The Stanford Prison Experiment was a study conducted by Dr. Philip Zimbardo in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University. It was meant to show the psychology of imprisonment with 24 male undergraduates chosen to randomly participate either as a guard or a prisoner. What ensued was nothing short of groundbreaking and prompted both outrage and excitement from every corner of the scientific and psychological fields.
To capture what happened on screen, Tim Talbott based his screenplay on Dr. Zimbardo’s documents, including audio and footage from the experiment. Meanwhile, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez is said to have let his actors -- a cast of up-and-coming talent -- take gross liberties on set in order to really dive in to their characters.
On July 17, The Stanford Prison Experiment will debut in theaters, but not before ETonline wrangled stories from the cast about the physically grueling filming schedule, the power of costumes, going method, and bonding on set.
Michael Angarano: “It Really Did Stop Me in My Tracks”
“Billy Crudup’s first day was really exciting for me,” says Angarano, a regular on Cinemax’s The Knick. “It was the scene where Dr. Zimbardo stops the experiment and I think they ended up using his very first take. It was supposed to stop us in our tracks [as the characters], but it really did stop me in my tracks. Just based on three lines he uttered, I was so impressed.”
Nicholas Braun: “It Was a Mix of Pleasure and Discomfort”
“I'm friends, and have worked, with a lot of the guys playing prisoners,” says Braun, who also has roles in this year’s Poltergeist and Jem and the Holograms. “I play a guard in the film and I am quite physically abusive with the boys -- it was a mix of pleasure and discomfort having to get into it with them. My favorite day was shooting a scene where some of the guards make an extra aggressive entry into one of the cells to procure the prisoners cots as punishment for their misbehavior. Ezra [Miller] and I decided we'd pair up and go after each other, since our characters have a major confrontation in the film. All day long, he and I just fought. We were knocking into the walls and shaking the set. In between takes we kept it going, wrestling and keeping the adrenaline rushing. I think it brought something genuinely scary and violent to that scene.”
Jesse Carere: “I Felt Demoralized”
“Dr. Zimbardo dressed the prisoners in gowns to make them feel demoralized,” says Carere, who made his mark on MTV’s Skins. “After wearing a gown for several weeks I felt demoralized. I wanted to be a guard by the end of the shoot and wear boots and wave a baton. I definitely carried a weight with the role. The chain around my ankle probably didn't help matters. When the shoot was over I felt like I could finally breathe again.”
Keir Gilchrist: “I
Became Close With the Guards”
“It never felt like we weren't shooting a movie,” says Gilchrist, often recognized for his role as Marshall Gregson on United States of Tara and appearing in the cult horror film, It Follows. “No one actually got locked up or abused or anything, but with that said, I did find myself being effected in a subtle way. I immediately became close with the guards on my shift. I walked with a bit more authority than the actors playing the prisoners. They spent all day barefoot in not much more than underwear, whereas I had a baton, a uniform and mirrored glasses. Wearing a uniform warps your perspective slightly.”
Miles Heizer: “I Talked About It With My Sister”
“Kyle put up a bunch of pictures from the actual experiment outside the set,” says Heizer, who played Drew Holt on Parenthood and will be in the upcoming thriller, Nerve, with Emma Roberts. “Even though we were having a great time, it was so interesting to stop and look at the pictures and realize this really happened. I talked about it with my sister, who’s a psychology major, before shooting, and we thought a lot about what the outcome would be if we had been part of that experiment. I’d like to think that I would not do anything, that I’d just tell people to calm down and that we could get through it because it was only an experiment. But that’s the entire point of it -- that’s what everyone thinks and the results were totally different.”
Callan McAuliffe: “Everyone Was Jealous of My Ponytail”
“Everyone was jealous of my ponytail,” says the up-and-coming Aussie, who played the younger version of Jay Gatsby in Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Great Gatsby -- which says a lot in the looks department. “I had a bit of a smaller character role and because of that the audience wouldn’t be paying too much attention to me, so I got to have a ridiculous hairdo. I showboated around set all the time, always telling people how great my ponytail was. And, well, the other stuff that happened on set is probably too crazy to tell you.”
Ezra Miller: “It Was an Amazing Experience”
“I didn’t have one bad day on the whole thing,” says the 22-year-old actor, who recently was appointed title role of Marvel’s big-screen adaptation of The Flash. “There wasn’t one experience where I felt the degradation of imprisonment. It was a great time with a bunch of cool homies. It was an amazing experience to be a part of an ensemble where everyone was always lifting each other up and raising each other’s game in this constant symbiotic process.”
Logan Miller: “It Would at Times Feel Very Real”
“Some of the toughest days were dealing with the routine exercises and knowing that they would get more and more sinister as the shoot days went on,” says Miller, a former Disney star on I’m in the Band, who looked forward to focusing on more dark, comedic, adult-centric content. “When we were filming the coverage for the observation camera used in the film, it would at times feel very real. We would play out the scenes all the way through, with the set completely intact and no other equipment around. Playing those through in the setting made it feel sometimes that the film could maybe even become the experiment itself.”
Tye Sheridan: “The Environment Felt Very Real”
“At times the environment felt very real,” says Sheridan, whose quick rise to fame came with an outstanding performance in Mud alongside Matthew McConaughey. “Dimensionally, the stage that we worked on was an exact replica of the hallways and classrooms at Stanford University where the actual experiment took place. The film is highly intense and raw. I hope that an audience member would get lost in the film and begin to feel the pain and confusion that these young men endured. The film has been thirteen years in the making, so I just feel honored to have been around at the right place and time to be cast in the film.”
Johnny Simmons: “It Terrified Me”
“I read The Lucifer Effect [Dr. Zimbardo’s book about the experiment] several years ago while shooting Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” says Simmons, a prolific young actor with leads in such films as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The To Do List. “I would highly suggest it as a companion to the film as it reveals the universal laws of human nature which most of us would choose to ignore. It terrified me. Never in a million years did I think I would be part of the movie version, and it is truly a dream come true to be sharing this story with the rest of the world.”