Commentary: Hard Candy

In honor of our brave rejects battling the snowy terrain and darkened theaters of Sundance, we felt it best to revisit a recent breakout hit from the film festival. As luck would have it, a shiny, slightly used copy of Hard Candy ended up in the DVD player this week. It’s called serendipity. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a fine film, and there is sure to be plenty to gleam off of the actors involved.

That’s right. Actors. We’re giving the directors/writers/producers/best boys a break this week and delving into the minds of Hard Candy‘s two leads, Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson. It’s the first time we’ve checked out a commentary involving only actors. This uncharted territory could be rocky, or it could be fascinating. One thing is for sure, though. The chances of it being boring are about as slim as Wilson’s character ever getting the upper hand in this film. So here, in all of its uncomfortable glory, all the great things we learned from listening to Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page talk about Hard Candy. We’ll keep the Goldfrapp comments to a minimum.

Hard Candy (2005)

Commantators: Ellen Page (actor), Patrick Wilson (actor), lots of Canadian talk.

  • Wilson dishes out some tidbits of information about Hard Candy over the opening credits, which, according to him, are computerized blueprints of the house in the film. Hard Candy was made for less than $1 million, it took 18 1/2 days to film, and most of it was shot on a sound stage. The exteriors were filmed at the stunt coordinator’s house.
  • Page notes the blueprints over the opening credits are based in part on the blueprints of producer David Higgins’ house. The idea that he and writer Brian Nelson came up with – the idea for the film was Higgins with Nelson serving as screenwriter – was that, if they didn’t get the funding to shoot on a sound stage, they would use Higgins’ home as a budget-conscious backup. Wilson mentions Higgins does have a rock garden in the middle of his living room, but Page is unsure as to whether it conceals a porn-filled safe or not.
  • Wilson asks Page if there is pressure from her parents or teachers to be careful who to talk to in the Internet age. Page responds there is, but that there’s also a negative outlook on chat rooms in general. She mentions that it is much safer now than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. She also jokes that, being from Canada, she only got the Internet 2 years ago. That would explain why no Canadians are on Twitter.
  • Hard Candy was shot in sequence except for the opening scene, which was filmed last. Both actors agree this scene was the hardest to shoot.
  • Page brings up having to eat the cake in the opening scene and how it’s not much fun eating something sweet in a film because of the numerous takes. “You’d think you wouldn’t want to shoot the scene where your cutting off someone’s balls, but, no, I was stressed out about the cakes,” she says.
  • Wilson remembered reading the script and notes how he felt most of the dialogue Jeff, his character, delivers is dark or menacing. The actor wanted to take it in another direction and make the character as charismatic and likable as he could. He notes the difficulty of “being positive when you’re doing such dark things”.
  • “Are you familiar with Goldfrapp?” Wilson asks Page. She says she is, though she’s not a big fan. She mentions how much she loves the score the band did for 2004’s My Summer of Love. There. Goldfrapp comments done.
  • According to Wilson over 300 girls were tested and auditioned for the role of Hayley. Page remembers getting the role and then having to wait while they found an actor to play Jeff. Wilson notes they didn’t have to go through 300 girls to find the right person to play Jeff.
  • “It was really crowded when I got there,” says Wilson as an excuse to why Jeff parked in the middle of an empty parking lot so far away from the entrance. Also of note, that little scene was shot in the parking lot of the ArcLight Theater in L.A. Huh. Wonder if Hard Candy played there.
  • Halfway through filming, there was talk of having Hayley reveal at the end of the film that A) her name isn’t really Hayley and B) she is actually 18 years old. Wilson and Page, among others, I’m sure, shot this idea down quickly saying it defeats the whole point of the movie to make her older than she appears to be, to turn the film into two adults trying to get the upper hand on one another as opposed to a kid tormenting an adult who starts out by preying on her.
  • Wilson mentions there was no ADR or voice dubbing done in post-production. Page corrects him saying she had to go in and dub one word in the film. At one point in the film, her character says “mucho appreciated”. Page delivered the line “like a Canadian would say it” and had to re-record it. Wilson says he loves Page’s Canadian sayings and mannerisms, and a quick conversation about Moosehead Beer and the Edmonton Oilers ensues. “We don’t have the Internet, but we’ve got the largest mall in the world,” says Page. She later remembers the moment when she’s reading the letter Janelle wrote to Jeff was completely ADR.
