Mankind has always tried to find a way to put an end to mortality. Be it with the Fountain of Youth, spiritual enlightenment, or scientific means, it’s been the subject of countless stories. Such is the case with Chimera Strain, the latest sci-fi drama from writer-director Maurice Haeems, which hits VOD and select theaters today!
LRM Online had a chance to discuss the film with its star, Henry Ian Cusick, who plays a scientist named Quint. In the film, he freezes his children as he races to find a cure by using the DNA of an immortal jellyfish. In our discussions, we discuss immortality and taking creative risks on not-so-obvious projects.
LRM: Well, and let’s start by having you tell us a little bit about Quint. He seems to play a bit of a dark character.
Cusick: Yes, Quint, he is an interesting character, he’s this scientist who is extremely intelligent and is in a situation where, we see him at the beginning of the film and he’s doing some sort of experiments and chops his finger off. And it maybe looks like a wife who, not sure if she’s dead or alive, he had two children, we’re not sure if they’re even in reality or in his mind. You’re not sure if he’s sane or not. He’s in a pretty dark place. And then you slowly learn about him and his relationship with his employer Masterson and Charlie, who was maybe at one time a love interest.
He’s a fascinating character because he’s kind of a Frankenstein, sort of, you’re not sure. He thinks he’s trying to save his children, obviously. He seems very cold and harsh to them and his wife is always saying ‘you know if they’re dying, be with them, be present, enjoy them, enjoy their last moments.’ But of course his ego’s so big and he thinks ‘I can save them.’ And I think by doing that he’s so obsessed with his work. He’s not really present as a father should be. That was kind of interesting to play, cause I have children of my own and I always try to be a lot more playful than Quint. But to be sort of cold and yet caring was kind of an interesting challenge. But yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed that character, but it was a really, really, really cool role to play.
And I love the twist at the end, you know? And the whole idea about, you know, trying to make yourself even, your mind, you can transcend sort of mortality. Become immortal. Just with… eventually I think you got the opinion that we’re so intelligent, if we keep on pushing the boundaries. I guess that part of the film, pushing the boundaries, scientifically, morally, and ethically, that’s wrong. You know, what he’s doing, keeping these women alive in these chambers. You could either go to the police and say ‘no this is all wrong’ but he carries on doing an experiment and carries on because he’s pushing it, he’s pushing, he’s got in that respect, big balls, to be pushing the boundaries scientifically but, ethically, morally. And this is where the audience make up their own minds about what is acceptable, what’s not acceptable about how far would you go for your children?
LRM: Well, there is one soft side when he’s sitting down with the kids, as he’s repairing like some sort of toy cart. So that was a little vulnerable moment that the character did have.
Cusick: That’s true. Yes, there are little moments where you see, and also, you know that little thing where you see him, there sort of like going to the stars and he’s playing with them. Because they have obviously not left this facility, they’re all trapped in the facility, because he won’t let them out. He’s also trapped in this facility because he’s hiding and just working on his experiments. But is, he has the little fun things, where playing the star or dressing up as the astronaut and stuff. And I actually, come to think of it, there was another thing, I’m not sure if it made it into the film, I can’t remember now, where we all throw whipped cream at each other. That might not have made the movie. There’s a lot of stuff we shot that didn’t make it.
LRM: So what was it about this film that attracted you to jump on it? In particular?
Cusick: It’s a genre that I love, this sort of sci-fi, morally, ethically, gray area. When I met [writer-director] Maurice [Haeems], he’d been extremely intelligent and would speak of the science in laymans terms. So easy to understand, the whole idea that these turritopsis jellyfish, where, and this is true … they grow to a certain sort of age and then they regress, and they grow again, and regress. And they can do this so they are immortal in that respect. Our course if they get eaten by something they will die. But all the science that he was pitching on me, I find it really fascinating. I did terribly at Biology at school, but the way he was pitching it, I thought ‘wow this is really interesting. I really am digging it.’ So that, having met him and got to know more about him, I found Maurice quite a fascinating character. I was curious, I know. I’m an actor, so that’s what I do. I love to act. And I’m always curious about anything that I think ‘Can that work?’
