With the release of Escape Room and its success, director Will Wernick had tapped into a world fresh for the thrill.
Arguably with his latest feature, Follow Me, Wernick delves a little deeper, blurring the lines of reality, when an online personality enters a real-life game and gets more than he bargained for.
Thanks to the team at Studio Canal, I was able to catch one of its stars Ronen Rubinstein (9-1-1: Lone Star), who plays Russian socialite, Alexei, the orchestrator of the real-life game to discuss the dark side of social media.
Saul Muerte: Hi Ronen, thanks for joining us at Surgeons of Horror.
Ronen Rubinstein: Thanks for having me here.
Saul: I noticed from some of your previous work that you appear drawn to the works of Bret Easton Ellis, having starred in both The Smiley Face Killers and more recently in Less Than Zero, which both act as windows into the human psyche with a lot of social commentary at play, themes that are evident in Follow Me.
Is this partly what drove you to be involved in this film?
Ronen: It was one of many things that drew me to the project. We live in a very heavy social media age.
There’s a lot of pluses and minuses to social media, and we constantly ask ourselves, “Who are we living in front of the camera for? Or What are we trying to convey? What message are we trying to send?”
That’s a question I’ve always asked myself using social media and I love that we get to see it in a film on a very deep level but also in a fun way that will keep people entertained.
Once they leave the theatre I’m sure that will be a question that (the audience) will ask many times.
Saul: There are some notable themes and subjects that are explored throughout the film, one of which is living life to the max and living life to the full, but if you could escape real life, what would you do and why?
Ronen: Oh man! I think honestly, I would wanna live somewhere in the jungle in Costa Rica or Peru, and truly live off the earth and simplify everything.
Eat everything that grows off the trees and drink from clean creeks, build a little hut, I mean that sounds ideal to me. I don’t know how long I can sustain that.
I think that would be my Escape Real Life, for sure.
Saul: What has been the wildest experience that you’ve encountered in your life so far?
Ronen: My family and I survived a Category 1 hurricane in 2012. It was Hurricane Sandy. I think I was just turning 18, we lost our entire neighbourhood, we lost most of the coastal part of our borough.
We were without a home, without clothing, without food, without electricity for a few days.
We lived off friends and the Red Cross and pretty much had to survive. We had pretty much everything taken away from us.
That was hands down the wildest thing I ever encountered.
Saul: Wow, I mean Hurricane Sandy was one of the most deadliest, destructive hurricanes to hit Stateside. I can’t imagine what that would have been like for you.
Ronen: And I lived right on the beach, so it was extra bad.
Saul: What would you say was the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Ronen: I think the riskiest thing I’ve ever done is where we are right now in pursuing a career in the Arts and specifically acting. It’s one of the riskiest careers to follow, and I never had a back up plan.
I sorta put all my chips on the table and I pursued it with all my soul and heart in order to achieve it, but the reality of it is that the chances are really low to even be working.
I’m so fortunate right now to be in a film that will be screened in something like 26 countries. I still have to pinch myself about that. That’s like hitting the lottery.
To keep steadily working and get representation was definitely the riskiest thing I’ve taken.
Saul: Obviously you’re still pursuing your dream at the moment but what is currently number one on your bucket list?
Ronen: I have some pretty crazy aspirations. I think top of the list is to be part of an organisation like the UN and to have the power and some say in being able to do some good in the world.
I’ve seen people like Leonardo Di Caprio, Don Cheadle and Mark Ruffalo being a part of the UN.
The fact that we can have actors / activists in such extraordinarily prestigious company is the pinnacle. That has always been a motivation of mine.
That would be at the very top of my bucket list.
Saul: A lot of the topic centred around Follow Me is about that online presence.
What’s been the worst thing that you’ve personally shared on social media?
Ronen: I don’t know. I’ve been pretty careful. I joined social media when I was technically a professional actor and I was already on people’s screens, so I knew there was an amount of responsibility, where you have to think about what you say and how you want to say it.
As an actor, you’re not just representing yourself, but also the company or corporation, or the studio that you are working with. It’s much more than what you stand for.
You’re obviously going to get some heat when you talk about social justice, political justice, and climate control and that’s totally fine.
That’s something you have to be prepared for. That’s sort of part of the game, It’s more important to focus on the positive.
Saul: Do you have to be careful about not having a knee-jerk reaction to some of the things you see and hear?
Ronen: Oh man sure, I mean almost every single day I want to curse out the President, but that doesn’t do much good.
I like to lead by example and provide people with solutions. I think that’s when change happens. It does take a lot of self control.
Saul: What has been the strangest or weirdest experience that you’ve seen online?
Ronen: Oh man, where do we start? I mean, I’m sure you’ve been going on in America. We’re in a very split society right now.
A lot of people can’t see right from wrong. There are a lot of people who think that what is going on is a hoax or propaganda. That still blows my mind. How do we move forward with people like that?
It’s what I touched on before where you have to lead by example.
You’ve gotta lead by example and offer solutions and facts with a clear cut plan.
At some point you can’t deny reality. The people who deny reality will get left behind while the world evolves into a better place, hopefully.
Saul: It’s a tricky thing where somewhere along the way despite our differences, both sides need to meet in the middle and find some common ground to agree on so that we can develop as a society.
It’s ironic in a way that we have come so disconnected in a society that is so connected by the finger tips that social media offers.
Coming back to Follow Me, is there a take home message that you hope will be translated in this regard?
Ronen: I think it’s pretty simple. Know what you are doing and why you’re doing it when it comes to social media.
If your goal is to have fun and post some photos of you and your everyday life, and family and your dog or where you are going then that’s totally fine. No one’s judging you for that.
You almost have to ask people who have a massive following with a platform that can lead to a lot of power and influence, that’s when it comes tricky because that’s when you have a lot of responsibility.
I think we live in a time when you almost sort of have to have a political opinion or social stance.
When your followers are essentially the next generation, why aren’t you speaking up about what is going wrong in the world when you literally can’t escape it. There is always more to be done.
Saul: So undoubtedly, we are in a world of unrest and uncertainty, so why should people go and see this film, Follow Me?
Ronen: Before anything, I strongly urge people to go and see it responsibly. Listen to the professionals, I know that a lot of theatres are ensuring that everything is safe, so if they’re asking you to wear a mask and maintain a safe distance, please do.
There’s not a lot of films that are out right now. So it really is an honour to be in one of the few films that are out in theaters.
It’s a really fun film. Without talking about the inner themes of the film, it’s great cast that I think a lot of people will be able to relate to.
The pace is great, the dialogue is funny. When it gets to the escape room, it gets pretty scary and intense.
The inner themes are really important. Especially right now. I love films that really make you think about what you just saw and make you ask questions that start a dialogue with your peers. I think this film will do that. It’s gonna be a hell of a ride and I wanna thank Australia for having us with such open arms. We’re pretty much going to be premiering in every major theatre in Australia. I wish I could come down to Australia and meet people at the movies, but hopefully next time.
Saul: So what’s next on the horizon for you Ronen? What projects are in store that we can see you in?
Ronen: Well, we’re going to be shooting Season 2 of 9-1-1: Lone Star hopefully pretty soon.
I have another film coming out in the Fall which I can’t talk about just yet, I wish I could. It’s also a thriller, so hopefully some more information will come out about that soon.
I’ve got a busy year ahead of me and I’m trying to stay focused and positive.
Follow Me is released in cinemas nationwide from July 16.
The Surgeons of Horror team would like to extend our thanks to Studio Canal for setting up the interview and to Ronen Rubinstein for his insights.
- Saul Muerte