  • When Jeff is taking pictures of Hayley and fighting the effects of the drug she gave him, he yells at her for a brief second. According to Wilson, the shot where he screams at her has been digitally altered. Director David Slade stretched his mouth out wider. This gives the character an animalistic look for a brief moment. Also pausing this shot on your DVD might give you nightmares, but Patrick Wilson is in them, so it’s all good.
  • The line “Why do I get tied up first?” when Jeff wakes up was Patrick Wilson ad-libbing. The line was not in the screenplay, but the actor felt that Jeff would still think Hayley was playing a game. Page also mentions a few moments were cut from this scene, moments where Hayley questions Jeff as to why he has a baseball card and AAA batteries. “I’ve totally forgot that,” says Wilson. “That’s a good memory, Ellen. It’s Ellen, right?”
  • Despite the amount of dialogue and “speeches” in the film, Page doesn’t consider Hard Candy a preachy movie. She and Wilson agree that you don’t learn enough about either of the characters or what actually happens for it to be considered preachy. “Your character is more black and white than mine because of age alone. Teenagers see things black and white,” says Wilson.
  • “I am a tiny little nymph,” says Page after Wilson comments how his jacket – that Page is wearing in the film – envelopes her. She also mentions her roommates call her the tiny Canadian. Wilson quips that he thought that was Martin Short.
  • It’s unclear if it was David Slade’s idea or the actors themselves, but Wilson and Page had “phases” Jeff would go through in the film. At one point Wilson says,” Phase One: Sweat.” Page comments Phase Two was Minor Frustration.
  • The idea of researching the character comes up. Page comments you can’t really research for a character like Hayley or for what occurs in Hard Candy. She mentions the best way she found to get into a scene was meeting Wilson, getting to know him, and becoming comfortable with him. They did go out to lunch one day where Wilson mentions Page was offered a kid’s menu. Wilson also notes they had five days of rehearsal on the film. He also mentions a lot of the hard work went into the opening scene when Jeff and Hayley are first meeting.
  • At the moment when Hayley is talking to Jeff about how all men have porn in their house, Page asks Wilson, “Do they?” “No,” responds Wilson. “I mean, some might.” Way to dodge, Mr. Wilson.
  • Wilson is unhappy with the way he says, “I’ll keep my distance.” He thinks his North Carolina roots show now and again in that scene and really wanted to ADR it in post. Now when you come to that scene, there’s no way you can’t hear the southern twang.
  • The way Jeff gets the gun off of the middle of the bed even though he is tied to an office chair was completely Wilson’s idea. Instead of coming up with some choreographed maneuver, he told David Slade to just put the gun on the bed and he would figure it out. The results are more than a little impressive.
  • Page and Wilson discuss the varying opinions of Hard Candy from those who have seen it. Page thinks it’s incredible how polarizing the film is and even tells the story of her friends going to see it. After the film, the reactions from her friends changed depending on whether they were around all women or if there was a man near the group. Wilson mentions one of his friends said they wanted to punch Hayley. He notes how difficult the film was for his family to watch, particularly his wife.
  • “For the record, I never saw Patrick’s penis,” notes Page in the scene where Jeff is tied to the table with his pants down. Wilson lets out an “Oh, God”, but Page assures him that some of the press questions she got about the film were even more outlandish than that. She begins to note one interviewer’s question in particular, but Wilson says he doesn’t want to hear it.
  • Initially the idea was to shoot the “castration” scene as a oner, one, continuous shot done in a single take. Wilson notes the scene covered at least 12 pages of the screenplay. This idea was ultimately scrapped for something much more practical.
  • There’s not much elaboration about it, but Wilson notes he blacked out briefly while laying on the table. He does mention later it comes at the moment when he’s trying to get his hands loose. If you look closely in a lot of the shots during this scene, you’ll see Wilson’s hands going blue and purple, because the ropes holding him were so tight.
  • The story Jeff tells about how his “sickness” began was 1 of about 10 different story ideas Wilson and Brian Nelson had to choose between.
  • “When does it become Charles Bronson in Death Wish?” asks Wilson regarding Hayley’s nature, what she’s doing to Jeff, and how far can a punishment go before it becomes a moral crime itself. Page mentions that during test screens, the moment when Jeff is pleading and she continues with her “work” is when a lot of men in the audience wanted to kill her. “Justice is a fine line in general,” says Page.
