Imagine being locked in the office with your fellow colleagues and told by an omnipresent voice that you must kill one of your co-workers or an even larger proportion of the workforce will be slain.
That’s essentially the premise of The Belko Experiment, a horror film written by Guardians of the Galaxy head honcho and former Troma creative James Gunn.
The plot is simple: 100 co-workers at a remote office building in Bogota, Colombia are told to kill 30 of their colleagues or see 60 die via an explosive microchip implanted in each of their heads in case of kidnapping.
What follows, however, is an action horror film that is part sociological study, part satire but mostly just plain good old blood-and-guts fun.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the casting of John C McGinley as the sociopathic executive turned serial murderer, Wendell Dukes.
Best known as Sergeant O’Neill in Platoon, Bob Slydell in Office Space and, of course, Dr Cox in Scrubs, McGinley spoke to loaded about why Dukes is unlikely to be seen filing any TPS Reports in The Belko Experiment any time soon.
loaded: How did you first get involved with The Belko Experiment?
McGinley: Greg McLean [the director] gave me a call and asked me to meet with him. I’d read James Gunn’s script and Greg had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted to do with it.
From the very beginning, I felt that it was important that they got the tone right. It’s an ensemble piece and everyone needed to play it for real. The audience wants to see what will happen to these ordinary people when they are put in this extreme situation. What they will do.
It felt like what James put on the page was an exercise in people using their wits, reacting to an extreme circumstance. That was what interested me. Not anyone thinking they are too cool for school or winking at the lens.
Greg just impressed me from the off as this super-intelligent guy and it was his vision that convinced me to go and film in Bogota. I hate leaving my family for projects and hardly ever do it. It has to be special and I thought Greg was a really special filmmaker and a very disciplined storyteller.
loaded: Your character, Wendall Dukes, is deranged – how do you prepare for a role like that?
McGinley: Because it’s such sparse storytelling, I wanted there to almost be a tipping point for Wendell – something that sends him over the edge.
It comes early in the film, when his co-worker Leandra Jerez (the girlfriend of John Gallagher’s Mike Milch and someone Dukes takes a liking to) doesn’t give him the time of day in the office kitchen
It’s a game changing scene because if she had just been nice to him instead of calling him a pervert, he would have been her champion! But she chose not to.
loaded: Do you think The Belko Experiment is making a comment on the modern workplace?
McGinley: I’m not sure if it’s a comment on the workplace or something even more rudimentary. It’s the human condition and what we are all predisposed to do. It’s that question of ‘What would you do if you were confronted with those circumstances?’
The beauty of this film is that James Gunn’s script puts 20 or 30 different options out there for the audience. Would you hide in the elevator or go down to the basement?
Maybe you’d go to your desk or team up with like-minded people or go up on the roof – what are you going to do? So it becomes an exploration of verbs. What verb are you going to be? Are you going to hide or escape or kill? It’s very clean storytelling.
loaded: Some have compared the film to stuff like Battle Royale and even Office Space – do you think that’s accurate?
McGinley: I thought the tone of Battle Royale is much sillier than this. Office Space? No. I don’t see it. It’s much closer to 10 Little Indians and survival movies like that.
I did one with Rutger Hauer and a great group of actors called Surviving The Game and it’s closer to that. Don’t get me wrong, Battle Royale is great – I’m an Asian film freak – but it just seems a little sillier than The Belko Experiment to me. The tone is night and day. It’s an honour to be compared, of course. I just didn’t feel like that’s where we were.
loaded: Did you take inspiration from any real life characters when playing Wendell Dukes?
McGinley: No, I really wanted Dukes to be like that. I wanted him to be a reactionary character, responding to whatever Tony Goldwyn (Barry, Wendell’s boss in the film) devised.
I worked a lot with Tony on this great back story that they had been together in a military capacity in the past. Maybe decades ago. If you watch the film, that really percolates underneath their screen time together. It’s never mentioned but you can sense it.
We invested in this backstory Greg and James let us construct. You can tell they have a history and it helped that Tony and I have known each other for like 30 years, being actors in New York together so that yielded real dividends.
But Dukes isn’t a lapdog and he’s not an attack dog either. He serves Tony as his superior and he sees the best chance of surviving this is teaming up with him.
loaded: In that sense, does he maybe have more in common with Platoon’s Sergeant O’Neill?
McGinley: In Platoon, Sergeant O’Neill is largely a coward and someone who is scared to death and I don’t think Dukes is scared of much. O’Neill was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I always imagined O’Neill as this guy who probably cheated in some card game at an army base in Germany and he was sent off to south east Asia. He’s what the army call a REMF – a rear echelon motherfucker – he just got sent to the wrong place at the wrong time.
He covers himself with a dead body to try and get out of Vietnam and it doesn’t work. You have that final scene of him where he ends up being put in charge of the whole platoon.
I think they are cut from different cloth to tell you the truth. Wendell Dukes is a badass, Sergeant O’Neill isn’t.
loaded: This must have been a lot of fun to make – did you have fun with Dukes?
McGinley: Yes, but I wanted to keep the character clean. There’s no crazy walks or sound in his voice. Eccentricity free. Most actors would want to layer a cavalcade of eccentricities onto this character but I didn’t feel like that was where Wendell Dukes is in the context of this story.
loaded: Do you think there could be a sequel?
McGinley: No. Maybe James wrote five of them and I’m out of the loop but I think he scratched that itch. Given how busy James is with Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s unlikely.
loaded: Given the number of revivals happening, do you think Scrubs could ever return?
McGinley: I would be very surprised if it does not happen. I don’t know why it wouldn’t unless Zac didn’t want to. Everybody is game. It was just the best experience and there are no sour grapes. It was a gift and I would do it in a second. I love playing Dr Cox.
We don’t all see each other as much these days but that’s for the best reason you can have in this business – we’re all working all the time.
loaded: What are up to at the moment?
McGinley: I’m working on the second series of Stan against Evil at the moment which if you haven’t seen it is well worth watching. It’s freaking great. It’s disgusting and hilarious.
Otherwise I’m taking people to dance and ballet and gymnastics. I’m dad the driver.
loaded: Thank you John.
The Belko Experiment is in cinemas this week.