Mena Suvari as Maggie / Courtesy of Saban Entertainment
The Cuban-American Carlos Gutierrez makes his directorial debut with Locked In. A story about a mother doing what is necessary to survive. Even if it means bringing out the side that she hoped to leave behind.
Mena Suvari (“American Beauty”) and Jeff Fahey (“Lost”) star in this heart-stopping, action-thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end. After a diamond heist takes a fatal turn, a pair of thieves must entrust their fortune with an accomplice at a high-tech storage facility while they lay low. Hiding the goods within the labyrinth of storage units, the thieves’ inside man pays the ultimate price when he turns against them. Now, hellbent on recovering the missing stones, they seize the facility and kidnap surviving employee Maggie (Suvari), threatening her family unless she helps them. Locked In with nowhere to run, Maggie’s only chance to escape alive is to fight back and stay one step ahead of her captors in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
I had the opportunity to speak to the new filmmaker Carlos Gutierrez via phone to discuss his new film Locked In. He shared how he came up with the concept of the story and filming in a storage facility. In addition to the cast he is very proud of and it came together from the story to the screen. In addition, to a little of what is coming up soon. Check out the full interview below…
Nancy Tapia: Thank you, and thank you for making the time to talk about your new film, Locked In.
Carlos Gutierrez: Thank you, thank you very much. We’re very excited about it.
Nancy Tapia: I watched it, and you had me with tension and frustration. With everything going on, the characters if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. It was like, how are they going to make it?
Carlos Gutierrez: Good. That’s exactly what I want the audience to feel, too.
Nancy Tapia: Was it originally in the script to take place at a storage facility?
Carlos Gutierrez: Yes, so the idea came to me one day. I was walking through a self-storage facility that I rent. I had been thinking about an idea of a self-contained movie, but I didn’t want to do a house. I felt like that already was kind of already seen and done so many times already in many movies. I was just like, “Wow, what would be an original space to set a whole film that would be kind of interesting?”
Then it just dawned on me being there, I was walking through it one day, I’m like, “This place is perfect.” It’s almost like being trapped in a spaceship. It’s just got these very drone-filled hallways with nobody in them, with cameras everywhere, and it’s built like a labyrinth, right? You turn one corner and it looks exactly the same from another corner. You could actually get lost there. So I think that just visual came to me. Then I developed the idea from there using the characters and this character who I thought would be really interesting, a single mother just trying to make ends meet.
Nancy Tapia: I think you have a good portion of the audience from the beginning just from watching the trailer, because a lot of us are not very good in tight spaces.
Carlos Gutierrez: Haha…I think everybody has a certain level of claustrophobia to some degree or another. Some people more than others, like Maggie in the film, the character that Mena Suvari plays. But I just really wanted to have someone that had a weakness that you could identify with and be like, “Okay, she’s not a superhero.” She’s just a normal, ordinary person that has a past, but slowly comes up in the course of the film.
Nancy Tapia: So it seems like 95% of the filming was done in that self-storage. But what was the advantage and disadvantage because the storage facility I imagine you’re kind of limited in space.
Carlos Gutierrez: You are. You’re limited in space, but that’s where location scouts and your producers come in really handy because they follow your vision. You present what your ideas should be. I want wide spaces, but I want everything to look the same on every corner. The restrictions of filming there weren’t as bad as you would think.
Actually, we found great partners in Pennsylvania where we shot, and they basically gave us a run of the place. It was incredible. It was like shooting in your own film studio. In a bigger, big Hollywood production, you’d have to kind of build those hallways out. Certainly, that was something we discussed, but when we found the right partners location-wise, they just allowed us to do whatever we wanted.
Nancy Tapia: I really enjoyed the cast, and one of the two that I really like for their dynamic was the character, Mel, played by Jeff Fahey, and Ross, played by Manny Perez. It was kind of comical. Jeff was just kind of ruthless, like why waste time? But with a sense of humor, I don’t know how to explain.
