Kill or Be Killed: Casting the Thriller
Ethan Hawke has a history with James DeMonaco
that goes back to the director's first project. Offers
DeMonaco: "Based on Ethan's work on our last film
together, there was no question that we wanted him to be
our James Sandin. We have great short hand, and we were
very collaborative on both movies."
The performer explains his rationale for joining
this thriller: "I had worked with James on Staten Island,
New York, and I've known Jason for many years. When
I heard they were making this film, I wanted to be
a part of it. Jason has a real old-school independent
spirit, and that's what I loved about working with him
again. The restrictions of independent film, in terms
of budgeting, often breed real creativity. That was the
case with The Purge."
Fortunately for the production, Hawke had known
Blum for more than 20 years, as they had started the
Malaparte Theater Company together in the '90s. Notes
the producer: "Ethan has a unique ability to transform
himself into the characters he plays, and while he
portrays an initially one-dimensional character in this
film, he ends up being both a hero and a villain. That
requires a skill set that can be
very difficult to navigate, but
he does so incredibly well."
This was Fuller's first
experience with Hawke, and he
was as impressed as his fellow
filmmakers. Shares Fuller:
"What's wonderful about
Ethan is that he's truly an artist.
When you talk to him about the
choices that he makes, they're
not dependent on commerce;
they're dependent on where he
feels that he gets an opportunity
Although James starts out as a deliberately flat
protagonist, as the film progresses, he becomes much
more complex. Because his life is put into grave danger,
not to mention the safety of his family, he goes to a very
territorial, aggressive place. DeMonaco reflects: "James
represents the apathy of the New America. He sells The
Purge security systems to the rich, so he's completely
bought into The Purge propaganda; it's served him well
and made him very rich. But this attack on his home
and family has made him rethink everything."
Hawke was enthused to tackle the role: "What
James does that's subversive and interesting is that he
sets the movie in a near future that's readily identifiable.
At its core it's about how, in the name of providing for
your family, you can turn a blind eye to your ethics.
James Sandin sees himself as the perfect guy. Then,
slowly, he finds out that he's actually out of touch with
everything; things are much more complicated than he
was envisioning them."
DeMonaco was equally as thrilled about Lena
Headey accepting the role of Mary Sandin, a woman
who has lost her connection to her husband and has
begun to feel dead inside. As her family's horrific
night wears on, Mary is pushed to a breaking point
and fights to protect her home, husband and children from the violent intruders. Known for star-making
roles in such work as 300 and television's Game of
Thrones, the British actress commands the screen. Of
her performance, the director commends: "We were
lucky to get someone of Lena's caliber. I saw her as
Sarah Connor on the Terminator TV series, so I knew
she could be tough. She's a very subtle actress, and she
just knocked it out of the park."
Headey enjoyed the challenges her character
afforded her. The actress reflects: "Mary starts out as
this Stepford-esque wife, and she's numb to her life. She
has become apathetic with how the nation has changed
and how she has or has not contributed to that. She is
morally opposed to The Purge and does not participate,
but recognizes it as a necessary evil and has tried to
accept it because it's her family's reality."
The performer speaks to what the entire cast and
crew wondered about over the course of production:
What would happen if we really lived in this world?
Headey offers: "That's what frightens me the most.
Who knows what we would do if someone went to us
and said, 'There's going to be no consequence for your
actions.' I think we most definitely need consequences!"
DeMonaco was familiar with young performer Max
Burkholder's work on NBC's Parenthood and when
Burkholder came in for an
audition, the director felt
he was ideal for the role of
Charlie, James and Mary's
14-year-old son. Charlie
serves as the moral compass
of the film, and while he does
bring in trouble, he tries to
steer his family onto a moral
path. Offers DeMonaco:
"Charlie's humanistic and
relatable. At such a young
age, he questions The Purge.
He's so against it, which is
why he ultimately disables
the security system and lets the desperate stranger
inside their home."
Burkholder was excited to be a part of such a
challenging film. "Charlie doesn't judge a book by its
cover, so to speak," he says. "He sees this homeless man
and takes him in, and he's not sure if he's dangerous or
not. He just saw someone who needed his help."
Adelaide Kane was brought on board the production
to play Zoey, James and Mary's 16-year-old daughter,
who is very much a rebellious teenager. She's a
straight-A student but can never seem to truly impress
her overly driven father, who is furious she's dating a
young man several years older than she is. On the night
of The Purge, Zoey excuses herself from the dinner
table after talk of the coming evening grows disturbing.
Provides the actress: "Zoey has known about The Purge
her entire life; she's very uncomfortable with it. But, of
course, she lives in that safe bubble that all teenagers
do where they think nothing bad will ever happen...
that bad things only happen to other people."
The night takes a terrifying turn with the arrival of
the stranger, a role that went to actor Edwin Hodge.
The character, a homeless man, comes into the Sandin
family's life while being chased by the band of Freaks
and serves as the catalyst for the Sandins' deep
Charlie and his mother, Mary, fight for their lives.
involvement in The Purge. To save himself, the stranger
climbs the fence into the gated community where the
Sandin family resides.
DeMonaco provides that the stranger's entrance
into the Sandins' lives drives a wedge among the
family: "After Charlie opens the security barricades
and lets the stranger inside their home to help him, then
that draws the people chasing him to their home and
sets off the evening of mayhem. The family is given
an ultimatum by the group's polite leader to return the
stranger to him. If they deny the psychotic request, the
leader promises that his gang will break through the
barricaded security system and kill them all."
Hodge walks us through his character's night:
"Through the chaos, my character ends up hiding, and
Charlie utilizes his remote-controlled robot toy to guide
me to his secret space inside his closet. That's where
I take sanctuary for a while." Hodge echoes the cast's
initial trepidation about going to very dark places.
"During production, I was able to truly understand what
my character is going through in terms of the hostility
against him. It is going to be a fascinating experience
for the audience to watch all this play out."
As the Sandins run into a night full of moral
dilemmas and try to navi-
gate their way through the
attack, the eerily polite
leader, played by Rhys
Wakefield, makes their
lives a waking nightmare.
Truly, this character represents the upper class in
a different manner than
James. While the head of
household has become
rich off of The Purge by
selling security systems
to the very wealthy, the
leader feels that it's his
right as a member of the
elite to participate in the night's mayhem. He feels that
it makes him a better person and keeps the poor off the
streets for good.
What sets the leader apart from the other killers
in the film is that he is simultaneously articulate,
charismatic and creepy. Producer Blum enjoyed the
turn that this part provides, noting: "James came up
with something very different for Rhys' character. He
wanted him and his group to be dressed like they just
came from a prestigious fraternity at an Ivy League
school. Rhys is the leader, and he feels it's his right to
purge; it's his right to kill people that night, and he's
very adamant about it."
The supporting cast of The Purge was tasked with
their own set of challenging roles. They were brought
along to play characters that circle the Sandin family
home and either draw them out or kill them where they
hide. Cast as the band of Freaks who accompany the
polite stranger with an arsenal of weapons were BOIMA
BLAKE, CHESTER LOCKHART, ALICIA VELA-
BAILEY, TYLER JAYE, NATHAN CLARKSON and
For DeMonaco, these affectless killers are the
scariest characters in his story. He notes: "The Freaks, like their leader, feel that The Purge is their God-given
right and they treat it like a freakish Halloween, donning
masks and costumes. They're terrifying."
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