The Darkest Hour Cast
: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnaman Director
: Chris Gorak Genre
: MRunning Time
: 117 Minutes Synopsis
: Welcome to Moscow.
The Darkest Hour is the story of five young people who find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of a devastating alien attack. The 3D thriller highlights the classic beauty of Moscow alongside mind-blowing special effects from the minds of visionary filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch) and director Chris Gorak (Right At Your Door).
Arriving amidst a mysterious lightening storm, young Internet entrepreneurs Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) land in the vibrant Russian capital to pursue their business dreams in the international economic center, full of new money but unscrupulous business practices. Travelers Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor), stranded in Moscow by an unscheduled stop over en route to Nepal, make the best of it by seeking adventure in one of the nightlife capitals of the world.
The two pairs of best friends meet amid the glitz and glamour of the Zvezda Nightclub, the hot spot for the international and the beautiful in Moscow, including the young turk Skylar (Joel Kinnaman), the Swedish businessman who duped Sean and Ben. A mecca for the globe trotting youth, supermodels, and business elite congregating in Moscow, the club is quickly transformed to a scene of terror when the aliens invade and everything goes dark.
After surviving the initial attack hiding underground, days later the five emerge into the confines of a Moscow that's become increasingly alien - the once pulsating city is now without power and is all but deserted, yet occupied by a force they don't understand. Made up of electromagnetic wave energy, the alien beings kill brutally by shredding earthly life forms, reducing those in their way to their molecular structure instantly. The aliens are also basically invisible to humans, however anything electrical gives them away. Daytime is now dangerous, so the survivors learn to travel across the city in the safety of night, while confronting their individual reactions to these extraordinary circumstances where everything familiar is gone.
Throughout their journey across a foreign city to find help, the dwindling band encounter various Russian survivors who help them start to unravel the mysteries of the near-invisible invaders, their goals and weaknesses, and most importantly, how to fight back.
Courage survives. Release Date
: January 19th, 2012Casting
Five dynamic young actors were cast to play the survivors the audience follow through the story. "The script characterised a group of young people who were the age and type of contemporary people who would end up in Moscow. We really wanted these characters to feel authentic, dramatic, fun and relatable so we are thrilled with the cast we ended up with, who feel all of the above," says producer Tom Jacobson.
"We have a fantastic cast," admits director Chris Gorak. "Emile Hirsch blew my mind in Into the Wild and Olivia Thirlby was my first choice to play the female lead. Max Minghella and Rachael Taylor are also terrific actors. Joel Kinnaman is a brilliant actor from Sweden and I'm glad to have all of them together. It's a really great core group, who we rely on as we move quickly and strategically through the city. We know they're going to get there and deliver."
"Sean played by Emile Hirsch and Ben played by Max Minghella, arrive in Moscow with an idea for a travel website. They've been friends since childhood and Ben is the more practical of the two, but Sean is the sizzle to Ben's steak," says executive producer Monnie Wills.
"Like a lot of best friends, Sean and Ben fall into roles, although they are both really smart and ambitious," comments Tom Jacobson. "Ben is the organised one, he's the man with a plan. Sean supplies the energy, fun, and outside the box thinking. They're both forward thinkers, very representative of their generation, and looking for the next thing."
"In the beginning, Sean's a very carefree guy… life to him is water off a duck's back," says Emile Hirsch. "But he's also really good at adapting to difficult situations, so when the alien attack happens, it's a quality that comes in very handy. Sean's able to keep his cool. He is a very heroic guy, just a ballsy dude who knows that he's got to take risks if he wants to keep surviving."
"Emile Hirsch's a very confident actor. We're really lucky to have him. He believes in his craft and he makes you believe," comments Tom Jacobson. "He also is fun and has a way of characterisation that is entertaining and connected to the audience, so you like him. He lets you in. Emile Hirsch has a great natural charm, wit, and truthfulness, but he also has this instinctive movie sense. His character is caught in this most unlikely situation and has to deal with it. There's no choice… if you don't deal, you die."
The project marks the first in the sci-fi genre for the young actor acclaimed for his dramatic work. "I'm so excited to have Emile Hirsch part of this project," admits Chris Gorak. "He brings a realism and great subtlety to Sean. He's so likeable. He's dedicated and really works hard to make the best possible detailed character that he can. We've collaborated for months, going back and forth about who Sean is, so it's been an incredible experience working with Emile Hirsch. I actually knew him back on Lords of Dogtown, which I worked on as a production designer. Emile Hirsch's an incredible actor and he was taking a leap of faith to do The Darkest Hour. But he's a big science fiction fan and we got to talking right when Avatar came out."
