Directed by Victor Salva, ‘DARK HOUSE’ is a thrilling and horrifying road trip, full of twists and brutal surprises; a suspenseful thriller about a young man and a chilling old house that has survived decades, awaiting the return of its prodigal son… a house that can escalate Nick’s gift to see death before it happens, but holds within its walls the origins of a dark family legacy so horrible it may have already reached out to Nick’s unborn child.The cast for the film includes the legendary Tobin Bell (Saw), Luke Kleintank (Pretty Little Liars, 1000 to 1), Alex McKenna (Crossing Jordan, Dallas), Zack Ward (Postal) and Lesley-Anne Down (Upstairs/Downstairs). Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Tobin Bell and co-writer Charles Agron to discuss the origins of the story, the challenges in bringing this terrifying tale from script to screen, their career evolutions and more.
I wanted to give everyone a bit a background on how you got started. What was it that attracted you to making a career for yourself in the entertainment industry?
Tobin Bell: I can think of a moment when I was in the third grade when I was coming home with a note to my mother which said I had misbehaved in school. I was so terrified to give this note to my parents that I laid down in the middle of the street and made believe I was dead. All of these adults surrounded me and couldn’t have been more solicited about this poor child who was dead in the street. I was fascinated that within a matter of minutes I had become in complete control of these adults. That is more control than I ever had in school and I don’t think I ever forgot that.
Who would you cite as some of your biggest influences, be it actors you looked up to or mentors, who helped shape the person you are today?
Tobin Bell: Alan Parker, who hired me to play in “Mississippi Burning” back in 1987, is one. Sydney Pollack, who hired me to play The Nordic in “The Firm”, is another. Lee Strasberg, Ellen Burstyn. Sanford Meisner over at the Neighborhood Playhouse when I first came to New York. I have had lots of teachers, mentors and supporters. I would say people like James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who created the ‘Saw’ films and gave me an opportunity to flesh out a character from the beginning of the series and were so collaborative and supportive. I would call them important parts of my career. There have been so many different people along the way. The people at Lionsgate have been great with me. I feel like I have lots of fans and lots of friends over there. They are a great organization. I could keep going but those are the mentors that come to mind.
What can you tell us about how the concept for “Dark House” originally came about?
Charles Agron: I am a huge fan of the ‘Twilight Zone’ series and a huge fan of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The idea of fate has always resonated with me. Everybody thinks to themselves at some point, “Through fate, something good is going to happen to me.” I always had the thought of “What if we put a dark twist on that. What if good person and their fate would lead them to something bad?” I went to The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and stayed in Stephen King’s room in order to conjure up my movie writing vibes! It was there were I created the story of a young man who has as this dark gift and needs to find out the genesis of it. He realizes a home has visions of actually exists in the real world and he sets out to find it. When he finds hit he learns it is being guarded by a dark presence. When he finally discovers why he is the way he is and he realizes he is a pawn in a greater battle between good and evil.
How did the script evolve while you were on set and how the settings of the film may have added some additional life to it?
Charles Agron: I will tell you, once you get down to the location, the script evolves immensely because you have to deal with what you are handed. The funny thing is, when we started, the house looks like it was built for us. It is a real home, not a set piece. It had been deteriorating and had all kinds of growth in the form of vines hanging from it. It looks like it had survived the flood. What is so interesting is that there also had washed out roads and so forth, which made it really easy for us to pick great locations to film. Although you have to deal with the community you are in and have to have the script conform to the area, there were so many places that fit absolutely perfectly for this film. It was really meant to be!
You have been a part of many great projects through the years and your latest picture is “Dark House.” I was curious to learn how you go about preparing for a character for any given film?
Tobin Bell: Usually, I ask myself basic questions like “Who am I? Where am I? What do I want and how am I going to get it?” In the case of “Dark House,” I play Seth who stands between the young man who has inherited this house. I have to ask myself “What is Seth? Who is he? What is he doing?” I always want to know what a character does for a living and how they spend their time doing. That is what you are trying to create in a believable way. I am sure you have gone to films and see an actress who is supposedly a lawyer but you never see her lawyer in the film, nor do you ever really totally believe she does that every day. I always try to ask myself what would happen here is there was no movie or if there was no scene, what would be going on and what would this character you are playing be doing? Would he be sweeping the floor? Would he be swimming in the lake? Would he be climbing a tree? Would he be hammering on the walls? What would be doing? I always try to create that!
I am sure you get many interesting scripts sent your way. What was it about “Dark House” that attracted to the project and the character that made you want to pursue it?
Tobin Bell: I thought the underlying theme of the relationship between good and evil in the world was very timely and very fascinating. We often think of certain people who look a certain way, dress a certain way or have a certain number of greenbacks in their wallet as good guys or good women, which isn’t necessarily the case. Appearances are often deceiving. Sometimes we think of other people who don’t look particularly savory as bad people or somehow not worthy. That is also often not the case. I think there are twists and turns in this film that you do not expect. I thought the whole underlying theme of the struggle between good and evil was a great thing to work on, so that is why went. I also love going to the Deep South. Anytime I can get close to where The Blues was born, that is where I want to be.
Director Victor Salva helmed this picture. Obviously, he was quite a few horror films under his belt at this point in his career. What do you feel he brought to this project and what was it like working alongside him?
