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Olivia Munn And Shea Whigham Talk Their Thrilling New Drama The Gateway - Exclusive Interview

Small, intimate dramas afford a number of opportunities for the creative teams behind them as well as, ultimately, their audience. A story that doesn't involve superheroes or cataclysmic world events has the ability to home in on the way everyday struggles can compound to leave us feeling isolated and trapped within the limits of our own circumstances. That's a big part of what makes the Shea Whigham and Olivia Munn-led film "The Gateway" so exceptional — it reminds us that the really extraordinary stuff lies in our efforts to escape the ordinary.

We have two main characters we get to focus on in "The Gateway." There's Parker (Whigham), a social worker with substance abuse problems who knows what it's like to be a victim of an unfeeling system. And there's Dahlia (Munn), the woman Parker watches over as a social worker while she tries to balance her own bad choices while keeping her kid safe. And both also have to contend with the machinations of the villainous Duke (Frank Grillo). Looper sat down with Whigham and Munn to find out why they wanted to be a part of "The Gateway," what it was like working with legendary actor Bruce Dern, and figuring out which emotions to show and which to keep hidden.

Working with Bruce Dern and what he brings to The Gateway

Shea, the whole movie is great. Something that really excited me was the little bit of stuff that you both got to do with Bruce Dern. I wanted to know what it was like building that relationship with him because those scenes, just that little bit that we get with all of you, is incredible.

Shea Whigham: Yeah. He is incredible. I was really looking forward to that in addition to a lot of other things in the piece. He showed up ready. It was much like De Niro in "Silver Linings Playbook." In my mind, I built what I think there are ... Sometimes that's bad for me because sometimes I get disappointed. He didn't disappoint in any way. He over, whatever you want to call it.

Olivia Munn: Over-delivered.

Shea Whigham: Over-delivered. Thank you. All that stuff got heavy between he and I. I mean heavy. This is a cat that's like 80-plus, I want to say. Little story: we were sitting in the living room, we finally get to work and you can't go over 10 hours, and we needed to go over that in order to get this scene. I remember him looking at [director Michele Civetta], and he goes, "Waive it, my hours. We're going over." It means so much. That's what ends up making a film, elevating it, I think. He's incredible. Ask Olivia about the stories.

Olivia Munn: Yeah. I mean, Bruce Dern has lived a thousand lives and he remembers every single one of them. And then, it was really fun to be able to see Shea, who is such a lover of our business and the history of it and knows so many things. Shea would just, in between takes, he'd be like, "Hey, can you tell me about this movie or this person or this act." And then different things. And he would just be like, "You want to know the only person who's ever killed John Wayne?" And he's like, "Mm-hmm." That's a huge thing. Then there was something that you said, Shea, earlier. He was like, "Do you know what it's like to take 27 Vicodin in one day?"

Shea Whigham: Yeah. It's amazing.

Olivia Munn: The man has lived.

Shea Whigham: Yeah. He would have banana and mayonnaise sandwiches every day, because that's the key to longevity. Just an interesting guy.

Olivia Munn: It was also really sweet. He's so proud of [his daughter] Laura [Dern]. It's amazing. There's so much joy I have for him to have the life that he has had. And then to still be so bankable and cast-able, and he's working all the time, but also for him to be able to watch his daughter succeed to the heights that she has. She's such a wonderful person. It's so obvious that they're a family because they're just ridiculously talented and super kind people and so interesting.

The emotions Dahlia does (and does not) show

Olivia, my cat's at the vet right now, and I've been crying all day like a kid with a skinned knee, but your character Dahlia is the complete opposite of that. She goes through all this stuff and I wanted to know — did you always see her as extremely guarded? Was that the place you started at? How did we arrive at this version of the character?

Olivia Munn: I thought it was really important for her to be in survival mode. If any of us have ever been in something where you are afraid for your life — I have pets, too. If anything happens to your animal, it's almost like you want to cry, but you can't. You've got to stay focused. For Dahlia, she's got a lot of fear and anxiety, which are two emotions that are so hard to hold onto in this world and life. She has it every single day, every hour, and she's got to suppress it just to keep up appearances so that people don't take her daughter away, so that her daughter feels safe. There's just so much. I feel like ... I think when you talk to parents, mothers, but fathers, too, you carry so much. You carry so much worry and fear for your child. On top of everything that she goes through, it was really important to feel like she was holding her breath the entire movie.

"The Gateway" is in theaters beginning September 3.