The young actor is a big fan of the landmark film. "Avatar is one of the most amazing movies ever and I remember coming out of the theatre thinking I would love to make a science fiction film in 3D. The whole experience of that film really felt super cutting edge," comments Emilie Hirsch. "I grew up on science fiction movies too, and the genre was something that I'd never done, but I'd always watched."
"The script for The Darkest Hour caught a tone that I really liked and I thought that I'd be able to bring something to the film as an actor," adds Emilie Hirsch. "Even though it's a sci-fi film, it's not just about the special effects, there's a lot of character development and drama. So this was a perfect mix for me. I had a really good time reading it as it brought out all the emotions of fear, suspense, and excitement. When I first met with Chris Gorak, he showed me all these really cool crazy storyboards and there's definitely a really cool gothic feel to it, very creepy, with dark hues and tones."
Emilie Hirsch was also attracted to the twist of the electrical-based aliens. "One of the things I really like about the film is that it employs these light bulbs as alarm signals for the aliens coming. So there's also this horror element and this futuristic sci-fi element of using electronics to your advantage. Suddenly a car radio turns on and you know there's something bad over there. It's unique. It's funny because we'll be on set and we'll have our light bulbs around our necks and they'll just be lighting up. I'll walk away from set to go grab a drink and my light bulb will light up. Oh, they're trying to find me," laughs Emilie Hirsch.
British actor Max Minghella was chosen to play the best friend of Emile Hirsch's character. "Max Minghella came in a couple of times to audition for Ben and did a fantastic job," say Chris Gorak. "He just became a great match with Emile Hirsch. Off camera they have a dynamic that actually permeates on to camera. It's very honest, real, and satisfying to witness the dynamic between the two talented actors with balanced roles, who are vibrating off each other."
"Ben is a software designer from Seattle. He and his partner Sean go to Moscow to sell this social networking website that they've designed and it doesn't go well," admits Max Minghella. "They go to this bar so they can drink their sorrows away and then we are hit with a very dramatic and unexpected event. Ben is fairly pragmatic and used to taking charge, but he's in this incredibly extreme situation where he can't think in the way that he's used to. So part of his arc is about somebody trying to find ground. Ben expects leadership from himself, but as the story unfolds he realises how out of his depth he is and that he is terrified. He's somebody struggling to maintain control in an uncontrollable situation. Yet the film's tone is fun, but at the same time it doesn't shy away from exploring human depth and emotion."
Tom Jacobson adds, "Max Minghella is a really thoughtful, smart guy who is grounded, but also loves movies like this. He's very serious about his craft, but has that lightness of his generation. He's done many independent movies, and smart dramas like The Social Network, but he also loved this script. Max Minghella came after it very aggressively and it feels like he belongs with Emile Hirsch."
Max Minghella was attracted to this script. "The Darkest Hour is in a sense an alien invasion thriller, but it is handled in a very original way. There's nothing really else like it," states Max Minghella. "When I read the script, it felt completely original to me in conceit and yet it's very true to its genre. It will satisfy fans of sci-fi movies and at the same time push boundaries in terms of what you expect."
"It's so cool to be a part of this film because ever since I was three years old climbing around the house with my plastic gun, I've been dreaming of getting to do something like this," admits Max Minghella. "It's pretty rare that there's room to do something in this genre that's actually substantial and has some real integrity to it. This opportunity is special."
"One of the things that's been really exciting about shooting for me it that feels like a classic sci-fi action film, but the effects feel completely new to me and the tone of the film is totally unpretentious," adds Max Minghella. "It's a film that's completely aware of what it is and I'm proud of Chris Gorak for finding a tone that is so consistent and so playful. Chris Gorak is obviously an incredibly established and brilliant production designer so he has a great visual abilities, but he's also amazing with us actors. Plus he's a very practical filmmaker and thinker, and you really have to be when you're shooting in Red Square, shooting 3D, showing sci-fi alien attacks, and dealing with us actors."
