The loyalty between horror fans and the prolific actors in the horror world is unparalleled by any corresponding genre. Drama fans are likely to turn on an actor if there’s a public scandal or string of bad projects and comedy fans will lose interest if an actor is simply no longer funny, but throughout the horror landscape, through films good, bad or outright insane, horror fans support those who embrace the darker side of cinema. For evidence, one can look at any of the dozens of horror conventions throughout the world, where these underground regulars suddenly become icons, worthy of praise for every project, no matter how little or shunned. Furthermore, when these actors finally get a leading role in a major film or find themselves at the forefront of a high profile independent pick-up, the horror crowd makes sure that they’re there opening weekend to see their performances with an audience of people who may have no hint of their talents.
For independent horror fans, this cannot be truer for You’re Next, which is exposing a whole new set of moviegoers to a cavalcade of proven genre actors. And as exciting at it is to see thousands of screens playing a film featuring Joe Swanberg, Barbara Crampton and Amy Seimetz, it’s the appearance of AJ Bowen which will be on most horror fans radars. Having proven himself with a tour-de-force debut performance in The Signal and later established himself as a genre-bred powerhouse in Hatchet II, The House of the Devil, Rites of Spring and A Horrible Way to Die, Bowen has been on the cusp of breaking out into the mainstream for the better part of a decade, with considerable support in the way from his filmmaking friends Ti West, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. With Wingard and Barrett’s latest collaboration drawing ever closer to theaters, Bowen spoke to Diabolique about his acting mindset, his relationship to his collaborators and a misconception about his upcoming film, The Sacrament…
DIABOLIQUE: So after two long years, You’re Next is finally hitting theaters and is an incredibly fun and intense horror film, and you’re both absolutely wonderful in the film. What attracted you to this project?
AJ BOWEN: Thank you for the kind words. I was attached to You’re Next before it was finished being written. I’d made a few movies with Adam and Simon before, and we had made a film the year before in the same town where we wound up shooting You’re Next. I had the good fortune of having the role of Crispian written for me, so I knew I was involved pretty early on, even before I saw the script.
DIABOLIQUE: You came to this project with the director and cast, most of whom you’d worked with, although a few of the principals came to the project more or less new to Adam’s camp, including Barbara Crampton, Sharni Vinson and Rob Moran. Considering this was an independent production initially, was there any specific approach you took to establishing trust amongst performers initiated with Adam and those who were not?
BOWEN: Well, we shot the movie entirely at night, which sounds like a minor element but in terms of establishing some sort of intimacy with each other, being on this strange cycle of being up all night long in this creepy, old, spooky house, I think it created a more magical realism for me where I was more creatively free because it felt more like we were making a movie. I can’t speak for anybody else, but at least this was true for me.
This harkened back to a nostalgic dream that I had when I was a kid as to what it might feel like to make a movie. Also, for me, obviously being familiar with Barbara and Rob’s work, it was a big deal for me as an actor to get to be doing this movie with them. So there was a comfort level for me that maybe, had this been a more formal environment, I would have had to work a little bit harder to establish. To be honest, it was pretty much there from the beginning.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you think that sense of familiarity amongst the cast and crew was beneficial to your performance or were you concerned that that may have made you too comfortable or self-aware with the performance?
BOWEN: I think on any project there’s a sense that the concept of self-awareness gets left at the door when we start working. There’s going to be a natural element of preconception when you’re approaching collaborating with each other after you’ve already done so, and if you’ve done some movies that people are starting to see and are becoming aware of [your work], there’s an expectation for a certain type of product. But that’s like the “vanity” thing, if you’re an actor. It’s fine to have vanity; it’s a human quality. But as an actor, I think it’s really important that the second someone calls “Action,” all of that shit gets tossed to the side.
For me, it’s always going to start and end with the script and trying to break down a character in the most efficient way to figure out how to service the story. There were some things that I did in You’re Next that I know were written because of my previous work, and that they knew they had wanted somebody to do that they thought I could do. But other than that, no.
