Saoirse’s involvement was a big draw for you guys to be in the film. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like being on set with her and working with her?
Jake: She’s loads of fun. She’s always in a playful state of mind, I suppose. She’s right there with us; she’s whip smart. She’s got a great sense of humor.
Max: Yeah, some scenes require you to stay in the mood of things between takes, and acting is a huge amount of waiting around. If you can have someone who you could be silly with and mess around with—there was a sort of a cave mentality with all of us; we spent a ton of time together in quite close circumstances—so to be able to break away from that and have a laugh is good.
What was your favorite scene to film on set?
Max: Favorite moment?
Yeah, like any moment that pops out in your mind.
Jake: Well, I’ll like… It’s just so boring; I keep saying the same response.
Max: No, but I always envied you for saying that scene.
Jake: Yeah, it was the scene where Ian and Wanda—the date scene. He takes her outside for the first time because, not only was it a beautiful setting, it was the last day of filming. We got to all end it on top of this really great view. It was bittersweet. It was like great way to—
Those sets were gorgeous.
Max: They were good, weren’t they?
Jake: We traveled quite a ways out for those exteriors. And bumpy vans—
Like in New Mexico, right?
Jake: Yeah. On roads that didn’t even exist a week before, you know? But once we got there, the car sequence was worth it.
Max: My favorite scene was quite weird, and I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. It was scene where Saoirse comes back to cave for the first time as Wanda, and I have to hit her. Obviously, it’s not my favorite because I had to hit her; it’s my favorite because it was the moment where Jared had really discovered his problem, which is what drew me to the character—the problem that you lost the person you love on top of losing everyone else. You lost the person which you thought you had, and then she comes back to the cave physically looking identical and a reminder of the girl you loved, and everything you knew and loved is gone. That’s a horrific thing to go through. And I was worried about it, especially the hit because of how it was going to read, how it was going to play.
It was really resounding.
Max: I sort of understood it as an emotional moment and not knowing what quite to do, so many paths you could go in that moment.
Do you guys have any favorite stories, like behind the scenes kind of stuff, fun things that happened on the set?
Jake: I saved Max from a couple bugs.
Jake: A moth. I came in—
Max: I f*cking hate them!
I’m so like that…
Max: I saw this thing on the internet which was a low exposure picture of what a moth does, its flying path, right? There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It just flies around, bumping on things, so it’ll be in your eye. It could slip behind your eye. Then it goes to your brain and lay eggs. Then it’ll eat your brain. It could do anything.
Jake: I don’t think that even is possible. None of that is true.
Max: It is true!
Jake: (in British accent) They don’t have moths in England.
Max: We have moths in England. Of course, we do.
Max starts waving his arms in the air.
Jake: That’s an English moth.
[To Jake] So you were the hero, you saved the day?
Max: He was not the hero…
Jake: [Reenacts the story dramatically] I was working out too so… I punched the moth, and it went BAM! Punched him to the back wall. And then it slid down (slowly). That was my favorite story. It’s almost unbelievable but…
You just got me there with the punching.
Okay, well now a more serious question…
You know in the book, your characters are very serious. Did you ever stray from what was in the book. Did you kind of make it your own? Plus, you had to tackle these complex feelings, such as being in love with an alien or having the love of your life trapped in someone’s mind.
Jake: I think what you bring to the character is ultimately you. A facet of you is in it always. I think Andrew Niccol did a really great job boiling down a 600 page book into a 100 page script, a task not mere mortals could accomplish. But I think our characters in the book transferred well into the screenplay version. I know he made Ian a bit stronger, and that was something that I really liked.
Max: I think he made Jared a bit softer, which is maybe a good thing. ‘Cause Jared was a bit of an asshole in the book.
Jake: Certain things—I’ve done a few adaptations—things don’t transfer to screenplays, and that’s why you have to tweak a little things. It’s harder being a fan of the book because I’ve been a fan of many books that you see onscreen and like “Oh, why’d you change this? Why is hair not black?!” But sometimes that’s not the most important thing to the essence.
Max: You’ve seen it, right?
Max: I think most people who’ve seen it and read the book are pleased. I think.
