By ROCCO T. THOMPSON
Though originally conceived and directed by James DeMonaco, 2018’s The First Purge broke with series tradition when the reigns were handed over to Gerard McMurray. For an action-horror series that sells itself on its strong socio-political core and timeliness, the inclusion of more diverse voices and actors was a necessary and welcome change, and this new era continues with THE FOREVER PURGE, which sees the series first majority Mexican cast inhabiting DeMonaco’s dystopian future. In the director’s chair is Everardo Gout (Days of Grace), who North American audiences may best know for his work on National Geographic’s Mars television series. We caught up with the filmmaker to celebrate the film’s release, discuss how he got involved with the series, why the film is coming out at just the right time, and what it means to him to have Latino stars leading the box office.
How familiar were you with the Purge series before signing on to direct THE FOREVER PURGE?
I really loved and respected the original Purge movie. I remember I was in London, [and] I went to see it in the theater and was blown away. It was one of those [ideas] that I thought, “Man, I should have thought of that myself!” [Laughs] So I had a lot of respect for the franchise in that sense. And then when they first sent [the script], I didn’t understand why they were sending this to me, I was like, “Well, it’s a mistake.” And then I started reading the treatment and I was like, “Damn. James is really onto something.” So we had a meeting and that’s when I said, “Okay, yeah, you have the right guy, because I’m going to break it open and make a huge mess out of it, but it’s going to be super-entertaining and hopefully very realistic and very visceral.” And that’s a great opportunity, right?
Political horror has become a big thing in the past few years, but the Purge series was kind of injecting politics into horror from the beginning. Is the series’ sociopolitical thrust what drew you to it?
It’s everything. I tend not to repeat myself and my daughter is my Northern Star, I always try to choose my projects because of the content, and not the money or who’s attached or the bling or how successful they are, but the message. And then I really saw the opportunity of making a thrilling movie, making it as entertaining as possible, making you feel really scared. I do believe that it’s a really scary movie because of the proximity to reality as well. [It was] a great opportunity to tackle it and to try to give my version of it. And it was always a process a little like cinemas in the ’70s, where Hollywood grabbed international directors and made B movies but they elevated the genre, and that’s how I felt doing this movie. With the help and the blessing of Jason and of James, that was the feeling – like we’re doing something special, we’re doing something different, and hopefully, it will not be the last Purge movie.
How did your previous work prepare you to direct this film?
Well, the biggest challenge of the movie was the budget, right? Because you read on the page ‘and America collapses’ and then how [few] extras we have for that scene, “What? What? What?” You have to become very creative and manage your resources. You have to go back to your original Spielberg, not the $200 million version but the Jaws version where because the shark didn’t work, [but] it’s so scary. You’ve got to take that approach of “We’re going to be inside the car and we’re going to pan through the window for a split-second, and there’s where you see the mayhem going and the rest of it is emotional, character-driven.” And if you manage to do that, then you’re golden, right? You trust your characters, you emphasize with them, you recognize yourself in them, bang! You’re off to the races then.
As you said, every entry has been written by James DeMonaco and the series has done a good job of bringing in more diverse voices as it’s evolved. Did you have any input into the script as it reached the shooting stage?
Yeah, for sure, for sure. Again, it was the opportunity for having Mexicans as [the] protagonists of a big franchise, which is very un-Hollywood and I love that. That’s why I came in strong with my casting choices and I wouldn’t back down and I said, “I think Tenoch [Huerta] is Juan, he has to play the role, and I refuse to see any other actor until you prove that he’s not the right actor for this.” He was the right actor. Then I said to James, “Let’s incorporate his flaws into the script. Obviously, he has an accent but that’s going to make it more relatable,” and “Let’s make a scene where the accent becomes a thing and nobody can understand him,” because that has happened to me where I start rambling and they’ll go, “Can you say that again in English, please?” [Laughs] And also with Ana [de la Reguera] as Adela, she’s an amazing actress who has a spectacular range. She’s great at comedy, she’s great at drama, she can kick ass, and I wanted to portray a strong woman in her 40s, a mature woman. [It] would have been [different] a couple of years ago. It would have been fake Latinos with fake accents, or people who are supposed to be Mexican, but they have a Colombian accent and you’re like, “Well, God damn it!” [Laughs] Really pisses you off, right? It was a very healthy collaboration and a lot of opportunities to make this come out and talk about what my community’s really about.
Why do you think it’s still such a rarity in Hollywood to have a Latino leading cast?
Because they’re dumb, I don’t know. They can’t figure it out. They still think that Latinos [are] all Mexican, and we’re not. We’re different nations. America is a continent, not a country. Once you show them that, then…they’ll figure it out, it’s turning around, it’s coming. I think it’s slowly advancing in that direction, which is baby steps, but the same direction with equality of gender and et cetera. That’s why I wanted to push the envelope and have a more mature woman to play the role of the best actress, not the “hottest Latino woman” in Hollywood. Just the best actress.
The film was delayed a year from release. Is that frustrating as a filmmaker?
Man, we all had the worst year of our lives, I think. This project was particularly hard on me because I lost my mom on week two of production and then I lost my stepfather a year after, so it’s been hard as hell when you put it into the context of real life. I saw [the delay] as an opportunity to keep on working with fine-tuning the effects, fine-tuning the edit, fine-tuning the music, creating that rap song for the end of it. If it was the original schedule, all of that would have been, “Let’s go, go, go.” I had more time, so I took it, and I think that the movie chose when it wanted to come out. It was relevant then and it’s more relevant now, so great!
Tell us a bit about that rap song. How was it conceptualized?
I always wanted to have a big-ass song and I wanted it to be in Spanish and English like the movie. I just wanted something that could catch fire and that’s bilingual and that gives you the correct energy for the end of the movie. The Newton Brothers, [who composed the movie] were amazing. We started working on the idea, “Let’s make a song, let’s make a song. Who can we invite?” This or that, you know? Then they did their magic and then I shepherd them through the process of making it more Mexicano and [we fed] that throughout the score. They’re really smart, they’re geniuses. One of them is married to a Mexican. I really enjoyed working with them, they’re very smart and very passionate.
Are you a horror fan? What scares you?
Yes, I’m a horror fan, and the pandemic has scared the shit out of me! [Laughs] Which is something that is going to help the movie, right? Because until the pandemic, you never believed in a world event that would make you stop. For the first time, humanity was at a standstill, and that was terrifying. So I think that now that we’ve experienced that, people understand better this movie because they had a glimpse of, “Shit, this could go wrong, and then that…?” Right? I joke that I was hired by Universal to do a fictional thriller, [but] I ended up doing a documentary.
What, for you, is the ultimate message of THE FOREVER PURGE?
Inclusion. Look at the other, be curious about the other, you can help each other. I think that America is such a great country because being the first economical power in the world enables them to invite people in and grab their ideas and further their ideas and help people grow. That is what really makes America great, that inclusion and that versatility, right? If you take that away, what is left? Nothing. And plus if you really want to take [issue with immigrants], every white person should leave this country as well because it was a First Nations country. So I think that inclusion is very important for who we are.
THE FOREVER PURGE hits theaters Friday, July 2nd, 2021 from Universal Pictures.