Carlos Gutierrez: Haha…no, I love that. I didn’t want to interrupt you, but yeah, that was all intentional, 100%. There is sort of a Lethal Weapon dynamic going on. These guys are kind of polar opposites. They’re not guys that, let’s say, you’d normally pair up as friends, but they are just sort of out of circumstance. They’re just both criminals and they’re like, “Hey, let’s just be criminals together.” There was this kind of older brother, younger brother kind of thing. The one who talks too much, and then the one who doesn’t.
The one who thinks he’s a cowboy, and the other one who thinks he’s a gangster from Carlito’s Way or something. There was this just really interesting dynamic that was created by their looks. Just who we ended up casting really helped out. I was adamant, I wanted Latinos in the cast, and we got it. Like you mentioned, Manny Perez was one. Bruno Bichir, who plays the boss of Mena Suvari is Mexican, and even Jasper Polish, who is Mena’s daughter in the film, is actually a quarter Mexican. We had a really strong Latino dive in there. I thought that was cool just to have a diversity in the cast and that everybody doesn’t look like they came from the same neighborhood.
Nancy Tapia: I have to admit, when I first saw this film and the material and who’s in it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, Bruno Bichir.” I mean, I’m Mexican. I grew up watching his family on TV, telenovelas, his brother, Demián Bichir.
Carlos Gutierrez: The Bichirs, yeah.
Nancy Tapia: A lot of people don’t know, but they’re royalty in Mexico when it comes to entertainment.
Carlos Gutierrez: They’re royalty. They come from royalty, they are royalty. They are a theater-trained family of actors. The joke is that there should be an award called the Best Bichir of the Year because there’s so many of them acting. And they’re just all sweet. They’re all just incredibly sweet people who really take their craft very seriously. Bruno brought this whole kind of weird vibe nuance to him, where he’s nurturing in one moment to Mena, and then he’s absolutely kind of just frightening in another, just in his approach. In his mind, he’s a hero in his own story, right? He’s found his best life and he’s living his best life right now and he’s always trying to smooth things out. Obviously, it doesn’t work out for him. No spoilers.
Nancy Tapia: Right. How did you know Mena Suvari was the one to play Maggie?
Carlos Gutierrez: Mena really encapsulated even just from the basic level of the description of the character of Maggie Rose in the script. She’s described very much like Mena. She is exactly the same age as Mena, coincidentally. So a lot of that just sort of worked out, and obviously just having someone of Mena’s talent attached to the project just gave me butterflies in the stomach. As a first-time filmmaker, a feature, in a feature debut to ask someone who’s been in an Oscar-winning movie, who’s been in multiple franchises, but have been incredibly successful, just her knowledge and her kind of instinct for what needed to work in the scene. When it worked, we had it and not to second-guess that was incredibly useful to me and to the film.
Nancy Tapia: I was pretty impressed with how the film developed the story behind Maggie and her daughter (Jasper Polish). In addition to the story about Maggie to why she is the way she is and does the things she does.
Carlos Gutierrez: Yeah. I honestly think it’s a really great little microcosm of what society is today. We’re in a society now where everybody’s judging from a face value, and it’s sort of like, don’t judge, either way. You don’t judge the daughter for the way she dresses. You don’t judge Mena for her religious beliefs. There’s always a reason. There’s always a machination behind why people are acting the way they are. I was just personally fascinated to see that develop on the camera. I had it in the script when I wrote it, but then it’s another level when you cast correctly. Which I think we did, and they just nail it.
They bonded as a mother and daughter would, and I believed it. I was watching them on set, I’m like, “I feel like I’m watching a real mom and daughter.” That’s the gift of two actresses who know what they’re doing. Jasper, on a side note, is the daughter of a pretty well-known director (Michael Polish), accomplished director in his own right. So I think she just has that gift, that natural instinct for knowing when things are working and how to make it work based on what’s in the script.
Nancy Tapia: Also, a reminder that we can’t judge a book by its cover, for sure. You never know. Who you think doesn’t know much can totally outsmart you.
