Through the years, we have watched Jeremy Sisto evolve from a fresh faced teen actor to a well-established leading man in Hollywood. Over the course of three decades in the entertainment industry, he has continued to branch out and explore new territory in front of and behind the camera. Through it all, he remains one of the most down-to-earth artists in the business. For his latest project, Sisto finds him returning once more to the horror genre, where he has established himself as a fan favorite. Directed by Adam Mason (Broken, The Devil’s Chair, Blood River), ‘Hangman’ also features Amy Smart (The Butterfly Effect, Crank, Road Trip) and Kate Ashfield (Shaun of the Dead, The War Zone, Secret Smile), Eric Michael Cole, Ryan Simpkins and Ty Simpkins. The thriller focuses on the Miller family, who upon returning home from vacation discover their home has been broken into. After cleaning up the mess they continue with their lives, shaking off the feeling of being violated. Little do they know the real nightmare has just begun as a killer is lurking closer than they could ever imagine. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Jeremy Sisto to discuss the making of ‘Hangman’ and the challenges involved with bringing it from script to screen. Sisto also offers a look inside his evolution as an actor and what the future holds for him.
We have been fortunate enough to watch you grow up on screen and evolve as an actor through an array of different projects. Going back to the beginning, what intrigued you about acting?
It was my mom, after she left my dad, she became an actress in Chicago and she was raising us on her own. My sister and I were with her a lot during auditions. Eventually, casting directors began to ask if we wanted to audition for roles. We did and we got some plays. The plays were great experiences, not necessarily the acting, but the experiences themselves were so much fun being a kid in that environment. It was a dream for a kid, really! You are playing out there but it has this bigness because you are working alongside adults. I got a movie when I was 16, which was before I got out of high school. I wasn’t really great at school and I wasn’t too excited to go to college, so it gave me something to pursue. I was excited about it and the level of possibilities that exist in the world of film and television. Storytelling, to me, has always felt like a great place to live. I have been lucky enough to maintain a career thus far and it is something I will continue to pursue as long as the opportunity is there.
The entertainment industry isn’t the easiest place to make a living. To what do you attribute your longevity in the field?
Ya know, I think I was blessed with good genes. I have my father’s voice and my mother’s eyes, which is an interesting combination to see on film. [laughs] I have also been lucky enough to be a part of projects that have been people’s favorites, like “Six Feet Under” and “Clueless.” With that, there is a well of people who come into the business that, before they were in it, were fans of those projects. They remember me fondly from those. Another thing is that I have been lucky enough to change up the genres, so that has widened the field of opportunities that I have. To be totally honest, a lot of it has to do with luck and I am very grateful for it.
Your latest project is a horror film called “Hangman.” How did you get involved?
I had just finished producing “Break Point,” which took quite a long time to produce. My buddy Adam Mason, the director of “Hangman,” came to me with an idea that I thought was intriguing. I said I would be into doing it and it seemed like something that we could make inexpensively and I would be able to tackle producing that didn’t involve as much of the politics. As an actor, it seemed like a fun gig to be living this day in the life of this family and trying to achieve a real sense that we are alone and not being watched while we are being stalked. Having this family unaware that there was this creepy dude there gave it a real cool, quiet engine that had opportunity for imagery that would stay with you.
What did Adam Mason bring to the table as a director?
Adam is a really great director. He is very collaborative and very decisive. He is one of those directors who is more about doing something rather than talking about it. That is something I really enjoy. When him and the writers came to me, who are very prolific, I knew they could get the script out quickly and make it worthwhile. I know Adam has the desire, as I do, to go out and make it however you have to, be it guerilla style or whatever. While that is sometimes not the best idea, it is definitely in the spirit of where I am as well.
As you mentioned, the killer is inside the house watching this unsuspecting family. How did your team approach shooting this film and building the tension needed to bring it to life?