Max Minghella's co-star was also a plus. "Emile Hirsch is one of my favorite actors, so working with him has truly been a privilege and it was a thoroughly exciting prospect for me. Our dynamic and relationship in the film is incredibly similar to our own," explains Max Minghella. "We were able to spend enough time together that there's an affection among ourselves in these parts and that's been very liberating for both of us. From the moment we started it was really clear to us that we were going to be able to believe this friendship. It's not an effort."
"One of the most important things for me in getting involved with the film was finding that right person to play opposite in the Ben role. Max Minghella and I definitely get along really well," agrees Emilie Hirsch. "He's a really cool cat and I hope that our friendship transfers well on screen. Shooting in Russia, it's been a lot of fun to have someone to hang out with in this crazy location that speaks English and is up for a joke. Max Minghella is a very loose actor who's also a very modest and really talented guy, excited about acting, and willing to try different things, which I always really like."
The chemistry among the actors also extended to the leading lady Olivia Thirlby. Emilie Hirsch reveals, "When I got the script, Olivia Thirlby was already attached and that was definitely a really big, influence on me wanting to do the film. I'd really liked a lot of her performances and I thought she was a really cool girl and found it to be a lot of fun to go on this adventure with her. As an actress, I'd seen her in a really good play called Farragut North with Chris Pine, and I liked her in Juno too. Plus I thought it would be pretty fun to work with an actor who's never really made a movie like this."
"Olivia Thirlby is an extraordinary actress and I've been a fan of hers for years," adds Max Minghella. "Also we've known each other for a while, so it's been very comforting getting to work with a friend. For both of us, this is our first time venturing into a very different type of film, which is a very exciting challenge, and it's been really nice having a comrade along the way. She's playing the female action heroine so beautifully, and she's about to shoot another one, so I think this may be her future."
Olivia Thirlby reveals, "Truthfully my main reason for wanting to do this job is because I really like and respect the director Chris Gorak. I thought his other movie Right At Your Door was really impressive. This genre isn't usually the thing I find myself drawn to, but it suddenly seemed like a very cool and exciting adventure, something that I could really get behind. The location has so much to do with it, Moscow really is a big part of this movie and scenically it's so different from everything else."
"I also appreciated the fact that my character Natalie wasn't a very sci-fi movie girl in that she's not scantily clad or unbelievably sexed up. She's not just the eye candy," comments Olivia Thirlby. "She's a educated, born and raised outside Washington D.C., and now lives in New York City. She's an awkward girl, traditional American overachiever, straight ahead, loves her Mom."
"She and her best friend Anne, who she met in college, wind up in Moscow because of a last minute change of plans," explains Olivia Thirlby. "Their loose back story gives you a glimpse that she's had a messy breakup with a boyfriend so she just needs to get away. Anne convinces her to come on this photography trip to Nepal, so Natalie uncharacteristically makes an unplanned decision and decides to go along."
The four characters meet at a nightclub just prior to the alien invasion. "Natalie's first impression of the two boys is definitely that she's drawn to Max Minghella's character Ben," shares Olivia Thirlby. "He's a bit more buttoned up, classically intelligent, definitely the leader, the Valedictorian type, and very handsome. Natalie looks at Sean, Emile Hirsch's character, and sees a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants surfer dude and that's just not her type. She has her eyes on Ben."
However it is Sean who calls Natalie out for being overly digitally connected. "She's a girl who's attached to her technology. Her nose is always in her Blackberry, sometimes to the dismay of the people around her," admits Olivia Thirlby. "She sometimes sacrifices having a connection with a stranger or even with a friend, in lieu of sending a text message or an e-mail or reading something on the Internet."
"After the invasion, she suffers a bit at not having this technology at her fingertips, and is a bit unsure suddenly of how to be social in a small group. For that reason she doesn't say much. But when it really counts, she lets her true colors show - a real sense of right and wrong, safe and not safe, and good and bad," explains Olivia Thirlby. "She might not be the most bold or courageous person, but when the situation calls, she usually takes that path of what's necessary and she's willing to do what it takes."
"I was drawn to the character based point of view of the movie which is that it's really about four strangers who are forced to try to stay alive together in these completely impossible circumstances," reveals Olivia Thirlby. "Their true colors come out and ultimately the movie had a very optimistic view about what those colors are and in these extreme situations really pushes one to be their true essence."
"Moscow's architecture that is so distinctly different from anything that we have at home. It's always refreshing to see a change of scenery and to see buildings that are clearly not in the U.S.," comments Olivia Thirlby. "Part of what motivates them to try to stay alive and find safety is because they don't know what's happening at home. They need to survive the place that they are, so they can get back to the places where they're from - that adds a whole other layer of intensity."
