Latin Horror’s Jennifer Ortega recently caught up with the creative brains-trust behind the highly anticipated futuristic sci-fi feature ‘CHIMERA STRAIN.’ She first got her claws on actor Henry Ian Cusick, who became a household name on J.J. Abrams‘ hit TV show LOST—yes, that LOST! (and garnered the actor/director a Primetime Emmy Award nomination), as well as the apocalyptic series ‘The 100‘ as Ark council-member Marcus Kane, and more currently as Dr. Jonas Lear on The Passage. Clearly, the Peruvian actor (born in Trujillo, Peru) is no a stranger to the science fiction and speculative genre.
She also got some chow time with first-time director (and writer, producer), Maurice Haeems, about his very impressive outing, and the road that led to their inspiring collaboration on Chimera Strain.
Henry Ian Cusick – ‘Quint’
Jennifer Ortega: Hi, Ian! It’s so lovely to talk to you.
Henry Ian Cusick: And to you.
Jennifer: I have to say before we even get into the movie, without giving anything away the beginning and the ending of the movie are so intense. I think it is a great thing because I have been thinking about it since I watched it on a deeper level. It has such an impactful beginning and then the ending is like wow!
Ian: Well, that’s great! I think that’s exactly what Maurice (Maurice Haemms, director) would want. It’s one of those intelligent Sci-Fi films that you would love the audience to walk away from and think about it for days on end. I think that’s what it does. It really kind of stays in your mind and it grows on you.
Jennifer: Absolutely! I think whenever it’s done effectively like that you start to think of it more on a more meaningful level and the different themes that the film deals with. I quickly want to start out with when you first got the script, what was it that kind of stood out to you or intrigued you about it?
Ian: I will always at least meet with the director and I met Maurice on Skype. He pitched me the whole thing and talked to me about it. Maurice is interesting. He’s from Mumbai, he’s a middle-aged man and a first time film director. He wrote the script and when I spoke to him I was very impressed with him. He’s quite intelligent. I thought this guy knows what he’s talking about. And then at the heart of it, the film is about a man trying to save his children and I’m a father. Ultimately, I am an actor. That’s what I do. I love to act and you take a chance with every project. You never know how it’s going to turn out. But why wouldn’t I take this opportunity with the leading role and a really interesting script? I am so glad that I did take it because I think Maurice has done a great job and it’s turned into a really cool and intelligent Sci-Fi film.
Jennifer: It is a really intelligent film and I am going to talk to him I believe on Tuesday. I am excited to speak to him about it. It’s so interesting because it deals with these really deep questions and the heart of it like you said, it is about a man trying to save his family. And beyond like the science fiction and all of that, it deals a lot with death and immortality and the implications of that and how far should you go in science. So it’s all very interesting and your character in particular, Quint, in watching it definitely you can understand his motives. Maybe he does not do the most ethical things, but he turns out to be probably the most ethical adult character in the film. So it was very interesting to kind of see the story unfold.
Ian: You are right. You just said something interesting that I picked up on. Quint’s motives you understand completely and I think most parents would, his methods not so much. He’s so driven to save his children, but he kind of goes off the deep end and you think why is he so cold with his children. He’s not warm with them at all. He always looks at them as subjects not as children or loved ones. So that is kind of interesting, but what you just said ethically he turns up because the twist in the end with Charlie (Jenna Harrison). She’s really morally bankrupt. It’s pretty awful. But you are right and all the way through you would think that this guy is ethically morally wrong, but the other characters are far worse. And it brings up the whole question and the whole conversation about how far would you go to save your kids. Ethically and morally what are we doing in science and what is right or what is wrong. It’s always going to be the case in science, not only what can we do, but what are the benefits and what are we allowed to do morally.
Jennifer: Absolutely, it’s kind of like a very fine balance. The other thing I really like about the film, I mean when you think about it too there is a lot about…it’s not so much how long you have with a person. And it’s kind of like you were talking about with your character…it’s how you spend the time with them. I think at one point in the film, Flora (Kaavya Jayaram) even says to her brother, Miles (Raviv Haeems), do you even want to live forever. Yes, you might have an infinite amount of years with somebody, but does that even matter if you are not spending quality time with the person whether it’s your children or spouse or whoever.
Ian: That’s a beautiful observation. There were many times in the movie where I was very cold to my children when all I needed to do was smile or rub the hair. But I think I just said it earlier I didn’t see them as children, I just saw them as a challenge or a pet and something that I have to save. I saw how that affects your relationship and how you become slightly detached.
