How Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough transformed into sasquatches for “Sasquatch Sunset”

The actors break down their wild new movie, from attending "sasquatch boot camp" to fake peeing on a road: "It was definitely a trip."

Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough agree: Sasquatch Sunset is, hands down, the weirdest movie they’ve ever done.

The two actors star in David and Nathan Zellner’s oddball comedy about a year in the life of a Bigfoot family, following four sasquatches as they explore their Pacific Northwestern home. It’s a strange, surrealist film that’s entirely devoid of dialogue, and the two actors are completely unrecognizable, buried under pounds of prosthetics. But it’s also surprisingly warm and thoughtful, and when Eisenberg saw the final cut, he says he felt a sense of “extreme relief” that it was as weird and as heartfelt as he’d hoped.

“There could be so many versions of a movie like this,” the Fleishman Is in Trouble actor says. “It could be low-brow. It could be sardonic or comical in a fake way. And [the Zellners] just made the most beautiful, sophisticated, emotionally rich, earnest version. It’s just the best of what it could possibly be.”

“There’s not an easy comp for describing it,” David admits. “I think if people hear ‘Bigfoot movie,’ they think either a family movie, a horror movie, or a spoof kind of thing, and none of those were anywhere close to what we wanted. We really wanted to focus on the interior lives. Also, all those movies are from the point of view of humans observing the sasquatches, and we wanted to flip it around. This is from the perspective of the sasquatch.”

<p>Bleecker Street Media /Courtesy Everett </p> Riley Keough in 'Sasquatch Sunset'

Bleecker Street Media /Courtesy Everett

Riley Keough in 'Sasquatch Sunset'

The Zellners are self-described Bigfoot fanatics, who’ve been obsessed with cryptids ever since they were kids playing in the backyard. (They previously made a short film called Sasquatch Birth Journal 2, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, and they returned to debut Sasquatch Sunset at the fest this year.) The film follows four unique sasquatches over one year: Nathan appears as the group’s brutish, alpha-like leader, while Eisenberg plays a more beta second-in-command. Keough portrays the family’s maternal figure, and Christophe Zajac-Denek plays the youngest sasquatch.

To prepare, the four actors attended what they call “sasquatch boot camp,” recruiting a movement coach and rehearsing together to perfect their simian dynamic. “Everything was super helpful because I didn’t know how to even prepare for this,” Keough admits. “We kind of had to learn how to do everything as a sasquatch. So, by the time we got to set, we knew how to pick things up properly, or how to get from sitting to standing. We had practiced all of that.”

“We just had days where we were rolling on the floor with a bunch of ferns and feeding each other food, or hitting each other with sticks,” Nathan explains. “Just experimenting being sasquatches.”

“We came up with a vocabulary that we would use,” Eisenberg adds. “Calling out for other sasquatches was a high-pitched squeak, while anger or eating had a different kind of vocal quality.”

<p>Bleecker Street Media /Courtesy Everett </p> 'Sasquatch Sunset'

Bleecker Street Media /Courtesy Everett

'Sasquatch Sunset'

The actors watched videos of apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas, of course, but they looked to other animals, too: Keough says she sat on her couch one night and binged animal videos on YouTube, watching for interesting mannerisms or behaviors. Eisenberg adds that he found himself thinking a lot about his old dog, Tara. “My favorite time of day was giving Tara a walk so she could go pee,” he explains. “And when Tara peed, she cocked her head peacefully to the side and just stared in the distance. I always wondered: Is she thinking about something profound, or just enjoying the relief of peeing after a long day? It occurred to me that that’s what’s happening with these creatures: Sometimes they’re really just living in the moment and enjoying the visceral experience of living life.”

Of course, rehearsing is one thing, but acting in a hairy suit in a remote Pacific Northwest forest is another. (Nathan notes that he has some “absurd” photos of him directing with his brother, standing behind the camera in a full Bigfoot costume.) Keough still remembers the first time she donned her costume: When she looked into a mirror, she saw Bigfoot staring back at her.

“It was definitely a trip,” the Daisy Jones & the Six actress admits. “I remember my husband came to set, and he didn’t want me to hug him.”

Each sasquatch has its own unique look, but the Zellners wanted to make sure that the actors' eyes were visible at all times. “We really wanted people to feel the same way when you look at a pet, looking at you with that soulful quality,” Nathan explains. “It was really important for the audience to connect with these characters and for the actors to be able to emote. So, keeping the eyes human was a key design choice. We wanted them to have that tool as actors because we were taking so much away from them.”

<p>Dia Dipasupil/Getty</p> Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival premiere of 'Sasquatch Sunset'

Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival premiere of 'Sasquatch Sunset'

All agree that one of their favorite scenes comes late in the film, when the sasquatches encounter a paved road for the first time. Freaked out by such an alien encounter, they assert their dominance the only way they know how — by popping a squat and peeing on the road.

“As much as we are influenced by international or arthouse cinema, we are equally influenced by 1950s Looney Tunes,” David says with a laugh. “There was something about them discovering this foreign object that’s just cutting a knife through their boundless landscape. It just felt so absurd and funny.”

“It was so funny because it was a very technical thing,” Eisenberg adds. “We had to make sure that the tube that went into our genitals and forced pee out of it was unclogged, so it wasn’t like a trickle but an actual forceful stream. It was so funny trying to be these very aggressive creatures having essentially a conniption fit over this road, while also trying to make sure that the pee was working. It was one of those things that I assume I’ll never experience again.”

Sasquatch Sunset is now playing in limited release and expands nationwide on April 19.

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