"Olivia Thirlby brings reality, sincerity, and appeal to the movie," comments Tom Jacobson. "Olivia Thirlby's an east coast girl, very put together, and really compliments Rachael Taylor, who's Australian, a really vivacious, can-do girl. Both are great actresses and really into the parts. All these actors bring a sense of conviction that is both entertaining and real."
Actress Rachael Taylor plays the globetrotting photographer Anne. "Working with Emile Hirsch was one of the reasons why I wanted to do this movie. He's one of the most talented young actors of his generation," comments Rachael Taylor. "Immediately when I found out he was attached to this, I wanted to do it because he is truly fearless as an actor. It's a quality you see very, very rarely in actors, where they don't care if they fail. He always goes 110 percent and never holds anything back. He never keeps anything in the tank. He always exposes everything, which is so bold."
"Rachael Taylor's really smart and always wants to make sure that the scenes are right, and that we're all on the same pages with our characters. All of us together, we make a pretty cool team. We're all very different people. I can be very put together in an interview, but I'm probably the goofy one," laughs Emilie Hirsch.
Olivia Thirlby adds, "I just can't speak highly enough of Rachael Taylor. I adore her. I'm so thrilled that I've met her and it definitely has not been hard to simulate that best friendship. The longer we spent connecting together off screen in Moscow, that makes the onscreen stuff that much easier. When we're filming the most high-stakes of scenes together, I notice we naturally are constantly checking in with each other and making eye contact. That bond between the characters, and between us, definitely makes everything feel real."
"What's been the nicest thing for me is my relationship with Olivia Thirlby. I love the girl to death. She's not only the greatest actresses that I've worked with, but she's a really cool lovely person," comments Rachael Taylor. "That has bled onto the screen. We look like really good friends because we are. I'm proud of the way The Darkest Hour positions the relationship between two women. It's actually quite rare that you get to see the love story of friendship really. There's Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella, and Olivia Thirlby and myself, and our on screen relationships are very clear, intricate, tight, and complicated. That's really refreshing."
"Rachael Taylor is incredible, as she's so tough, so kind, and so committed to this part. She's made this character a lot more interesting than I ever expected her to be," adds Max Minghella. "She's a real actress and I've been blown away by what she's pulled out of her hat. She's a special woman."
"One of the greatest rewards of shooting a movie like this is the relationships that you form off camera. Max Minghella, Emile Hirsch, Joel Kinnaman, Olivia Thirlby and I have become such good friends. I love these people more than any other group of actors that I've ever worked with," reveals Rachael Taylor. "They really are wonderful people. Each person brings something so original and so specific to the movie. It's really about the characters. It's been wonderful being in a foreign location with them, shooting a genre picture and a movie of this magnitude with action sequences, stunts, and special effects, it's certainly a taxing process. So, one of the pay offs is the relationships that you make with your fellow actors."
Rachael Taylor also enjoyed her character's atypical journey. "The thing I like about Anne so much is at the beginning of the film, she's this very upbeat, open, fun loving young girl. But what is exciting for me as an actor and I hope for an audience, is watching her disintegration throughout the film," explains Rachael Taylor. "When we meet her, she is this incredibly capable young woman and what happens to Anne is not only horrific, but she just doesn't cope with it. She reveals herself to be much less kind and fun loving than we think. She is not someone who rises to the occasion at all. She's a mess. Her inner vulnerabilities really play out."
"The most exciting thing for audiences would be to ask themselves, how would I act in the face of adversity?" comments Monnie Wills. "Clearly an alien invasion is, hopefully, not in our future. But the film is really about young people trying to figure out who they are and what it takes to be a hero. I really hope that character journey will resonate. I'm fairly confident that the visual effects will be something that you just quite simply haven't seen before. Movies are made of moments and there are moments in here that people are going to remember for quite a while."
Rachael Taylor continues, "It has been interesting asking myself the question would I be one of those capable people who's able to fight for my own survival? Or if I would be more like Anne, who in the end doesn't see the relevance of her own existence? Anne's so frightened, she can't bother fighting for life. That's a pretty incredible realisation for a character to come to."
