With a machine that can transmit and read thoughts, it’ll be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands.
“Listening” is currently playing in a few film festival circuits right now. This exciting sci-fi thriller is about a couple of young scientists who invented a break-through mind-reading technology that a mysterious government agency wants for their own usage.
It is the directorial debut for Khalil Sullins. It stars Thomas Stroppel, Artie Ahr, Amber Marie Bollinger and Steve Hanks.
Latino-Review had an exclusive phone interview with the entire cast of the film when it premiered last month during the Woodstock Film Festival. We discussed several things about the technology, research and the entire chemistry of the cast and crew during the production.
“Listening” is showing during the St. Louis International Film Festival this weekend. It will also be playing at the Anchorage International Film Festival next month.
Read the interview below (edited for length purposes):
Latino-Review: What attracted you guys to this movie?
Amber Marie Bollinger: On what attracted me was that I got a call about this vision. [Laughing] I was immediately attracted to it. When I finally read the script, I was really surprised on how AWESOME it was. It’s over the world [Khalil Sullins] created. I was so excited. I loved sci-fi anyways. Maybe it’s not so much sci-fi, because there’s a lot of truth to this stuff. I loved the story immediately. I was lucky to play Jordan and to work with all these awesome actors, Khalil, and the whole team. There was a lot of excitement from the get-go.
Thomas Stroppel: When you read the script for about half an hour, you’ll literally were thinking on where’s this is going and it was the best read you’ve ever had. I was like I have to be involved in this project. You’re looking at all the locations, all the details, the incredible dialogue and on how intelligent the story is. It’s just perfect. It’s something that you dreamed about as an actor.
Artie Ahr: To me, it was really exciting, because I have a background in biology. Up until this script, I’ve been going up for a lot of stoner parts or the guy on the couch. When I got this, I was like, “Hellya! This is awesome. I get to talk about science!” It was very comfortable for me.
Steve Hanks: Once I got a hold of the script, I realized I could play my usual self. My character was bad-ass, steely eyes and a man of very few words. It was very unlike me in real life, because I’m pretty chatty like right now. The group was amazing so I agree with everybody else here. The cast and crew involved merge together into almost a family.
Latino-Review: “Listening dealt with several subject matters of science-fiction, telepathy, neuroscience and other scientific items. Did you guys do any extra research for the film?
Thomas Stroppel: Of course. When you are presented with a role that is intellectually stimulating with mathematics and thought processes—you’ll have to do quite a bit of work. For me, I changed the way I was thinking as a person. I had a long preparation. I started listening to stuff that had a lot of mathematical formulations. I started to do a lot of Sudoku. In my free time, I spent a lot of time researching string theory.
Normally, I’m very creative and intellectually…...curious. By going into these different places, knowing it’ll be useful for the role—it was fantastic. I’m not saying I know a lot about string theory now, but it was useful for the role.
Latino-Review: I’ve taken many biology and chemistry classes back in college. I’ve noticed in the film that you guys used a lot of big complicated words through the dialogue. Did you guys even know what you were talking about?
Steve Hanks: They all learned it emphatically. [Laughter]
Amber Marie Bollinger: It was quite challenging. I did actually do some research. Every time I looked into any type of story, I start with the character’s perspective and don’t start looking into the words to learn it necessarily. In order to understand on what I’m talking about, I ended up having to do some research for this role. I needed to be comfortable using those words. You had to change your perspective and on the way you speak. You do have to know on what you’re saying and not just saying them.
Thomas Stroppel: Absolutely. So after you read the script and meet Khalil, you’ll see on how passionate he is about the project. You’ll see the potential there is for the project. There’s no way for you to sit there and not be intimidated by the words on the page. That’s not the film we’re making. You can’t do justice by coming in to say the words without understanding the concept behind it.
Everybody, in every department, was putting everything into the film. People were creating original scores. Our cameraman was phenomenal by going on location all over the world. So it would be [bad] for to say, “I don’t know that much about the film.”
That’s my job. That’s what I bring to it. I have to be the expert in that. I was a big advocate to let the audience know that this is the world of science-fiction that we were working in. So we had a lot of conversations about the [dialogue] especially with something like the classroom scene. This is what we’re talking about. This is how complicated the subject matter is. We’re not shying away from that.
Latino-Review: Here’s a question for everybody while I was watching the movie—I noticed on how the technology worked is by hooking up these wires into your head or skulls. As a part of that process, you would have to shave a part of your heads. From my understanding, all of you guys had to do that. How did they manage to convince you to do that?
Amber Marie Bollinger: It didn’t too much convincing really. Artie, you were completely bald.
Artie Ahr: Yeah, once they saw me shaved off my long hair—I think everyone was okay with shaving off a small patch.
Latino-Review: Everyone was okay with that?
Amber Marie Bollinger: I was totally excited for the shaving. Everyone else was too. We couldn’t wait to do it really. I think Christine [Haeberman] wasn’t that excited about shaving a part of her head.
Thomas Stropper: She played the part of my wife for the film.
