Interview: Jan Broberg (Actress – ‘Maniac’)

Just when the streets seemed safe, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is back and on the hunt.  Frank (Elijah Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna (Nora Arnezeder) appears asking for his help with her new exhibition.  As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion to stalk and kill.  A 21st century Jack the Ripper set in present day L.A., Franck Khalfoun‘s ‘MANIAC‘, a re-boot of the William Lustig cult film considered by many to be the most suspenseful slasher movie ever made – an intimate, visually daring, psychologically complex and profoundly horrific trip into the downward spiraling nightmare of a killer and his victims.

In one of the most bizarre, surreal true crime stories ever, Jan Broberg, who co-stars as an art agent stalked and tortured at the merciless hands of a serial killer, survived a nearly five-year ordeal herself having been kidnapped and brainwashed as a child, not once, but twice by the same insidious madman! Fortunately, she has not only survived to tell the tale, but has emerged as one of our nations true heroes. Her story is shocking, compelling, disturbing and true.

We spoke with Jan Broberg about how she copes with her real life ordeal and draws positive inspiration for herself and others, the unique nature of ‘Maniac‘ cinematography, working with Elijah Wood in such close proximity and much more.  ‘

Purchase Tickets for ‘MANIAC‘ in New York City at IFC Center opening FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 2013HERE

What were your impressions on remaking ‘Maniac’ when originally approached?
First of all, I had never done a horror film.  I did not know it was a horror film when I got the first draft of the script.  The scene i had been given was the art show scene.  She is making fun of Elijah’s character but I did not know I would end up being killed.  When I fond out it was blood, guts and horror, I was a little nervous, just because I had not done one before.  I knew I could perform the role.  It was more about how the process worked.  Of course, everyone involved took me by the hand and walked me through it.  I found it incredibly fascinating.

You mentioned how you were given only one scene, but you knew the general idea of the script. Did you ever discuss why this approach was taken on?  Why were you only given segments of the script at first?
Maybe they did not want to scare me, or any other actor, off.  There is something very emotional here.  To be able to portray that kind of fear it is a very personal thing, even if you are one step removed while acting. Maybe they wanted to take it in stages, but we did not really talk about it.  I did not know the full story; they did not mention it was a remake of a cult classic; the title was not given.  It was all in stages that all of this unfolded.

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I find the POV cinematography of the film very original.  It is also a very clean-looking film.  When working with Franck Khalfoun, how was this approach to cinematography staged and rehearsed?  Especially in the torture and murder scene, what was this mis-en-scene process like?
That is a really interesting question because the very first scene we filmed was me hog tied on a bed.  I had just met Elijah in the makeup trailer and we had a lovely conversation, but the next thing I know he is on top of me, calling me “mommy” and running a knife down my back.  We rehearsed at as if a normal scene.  I can barely see him but, of course, I can see the huge knife on the side of my face.  Once we got this rehearsing down, Elijah moves out of the way and is replaced with a camera.  The camera represents his eye line so it is about an inch away from my face.  Now, I am playing directly to the camera.  This is hardly ever found in a narrative.  I had to really prepare myself to address the camera as if it were Elijah.

When watching the film, I could not recall any completely 1st person POV narratives; maybe ‘Enter the Void’.  Also, its interesting how Elijah is always seen in reflections…
…and his hands also have to come into frame, so I would have a camera close to my face, a hand trying to strangle me and bodies laying all around us.  The medic, blood sprayers and such.  It makes for a very unique filming experience.  I have done a lot of film work and this really stood out.

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So how do you get in the head space pretending the camera is the actor you are supposed to be interacting with?
It is not an easy transition.  As actors we love to see eyes and reactions, which informs us about our performance.  It is the sensitivity to your partner that makes for great acting.  In film, you do not get that all the time.  For example, when working with children.  They have to be released at a certain point and you act to a pillow instead of that child’s face.  You know this going in.

Now Elijah, because he is a committed professional, was always there. I knew Elijah was standing behind the lens so it is a matter of seeing through the lens and into the person. You just have to do it.

