Published Dec 21, 2018Horror film Bird Box, which drops on Netflix today (December 21), is pretty bleak in its depiction of a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has been driven to near-extinction by a band of extraterrestrial creatures that cause anyone who looks at them to attempt suicide. Starring Sandra Bullock as Malorie, an artist who heads on a blindfolded trip down a river in pursuit of refuge, her journey is filled with fraught situations, from an unplanned pregnancy to ominous riverside encounters.
That's where Trevante Rhodes comes in. The actor, best known as adult Chiron in Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight, plays Tom, who Malorie meets in a safe house owned by Douglas (John Malkovich). Tom represents Malorie's beacon of hope throughout the film as the two connect while the world as they know it crumbles around them. Rhodes says he channeled that feeling when the cameras weren't rolling.
"I was trying to be the best version of myself," says Rhodes to Exclaim! about how he was able to pull off such a calming presence during a tense horror film. "I think that's how my mom raised me."
For his first foray into the horror genre, Rhodes found himself channelling his work on Moonlight with director Barry Jenkins. When asked about the biggest lessons he learned from Jenkins, Rhodes replies, "Just the comfortability that he was able to provide in the space. For me, just trying to be honest as best you can is the thing, but Barry just had a way of providing an essence and a vibe and I've been able to look for that in filmmakers, that comfortability. Being able to identify that was the one thing." Rhodes says that he saw similar qualities in Bird Box director Susanne Bier.
Despite Bier's comforting demeanour, Rhodes says that the set of Bird Box was fairly tense due to the low lighting. Since, in the story, the extraterrestrials infect humans via sight, the safe house is protected by blocking out all outside light — for filming, this meant that the set was shrouded in darkness.
There was plenty of light thanks to on-set antics courtesy of veteran actors Bullock and Malkovich, both of whom contributed to positivity while filming. Says Rhodes, "Sandy [Bullock] is a buoyant person so she provides levity a lot. It was pretty much always that angst, Suzanna did a pretty good job of providing that kind of vibe on set to keep us there. We were in a dark house, all the windows were blacked out so it provided this gloomy vibe."
Malkovich's antics involved the birds of the film. In the story, the birds are a warning sign that the creatures are nearby. When the birds were used on-set, Malkovich would speak with them to lighten the mood. "Obviously he's an amazing actor, and he talks to birds," marvels Rhodes.