On Wednesday, July 15th, The Knockturnal got the chance to attend the New York premiere of “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” We were able to speak with some of the actors, director Kyle Alvarez and the mind behind the experiment, Dr. Zimbardo, about the process of this indie film.
This film is based on “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” which took place in 1971. During this experiment, led by psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo, 24 males of the same age were selected at random to play either the role of a prison guard, or a prisoner. Not only is the movie’s concept incredibly interesting but it also showcases an amazing cast of actors such as Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Ezra Miller, Nicholas Braun, Gaius Charles, Moises Arias, Ki Hong Lee, among other talent.
First, we had the delight of speaking with Nicholas Braun, who played guard Karl Vandy:
Nicholas, what made you want to be a part of the film?
I read the movie like three years ago, and I thought it was just an amazing idea. There was no other script that I had ever read that was like this, about just basically all of what takes place in the prison. So the concept was great, and it moved really fast, it was scary. Every single role seemed to have a moment, everyone gets a moment, and all these guys who are in the movie are so good in it too when they take advantage of the moment. I also wanted to play somebody mean. There were a couple of roles that were really mean guys, so I went for it.”
So how did you go about preparing for the role, knowing that the movie is based on a real story? Did you ask for Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s advice when you needed help or guidance?
I think because the cast is so big, we didn’t advise with anybody. We just came about with our own ideas of what we wanted to do with it. Everybody stuck to that. You do your research on your own, and then you come in with it. We were going to shoot so quickly, like a sixteen/seventeen day shoot, it was very fast. We all came very prepared. We also knew we were going to shoot very fast everyday. So it was not a lot of checking if things were right. we knew what we had to do.
How was it to work with your old pal, Michael Angarano again?
I mean I’ve worked with him, this is like our fourth movie together, I LOVE IT! We are in different shifts in this movie, so I did not really work with him as much as I would have liked. He and I have one great scene together where he tells me ‘you can go for it,’ you know, basically saying I can get away with some stuff in there. It was one of the better scenes to play. I love that guy.
You both have a great chemistry on screen, so it is nice to see you work together again.
He actually just directed a movie that we are going to be in together, it is probably coming out this year. It’s cool.
Succeeding, we had the honor of talking with the mastermind himself, Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who was accompanied by his wife Dr. Christina Maslach:
What lead you to execute the Stanford Prison Experiment back in 1971?
We wanted to see whether or not people’s set morality (people’s moral conscience) is fixed impermeable, or whether it can be changed/modified by putting good people in an evil situation. We wanted to see what would happen if you have good apples in a bad barrel. If you have all good apples, it shouldn’t change the barrel; but I guess bad barrels corrupt even good people. The sad conclusion was evil wins and humanity loses. So it was a message people want to hear. I have written about it in my book “The Lucifer Effect” and now the movie makes it more dramatic. I am really hoping that a new generation of people, especially young people, will see the movie and will trigger reflection. I mean, it’s a very disturbing movie because everything in the movie happened in the experiment; but because it had to squeeze six days in two hours, there are many more dramatic moments they could not put in. Nothing in the movie is exaggerated, if anything it’s lessened.
What was your input in the movie?
I was heavily involved through out. There is a screen credit, which indicates that all of the dialogues between the prisoners and the guards came from my book “The Lucifer Effect.” When I was writing it, I was sending the whole chapter to Tim Talbott, who is the screenwriter. We were talking about what could be in, what could be successful. Then we worked with Kyle Alvarez (the director), and again looking at things that were really not psychological or some things that did not make sense in the psychological point of view, so they took it out. Also coming up with things that were missing that they thought they really had to put it in for something to make sense.
It has been forty-four years since the experiment took place. How did it feel to revisit it and help implement it into a movie? Did it trigger some of the feelings (since you were also very affected by the experiment)?