I met Stephen Lang on a film I did, “The Girl on the Train,” and he was like, I said, ‘why are you doing this film?’ And he said “well I just want to see if it can work, and I don’t know if it’s going to be any good, but this is what I do.” And he was doing two days on that movie and then trotting down to Alabama to do one day on the other movie, and then another movie. It was just like wandering on. He said I just do these movies, these low budget, for no money. But then he makes his money off Avatar. I was like that’s a great philosophy, I’m going to start doing that so. When I turned up I was ‘yeah, all right…” So what I do, when you take a chance, you never know. And I’m glad I did because I think it’s a terrific little film. I think Maurice has done a great job. Everyone, all the actors have done a fantastic job and I’m really pleased that I took that chance. You know? It was a fascinating script. It was a great role for me. Why wouldn’t I?
LRM: Right, well speaking of what the movie’s about, I mean, how do you personally feel about immortality?
Cusick: You know, it’s not something that I yearn for, you know, to live forever? No, I think I would be bored. I want to see… many times I’ve gone ‘I wonder what happens’ you know? And, as you get older, I think it’s natural to want leave your body, to fall apart, or anything, ‘Ah, just get me out of here. Let’s see what’s on the other side, if there is another side.’
How do I feel about immortality? Scientists are pushing the boundaries. There’s always test-, I’m sure, illegal testing done, somewhere, on somebody, or something, or some animal, some life form to see how long … We’ve always been in search, from El Dorado, you know, there’s the Fountain of Youth. We’ve always been in search of immorality. We’ll do anything to look younger, you know? So that seems to be part of what human psyche is made up of. So yeah, you know, will we become our own gods? People have asked the question will be eventually be what we think, we will ourselves be the gods that we create.
LRM: Well I got excited when the golden retriever opened its eyes on the film. I have to say.
Cusick: You got excited by the golden retriever?
Cusick: All those golden…there were so many of them. There were tons of them.
LRM: Well, I got excited when one of them, cause I remember, well from the scene where it’s like ‘it’s his turn you know?’ I was like ‘no!’
Cusick: Oh! Oh, I see. I think that was Kinishka, yes when all the kids named the dogs. What did you get excited about? What, the fact that it was his turn to die or just to be tested on?
LRM: Well that he was going to be tested on and then, later on, I’m like ‘oh he’s okay!’ Like, it was a success. The sad part is like yeah with immortality there’s that setback, you’re either like sad, like not happy about it, but then it kind of makes you happy about it.
Cusick: Right. So I would think he’s not immortal he was just brought back. From being in, like, in crypto. He was frozen and then he was brought back a bit. So that was a success. And that’s what he planned to do to his children. But, yes he was going to make his children chimeric and immortal. And that’s what he eventually does to himself, we think at the end. You know, he chops his finger off and it grows back. He was successful. It’s a great turn at the end though, when Charlie steals all of his work. I thought that was pretty cool.
LRM: Yes! The whole time you kind of assume who’s like the bad guy but then at the end you’re really surprised.
Cusick: Even watching, I was like ‘Oh my God! I hate her she’s terrible!’ You know, Quint is morally dubious at best, but she was terrible. She was just not good.
LRM: Yeah and in a way, you think she’s the one that’s like bringing everything to sense, like okay, but no. So that’s a good throw off. So what, so you mentioned you do have kids. So what if you were ever in the situation where, you know, would you do what Quint was doing to save your loved ones? If you had, you know, the ability to save them and hang on as much as possible? Or would you just let the cycle of life kind of just take its course?
Cusick: That’s a really good question. You know, if I had the intellectual capacity to save some something, to fix something, then perhaps I would. Now I don’t, and death is inevitable so I would, you’d think I would want to spend as much time with them, and make their last moments enjoyable, and you know loving as possible. But if I thought I had the potentially the intellect or capabilities to save them, of course I would try and save them.
Now, would I do what he does? You know, I don’t think so. I think he takes it too far. But, in saying that it’s the people that do go that far that will create change. I think it’s always the scientists who go too far. Or people who take it to an extreme that accelerates times. Unethical as it might be. Saying that, I’m not in favor of what he’s done. I don’t think he was right. Testing on an animal. Be cruel to anything. My answer is no, I personally wouldn’t do it but I do understand. And I hope that the audience understands. And that I think is what makes the film. It’s like you question his methods, not his motives, but you certainly question his methods.
LRM: Okay, thank you. So to finalize is there something you can share that you might be working on or we may be seeing you in?
Cusick: So I’m doing a TV show called Passage which is, has its season finale on Monday, this Monday coming up. Don’t know what the date is. But it’s a two hour premiere and again I play a scientist in that who is responsible for perhaps the end of the human race. And he’s in that sort of dilemma of what does he do about it, does he…No, that would be a spoiler. Anyways so in his, there’s a TV show called The Passage check it out, it’s on Fox, 9pm on Monday.