“Civil War” stars break down that terrifying Jesse Plemons scene

"Alex is lucky that [Jesse]'s my husband and he was free,” Kirsten Dunst says of the actor's chilling performance.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Civil War.

If you've seen the trailer for Civil War, you know Jesse Plemons plays an intimidating, red sunglasses-wearing soldier. So you watch Alex Garland’s latest movie waiting for Plemons to show up, and when he finally does, it’s terrifying — but maybe not nearly as unsettling as it was for the actors on set that day.

“He was sort of hidden for the day,” star Cailee Spaeny tells Entertainment Weekly. “He didn't join the rest of us actors beforehand on the way. We were sort of like, ‘Where's Jesse?’ And then he came out and he was in character. While they were filming the scene with the other characters farther away, we were walking down and Jesse was completely in character, improvising the whole time and just drilling me. I was just thinking, ‘Oh my God, Jesse, please stop!’ It was so haunting. He did such a brilliant job, but my God, after two days of that, it was a lot.”

Plemons is married to Civil War star Kirsten Dunst, but don’t bother telling her how good he is in this scene — she already knows.

“We're lucky Jesse did this for us. Alex is lucky that he's my husband and he was free,” Dunst tells EW. “We don't really have much of an exchange in that scene, so I could really enjoy his performance. I'm just blown away by him as an actor.”

<p>A24</p> Jesse Plemons in 'Civil War'


Jesse Plemons in 'Civil War'

For most of Civil War, the journalist protagonists are treated safely by the soldiers they’re embedded with. But Plemons’ character is a different story. In addition to displaying some blood-chilling racism (“What kind of an American are you?”), he’s also not feeling friendly toward the press since they catch him in the act of covering up a mass grave — which Spaeny’s Jessie then falls into.

“That mass grave sequence was like nothing else,” Spaeny says.

Cinematographer Rob Hardy, who was right there with Spaeny in the mass grave, calls it, “a horrific thing, isn't it? But it’s also, shamefully, not an unfamiliar image. It feels like something that we've seen over and over again, tragically. So in that respect, there isn't a way that you can present it other than just purely as a fact — and the facts themselves speak volumes. So rather than dress it up in a fanciful way, our approach was to create this environment, and then have you stand there on the edge of this pit and look into it as a person.”

In a rare moment of catharsis in Civil War, Jessie and the other characters are saved when Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) arrives in the nick of time, running over Plemons' character with his truck. Rest assured, that’s really Henderson driving too.

“You got to be a good person to do that,” Henderson says of Plemons’ performance. “But he's chilling. I'm glad to be able to take him out. I pay the cost, but it's worth it. I drove and I drove, and I got caught in a whole circle, spinning all around, everything. It was wild, and it felt great to be doing it. And then to have the stunt drivers come up and say, ‘Oh man, that was great! Can you do that again?’ I had to say, ‘No, I can't do it, because I didn't know what I was doing the first time!’”

<p>Murray Close/A24</p> Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, and Cailee Spaeny in 'Civil War'

Murray Close/A24

Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, and Cailee Spaeny in 'Civil War'

Sammy’s intervention unfortunately costs him his life, when a stray bullet catches him on the way out. The glue holding the Civil War journalists together, his loss is felt deeply. But rather than give tearful monologues about his death, the scene is portrayed beautifully and wordlessly, with a stirring image of fireflies and sparks wafting through the air.

Their visual and emotional approach to the scene won't be surprising to audiences who saw Annihilation, Garland and Hardy's previous project together.

"I think it's embedded into them now. Even when making a heightened war film, there is room for moments of stunning photography and surrealism,” says Spaeny, who saw Annihilation twice in theaters and fell in love with Garland’s work from there. “When Sammy's dying and they're driving through the forest fire and that strange country track is playing, I feel like only that combination of Rob and Alex could find that room to take this very punchy, spiky war film and find moments for beauty.”

Civil War is in theaters now.

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