It felt really strange. And sure, it is a very strange experience. Since so much is a repetition, I am finishing the lines of this experiment. You know, when the prisoners are breaking out, Jesus Christ, I am burning up inside. You know, I am saying the words, because I have heard them so many times over and over again also in my teachings. It also re-kindled the guilt I felt when I realized (when my wife made me realize) that I allowed it to go on for too long. The only negative thing was—I should have ended it after two days. When the second prisoner broke down, that’s it— we proved our point. But partly because we had intended it to go for two weeks, I couldn’t stop it in two days. The mistake also was that I, by being the prison’s superintendent, cared more about the guards and my prison then about the prisoners.
Up next, we talked to the amazing director Kyle Patrick Alvarez:
What inspired you to direct this film?
You know, for me it started with the opportunity to get to make a film with a huge ensemble. You know, not a lot of indie films have, and I mean this is 25 leads, 25 people working every day that are in the full cast, an amazing cast, to me that was an exciting challenge. Not to only get to build that cast and bring it all these actors I love so much and have a material that was really strong for them, but also bring in new people I had never seen before. To discover some people through casting and be able to have it be a great combination of all those elements. That was the initial thing. Of course what quickly followed through was the story, and so many other elements as well on the way.
How was the collaboration with Dr. Philip Zimbardo?
It was great, he worked very closely with the screen writer about ten years earlier developing the script. A lot of the heavy work was done then. For me it was about trying to understand the emotions that were going on. That was the truth I was most concerned with, and what I though the film could be responsible for. I wanted this movie to do some of the other things that were in the experiment, that had been written or done in the experiment couldn’t do, which is the emotional experience— which is why you go to movies anyways. For me that’s where the excitement was: How can I understand what those emotions are, so I can impart that to the actors.
So how did you get in touch with those emotions?
Just by watching all of the material, listening to Dr. Zimbardo and Christina a lot. Spending a lot of time reading interviews that the guys had done, observing as much as the information as you can, so you feel like you can understand it from the inside out.
What is one of the messages you wanted the audience to walk out with?
I want them to be provoked in the conversation. I want people to disagree about what they feel was happening during that experiment. I didn’t want the movie to be a message movie. I wanted it to be a conversation started. So if anything that’s what I would love, I would love for people to be discussing it afterwards.
And last but not least we spoke with Michael Arangano, who plays guard Christopher Archer:
When did you first hear about this project and what was something that excited you to work on it?
I first read the script eight years ago. I think since this experiment happened in 1971, there has been different iterations of it, different cast, different directors, different writers, but I had also met Kyle for another project a couple of years ago. With this one specifically I was really excited that it was Kyle who was going to be a part of it. I had never done anything like this. I thought it was going to be really exciting for him and it’s just such a fascinating experiment, and such an interesting story that it’s impossible to walk away without think what you could have done if you were a guard or a prisoner. The truth is that you don’t know.
How did you prepare for this character?
Well, there is so much research material on the Stanford prison experiment already. The script is actually three hundred plus pages when it was first written because it was a transcript of the experiment itself. The script was more than enough, but then Dr. Zimbardo also wrote a book called The Lucifer Effect, which kind of goes day-by-day, minute-by-minute into the experiment. There is a documentary, which if you type in “Stanford Prison Experiment Documentary” on Google you can watch fifteen minutes of the documentary. There is so much material, so I think it was just a manner of observing all of that. But really just focusing on the script, what I thought was really great was that all of these guys in the story, you only know them for six days. The first day is when the experiment starts and the last day is when the experiment ends. You don’t know them, you don’t know what they’re like outside of the experiment. For me the most important thing to know was who was a guard and who was a prisoner.
When everyone was in the theatre, director Alvarez took the chance to thank all of those who were involved in the film and those who allowed to film to take place. Once the movie came to completion actors Michael Arangano, Ezra Miller, Nicholas Braun, director Kyle Alvarez and Dr. Zimbardo stayed to answer a Q&A along with psychologists presented by Psychology Today. This consisted of answering questions on the preparation of the roles, the creation of the movie and the experiment itself, along with a few elements of psychology that derived from this experiment. An after-party followed at No. 8.
The film opens in theater Jul7 17 and VOD July 24.