Jennifer: Also I think about if somebody does have a longer lifespan, do we become more jaded or take people for granted more because you know life is so finite right now. It makes you think about a lot of different conversations about death and loss in life. So I really appreciated the film. I thought it was great and it definitely digs deeper into this whole kind of meaning of life I guess.
Ian: There are many times I thought that we will eventually find a way to live forever. To perhaps be like in ‘Altered Carbon’ with being implanted into different sleeves. Is that within our realms? Will we eventually be able to do that or will we eventually want to do that? And why is it that we are always looking for immorality ? For instance, at my age I definitely have got 25 good years left and then I’m going to pop off. This makes me think I know how long I have got here so this is what I plan to do for the next 25 years. And that’s okay. I can live it out. That’s normal. If I was to live to 150, would you just go okay so I’ve got more time and this is how I’ll fill my time, but what’s going to be my quality of life.
Jennifer: I think too, how long you have to work! Like do you ever retire if you live to a certain age? Because if I live to a thousand I need way more money!
Ian: Exactly, if you are living longer than you are definitely going to have to work harder. ‘Chimera Strain’ makes you think of these things. It’s an intelligent Sci-Fi film that brings up a lot of questions. It depends on how deeply you want to question it.
Jennifer: I always go into a film trying my best to know nothing. I don’t like to watch the trailers or read anything about the film. I just like to go in like a blank slate and just absorb it. I knew I enjoyed this film because the next day I woke up thinking about it.
Ian: Well, that’s great! Thank you. I am glad that you enjoyed it. You are obviously very intelligent.
I love to act and you take a chance with every project. You never know how it’s going to turn out. But why wouldn’t I take this opportunity with the leading role and a really interesting script? I am so glad that I did take it because I think Maurice (Haemms) has done a great job and it’s turned into a really cool and intelligent Sci-Fi film.
-Henry Ian Cusick
Jennifer: Thank you! Of course you are always amazing and you have done so many incredible roles. From ‘The 100’ to ‘Lost’, pretty much everything you have been in, I’ve been a fan of. I’ve always really admired you as an actor. I am curious too, because when I talk to different directors and actors, I’m curios to find out what are some of your favorite films and some of your influences that made you want to get into acting.
Ian: So when we were shooting this film Maurice and I were talking about a lot of films. And one of the film that we both love, although it’s nothing like this film, but we would talk about it a lot is by Shane Carruth, called ‘Upstream Colors’. We both like the film because that was low budget and the audience was always slightly behind and didn’t really know what was going on. But you were getting answers and just sticking with it because it was just engrossing. You wanted to just stay with it. But why I got interested in acting, I mean yes I love all of the Sci-Fi stuff, but there was a specific moment I remember watching Robin Hood. It was a British version. It’s a TV show with Richard Greene. And I remember looking at the show and it was like a light bulb went off. I thought how did that guy get that job? Why aren’t I doing that?And that was the moment when I thought that’s what I am going to do. I am going to do what that guy does because he’s having a great time and making a lot of money. I mean he’s making a living out of it. That was my life at 16. I was like that’s what I am going to do.
Jennifer: I love that, and I feel the same way about writing. I feel lucky that I am able to make a living off something that I really love and talking about film which I always loved so I love that story.
Ian: Yes, I can’t see why you wouldn’t do what you love. So I am with you on that one. I am going to say this about Maurice Haemms. When I met Maurice, Maurice is my age, he’s over 50 anyways. Maurice made this film because he has a deep love of film. He ran his own software company very successfully and as a birthday present he gave himself a screenwriting course at UCLA. During that class he wrote the script and decided to direct it, produce it and edit it. And I think that’s a great story because he’s a guy in his 50s that decided to make a film. I have been in this business so long now and to see someone just come in and go I am going to do that and he just did it and it’s great. It took up a lot of time for sure. We shot this in 2015.
Jennifer: But you made it. That’s all that matters.
Ian: He did it yes.
Jennifer: I love that because I think a lot of times people get too discouraged or think you have to be at a certain age to do something.
Ian: You are absolutely right and usually when you are at that age you are not thinking of changing careers. And it’s not easy being told no so many times by so many people and he just persevered and did it.
Jennifer: Sadly, I know you have to get going. Are there any final thoughts about the film?