"I find that question most compelling, who are you and what do you become at the end of the world? Which one of these characters would you turn into? Are you the person that survives at all costs? Do you fall apart? Do you survive because of the people you love? Are you compelled by friendship? Are you compelled by hate? Are you compelled by fear? They're all really interesting relevant questions," comments Rachael Taylor. "You never really know who you are until you're pushed to the absolute limits, and that's what this film explores in a very supernatural scary way."
Monnie Wills adds, "I think that young people particularly are looking to be called. They're looking for a challenge. They're looking for something to fight for. There's a lot of information out there and there are a lot of shades of gray, so when life is reduced to a very basic level, how will you stand up and can you meet the challenge? I think that's something that people ask themselves all the time and a film that is helping them to answer that question for themselves will be very appealing."
"One of the really interesting parts of the journey is some people you didn't expect to turn heroic, turn heroic, and some people you expected to be heroic turn the opposite way," adds Tom Jacobson. "Some people who have done something wrong reveal their humanity."
"The question of how people react in stress and under difficult situations was very interesting to us," says Monnie Wills. "We live in a very modern time with many conveniences and many of us live a life of leisure. So we were very interested to explore what would happen when all of that is pulled away. It's just as important to explore human weakness as strength. Joel Kinnaman as Skylar is incredibly unselfish in his performance because that is what he is exploring - how people might react in a bad way to something like this. That's just as interesting to explore as the heroic side."
"In the beginning, Skylar is an egotistical Swedish businessman who really doesn't care about anything but himself. He rips off the guys right away, but then later he has to team up with them. He has a human learning curve during the movie," admits Joel Kinnaman. "In any catastrophe people will react differently and I like the idea that this confident, strong, selfish businessman is not the one taking the lead. He panics. He's not making rational decisions. He's not helping his fellow survivors out. He does evolve during the course of the story, but at first he's very afraid and in a state of shock."
"When I read the script, I thought that the story was very intriguing. I like that with this apocalyptic story we find out how fragile our civilisation is because we're very confident that we've achieved so much. When you see all these natural disasters all across the world, we realise that we're not that far evolved as a species," adds Joel Kinnaman. "So as an actor, there's a lot to play around with. It's very interesting when the stakes are so high, what that brings out in people."
Joel Kinnaman continues, "With everything that's been going around in the world, like the climate changing, what will happen if something big happens is on a lot of people's minds. How would I react if the big catastrophe came? This movie is going to be a big adventure for the audience, but they will identify with people being in this dramatic situation. We've done a lot of work with the characters and it is definitely a character driven piece."
"Also originally, Skylar's girlfriend Tess was just some bimbo girl that he hooked up with, but we raised the stakes on that. Skylar was actually in love with her and he is the cause of her death. That's his first big mistake but also in a crude way, it causes him to find his way to his own heart and realise that he needs to change," says Joel Kinnaman.
"What interested me mostly were these characters' journeys, but just being in a sci-fi movie at all is a big thing for me. Coming from like a small European country like Sweden, we don't make these types of movies. It would look ridiculous if we tried," laughs Joel Kinnaman. "But I've always loved these big American adventure, popcorn movies. It's always been a hidden dream to one day be in one of them. This was the first sci-fi script I've ever read. This is by far going to be the most fun to watch when it's finished because I have no idea how the special effects and aliens are going to look. I've been spending a lot of days terrified of tennis balls on tripods, so I'm going to get a big kick of seeing how the whole thing comes together."
"I actually find doing a visual effects film immensely satisfying. It's the ultimate actor experience," comments Rachael Taylor. "You never get an opportunity to play with high stakes like you do in a genre film. The Darkest Hour is about the end of human civilisation. That's a pretty mind bending idea. As for working opposite a tennis ball, that's a great opportunity for a young actor because all you really ever have as an actor is your imagination. You have to invent something that's spooky and it gets to change all the time. It's your job to make that tennis ball the scariest or the most intriguing thing in the world in that moment."
Like Emilie Hirsch, Joel Kinnaman was also intrigued by the 3D element. "After I saw Avatar, I got a new dream… I wanted to be in a 3D movie," laughs Joel Kinnaman. "I am fascinated by the technique."
"When I first met with the producers and the director, Skylar was originally German. We were just talking about the script in general and Chris Gorak asked me what I thought about Skylar. I said it's any actor's dream to play an evil German in a movie. But, I went in a little bit too deep with it, full Dr. Strange level on them," laughs Josh Kinnaman. "So, now he is a Swede. I'm bummed out about it because I thought I'd do a killer German."
