Six months after “The Hunt” was originally supposed to hit theaters, the film’s stars Betty Gilpin and Ike Barinholtz are finally speaking out about the controversy that delayed the movie’s release. Though the film’s producer Jason Blum and writer Damon Lindelof — who joined their stars for the interview — had previously spoken about the drama, the actors had yet to discuss it.

“It was the most ironic, meta, surreal experience possible,” Gilpin told Variety of the controversy that plagued the film in the lead up to its release, since dubbed by marketers as “the most talked about movie of the year … that no one’s actually seen.”

“The Hunt” was scheduled to debut in September 2019. After President Donald Trump and others criticized the satirical thriller’s polarizing premise — following a group of liberal elites as they hunt down a group of conservatives for sport — and, following the Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas mass shootings, Universal pulled the film from its release calendar in August. Gilpin stars in the film as Crystal, one of the conservatives who has to fight her way out of the deadly game.

Of hearing people who had not seen “The Hunt” criticize the finer points of its plot, Gilpin said, “it felt like it was someone standing in front of a curtain being like, ‘You won’t believe what’s behind the curtain’ and then describing it. And you’re like, ‘Oh no, you’ve got it all wrong. And actually, you would love what’s behind the curtain. You specifically.’ So yeah, I’m really excited to show people what’s behind the curtain.”

Barinholtz, who plays a character called Staten Island, admitted that he was also disappointed that the film was purported to be inflammatory, when it was intended to satirize both sides of the political spectrum and the tendency that both sides have of jumping to conclusions before knowing all the facts.

“I thought I was ridiculous that [the film] was causing as much of a brouhaha, concerning the fact that no one had seen it,” Barinholtz recalled, describing that time as “stressful” and “just a bummer.” “What happened to the movie is literally what the movie was about. So it is this kind of meta, meta, meta story and we were just like, ‘This is literally what’s happening.’”

“When the controversy first happened, my instinct was to grab the internet by the collar and say, ‘You’ve got it all wrong,’ but then I would be just another screaming voice in the void,” Gilpin continued. “I think another thing that our movie is about is how the internet can just sort of run with one little sentence and explode and pour gasoline on it. And it was tempting to, but I didn’t want to contribute to that.”

Gilpin also explained why she wanted to play the character of Crystal in the first place.

“It’s not like there’s a myriad of parts like this for ladies to choose from. This is once in a lifetime,” Gilpin explained. “And when I auditioned for it, I was like, ‘This is something that you have to fight for. You just have to play this part.’ And I’m so glad I did. And the experience of making the movie was really unlike any creative experience I’ve ever had and really changed me as a person.”

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