Shea Whigham and Olivia Munn on The Gateway and Their Love of ‘70s Thrillers

From director Michele Civetta, the dramatic crime thriller The Gateway follows Parker (Shea Whigham), a social worker whose own life is a bit of a mess when he suddenly finds himself trying to protect a teenaged client and her hard-working mother, who’s just trying to keep a roof over their heads. When Dahlia’s (Olivia Munn) recently paroled criminal husband pulls his family deeper into an underworld they want no part of, Parker just wants to get them out of harm’s way and away from danger.

During this interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, co-stars Whigham and Munn talked about what interested them in The Gateway, their love of ‘70s thrillers, the complex dynamic between their characters, working with a legend like Bruce Dern (who plays Parker’s father), and approaching stunts on an indie film. Munn also talked about doing the Imagine Dragons music video for “Cutthroat” and whether she’d return to G4.

Collider: Thank you for talking to me about this. This was definitely one of those movies that I had to pay extra attention to because I had no idea what was going to happen, and I very much appreciate that.

SHEA WHIGHAM: How nice is that, when you don’t know what’s gonna happen at the end?

When you guys read this script, what was it that interested you? What was it about this story that you liked?

OLIVIA MUNN: Being a huge fan of movies like this from the ‘70s and the thriller aspect and this genre was like really exciting. The director’s vision of it was so clear. I really love that there’s the thriller aspect, which is being in the middle of the tsunami, but within that, you have the dynamic of two people who are really flawed and really have to learn, especially for my character, who’s somebody who lives with a lot of fear and anxiety and trusts no one besides herself. As a single mother, knowing that she’s gotta put her child above everything else, she can’t trust their life in anyone else’s hands, but in the middle of a tsunami and what they find themselves in, with Parker, Shea’s character, she’s really learning to take down pieces of armor to be able to accept his help and his loyalty. I just love that whole dynamic within a thriller concept.

WHIGHAM: I’m a huge fan of the ‘70s and Easy Rider and Raging Bull. I always read [a script] and say, “Can I figure out what to do with this guy?” And then, there was my relationship to every character in it. When Olivia signed on, I wanted to see her do something else and go in there. I knew she was ready. And Bruce Dern is a legend. Same thing with Frank Grillo. It came together. These things, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you always wanna have an experience. Even if they don’t work, I wanna have an experience, and this one didn’t disappoint. I think you feel that. It’s a thriller and it’s a great ride, but you care about the characters and that’s a lost art now – storytelling and characters you care about. You still get a car crash, you still get guns, and you still get drugs and stuff, but it’s surrounded by watching these characters try to get out of these situations that they’re in.


Image via Lionsgate

RELATED: ‘The Gateway’ Trailer Features Shea Whigham as a Social Worker Trying to Save a Family

One of the things I found so interesting about it is that these characters, on the surface, feel like that familiar type of character in this type of story, but they’re much more complex and nuanced than that. Were those layers always, or were those things added, as the story developed?

MUNN: There’s a good part of the dynamic that was in the script already, but just like any role, you bring your own history, your own sensibilities, and your own feelings. You do your own work before you get to set. When Shea and I were able to get into a room together and we went through every single line in the script, not just our scenes, but everything, to get a real sense of how we wanted our piece of the pie to fit into the world, that’s when it starts to get really layered. And then, there was our connection. You do movies and you have to show up and you have that dynamic, and hopefully everyone can deliver on set, but Shea and I were really lucky that we really just bonded, as individuals. That helps to bring in those layers, once you’re on camera. It’s maybe 40%, and then the other 60% is what happens once you’re there, what you bring in, and what your connection is.

WHIGHAM: These things are not easy. They’re never easy. You come in and they demand a lot of you. She went in and she went deep and did something I haven’t seen her do, in this piece, and I was really blown away by it. Bruce would say the same thing. It was really gratifying, this piece.

MUNN: Thanks, Shea.

What was it like to work with Bruce Dern? What is he like on set? Is he someone who shares a lot of stories, or is it just all about the work for him?

MUNN: It’s both. He has lived a thousand lives, and he remembers every single one of them. And then, you’ve got Shea, who is enthralled by every single part of movie-making and our business, and knows the history of everything. Then, there’s someone like me, that gets to watch. Every time we had a break, Shea would ask him about some other movie or some other thing or this actor. There was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know, but I was able to learn through Shea’s questioning of Bruce, and Bruce has so many stories. On top of that, he’s 80 and shows up every day, so invested in the work, cares so much about it, wants to talk about it, and wants to get into it. He’s everything that you would want someone like Bruce Dern to be.

WHIGHAM: It went from incredible stories about [Jack] Nicholson and The King of Marvin Gardens to watching him tell Olivia why a banana and mayonnaise sandwich was the greatest thing. He eats them every day. It was obtuse and beautiful and crass. This is why we’re here talking about it.

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Image via Lionsgate

Olivia, your character has this relationship that has a very heightened level of intensity to it and you haven’t seen in this that gets pretty physical with him. What were those conversations like? Did you have discussions about how to handle that, and what sort of planning and staging you wanted to do for that?

