Interview with Chase WilliamsonPosted: November 16, 2012
Like the character he plays, Chase Williamson got thrown into a pretty unbelievable circumstance when he landed the part of Dave in the upcoming comedy/horror film John Dies at the End. He’d never done a feature-length film before and suddenly he was sitting across the table from Paul Giamatti, working under the direction of horror legend Don Coscarelli. Fortunately, he happened to be a horror movie aficionado and to have plenty of experience with comedy in his own right (he performs regularly as part of the sketch group Bowling for Tiffany). We talked yesterday about his work on the film and what follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Brendan Bourque-Sheil: Were you a fan of horror movies before you did this?
Chase Williamson: Oh yeah. I’m a lifelong horror fan. And a big horror/comedy fan as well. I was a fan of Bubba Ho-Tep in my early high school years. I got Army of Darkness for Christmas when I was ten or eleven. I loved it and I got really into Evil Dead. I don’t know what about it appeals to me. I guess just the subversive humor of all of it. When I heard that the Bubba Ho-Tep guy was doing a movie, I was really scared and intimidated and then I read the script and just got obsessed with it. It’s definitely exactly what I wanted to do–like exactly.
BB: Did you feel like you really connected with the character of Dave?
CW: Yeah, I just remember reading the script and saying to my roommate and friends, who are actors, “This is me. I don’t understand.” Even the writing style–I do a lot of sketch comedy and I write a lot of really weird sketches–the tone of it was such a perfect match for me. I couldn’t believe it was real. It seemed like I had written it in another dimension. It was really weird. But people feel like that about roles all the time. I didn’t think I was going to get the job, so when that happened, it was crazy.
BB: It’s interesting–I know the author David Wong loves Phantasm, so it must’ve been pretty crazy for him when he heard Coscarelli was interested in adapting his book. It seems so weird that everybody else was kind of in the same camp.
CW: Yeah, it’s like from all sides. Very serendipitous. The stars definitely aligned on my end.
BB: Was there any challenge for you as an actor switching between horror and comedy and maintaining a consistency in your performance?
CW: Not really. The tone is so specific in the script and in the book. It was pretty easy to get. It doesn’t really switch from comedy to horror from my perspective. The comedy sort of comes from the character’s attitude towards what is going on.
BB: What do you think are some specific strengths required for the kind of acting in this film?
CW: Timing first of all, because there’s a very specific rhythm to the script and the dialogue. But also, there’s so much crazy shit happening to me the whole time that just going in with an attitude of abandoning all logic and diving into the circumstances of whatever’s happening is the only way to do it. You can’t get distracted by the zaniness of all of it when a mustache bat is supposed to be biting your face.
BB: Since you brought up the mustache bats, was there a lot of you having to react on the set to computerized visual effects that weren’t even there when you were shooting?
CW: Well a lot of them were practical, which is really awesome as an actor to have. It’s also awesome just to see how the art department can make that shit happen. Like with the mustache bat, a mustache rips off this guy’s face and starts flapping around in the movie. They had this fake mustache with this gore under it, and this guy just tied fishing wire to the end of it and puppeteered it a little bit. It gave me a lot to work off of and it was really cool to just see all the artistry that goes into that.
BB: Yeah wow. There must be a lot of underrated geniuses in the prop and art departments of low budget films.
CW: Yeah, like we had this baseball bat with nails in it that got lost or something and then they just melted together a bunch of plastic and made an exact replica of it in like twenty minutes. Just created it out of nothing.
BB: So what was it like working with Paul Giamatti in your first feature length film?
CW: The fact that it didn’t seem real made me not afraid. It was hard to even get nervous about it because it was hard to believe that the guy I was sitting across from was this guy that I’d been a fan of for all this time, who matched the idea I had of him in my head, because he’s a really down-to-earth dude. Looking back, I can say “wow that was incredible,” and it was amazing watching him work, but it wasn’t this big scary thing at the time.
BB: I’ve heard Coscarelli say in an interview he’ll do five to eight takes of something if he knows exactly what he wants and fifteen to twenty if he doesn’t. Did you end up doing a ton of takes for every scene?
CW: I never felt like it was an excessive amount of takes. I’ve definitely done other shoots where people were getting excessive coverage. He taught me something that was really helpful. He said to do one take small, then do one broader take, and then do one take for yourself–have fun with it and see what happens. Usually if you only have three takes, one of those will work. I felt at the time like I had such a clear idea of what I wanted to do with every single part of the script, because I was so into it. I wish I had given him a little more variety.
BB: What are some of the things that you do physically to embody the character of Dave?
CW: Well it was right after I graduated from college and people kept telling me I needed to get ripped to work as an actor. So I was trying to work out a lot around the time I got the part and then once I got the part I didn’t do that anymore. I just drank a lot of beer and started smoking a lot more cigarettes, because he’s kind of a slacker. I didn’t want to look like some douche from the movies. I just wanted to look as slobby as possible.
BB: That is one of the most casual descriptions of method acting I’ve ever heard.
CW: (laughs) Yeah, it worked out. It was all things I loved to do. And then I had to get out of that after it was over, which was hard.
BB: What were some of the biggest challenges in shooting for this film?
CW: I don’t know if I’d call it a challenge, but definitely a point of education was seeing how a set works. I had no idea how anything worked, none of lingo or any of that. So soaking all that in while also trying to do my job was kind of an overload but it was cool. I learned a lot in a really short amount of time. It was just sort of challenging to maintain my focus when I was in awe of everything around me.
BB: What’s a scene where the final product looks drastically different than what you were working with the day of the shoot?
CW: I really like the way the epilogue turned out. You’ll know when you see it. There’s this part where it ends and then there’s sort of the beginning of the next chapter as the credits come up. The aesthetic that they captured for that wasn’t really how I imagined it, but it was hilarious and amazing. And it’s cut in between the credits, so it’s all this comic timing within the editing that I never pictured.
I’ve seen the film five or six times now in the different festivals I’ve gone to and every time I watch it, it’s been a little bit longer since I did it, so I kind of bother myself more every time I see it. But I love the movie. I’m proud of it. I want to do another one so I can come at it from where I am now instead of having to watch myself two years ago.
BB: What was it like working with Doug Jones?
CW: Oh my God. Have you met him? He is literally the sweetest, nicest, warmest–almost cartoonishly warm, but genuinely warm–person I’ve ever met in my life. And watching the kind of stuff he can do with his body is insane. I’m definitely not a physical actor. My weaknesses in college were definitely in movement class, so watching someone who’s an expert with what I struggle with is crazy. Just the tiniest movements that he can make speak volumes. It’s really nuts to watch. But he’s also just a really good actor. And then he’s the sweetest man ever and anyone who you ever talk to who’s worked with him–an he’s worked a lot–will say he’s the nicest man in the world.
BB: What is something you learned from filming John Dies at the End?
CW: I think I learned to completely commit to everything that I do. The fact that it was so appealing to me in all those ways and I was a fan of everything about it–I really, really became obsessed with it. I read the script over and over and over again. I thought about it all the time. I think to really be successful in any role, you need to do that, even if it’s not something that you’re immediately attracted to. You need to find a way to let it matter that much to you. And it’s hard to do that, but I think that’s the key.
You can see John Dies at the End through your local video On Demand provider this December. It will be coming to a theater near you in January.