Ian: Just I think this is a really cool intelligent Sci-Fi film that I think the audience will really enjoy. It’s not a film that you can watch on your phone or on your on laptop. You have to give it your full attention, but it certainly makes you think and makes you ask a lot of questions.
Jennifer: Yes, it’s an incredible genre to explore these deeper topics and has this almost Sci-Fi Noir gritty element to it.
Ian: Definitely yes, that location we had in Massachusetts was like a character in itself. We had that one location for the whole movie. Everything was shot there, which was great, but it was also a little horrible because it was sort of a chemical plant which is pretty stinky, but it was great for the film.
Jennifer: Because it looks so good in the film, I forget that it was one location. I didn’t even think about that until you just mentioned it. Thank you so much Ian, it has been such a pleasure to talk to you.
Ian: Thank you Jennifer, and I am glad that you enjoyed it so thank you for that.
Maurice Haemms- Director/Writer
Jennifer Ortega: Hi Maurice!
Maurice Haemms: Hi, Jen! How are you?
Jennifer: I am great! It’s so nice to talk to you. I really enjoyed the movie.
Maurice: Fantastic! I am glad you liked it.
Jennifer: It was great and I just want to know if we could briefly touch on your story and how you made the film? I think it’s a good lesson to people that you should just do what’s in your heart. Do you mind talking briefly about it?
Maurice: Yes, absolutely I would be happy to. So you know my story is that I am a mechanical engineer by trade and I worked for many years as a mechanical engineer. I came to the US and I got an MBA and I became an investment banker for several years doing work helping companies raise money. Then I became a software entrepreneur. I started a software company and sold it and started another one. And as I was approaching – I wouldn’t call it mid-life because I was still in my late forties so it was past my midlife technically, but I wanted to try a fourth career. I call it my fourth career and first love which is filmmaking and storytelling. That year for my birthday which is in October I bought myself an 8-week screenwriting class and in that class I wrote the first draft of what became ‘Chimera Strain’ and then that year for Christmas I gave myself an 8-week filmmaking class. That’s all I had before I jumped into making this feature.
Jennifer: I love that because I know you always loved film and I think people get so discouraged. I really feel like if you want to write or if you want to make something you just have to do it
Maurice: You just have to roll up your sleeves and jump in. And I think the key for me was, I had considered this several times in my life and then I’d always… looking back I regret that I didn’t take the plunge at those earlier occasions, but what I learned is it’s never too late. You should do it whenever you feel it’s working.
Jennifer: I agree with you 100%. Kind of in the same vein, I gave up writing for a short period of my life and then I was like what am I doing. I’m miserable and I just basically…I just started writing again and that’s what I did so I love your story.
Maurice: That was a good decision, you only do well in what you love. If you love what you are doing, you will be good at it. You should just do that versus doing things you think you have to do for whatever reason.
Jennifer: Where did the idea for ‘Chimera Strain’ come from?
Maurice: I know there are little snippets of things in science that fascinated me for years, like the jellyfish. I’d read about this jellyfish and I was just completely enthralled. It’s a real jellyfish. I have been reading about all of the things that researchers were doing with growing human organs inside of other animals and pigs in particular and that one day we might be able to replace damaged organs with organs harvested from an animal. So I have been following all of these stories and the idea that you might be able to freeze an accident victim, and they will save his life because they can be transporting him back to hospital where he can be cared for properly. Obviously in space movies you always have the cryogenic chambers, but I was kind of looking at it more in terms of what’s happening now. Really today…where do we think the science can go? A soldier on the battlefield or an accident victim as I said, you could save their life by doing this. And then if you can do that, then can you do it for one hour? Or can you do it for one day? And if you can freeze somebody and bring them back up after one day, what about freezing them for months and then you go from there. I gave the story a human face with Quint (Henry Ian Cusick) and he has personal stakes, which I think you need for a story to work. You need the personal stakes for your protagonist. So hopefully it all worked together and I am really happy to know that you liked it.
Jennifer: Absolutely and one of the things I really enjoyed about it and I thought was so effective is the way the film starts and the way it ends is so impactful. It’s great because these scenes and I can remember them visually, it kept me thinking the next day. I woke up and I thought about your movie right away. It brings you into kind of a deeper conversation and a deeper thought into the themes of the movie, like the balance of how much should we do with science and just thinking about grief and loss.
