A Quiet Place: Day One Imagines What Could Make New York ‘Go Quiet’

Exclusive: Stars Lupita Nyong'o and Joseph Quinn, as well as director Michael Sarnoski, walk us through A Quiet Place: Day One in the City That Never Sleeps.

Lupita Nyong'o and Joseph Quinn in A Quiet Place: Day One
Paramount Pictures Photo: Paramount Pictures

This article appears in the new issue of DEN OF GEEK magazine. You can read all of our magazine stories here.

Meals eaten off lettuce leaves, walking barefoot on paths made of sand, furious arguments taking place entirely in sign language. A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place: Part II introduced us to a world of oppressive silence through the eyes of the people who had lived long enough to learn those lessons.

It is a very different world to the one at the opening of A Quiet Place: Day One.

“There’s a lot more sound. We’re in New York, so as you can imagine, it is one of the loudest, most bustling cities in the world,” says Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Sam in the horror prequel. “That is what spoke to me about the premise. How does New York go quiet?”

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The premise is a very sci-fi one, but we live in science-fictional times, and living in New York in 2020, she had first-hand experience to draw from.

“I definitely had that reference of hearing the birds in a city where you didn’t even realize there were birds,” she says. But returning to Nyong’o’s question, the answer is, “New York goes quiet through a lot of people getting eaten.” Once again, these New Yorkers are not the trained silent survivalists of the first two films.

“The characters not knowing the rules opens us up to exploring a lot more of that trial and error, and what it looked like for people to discover those rules,” says Michael Sarnoski, director of A Quiet Place: Day One. “It offered a lot of fun, dramatic situations to explore, and it doesn’t work out for all the characters. It’s a messy exploration, for sure.”

It sounds like a bigger, splashier film than previous entries in the series, and with a far higher body count, but Sarnoski still wanted to keep the story tightly focused on his lead characters.

“We aimed to increase the scope and make something very large. That ended up not being the challenge,” he says. “Our main goal was often to focus on our characters and what their experience was, going through this huge crazy event. So in many ways, it’s similar to making a tiny movie, filtering this story and this world through your characters’ eyes.” 

That ability to mix violent events with softer character moments was one of the elements Nyong’o enjoyed about the film.

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“There’s a tenderness to his [Sarnoski’s] work despite the brutal material; I felt that when I watched [Sarnoski’s previous film] Pig, the tenderness at the core of the thing,” Nyong’o says. “It is a really refreshing tone to add to what we already know of the Quiet Place universe.”

Meeting Sam and Eric

Our guides to this universe, this time, are Sam (Lupita Nyong’o), a woman who is visiting New York for the day when the invasion happens, and Eric (Joseph Quinn), a perfect stranger whom she reluctantly has to join forces with to survive.

“[Eric] finds himself in New York City and meets Sam on the fateful day one of the invasion, and they spend the film navigating this new, slightly quieter reality,” Quinn tells us. “I can’t give much more away because he’s a man of mystery.”

Despite the global scale of the threat, Sam and Eric help ground the story on a more personal level.

“It’s this story of an invasion in New York City, so there are those big moments of chaos and slaughter you expect,” Sarnoski says. “But on a character level, while the first two movies were about a family relationship, people who knew each other and had an established relationship, this was a story about people experiencing this apocalypse who are strangers trying to figure this thing out together.”

For that story to work, the relationship between the actors was crucial. Fortunately, they hit it off right away.

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“She’s a wonderful person and actor, formidable, compassionate, and has been incredibly helpful and generous with her time and her wisdom,” Quinn says of Nyong’o. “That’s the lovely thing about this game. You sometimes collide with someone on a job who’s a bit further down the road than you, and they can share what’s around the corner. Other than that, she’s just great fun.”

Nyong’o was equally effusive in her praise of Quinn, although she found him not quite what she was expecting: “I absolutely adored working with Joseph Quinn. I had watched him in Stranger Things and, like the rest of the world, was taken with his presence and tenacious, wild, tender performance. So when I met him, and he was so not that character, that was a little jarring for me even as an actor. I can’t believe that I still expect people to be like the characters they play, but I kinda fall into that trap!”

She soon came to enjoy working with the real Quinn, however.

