By Tom Ue.
Mayhem is the latest film directed by Joe Lynch, and it stars Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, and Steven Brand. The film follows Derek Cho (Yeun) over a single day as he is unjustly fired from his job at a law firm. The building that they are in is under quarantine because of a mysterious virus, one that encourages victims to act out their wildest impulses. Furthermore, there are no repercussions to their actions owing to a legal loophole. Together with former client Melanie (Weaving), who has similarly hit rock bottom, Derek attempts, by any means necessary, to get to the executives on the top floor. In what follows, Weaving and I discuss what fascinates her about this project, what she sees the virus as doing, and what in her view the future holds for Derek and Melanie.
What a fantastic year this has been for you, with both Mayhem and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri coming out and getting strong reviews! What attracted you to these projects?
With Mayhem, it was just really refreshing for a horror comedy to have a real female presence. My character, Melanie, can really hold her own: she’s never really afraid and panicked and, when she is, it’s to manipulate someone. That was really attractive.
She is really bold and I think she has a lot of heart and she covers it up with her strength and she’s really funny too. She’s a real three-dimensional character. It is just a blast to play her.
Then with Three Billboards, I’ve been a fan of Martin McDonagh’s work for so long. It was really a surreal moment. I had to go and pinch myself.
In addition to these feature films, you are also starring in television. What are some of the differences between acting in film and television?
I think there is a reason why actors are crossing over. They’re not as different as they once were. I think a good script is a good script, whether it’s on a small screen or a big screen. Television is really matching film and some TV shows are much better than the films coming out now so there isn’t much of a difference in that sense.
How did you prepare for this role?
Yeah so when we were in Serbia, Joe would have movie nights and Steven and I would come over and sort of dissect horror films and talk about what we liked and didn’t like and how we could apply certain elements of that to our characters – which was really fun and really helpful. On the day we didn’t really have to think about it: we could just play and have fun.
The experiences of Derek, Melanie, and so many of the film’s characters are quite relatable. Did the context – i.e. of the global recession in our own times – affect your thinking about Melanie? How so?
I think everyone in their life has that one experience where they had a dream about murdering their boss so I think this is really fulfilling – like a universal fantasy of “If there was a world where we could get away with it.” It is really fun to play and I’m glad people have responded the way they have.
Melanie and Derek bond because of the virus: do you think that they c/would have under other circumstances?
I don’t think they bonded because of the virus, I think she’s stuck at rock bottom. The way that they combine forces is because he’s hit rock bottom too and they have a common enemy. I don’t think the virus has quite reached its heights at that moment and I think it’s the real honest truth about humanity where it’s a survival instinct where they have to team up together in order to get what they both wanted: they had a common goal.
I think, through that journey they have together, they realize they like each other. But I think initially they team up because of the situation they’re both in. I don’t think it really has much to do with the virus. I’m sure it heightens the situation but I think they would have done that nonetheless.
Melanie and Derek have some control over their actions despite the virus. To what extent do you see the virus as just an opportunity for these characters to act out their desires?
It was really fun because of how it was written and it was such a great idea because, with the virus, you could literally do anything without repercussion. As an actor you can really explore how far you can take one emotion and how that can also play off one another in the scene because it could get quite convoluted. I think the cast is so amazing that we could all be at the heights of our emotions and still play a scene with truth.
I think the virus definitely lowered their inhibition but I think the whole point of the virus is, if there’s even a seed of a thought of that feeling, the chances are you’re going to do it. So I think it’s subconscious monologue you have and the virus takes that and puts it at the forefront.
Melanie and Derek get most of what they want by the end of the film yet the system that they are in remains largely unchanged: are you optimistic for them?
I am optimistic for them. I think they lived through something and I think also neither characters knew what they really wanted. I think they had goals that they wanted to achieve but they didn’t know what they actually wanted. And so I think this journey and this sort of strange virus revealed who they really were. I think they’re at peace with themselves and at peace with who they are. I think that’s really wonderful so yeah I am hopeful.
What is next for you?
Three Billboards is coming out, and I did Picnic at Hanging Rock, an Australian miniseries that Amazon bought and that should be coming out next year. And The Babysitter is still on Netflix and SMILF is on Showtime, so I’m really excited so keep watching that.
Mayhem is available now on VOD and Digital HD.
Read Elias Savada’s review of Mayhem here.
Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University, Yale University, and the University of Toronto Scarborough, and he was the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London.