DIABOLIQUE: It’s safe to say that this is your highest profile project to date, despite having made a name for yourself in the underground horror community. If this film is successful, what do you think the future may hold for you as a genre performer? Are you intimidated somewhat by the prospect of working with a new set of directors and performers outside of whom you’ve previously collaborated?
BOWEN: I don’t suspect much that things are going to change for me in one way or the other. I would expect that to be more of a scenario for Sharni, or Adam and Simon. I continue to work in independent film and I think, personally, I’ve reached a place where I’m now getting more into an impersonal place in terms of work.
I think it’s a fair question that you raise about having worked with a lot of the same people. I could break down the movies that I’ve made into generally three or four different groups of people that I collaborate with, and I think lots of times directors and writers are given the freedom and luxury of understanding that they’re going to go off and use other actors to help grow their skill set. Similarly, I feel that I’ve reached a place as an actor where it’s time to start looking into different types of projects, which is not to say leaving genre [projects] by any stretch of the imagination, because [genre] is my home, even 20 years before I had made a movie, and it will always be my home.
But just trying to broaden the strokes and deepen a skill set is definitely on the way. It’s such a strange thing at the same time for me, as I’ve got one more movie that can be considered a horror film, The Sacrament, in the can that we’re getting ready to premiere at Venice [International Film Festival] in a couple of weeks that Ti and I did. It’s the same guys: Ti, [Joe] Swanberg, [Amy] Seimetz and I that Eli Roth produced, so we’re getting ready to go. It’s just strange times in a good way.
DIABOLIQUE: Regarding The Sacrament, I know you can’t talk much about the project, but in generalities, how was filming a “found footage” movie different for you as a performer, especially considering you’d worked under Ti in a more traditional way with The House of the Devil?
BOWEN: Well, I don’t think that I’m spoiling anything by saying that I’m not sure that we made a “found footage” movie. I know someone, either one of the investors or one of the people who make the decisions about marketing, will consider that as a marketing tool and I’ll say that it was an aesthetic for us, but there was an element of playing to the camera that hadn’t existed for me before. Honestly, it took me a couple of days to get natural about looking into [the camera].
When you’re dealing with that [element], there’s a personality on-camera, there’s a personality that’s you and there’s a film personality that’s technically challenging. When you start out working [in film], you spend your time trying to avoid the camera and forget that it’s there and then, ten years in, to have to be told by one of my best friends, “Alright, that’s great, but can you look into the camera and talk to the audience?” I go, “No, that’s wrong. That’s a sin and I can’t do that.” So it took a couple of days. The Sacrament is such a different film for Ti, and for me, that there was a huge learning curve and it was probably the most fulfilling film experience I’ve had to date.
DIABOLIQUE: Aside from The Sacrament, do you have projects either in development or awaiting release in the near future?
BOWEN: I wrote a script with my writing partner, Susan Burke, who co-wrote Smashed that came out last year. I’m directing that [script]; it’s a family comedy that we’re going to start shooting in the spring so we’re in pre-production on that right now.
You’re Next, starring Bowen, Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton invades theaters from Lionsgate this Friday, August 23rd. For more information on You’re Next, you can visit its official website, like its official Facebook or follow the film on Twitter: @lionsgatehorror. For more from AJ Bowen, you can follow him on Twitter: @ajbowen. Bowen can be seen in A Horrible Way to Die, Rites of Spring, Hatchet II and The Signal, available now on Netflix Instant Streaming. You can also see him in The House of the Devil and Sun Don’t Shine, available on DVD/Blu-ray now.
Don’t forget that this week at Diabolique Magazine is YOU’RE NEXT WEEK, and we will have our exclusive chat with Barbara Crampton tomorrow before our review of the film, featured in Diabolique #17, drops on our website this Friday. To see our previous interviews for YOU’RE NEXT WEEK, you can find our exclusive with Adam Wingard here and our exclusive with Joe Swanberg here.
For more on AJ Bowen, Lionsgate and You’re Next, keep checking back here at DiaboliqueMagazine.com! Don’t forget to pick up Diabolique #17, available now for iPad/iPhone at the App Store, and will be on shelves and for other digital platforms this week, which features exclusive comments from Adam Wingard on You’re Next as well as an early look at our official review for the film!
– By Ken W. Hanley