Nyong’o tells us, “He’s very generous and very courageous as an actor. He makes bold choices but is not married to them. He’s adaptable and just really fun to work with because he throws you all sorts of balls, so each take is something new.” Of course, both actors might be decidedly less fond of their other co-star.

Making a Monster

They might not get much screen time, and even when you do see them, they’re often little more than a terrifying blur, but the giant, bat-like monsters are the real stars of the previous A Quiet Place movies. One of Sarnoski’s biggest challenges was making the monsters feel real. While many filmmakers like to place a big emphasis on their practical effects, Sarnoski refuses to undersell the value of CGI in bringing these creatures to life.

“The monsters themselves are physically unique and a bit impossible to do practically. But we had amazing people at ILM who had a lot of experience bringing those monsters to screen and did an incredible job making these monsters extremely real and extremely terrifying,” he says.

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This is great for the audience, even if it adds an extra dimension of challenge for the actors, but as Nyong’o points out, reacting to things that aren’t there has always been part of the job. “There are always a lot of invisible things happening on a movie set, whether it’s CGI-heavy or not,” she says. Still, Sarnoski put a lot of work into making the monsters feel real on set.

“A lot of making it feel real comes from giving actors the specificity to understand what’s happening and what their characters are going through,” he says. “You also end up doing a lot of sound effects.”

Sarnoski himself spent a lot of time with a microphone, making creature noises.

“It would seem silly if anyone were listening to them, but it was helpful for the actors to give them something to react to,” Sarnoski says. “There was a lot of me or a person in a blue suit wandering around making scary noises. But I can make some pretty scary creature noises, so that was okay.”

Of course, for one member of the cast, this was not their first time facing off against CGI alien bat monsters.

“I can’t seem to shake off these monsters!” Quinn says. “It’s definitely a skill set I practiced on Stranger Things, and I could use those dance moves in a different disco.” In this louder and (briefly) more populated world, we get to see a lot more of the monsters than we have before, but Sarnoski was keen to preserve their mystery.

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“We learn and discover new things about the monsters as we go, but it is always a balance with these sorts of things. Half of what makes these monsters scary is the mystery. If you dissect them and break down everything that makes them tick, you lose that Jaws effect,” he acknowledges.

The Sound of Silence

The look of the monsters is only a part of the equation. At a time when filmgoers frequently complain about the sound mix, the A Quiet Place movies are films you watch with your ears.

“Lee Salevan our sound designer, not only created tons of sounds for these creatures, their physicality and bodies and movement, but also world sounds,” Sarnoski says. “This movie takes place in New York City, an extremely loud place. Creating a bed of sounds for that before things go awry and after it empties out; that was a big thing. We talked about how these environments should change and what kind of sounds we wanted to explore in that. You want to give a lot of attention to the sounds our characters are making because every sound carries a lot of meaning.”

It was a challenge for the actors too.

“It reminded me of playing the Floor is Lava when you were little,” Nyong’o says. “You have a very specific limitation. The rule of the game is that you have to stay quiet, and I enjoyed how that informed every decision. You can’t do anything naturalistically. Even running my hands over my head is risky business.”

Quinn agrees, “You’re only aware of how much noise you make and that life makes when it goes away. It’s such a brilliant cinematic conceit to watch in the cinema, where silence is a sanctuary, and when anything compromises that, it puts the characters in peril.”

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But for Sarnoski, creating that silent soundscape was a lot more complex than simply turning the volume down.

Silence is tricky because you think, okay, let’s just not play any sounds, but that doesn’t feel like silence,” he says. “It feels more like silence to have few but very specific sounds, like wind and someone’s quiet breathing. Case by case, we were deciding what sounds the tension of a given scene hangs on, and how do we precisely augment that and bring up the things we want people to focus on?”

It is sure to be a wild adventure, but there are still many more stories that can be told in this world.

“The scale and the scope are bigger, and there’s a really surprising tonal shift to this movie, and I think that is a credit to [original A Quiet Place star and creator] John Krasinski’s intention of expanding what the genre and this universe he helped to create can do,” Nyong’o says. Sarnoski agrees, adding, “There are as many stories to tell in this world as there are human stories to tell.”

A Quiet Place: Day One opens in theaters on June 28.