MUNN: It’s an independent movie, first of all. With our budget, we didn’t have a whole team of people, like what Shea’s probably dealing with on Mission: Impossible. This movie was vastly different, but these moments really matter. We don’t have that team, so then we all, as actors, have to do 200% on that. Instead of anything being truly choreographed, like with stunt people, it just became so visceral and emotional, and it got really wild.

WHIGHAM: She’s got a black belt in Taekwondo.

MUNN: Yeah, so I knew how to handle myself. We were able, as actors, to just go, “What do we want this to be?” It really was all motivated by, “What would really happen? What are those emotions?” Basically, all we did was talk about it, and then go to town. There weren’t people there, coming in and saying, “Okay, there’s this, and this is gonna happen.” We had some people on set for security reasons and insurance reasons, but the truth of it is that we, as actors, just sat down and said, “Make sure that it’s safe. Are we all shaking hands on going to town? Are we all gonna do this? Okay.” Something happened to his back, and something happened to my throat and my arm. I don’t know how weird we are, but it kind of feels good, like sometimes when you push on a bruise. We had that feeling of, “Yeah, we did something.” It’s really fun to be able to trust each other to go as far as we need to go.

WHIGHAM: That’s the whole key. When I’m in doing these heavy fight scenes, and she the biggest one on the film, if there’s trust and love involved, you can go at someone really hard. If it’s not there, then you don’t. But if it’s there, she was like, “Bring it. Let’s just bring it.” And you feel that. I was very, very taken with her work.


Image via Lionsgate

As a dancer, I can appreciate wearing bruises as pride, when you do something like that. I have definitely been there.

MUNN: But also, the physicality is really nothing unless you have the emotion. I don’t know if this is even allowed, but anybody that I had to hit or slap, there was nothing fake about it. When I’m getting choked out, I’m getting choked out. When I’m getting thrown, [I was getting thrown]. The thing is, when you’re on an indie movie, you don’t have the luxury of time to figure it all out. Like Shea was saying, there’s love and trust. We go, “We’re all here to make this as believable as possible, so what is the limit that you can take?” We all talked about our limits, and it just turns out that we all had pretty far limits. I was like, “You can do X, Y, and Z to me,” and that’s what you saw. Everything you see is what really happened.

What’s next for you guys? Shea, are you going to be returning for Season 2 of Perry Mason? Olivia, are you going to be involved with the new G4 at all?

MUNN: I would love to be in the new Perry Mason as well. One of my good friends, Chris Chalk, from The Newsroom, is on there. Perry Mason is so good. I would love for Shea to do a little bit more work on my end to get me into all of his projects. He’s on Mission: Impossible right now, but he’s coming back to L.A. I’m feel like I’m his publicist now. I’m like, “And then, he’s gonna come back and he’s doing another big movie.”

WHIGHAM: Stop. Yeah, knock wood. [Olivia] has got a lot going on. She’s being very humble too.

MUNN: No, I’m just being jealous of Shea’s career. Humble? I’m just pissed off. I’m mad. Why isn’t your agent on my team? You’re laughing, but I’m serious, Shea. All day, he thinks I’m laughing. I’m like, “Tell your brother, Jack Whigham, who’s at CAA and so am I, that I’m his client.” This is not a bit, Shea.

WHIGHAM: All right.

MUNN: See, there it is. Collider has it. [Shea] said, “All right.”

WHIGHAM: But seriously, to get back, these kinds of films need people like you to get out there. I’m running on no sleep in London, shooting Mission. [Olivia] is saving animals and doing that work. We’re here because we love it. We love the piece. We loved the experience of it. I don’t do that much publicity at all. This one, I really feel strongly about, so we’re very appreciative.


Image via Lionsgate

Olivia, I really enjoyed the music video you did for the Imagine Dragons song “Cutthroat.” What was that experience like, where you didn’t have to worry about dialogue and you could just do some crazy stuff?

MUNN: Yeah, that was fun. That was my first thing back from the pandemic. That was my first job, and I love Imagine Dragons. They’re such an amazing band and they’re such good people, all of them. The director (Matt Eastin) was really collaborative with me and the band. I said that I wanted to bring my good friend, Adrian Martinez, on to play with us. That was a lot of fun, for sure. And you had asked about G4. I’ll just say that I’m super excited about the network coming back. I have told them that I am here and super excited to do whatever they need, to help out in any way.

Does that feel like a strange full circle thing, with G4 coming back into your life in some way?

MUNN: Truly, I feel like it has never left my life. I miss Attack of the Show, every single day. I miss that time in my life. I miss that show. It was so much fun. I miss everything about it. There literally isn’t a day that goes by that somewhere in the back of my head, I don’t miss it. It has never really left me. I’m excited that it’s getting another shot to come back around, to be there for the people who watched it for so long before and also to bring on new audiences and fans as well. So, I’m here whenever they need me. They just need to call.

The Gateway is now playing in select theaters, is available on-demand and digital, and is out on Blu-ray and DVD.

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