What Scares Eli Roth?
Eli Roth has been putting the fear of god into moviegoers (sometimes literally) since the debut of his 2002 hit, Cabin Fever. Now, the horror helmer takes a look at real-life human horrors in How Evil Are You, a new installment in Discovery's Curiosity series.
As part of their investigation, Eli and his team recreate the infamous Milgram Experiment from the 60s, which aimed to discover the correlation between authority and morals, in hopes of explaining the Nazi mentality (learn more here). A shocking experiment in every sense of the word.
I caught up with Eli to find out how he got involved with this experiment, why his brain is ground-breaking and what fans of his movies can look forward to.
Insider.com: Knowing you, I have a sense of where your interest in the show came from, but how did you get involved?
Eli Roth: Discovery came to me right at the beginning when they were looking for people to appear in the show and the only other person they had at the time was Stephen Hawking, so they totally stroked my ego. They were like, "Well, we have Stephen Hawking and, we were thinking, maybe you." So they completely flattered me on that level, but that said, I didn't want to just host. I wanted to be involved and they really let me be. We started talking about evil, and what a show about evil would entail.
Insider: What did you want to include
Eli: I've always been fascinated with the concept that evil doesn't actually exist -- that it's really all about your point of view. A suicide bomber, to one group, is the anti-Christ and to another group, they're a hero. Obviously certain acts are unquestionably evil, but most often when people commit these acts, they totally feel justified in doing them. And that is the most disturbing and terrifying thing. There's nothing scarier than when someone does something thinking they're on the side of right. We talk about the Milgram Experiment a lot in the show and recreating them was something I've always wanted to do, but wondered if you actually could. There's stricter rules now -- you can't just let someone shock another person to death, but you can certainly do the experiment. And, honestly, I've shot some disturbing scenes before, but there was nothing more disturbing than watching another person shock someone, hearing the person scream, "Please stop, please stop, I have a heart condition." And the scientist just goes, "continue," so they keep going.
Insider: You set up the show by saying "Evil" is the most loaded word in the English language -- what does that word mean to you?
Eli: Growing up in a Jewish household with Holocaust education, you think about it a lot. How could these people who were educated do what they did? I've always wondered how that happens. What I've learned from doing this, what I really saw, was that people need authority in their lives. We need to feel like, if there's trouble, there's a policeman right there. And we like that there are fire trucks when there’s a fire. And when someone's sick, there's an ambulance right there. We need to believe that's all in place in order for us to function. But that authority can cross over into a dangerous area when people learn not to question it. And what's crazy is if people can displace guilt and responsibility on a third party, they're capable of anything.
Insider: What about modern day evil, where do you think that's easily seen?
Eli: Look no further than Occupy Wall Street. I mean, those people down there truly believe that these people are evil. And the people who are there are saying, "We're not evil. We are educated, we worked hard, this is how the system is -- we're in a Capitalist society. Our goal is to make money. Why are we all pretending it's not?” Or look at what happened in the banking industry. It makes you absolutely sick, but to those bankers and those corporations and those CEOs, they feel like those people are saviors. Ultimately they feel that what they do is for the good of the country because they've just hired thousands of employees. It very quickly gets into this grey area of who is evil? And everybody thinks that they're right and the other person is evil. So it’s very hard to qualify what evil is. It really depends on which side of the corner you're on.
Insider: What did you find most disturbing about the whole endeavor?
Eli: It's definitely inspired me to do more side projects like these with Discovery. I think it exercises another part of my brain and creativity in a healthy and informative way. I really wanted to do something that kids could watch in science class. What I really learned, and certainly will help me from a writing point of view, was that I'd never quite seen people rewrite history so instantaneously. The moment that they learned this experiment was all fake and the person was an actor, the perception of how they behaved during the experiment was completely different than when it was actually done. They quickly launched into, "Oh my God, well I tried to help you, I gave you extra clues. I didn't want to do it. They made me do it. That guy yelled at me, saying you have to continue." Whereas, the guy never yelled, he was very calm. We had a very clear script where the only thing he could say was, "The experiment requires we continue." I was amazed seeing how people changed their story in their head so they could feel better about how they acted. Only one woman kind of copped to it and said, "I can't believe I did that."
Insider: What's next for you? When can we expect a new Eli Roth movie?
Eli: I have a new script that I've been working on, off and on -- there were just some story problems that I hadn't quite solved and I didn't want to gloss over them and just say I'll figure them out later. So I'm preparing to lock myself away and finish the script with hope to shoot next year.
Insider: Now, I would never want to make someone talk about their baby before it's born, but will it be a new genre for you?
Eli: Yes, it's something totally new. Although, I've thought everything I've done up until this point has also been completely different. Then I look back and think I made the same movie three different times [laughs]. I don't want to betray the fans that have supported me, but I want to do something that's scary science fiction.
Insider: Ah, so it's not like we're getting Eli Roth's romantic comedy?
Eli: [laughs] No, it is not my romantic comedy. But it's interesting -- as part of this show, they scanned my brain and tested my brain to see if I'm evil. There's scientists that believe you can isolate for evil genetics. I went in this MRI where they flashed images of a rocking chair and a dead body and random stuff like that to see how my brain processes everything. The results from my brain were insane. I could not believe it. My brain is totally unique -- it's not like anything else they've seen before. My brain is actually a case study.
How Evil Are You? airs Sunday at 9 p.m.