It was interesting because we built a couple of different spaces that the killer moves into and stays, crawlspaces and whatnot. We wanted to find exactly what would be the scariest and the most realistic with the technology involved. Watching this family operate as they normally would didn’t take a lot of planning because you could change something up if it wasn’t working. I remember us talking about how it would be cool if there were entire scenes where you still see the people’s faces because they are having a conversation slightly out of range of one of the cameras. We thought that would be really cool and helpful to make the audience feel as if it were really happening and the family is unaware of the cameras. A lot of that, as an actor, you could really just play and try whatever you wanted. The stakes didn’t feel so high even though the cameras were always rolling. There was a lot to work out. The most challenging aspect was trying to find the scariest way to see the killer and how much you want to see him to give the creepiest effect. There was definitely some work that went into those near misses to achieve the right amount of tension.
Adam Mason mentioned you playing a role in bringing the right mix of people to the project. What can you tell us about the cast?
Kate Ashfield was a friend of Adam’s. We got really lucky with her. She came to the table with a lot of experience and we had a great rapport. She easily embraced the concept and format. The kids in the movie, Ryan and Ty Simpkins, were just babies compared to the rest of us! [laughs] There was already a built-in maternal feeling I had for them, which really played well in the film. Amy Smart and Ross Partridge are friends of mine. It’s funny, there are certain actors that will do this kind of stuff for their buddies. That is something that is happening more and more. It used to more of a rarity and you would hear people say, “Oh, I don’t do projects with friends.” [laughs] I don’t have a lot of friends in my life anymore! [laughs] It is always fun, helpful and gratifying when buddies can help you get something done. Eric Michael Cole is one of my oldest friends in L.A. and he plays the killer In the movie. He always brings so much to everything he does. That was the biggest discovery we had on set, trying to fill in how crazy, emotional and mental we could make him. We wanted him to be a different kind of bad guy and someone with a well of psychological complexity. I think we were able to achieve that really well. I also had a buddy who used to be a stunt guy and he brought someone in and was able to rig up that great thing at the end, so we were able to do it in a way that feels really real. That was a big challenge for making this movie on the budget we did.
You are no stranger to the horror genre. Is there something appealing about playing in this genre from time to time?
Yeah. Ya know, horror isn’t necessarily the genre that appeals to me the most. I don’t see a lot of horror movies and my wife doesn’t watch them so I don’t see them that often. However, what I like about horror is it is one of the genres that can combine any other genre. Drama is at the heart of most horror movies, so it is really quite open. There is a really visceral response you can get from an audience with horror. That was one of the fun parts of seeing the film at SXSW and seeing the audience respond to it. Horror fans love the darkness. I love horror fans because they are some of the coolest and nicest people you will ever meet.
Your career spans so many different genres and has given you the opportunity to play many diverse roles. How have you most evolved as an actor along the way?
I would say around the time or just slightly before the time I was appearing on “Six Feet Under” was the first time I was really starting to feel comfortable with being on film. Prior to that, I felt as if I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing. There are different kinds of versions of the job I have learned along the way. When I did “Kidnapped,” it was the first time I was able to play the dark, mysterious, smartest guy in the room type of anti-hero role. That was great. “Law & Order” was a very different type of gig, one where you really had to hit the mark and rattle off the information in a way to give the audience a sense of naturalness and reality. Then I was able to come back and do comedy with “Suburgatory.” That was a whole different set of muscles to flex. Now, I have have been going back and forth between those different types of projects. I am about to start a TV show called “The Jury” that I am really excited about. There have been different milestones throughout my career. My first film “Grand Canyon” was probably the biggest of those.
Any young actor can look to you and the career you built as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take from your story?
That is an interesting question. Aside from the incredible amount of luck that it takes, it was always about doing as much of it as possible. Whenever I wasn’t working, I was doing a play or a one-man show. I would take almost any film that came along and I rarely said no. For me that worked because I needed a lot of time to get comfortable. Everybody is different, in this business or any business, so you really have to do it your own way!
Absolutely! Keep doing your thing, Jeremy! We can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the future!
Thank you, buddy! Have a great day!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.