"Joel Kinnaman's just a riot," says Emilie Hirsch. "He's really a good guy and we get along really well off screen and have had really good times, but certainly on screen there's some tension with our characters."
"Emile Hirsch's professionalism is really attractive to me. He's very generous and he's got a really good ear to what middle America will like, of which I pretty much don't have a clue," laughs Joel Kinnaman. "He's always present. He's always there. Plus he's a hilarious guy, a prankster. Max Minghella is my European brother in making this movie and we've had some support from the Australian Rachel Taylor in making fun of all the Americans."
The film also features well-known Russian actor Dato Bakhtadze (Wanted, Crash) as Sergei and newcomer Veronika Ozerova as Vika.
"After the attack, our five characters miraculously have survived hidden for four or five days. They come out and see very few people. About halfway through the movie, they see a lone human light on in the distance, so they go to this apartment building and meet this Russian character named Sergei," explains Tom Jacobson. "He's an engineer, scientist, a technician, and he's figured out certain things about the aliens and their electromagnetism. Sergei's built this Faraday Cage around his apartment - a mesh grid that repels electricity and by surrounding himself with this wire cage, the aliens, who see electricity and wave patterns, can't see him. He even has a little cage around his cat."
Sergei is also building a weapon. "We've already notice there's a connection between electricity and these alien beings, and maybe that's the key to destroy them. A big part of our journey is figuring out to survive and how to overcome these very omnipresent and terrifying creatures. At Sergei's apartment, we discover the microwave gun that he's built," adds Max Minghella.
"This Russian teenager named Vika has also taken shelter in Sergei's apartment. That part was a really fun part to cast - we found this fantastic young Russian actress Veronica Ozrova, who speaks a little English and was really learning hard to come in for the audition," says Tom Jacobson. "This is one of those moments where you really find something. Veronica Ozerova is terrific and just lights up the screen. She's a really beautiful young woman but she also has this uniquely Russian spirit. But she's also international in the sense that every fifteen year old is the same, no matter whether you're Russian or Greek or American or Italian."
"Vika's important to our movie because she represents hope. We never find out what has happened to her family, but we suspect, because she's tough already. She's a survivor. She instantly bonds with these Americans," adds Tom Jacobson. "All of the cast and crew light up when Veronica Ozerova's on the set. We're all incredibly protective of her and that spirit she represents that we hope is present in the movie."
Another notable Russian actor Gosha Kutsenko (Bekmambetov's Night Watch, Day Watch) plays Matvei and leads a group of Russian soldiers portrayed by Nikolai Efremov, Arthur Smoljaninov, and Georgiy Gromov.
"Gosha Kutsenko, who is a movie star in Russia, is playing the very heroic Matvei. I like how it's written, the Russians are saving and helping and sacrificing themselves. In 2012, it's become very fashionable to have Russian guys as the hero," laughs Timur Bekmambetov. "In Russian mythology, the hero must die. If you didn't die, you're not a hero. We have different cultural codes."
"Russians and Americans, we are very different. We were in a Cold War 20 years ago, now there is no Cold War but still a lot tension between two big ambitious countries. But when the aliens come, then we are all together," chuckles Timur Bekmambetov. "We can only survive if we are together. In the first act of the movie, the four American kids in Moscow, they feel like they are aliens, or the Russians are the aliens. They couldn't understand the world, their rules, even the language and the signs. Then when the real aliens appear, then they are human beings and they can fight together. This is the emotional theme of the movie for me."
"We've cast some well-known Russian actors, and the casting process here in Moscow has been a lot of fun and have very different energy. Our international characters are the regular folk of the movie - the ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Our Russian soldiers are strange dark characters who are part of the extraordinary circumstances. Of course, in an alien invasion, we are all alike and the aliens are the strangers, so they all have to band together," agrees Tom Jacobson.
As they flee from the aliens attacking the apartment, the main characters meet the Russian soldiers. "They're scared and they come around the corner and they see this fantastic sight, these four Russian soldiers, one of them on horseback, coming for them, heavily armed with rocket launchers and AK74's. They're dressed in this fantastical modern found urban armor, one has coins on them, they have battery cables attached to them," describes Tom Jacobson. "These guys have figured out how to defend themselves and how to fight back. They wear this electrical conducting armor so should they come in contact with the aliens, their electricity will not fry them."