Reading about your story, you have drawn from some difficult personal experiences in preparation for the role, as well as various other successful endeavors in your life.  How have you managed to draw from such a negative experience and turn it into such a strength?
I think when you experience something very difficult, at any point in your life, you are forced into a place of true despair, loneliness, unknowing if you will survive; when you have those kind of emotions it is not easy to come out of and look at your life in a positive way afterwards.  First of all, you have to choose that you will use those experiences in an appropriate way.  Whether you need to find a good counselor or program, you find a way to say “there is my experiences.  I put them in the past, but I can look, access and use them to help myself and others”.  You have to believe you can do this and then you have to choose it.

Secondly, you have to be aware that you choose this everyday.  Despair is easy to find if you want to look for it and certainly of you have those feelings it is an easier place to fall too in times that are hard.  It choosing to have hope and faith in a better future instead of despair.

The third thing is, I think, when you have the opportunity to have these life experiences you look at them as an opportunity for growth.  I use them completely in what I am doing as an actress and in other ways.  I am currently working on a documentary about my kidnapping and the brainwashing I went through as a young girl.  I am a public speaker at conventions for social workers, counselors, lawmaker,s mental health conferences also.

* JAN BROBERG’S GUIDE TO THESPIANS, SOCIOPATHS & SCREAM QUEENS! by Michael Stever

How was the dynamic on set amongst you and the production crew?  meaning, did they treat you with extra sensitivity knowing your experiences?  Was the ever discussed?
We did not have those conversations as they did not know my story going into filming.  I just barely told them about my story, literally during this week.  Franck has already asked if I wanted him to shoot my life story.  Elijah was also taken back. I do not want my past to make someone else feel uncomfortable.  I know what my limits are and what my possibilities are.  I know where I am at with my own emotions.  I am in a healthy place so I do not need everyone to be sensitive to me.

Your scenes are particularly suspenseful in a film which is generally suspenseful.  I would imagine that any sensitivity to your situation, in terms of recollection, would compromise the nature of that suspense on camera..

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Talking about the overall life span of the film, it did premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ program.  What was this experience like?
For those who were able to go, i heard it was a marvelous experience. Unfortunately, I was filming another film so I was unable to go.  The European market has really embraced the film.

The film does have a European feel to it.  I suppose since it was written, directed, photographed and scored by European creatives this would make sense. 

Now that the film is going into wider theatrical release in New York and around the country, as well as on demand, how has it been going?
It is so much fun.  This film involved so many people who are just great to work with.  You can not fully prepare for, for example, a scene when you are being held under water by Elijah Wood for as long as you can bear.  You want to do it as best and natural as you can so you practice and rehearse, but nothing truly prepares you for that moment.  When I come up for air, after about 30 seconds, Elijah and the whole crew just start applauding.  It is that kind of positive atmosphere which I cherish.  These are moments I will never forget as I felt completely embraced and appreciated by people I adore, personally and professionally.

Regardless of tone or content, a positive atmosphere in any workplace is one of those intangibles that frequently is the underlying factor between a quality end product and not…
…absolutely!  Everyone was very professional…and very kind.  This made it easier to go to those deep, dark places I had been to before.  To feel that intense despair again, it makes it easier in this kind of supportive environment.

Were you given the option to perform your own stunts as you did?  I am sure there are several actors out there unwilling to be submerged for extended periods of time.
It was a conscious choice from the beginning.  They knew I wanted to do it so we did not discuss it at all.  Maybe if i would have asked they would have given me a choice, but I did not ask.

After ‘Maniac’, what do film projects do you have coming up?
I have a film I did called ‘Haunt‘.  I play a decaying ghost and stars Jackie Weaver.  I also have a film which won the ‘Dances with Films Film Festival‘, ‘Coyote‘ which comes out this year.  I play an exercising obsessed cougar.  Also, another film is the film ‘Home‘, where I play the mother of a missing girl.

– Interview Conducted, Edited & Transcribed by Steve Rickinson On Site @ Actor’s Connection NY – June 19, 2013

Maniac

Facebook: /ManiactheMovie

www.janbroberg.com

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