Amber Marie Bollinger: She had some reservations about it. I talked to her. [Laughter] I gave her a pep talk on it. It was weird to shave. She had beautiful hair and with other jobs on the table. She was afraid it may take it away from other jobs.
Once we talked, then she was really excited over it. Thank God, she did. Everyone on this production was one hundred percent committed to everything.
Latino-Review: Out of curiosity, what is your hairstyle now?
Steve Hanks: I had a Brazilian wax before the shoot. I was immediately talked into it [Cast Laughter]
Latino-Review: Artie, are you still bald?
Artie Ahr: No, I’ve been growing it since. It returned to its natural length. It’s almost back to my shoulders length. It was kind of nice, because it was dramatically different look than I looked in the film. It throws people off and I like that.
Latino-Review: Thomas, it seems like you got to travel all over the world, including to Cambodia. How was that experience?
Thomas Stroppel: It was amazing. It’s a testament to the project. You read it that they trek through the jungles of Cambodia and see a tiger. I said, “This is bullsht. We’re going to Mexico. We’ll hang out and we’ll get some stock footage of a tiger.”
We flew into Phnom Penh. It changes things. I knew that we would be there shooting at Angor Wat, World Heritage site. And when you wanted to work with monks, they didn’t use extras as monks—you got real monks. We got real monks from the ages as young as six-years-old to up to eighty. It was [authentic] to the clothes I was wearing and I was blessed by a priest. It’s absolutely incredible.
Without a doubt from our footage, it shows the authenticity and the heart on where we were. It was a life changing experience. It was incredible.
Latino-Review: Steve, you are such a real bad-ass bad guy in this movie. How did you channel this villain? I was so believable.
Steve Hanks: I have real life experience in playing a villain even though I don’t let it come out that much. I cover it up with my good guy smile and the down-to-Earth “Awww…..shucks.” Through all my years of training, this character sort of evolved. It really changed the forefront of the other character choices that I make. I don’t play a dad very well. I’m not quite believable as a dad. Although in real life, I’m a great dad.
This steely-eye, intent man with a few words, it just kind of came out. Ever since I’ve discovered that I could do that, I went ahead and run with it. Almost in every role I was cast in is that kind of a character.
Latino-Review: You didn’t want to play something else? Maybe you could’ve been the good guy in this movie.
Steve Hanks: Well, I’ll put that on my next item on the list to do. Almost everything I get cast in is just like this character. And I loved doing it. Spencer Tracy said something like this years ago. He said, “Acting is just memorizing the lines and don’t bump into the furniture.” So for me as an actor that had found something that works and to have a standout performance in something I’m good at—I like that.
The only other venture I would like would be with a more wicked character with more wickedness and likability with it. It would really mess with the audiences’ head. You can come off as a devastating bad ass and at the same time—they like you without understanding why.
Latino-Review: Amber, your character is very complex. You played several sub-characters all into one. You played a scientist, a lover, and a betrayer all with the same character. How did you keep everything straight to pull all this off?
Amber Marie Bollinger: I haven’t quite figured out on how to answer this question yet. Thomas, could you answer this question for me? [Laughter] He’s really good at answering these types of questions.
It is complicated. It is complex. I had to wear the different hats. I had an agenda the whole time. I think when you’re dealing that I have to be this person and have to be that person—I had to approach every role on how I want the other person to see me. I have an agenda and I let that come up to the foreground. So I focused on the other person during the conversation. I would approach a scene with David differently than having a conversation with Ryan. So I wanted something differently from everybody.
To get this, I had to stop focusing on me and move the point of interest on the other person. It’s what Jordan wants from the other person. It was very tricky, but it was the most fun. It was great to play in every scene. Jordan was so fun and challenging. I loved her so…..[laughter]…..in general I took a lot away by working with Khalil. It helped me brought it to other things I’m working on thanks to these challenges.
Latino-Review: Just by the conversation we had with you guys, you have such a great camaraderie. Did you guys worked on all of this before you started production?
Artie Ahr: I like to go back to my audition. In my audition, they already cast the main players before myself. I was fortunate enough to be able to read with them during the audition. It makes it as a world of a difference. I could feel this energy in the room. When you have a connection with someone for a scene, it was really buzzing. I felt it. Everyone did.
It was all the way up till our first day of shooting. We got delayed since they were still building the set. At least, we sat there for five hours. We were just waiting for them to finish the set like putting up the wall and other stuff. We got to hang out. We got to rehearse. We enjoyed each other’s company.
Latino-Review: Let me end it with this question, if they did invent this telepathic, mind-reading machine and called you up to test it out—would you do it?
Artie Ahr: No. [Laughter]
Amber Marie Bollinger: I don’t think I want to. Who would want to read my thoughts is the real question?
Thomas Stroppel: I’m going to go with no. Too much information. [Laughter]
Steve Hanks: I’m going with anti-crowd. My first thought is with in Mel Gibson’s in “What Women Wants.” There ya go!
“Listening” is playing during the St. Louis Film Festival this weekend. It will also be playing during the Anchorage International Film Festival next month.