Carlos Gutierrez: Yeah. Who are you dealing with? Don’t expect who you’re dealing with is just on the surface, right? It’s like, that’s the big thing. I think that’s what Mena really liked, is that kind of what you first think of Maggie when you see her kind of by herself in the office, trying to be, as Manny Perez calls, a goody two-shoes.
Then you see her conversion to really who she is and emitting who she is in the course of one night. Because she’s taken so many years of covering it up that she really starts to reveal her true character, her true nature, and stops hiding from it. I think that’s really what it is and I think, what right now is in the zeitgeist of anyone is that you don’t seem to have to cover up and hide. Just be who you are, and you’ll become more powerful through it.
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Nancy Tapia: A lot of us should realize we all have our history of doing some wrong, but you know what? At the end of the day, why be ashamed? Just make adjustments for improvement, not have to seal it.
Carlos Gutierrez: Yeah. That’s the big thing with her character. She blames herself for a lot of stuff, and she carries that like a backpack on her back. Then in the course of this night, she slowly just sheds that and goes, “No, this is who I am. I have to be a better mom. I have to just protect my daughter. That’s my goal in life”, at that very moment.
Nancy Tapia: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time, Carlos.
Carlos Gutierrez: Oh, it’s been a pleasure. This is awesome. I wish we could talk for another 30 minutes about it, haha…
Nancy Tapia: Haha…hey, for your next project. Don’t worry.
Carlos Gutierrez: There we go. Hopefully you’ll be hearing from me soon. We have two more projects right now ready to go.
Nancy Tapia: Anything you can share?
Carlos Gutierrez: Hopefully, sooner than later I can tell you. We do have a film that I did not write, but I’m directing, that hopefully will be shooting in the next few months. That should be a movie called Stay Safe, and that you can see actually on IMDB. Then I have another film that I did write and plan to direct very soon, hopefully by the end of the year, if not, early 2022.
Nancy Tapia: Stay Safe with Victor Rasuk, right?
Carlos Gutierrez: Yes, we have Victor Rasuk (Lords of Dogtown). That’s what I’m saying, this is Latino. I’m trying to drag Latinos in there and make it a norm, not an exception. I love Victor. I’ve been watching him since his first film, Raising Victor Vargas. I just followed his career and am a big fan. He’s got The Baker and the Beauty right now. He was in Triple Frontier. He’s in a lot of movies. This kid can act. He’s just got the skills.
Nancy Tapia: He won a lot of hearts from The Baker and the Beauty.
Carlos Gutierrez: Yeah. We’re hoping, crossing our fingers that maybe Netflix picks it up as big as a renewal.
Nancy Tapia: Yes! That was super cute.
Carlos Gutierrez: It’s a great show.
Nancy Tapia: That was super cute. I didn’t understand why the cancellation. It just did not make sense. It was a beautiful story, showing what Latino families are really like. I’m sure you can relate because it was a Cuban family.
Carlos Gutierrez: Yeah and again, I feel like the more universal you can make the Latino stories, hopefully in a short amount of time we won’t have to be saying, “It’s a Cuban story, a Mexican story, a Dominican story.” Victor is Dominican and he’s playing a Cuban, and the idea is to make it as appealing across the board as possible and not make it so geocentric or ethnocentric that people can’t relate to it.
You want to really make it Latino that everybody can relate to it. That’s really my goal with all of these characters that I direct. It’s like, Manny Perez in Locked In, Manny’s Dominican from New York, and we never really play into it, but you just know. You know his vibe, the way he’s carrying himself. I talked a lot about that with Victor as well for this role.
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Nancy Tapia: Well, sorry for getting sidetracked. Obviously, we can continue on, but I’ll let you go. I know you have valuable time, but for now, people are going to be watching Locked In soon.
Carlos Gutierrez: Oh, hope so. May 7th, everywhere, around the US.
Great. Thank you so much and again, congratulations on your directorial debut.
Oh my gosh. Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.
Of course. Thank you. You take care. Thank you.
Carlos Gutierrez: Thank you. Thank you. Bye-bye.
Nancy Tapia: Bye-bye.
Locked In is now available in Theaters, Digital and On Demand