‘Cloverfield’ Cameraman T.J. Miller Talks Monsters, Manohla Dargis, Underpants

Miller (center) will probably not be winning the $10,000. Photo: Courtesy of Paramount

If you're a regular reader of our blog, it's possible you've heard that Cloverfield is finally in theaters this weekend. The story of five friends coming of age as a giant monster eats them and most of Manhattan, the film is shot with one camcorder, Blair Witch style, by reluctant documentarian Hud, whose behind-the-camera one-liners provide viewers with some welcome comic relief. In real life, Hud is T.J. Miller, a Second City alum who also stars on ABC's Carpoolers. Miller indulged Vulture's superfandom in an interview this morning.

Obviously the marketing for Cloverfield has been very mysterious. And I hear that the actors were kept in the dark for a long time as well?
Yes, we were. It’s always fun to agree to be in a movie when you have no idea what it’s actually going to be! We had to sign solely on with the knowledge that J.J. Abrams was producing. I’m a comedian — I did Second City, and I’m on the show Carpoolers — and when I found out what kind of movie it was going to be, I was really nervous because I didn’t want to be in some cheesy monster flick.

Well, congratulations — I got to see the film and thought it was really fun.
The New York Times didn’t. I guess they didn’t feel like it was believable enough. My perspective is, it’s a monster movie. Let’s get some suspension of disbelief … I really don’t think people are going to watch and say, "Ehhhhh, I don’t believe it." What, did they see King Kong and say, "Well, gorillas aren’t really that big"? It’s ridiculous. If you allow yourself to go along for the ride, I think you’ll enjoy the film a lot.

Your character was pretty funny…
Thanks. I was really going for “pretty funny.” [Laughs.] No, [Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer] Drew Goddard wrote it, and he’s great, so I had some great lines to work with, but I improvised a lot on set. My character’s awkward; he’s the friend that everyone loves but finds kind of annoying. My thought process was, everyone’s going to react to this incident differently and my character would react in a funny, believable way. They really let me run with that. I was lucky.

Were you pissed when you realized your character would be off-camera most of the time?
When I finally got to read the script and realized that they passed my character the camera in the first five pages, it was like, "Okay, so maybe someone else will shoot part of it … okay … okay … Oh! The movie’s over. I just finished the script, and it appears I’ll be getting a total of two and a half minutes of screen time. But little did I know that when you’re watching the movie, my character actually has a strong presence in the film. If I could go back, this would be the part I’d want to play.

How did you react to the monster the first time you saw the movie?
Oh, that was crazy. Over half the budget went to special effects. So we’re doing a scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, but we’re actually surrounded by green screen in a studio in Los Angeles and we’re like, "Oh, look out! Oh, no!," you know? When we saw it, it was as much a surprise to us as it will be for the audience, because the special effects are so great. I like that the monster isn’t Godzilla. It’s not King Kong. It’s not Aliens. It’s different than what you’ve seen before.

What was the most grueling scene to shoot?
Let’s say all of them. Every single one of them. You know, I was in every scene and I had twelve to fourteen-hour days sometimes where I was behind the camera for every single scene. It was a grueling process. But what are you gonna do? It was either that or get drunk during the day.

I’ve seen you on Carpoolers. Was it a relief not to have to appear in your underpants in this movie?
God. Yes. Yes. Everybody asks me what it was like to be in my underwear for my network television debut. You know, for this film they really went to the other end of the spectrum. Are you going to be in your underwear? No? Then you’re not going to be seen at all! We’re just going to hear you screaming.
—Sara Cardace