"Our costume designer Varya Avdyushko and her team did an incredible amount of work with the soldiers' uniforms," adds Chris Gorak. "One guy has headphones and his music turning on acted as a warning if an alien was close, others has different scenarios where lights would turn on their body. If attacked, how would you ground an electrical current across your body? Matvei's vest is made out of 222 real keys that he collected from all the empty apartments around the city. We wanted it to look down and dirty and home made. There are different ways that you create some barrier to catch a charge and ground it. Varya had everything detailed down to copper plating on the bottoms of their feet… it's pretty great and works with the film."
"Even the horse has a complete suit of electrical armor, and a license plate on his forehead and hanging chains that ground it. We see this armor work and we see these guys survive, repel, and damage one of the aliens," adds Tom Jacobson. "They can't yet kill it, but they figure it out when it's vulnerable and they're able to push it back and get away. Our characters are amazed." About the Production
Principal photography on The Darkest Hour began on July 18, 2010 inside a modern skyscraper in New Moscow City overlooking the Moskva River, an area highlighting the new capitalist spirit rampant in the Russian capital.
The thriller was the first Hollywood film to shoot entirely in Moscow using cutting-edge 3D technology. The international production with American, Russian, English, Australian, Swedish, Czechoslovakian and German cast and crew came together to face a multitude of challenges shooting in the Russian Capital including: temperamental technology; shooting iconic locations in a dense metropolitan area for a story requiring the city to appear desolate; language barriers; and shipping complications (the main characters' wardrobe was stuck in customs for over three weeks and missed the first day of shooting); plus an unprecedented heat wave and subsequent fires that made global news.
Filming the alien invasion epic took place at several iconic landmarks including Red Square in view of the Kremlin and the GUM department store; the Patriarch Bridge leading to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour; and the beautiful Art Deco Mayakovskaya Station in Moscow's famed Metro Subway, one of the finest examples of pre-World War II Stalinist architecture.
Other Moscow locations included the Lenin Library and Square, Sheremetevo Airport, Nachimovsky Institute, and the Academy of Science Plaza Cathedral Square, plus various sights along the Moskva River including and the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, one of Stalin's Seven Sisters skyscrapers.
The Zvezda Nightclub, the lamp store, and Sergei's apartment sets were constructed at MyStudio. Other sets such as the US Embassy rooftop, the Metro platform, the underground storeroom, and parts of the riverboat were built on the stages of Russian World Studios, which is located on the Zil Car Factory property, where filmmakers also used the vast industrial area for the exciting third act electrical trolley bus action sequence.
"Making a 3D movie in a place as foreign as Moscow and learning the 3D part was hard, because we made a decision very late in prep to go 3D. It's relatively new equipment that's based in the US, so taking all that technology to Russia and servicing it very far away from the production center of the camera was a technical challenge," shares producer Tom Jacobson. "Plus even though the local production support in Moscow was fantastic, but we wanted to do things that hadn't necessarily been done in Moscow before in terms of the scale and closing these things down. In the U.S., it's common to easily get a permit to close a street or plaza, and it's a quick yes or no answer. Here it takes a long time to get those permissions."
Production worked many early mornings and late nights to shoot real locations that are normally bustling with activity. "When the characters come out of their hiding place to devastated empty city, they have to make a journey across it and the massive wide ring roads that are ten lanes across," describes Tom Jacobson. "It's scary to be in this open city where they know it's occupied with this dangerous and invisible enemy."
To accomplish this aesthetic, the director insisted on shooting perennially congested spots like Garden Ring Road and Red Square. "Chris Gorak was adamant," remembers executive producer Monnie Wills. "I wish I had a picture of our Russian location manager's face on the first day of scouting. Where we explained to him where the cameras would be, what traffic would have to be shut down, the permits that we needed… I didn't know someone could turn that pale. But it was very important to us that if we were going to be in Moscow, we had to really shoot Moscow."
"The advantage of our time in the city is it really mirrors the experience of the characters in a lot of ways," comments Rachael Taylor. "I found myself having that lost in translation experience more here than I have anywhere else in the world I've been, including Japan. In some respects, Russia is a more foreign environment."
"The Moscow factor was very appealing for me and I think, all of the cast," adds Max Minghella. "That guaranteed that this was going to be a new experience. Being in a foreign land adds suspense and makes it more exotic but also in the sense of alienating these characters, on top of what they're already experiencing. We're feeling that exactness since we're all from different places. We all feel a little bit like strangers here."