Jake: What’s great is that Stephenie has said that Andrew elevated the visual aspect of the alien world with the costuming, set decoration, which was all Andrew. She said “Wow, I’ve seen things that I didn’t even know,” and I think was a fun surprise for everyone especially.
Max: He was responsible for every detail you see onscreen, from extras to costumes to cars to guns to…
Jake: No director is in an extras casting session. None of them that I’ve ever worked with and known. Andrew is the only one I’ve ever worked with that was so detail-oriented and that he’ll sit at an extras casting session. Yeah, that’s why the film looks the way it does because it doesn’t look thrown together. And it wasn’t. That’s what also separates it from other YA movies that seemed just so thrown together and “let’s go make some money.” I mean they worked in pre-production for a long time, and they made sure they had the right actress in Saoirse and the right director. I think it all shows.
So you talked about having to work out, you [to Max] had to learn to drive for this.
What were some challenges, the hardest things you had to take on playing these roles?
Jake: I went on a crazy diet to get into sort of cave emaciation look. And over Thanksgiving and Christmas, that was a challenge. Then I got to set, and I realized all my friends were right when they said I might’ve gone too far. I looked in the mirror and was like “No, this isn’t going to work.” I immediately started doing more of Max’s regiment. More meat, more weightlifting. But yeah, that was probably the trickiest thing.
Max: I saw Andrew Niccol, and I had been working out in London, obviously not in the right way. I went and met Andrew, and obviously, you have to get off the plane and meet him, and you’re terrified he’s going to change his mind and tell you “you’re shit” and “go home.” I went “hello,” and he was like “Christ! You’re skinny!” So, off to gym and all that stuff.
Do you guys have any upcoming projects you want to talk about?
Max: There’s something I just signed on to, but I can’t talk about it as much as I loved to tell because it’s not officially announced, which I think will be quite soon. It’s English, so you probably never heard of it. But it’s going to be good! [Since this interview, it was announced that Max will play the lead in Lone Scherfig’s Posh.] But I just finished in Belgium; I’m doing something called The White Queen, which is about the War of the Roses. It’ll be on Starz here and BBC in England. I play a king. It’s great. A king with a crown, sword and all that kind of thing.
Jake: I have a sequel to a film called Percy Jackson coming out in August, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. In 3D nonetheless. I also have a sword!
So you kind of talked about the philosophical stuff, what do you think this film says about humanity? This peaceful invasion… I thought that was a really interesting take on it.
Jake: It’s funny. It sounds so cliché to say that this movie asks so many questions, but it really does. It touches upon a lot of different issues, like self-image, humanity as a whole, the human condition, and how we treat one another and the whole earth. Are we worthy of owning this place? Should someone come take it over and make it better? At the end of the day, for me personally, I watched the movie, I’m Team Human for sure. I think because we have the ability to evolve and understand, and that’s shown in the cave with Wanda and how we respond to her. I think our ability to learn and to try to make things better is unique.
Max: I think what’s incredible is when you look at history and you look at the state of the world today. We just don’t learn from our mistakes ever. It’s so depressing. We never ever learn from our mistakes. Personally, if we keep going this way, we’re going to destroy ourselves in some form or another. Or at least mass waves in the populations are going to have a terrible life. You worry, and you think, “Is it going to take something terrible, some kind of war or something terrible before we actually improve the way we live?” Oil, for example. Look at what we’ve done to Africa. Terrible things, and we keep on doing it, and the West doesn’t give a shit because it doesn’t change the way we live. I think that’s got to change. So maybe an alien invasion…?
That’s what we need. I’ll quote you on that, “We need an alien invasion.”
Max: Well, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if someone said “Listen you need—
To get your act together.
Max: You guys suck!
Jake: Yeah, but the question is… Should we get tips or should they completely invade?
Max: What’s that film with Keanu Reeves?
The Day The Earth Stood Still?
Max: The Day the Earth Stood Still. That had some interesting questions, even though it wasn’t the best science fiction film ever made. It had some interesting questions. Unless you can sort yourself out, we’re going to take over. You clearly can’t, so we’re gonna… Anyway, I could talk for hours and make f*ck-all sense.
The Host hits theaters Friday, March 29th!