  • Wilson mentions there is nine minutes of music in Hard Candy. He doesn’t explain if this includes the opening and closing credits or not.
  • The screen showing Jeff’s “castration” is brought up and what was actually in the footage being used. Wilson notes the beginning of the tape was a friend of David Slade’s who shows his genitalia. The tape then loops footage of turkey gizzards and insides being scraped. So remember that for this year’s Halloween party.
  • Wilson mentions he asked David Higgins if he could ADR the line “I’m all here” in post, because he wasn’t sure it was clear enough to people watching that Hayley doesn’t actually castrate Jeff. Wilson and Page mention some people who have seen the film still think throughout the last 30 minutes that she had actually done just that. The “I’m all here” line and the fake castration tape and him running around the house isn’t enough evidence for them.
  • “There’s no Hard Candy 2,” says Page after Wilson talks about how bad-ass Hayley is. “This is Hard Candy: The Last Stand.” Wilson laughs, “I see what you did there, Kitty Pride.” Oh, X-Men jokes.
  • Sandra Oh plays a character named Judy Tokuda in Hard Candy. Page remembers the character being named Judy was Oh’s idea, even though the producers didn’t like this. They forced her to deliver the line, “I’m Mrs. Tokuda”, but Oh purposefully emphasized the name awkwardly making the take unusable. The take where she says her full name had to be used. She also showed up on set with a colored streak in her hair – Page can’t remember if it was blue or purple – which explains why her hair is tied back in that scene.
  • Wilson notes he always liked in the Friday the 13th movies when Jason would walk casually after his victims who would be running at full speed and still be able to catch them. For this reason he chose not to run after Hayley near the end of Hard Candy. Instead, he casually walks around his house looking for her. Naturally, Page is doing the ch-ch-ch-ah-ah-ah while Wilson is saying this.
  • The line, “Which do you wanna fuck first, me or the knife” was an ad-lib from Wilson. Applause ensues.
  • While filming on the roof, Wilson remembers having to do the shot where he yells, “You’re not gonna shoot me” five times. After the third or fourth take someone within earshot – not part of the film crew obviously – called the police. “I thought, ‘What kind of a fight happens with the same, exact words every few minutes?’,” Wilson says.
  • The film’s ambiguity comes up again. Wilson loves how you never know for sure what really happened to the missing girl. “It’s funny after all this people are still like, “Well, what did he actually do? Are you lying? Did you really just watch?’,” he says. He and Page agree that it’s really all about what you believe. They also agree how great it is that the film doesn’t spoon-feed you or show flashbacks of what actually happened. “Why do you need to know?” asks Page.
  • Originally when Jeff jumps off the roof to hang himself, Wilson raised his left arm to grab the rope and pull it taut after he lands on a mat. This was corrected digitally in post-production to show what’s there now, Jeff’s left arm staying straight as he jumps. Also footage was taken of Jeff hanging off the side of the house and Janelle finding his body, but this wasn’t used in the final film.
  • The next to last shot of Hard Candy showing Hayley sitting quietly was done without Page’s knowledge. She was relaxing before a take, and Slade decided to film her. He calls the shot “Page in Repose”.

Best in Commentary

“What’s so interesting about this film is that you have a character written for a 14-year-old girl with intelligence and passion, and when do we see that? Not really that often.” – Page

“So much of this film is ambiguous. At the end, do you know any more about these people? Not really. In one sense, yeah, you know about their human emotion, but we don’t get caught up in the details.” – Wilson

Final Thoughts

It’s very interesting listening to a commentary track involving just actors after listening to so many with the film makers behind the film. If the Hard Candy commentary is any indication, commentaries with actors come off as a lot more casual. Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page bounce off of one another going from topic to topic and making cracks about their characters throughout. It’s not the easiest thing to try and keep track of the different stories from the set, but the relaxed nature of their commentary makes for a much more enjoyable experience than “This guy did this. That girl did that” or going over a play-by-play of what’s happening in the film. Wilson does fall into that on occasion here, even giving voice to Jeff’s inner monologue at certain times. However, all in all, the commentary he and Page provide Hard Candy is both insightful and incredibly entertaining, eh.

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