Tobin Bell: Victor is a very sensitive, very artistic and very dedicated to film. He has always been one of those guys who would, at fifteen years old, stand on top of his garage trying to do an aerial shot. He has always been behind the camera and has always cared very much about the history of film. Anybody who is that devoted to the craft is going to bring a lot to the table because along with that devotion comes a tremendous history. He has a lot of experience as a filmmaker. I loved working with Victor and I know all the other members of the cast felt really comfortable in his hands.
Let’s talk a little about working with the other members of the cast. Is there anything you took away from your time with them?
Tobin Bell: The cast is much younger than I am. I have to say that Luke Kleintank and Alex McKenna light up the screen, in my view, with this film. Luke is such a sensitive guy and it really reads on the screen. Alex is not only beautiful but she can really act. When you stand across from someone to do a scene, you know whether they are there; whether they are present. I felt a tremendous strength coming from Alex McKenna when I was with her in a scene. It is a simple connection. I think both of them are the heart of this film and I think they are both terrific in it. They are very hardworking and terrific to work with. We were out in the middle of the woods and it was November, a very rainy November. It was late November, lots of rain, lots of cold. Everybody hung in there and I was very pleased to be there!
What do you consider the biggest challenge you encountered on this project?
Tobin Bell: We had a very short time to come up with the character’s look. A hair person named Leslie Borchard, who is a hair and makeup specialist, was down there and did a great job. We set up shop in my hotel room and between the two of us crafted what this guy looked liked, how he looked that way and he looked that way. I can tell you that I did not want him to be fair. If you have seen the ‘Saw’ films you know that John Kramer was fair. I wanted Seth to be a darker character.
Charles Agron: I guess the biggest challenge for me was that “Dark House” was my first motion picture. I had done work on many shorts in the past. First off, I had to raise the finances for this film and deal with a lot of people who think they can play in the industry, only to find out at the last minute that they were going to pull their money or have cold feet. Once I we had done that, we had to do the location scouting. All of a sudden I found myself logistically controlling a crew of a couple hundred people and it is no easy task!
Tobin, this film is another example of you being able to flex your muscles as an actor. Is there a particular type of film or genre you are eager to explore as an actor?
Tobin Bell: Yeah. I have done some comedy in the past. I did “Seinfeld” and a pilot for ABC called “Adam” where I played a chef. I have done a number of different comedy projects but I would love to explore that realm a little more. If you ask me what kind of role I am looking for these days; I would like to play a gay nightclub owner who dances and who has a lot of joy de vivre!
I am sure that role is out there somewhere just waiting for you to find it!
Tobin Bell: Yeah! I am not sure what genre that fits into! As long as characters are complex and interesting, that is all I really care about, I just played a farmer from West Virginia on the CBS show “Criminal Minds.” He was an interesting guy. It is just about roles like that which have richness and diversity. That is what I am looking for.
You both can serve as great inspirations to aspiring actors and screenwriters. What is the best advice you can give to those looking to pursue a career in the industry in the present climate?
Tobin Bell: Be persistent. I think Charles can speak to that because Charles was very persistent in getting this film to where it is today. It is not an easy business. You may hear success stories of people going to Hollywood and landing a TV series within two weeks but they are few and far between. All I can suggest to anyone getting into the business is to get yourself a day job, a night job or any kind of job because that is what is going to imagine that job; whether it is a waiter, a busy boy, parking cars in a garage, driving tractor trailer trucks or whatever it is. That income is very valuable to keeping you in the game. You have to stay in the game. If you don’t stay in the game, you can’t win.
How do you both feel you have evolved in your craft since you started out? Anything that jumps out at you there?
Tobin Bell: I have learned that it is very important to work with good people, with quality people and people who are experienced at what they do. For “Dark House,” we were in the hands of a guy who has made a lot of films, Victor Salva, who has been very successful in this genre. In addition to him, our cinematographer/producer, Don E. FauntLeRoy is a very experienced guy. In the fast moving environment we were in down in Greenville, Mississippi, Charles trusted Don E. FauntLeRoy to get this thing done. There are huge amounts of equipment to be moved and sets to be prepared. When you make a movie… How many days did we have down there, Charles?
Charles Agron: We had twenty-three shooting days.
Tobin Bell: Alright, so we had twenty-three days and that is not a lot of time for the kind of action film this is. We were working in the woods in late-November in the cold, rainy weather. If the guy who is making all of those decisions and hiring the crew doesn’t pick good people and good equipment that works, you can get screwed. Don E. FauntLeRoy deserves a lot of credit for this film and the way it looks. I credit him, Victor and Charles for it and was glad to have them all on board.
Charles Agron: You are absolutely right. Don did an absolutely amazing job shooting the film. For me in terms of my evolution, I can say that I am almost a completely different person from working on shorts and smaller projects to this film. There was so much involved from creating the business plan, having the film funded, making the movie and having it distributed. To say that I haven’t learned an exponential amount of things is an understatement. I think the producer I am now is far different from the one I was before I started with “Dark House.”
I want to thank you both so much for taking time out to talk to us and letting us help spread the word on your film! Really enjoyed it!
Charles Agron: Absolutely! Thank you so much!
Tobin Bell: Thank you, Jason! We appreciate your time!