Maurice: Exactly, those are very complex subjects and it’s interesting to think about them. It makes you think how would you react or is this the right thing to do and those questions sometimes can give you insights. I think that’s the purpose or that’s a lot of value that science fiction writers and films bring to society.
Jennifer: It’s so interesting. I mean it just made me think of so many different things. And by the way Ian was spectacular.
Maurice: Yes, he’s a fantastic actor and it was so great for me as a first-time director to work with him. I mean he’s very seasoned. He has obviously done so much work on television and on film and theater. I was first time writer/director. But he was very gracious and very generous, and we collaborated really well and he has been very supportive of the film ever since.
Jennifer: He said the nicest things about you.
Maurice: Oh, did you speak to him as well?
Jennifer: Yes, I did and he was saying great things about you.
Maurice: He’s fantastic and I was just so blessed to have the opportunity to work with him and with Kathleen Quinlan who’s also a very seasoned Oscar nominee. She has been in the business, I forget how many years and she’s just an amazing presence. The both of them are inspiring and I was just tremendously fortunate to have them in my project.
You only do well in what you love. If you love what you are doing, you will be good at it.
Jennifer: I didn’t realize too, because visually it’s shot so well that I didn’t even realize, and I guess thinking back it is one location that you filmed it in. I think that’s so smart, but it’s done in such a way that you don’t think about it.
Maurice: David Kruta was our cinematographer and he is fantastic. The whole crew was amazing, just the way we lit it, the way we dressed the sets, our production design team, and with our costumes. One location was a smart thing like you pointed out. We found that one location where we could shoot the entire film without ever having sort of a company move if you will. We shot the whole thing there and there was just different rooms and different labs. Even the outdoors was all within this one facility that we found in central Massachusetts.
Jennifer: And I love the music! It really kind of gave me like a ‘Blade Runner’ vibe.
Maurice: Yes, so our composer, Aled Roberts, is an amazing talent. I think, I’m not sure, but I believe this is his first feature as well. He’s a tremendous talent and he’s a young guy so you will surely hear his name again. He’s going to do great things.
Jennifer: I mean one of the things that I really got from the film too, was it’s not so much because there is a lot about like immortality – but it’s not so much how long you have, but it’s more about the quality of time you spend with somebody, which I thought was very interesting. Quint kind of gets it later in the film, but it was just interesting.
Maurice: One of the things that they told me in writing class, is you write your log-line and you have it up in front of you so that as you are writing keep coming back to it and don’t stray too far off. What I did is I had the log-line, but I also had this phrase, “Eternal life verses a life well-lived.” I tried to explore that idea and sort of from Quint’s perspective. He’s all about eternal life and he’s sort of losing sight of a life well-lived. And it may already be too late for him. Depending on how you would interpret the film, it’s probably already too late, but he may or may not realize that.
Jennifer: I just think it’s a really intelligent Sci-Fi film and I think the audiences will really appreciate it. I certainly did. I hope you continue making films, do you have anything in the works?
Maurice: Yes, sure I have two screenplays that I have finished the first draft on and I am hoping, maybe if luck smiles upon me, I will hopefully get a chance to direct both of them. One Horror and one Sci-Fi. The Sci-Fi is called ‘The Archetype’ and I explore some of the same themes, but kind of going a little bit further and looking at AI a little bit. And then the Horror is called ‘Absolution’.
Jennifer: Perfect, those are my two favorite genres.
Maurice: Yes, Horror movies and Sci-Fi, I love them too.
Jennifer: Congratulations on ‘Chimera Strain’! I can’t wait for people to see it and has been so lovely to talk to you.
Maurice: Thank you Jen, it was nice talking to you. Thank you so much.
Distribution Company: Vertical Entertainment
Theatrical & VOD Release Date: March 15, 2019
Written and Directed by: Maurice Haeems
Starring: Henry Ian Cusick, Erika Ervin and Kathleen Quinlan
Running Time: 80 minutes
Rating: “R” by the MPAA:
Imagine a world without aging, injury, disease or death. Quint’s obsession with this utopian dream pushes him to the edge of his sanity. Rather than risk losing his dying children, Quint decides to freeze them alive, thereby preserving them in a cryonic ametabolic state. Meanwhile he feverishly researches genetic modifications that would give them the regenerative abilities of the “immortal” Turritopsis jellyfish. Quint’s experiments require human embryonic stem cells and this sets him on a collision course with Masterson, a shadowy figure, whose bizarre motives trigger a chain of events with far-reaching consequences.