Highly regarded by his peers for his emotionally complex and nuanced characters, Marshal Hilton has been a consistent presence in the independent film world offering his unique brand of powerful, intellectual, and manipulating characters, or his salt-of-the-earth and rural country souls, having appeared in sixty plus feature films over his career to date, and a two year stint as series regular co-star “Les Fortunes” on the #1 Rated Fox Kids show hit “Beetleborgs Metallix”.
Over the years Marshal has had the pleasure of working alongside many notables — co-starring with screen legend Armand Asante and horror icon Bill Oberst Jr. in Mark Savages’ 2016 black-comedy thriller “Stressed to Kill”, co-starred with Robyn Lively, John Ratzenberger and Eric Roberts in the faith based feature “In the Name of God”, a supporting appearance in “The Perfect Weapon” with Steven Seagal and Vernon Wells, supporting in the action feature film “Assassin X” with Olivier Gruner, Patrick Kilpatrick and Martin Cove, and the privilege of working with the iconic king of “…Chewing Bubble Gum and kicking ass…” the late great Roddy Piper, while starring in Justin Paul Ritter’s psychological thriller “A Gothic Tale”. He’s a man who has almost done it all, but remains hungry for the challenges on the horizon.
One of his latest projects is Brian and Laurence Avenet-Bradley’s acclaimed excursion into terror, “Echoes of Fear.” The film eceived its World Premiere at the 18th annual Shriekfest Horror Festival, the longest running horror festival in Los Angeles, where it won Best Supernatural Horror Feature. 14 festivals have since followed and the film has won six Best Feature Awards. Embarking on a national theatrical release beginning this October, this award-winning spookfest also stars Trista Robinson, Hannah Race, and Paul Chirico.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Marshal Hilton to discuss his journey as an actor, the projects that have impacted him the most, what fans can expect from “Echoes of Fear” and much more.
Most people kick off their career in a short, a commercial or the tiniest of independent productions. Your first onscreen appearance was in a Mike Myers film for TriStar Pictures! Take us back to getting that gig in “So, I Married An Axe Murderer” in 1993?
Yeah, funny how things work out. At the time I was living up in the Bay Area studying acting with the legendary Method teacher Jean Shelton, and working on local bay area independent films. I had an Agent that submitted me for the project and then I did the normal actor process. It was pretty basic really. We did a lot of all night shoots. It was cold and foggy as hell but it all worked out. The checks were good so I can’t complain! [laughs]
And you had bit parts in the likes of “Fearless” and “Mrs Doubtfire”, not long after. The agent seemed to earn her ten percent!
In the Bay Area there are not a lot of big budget films that come through. There is also a limited talent pool, so the odds of picking up work are better. The “Mrs. Doubtfire” shoot was a very epic shoot. I had met Robin Williams socially several times prior to the shoot. I had never spoken to him about my acting pursuits. At that time everyone was stepping up to him with a pitch or agenda. I just got to know him as a thoughtful kind man, so when he saw me on set he was quite surprised. It was very special. We ended up shooting the final restaurant scene in Danville, California for about two weeks. It was amazing to see him in the costume doing some rather racy humour in between set-ups. It’s a good thing cell phone video technology had not been invented. He was uncensored and non-stop. I feel blessed to have had that experience. He was a gracious and kind man. He burned so bright. He gave the world every inch of his soul.
You achieved a certain level of fame when you were cast as Les Fortunes on the FOX series “Beetleborgs”. How was that as an experience?
Ahhh, I see you’ve been doing some sleuthing! Any time you have the opportunity to climb into the Network TV workflow there is a lot to absorb. There are so many moving parts. You learn very quickly that although you may be the tip of the spear, it is a team environment. One hundred and fifty plus people, multiple departments, all working crazy hours to meet deadlines to create an environment for you to do your best work, is humbling. It truly turns into a family and you feel responsible to do not only your best work, but do your best work for all the people working their asses off to make you look good. And as with any family there will be ups and downs, but the goal is the same. It’s the essence of true creative collaboration.
You also learn very quickly that this business is a “We Game” not a “Me Game”. You are an asset, a commodity, and one that can be disposed of, or embraced. The fairly tale we actors have in our brain, the fantasy of what we think its like to be contracted on a Series, is very different than the reality. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and a wake up call for most. You can tell very quickly who’s ready, who’s with the team, and who’s stuck in their ego. There really is no room for pompous bullshit.
And how many episodes did it run?
The series shot right around one hundred episodes from 1997 through 1998 before it went into syndication. At its peak it was airing in approximately 14 million homes, six days a week. That’s a lot of eyeballs. Fox sold it as part of the Fox Kids line-up to Disney where it disappeared for a while. The Internet brought it back to life. It was digitized and given a sort of re-birth. It’s still floating around out there.
What happened after the show ended? I imagine, like any actor that suddenly faces unemployment after a TV series ends, it was a daunting time?
Yeah, it was an interesting experience. For two years you’re deep in the network creative storm every day, and then the next day you’re literally sitting at home with nothing to do. The phone is silent, the house is silent, and you’re alone with your thoughts. There were definitely moments where you understand the stories that you’ve heard over the years from actors that have been on a Series that ends. There were a lot of doubts and some anxiety for sure. But by the end of the show’s run I was burned out on the character. It was an amazing experience that taught me a lot of lessons.
Where did you then decide to concentrate your efforts?
After the show ended I took a seven-year hiatus from acting. I literally disappeared to re-charge my battery. I ended up focusing on my music interests. I’ve been a guitar player and drummer since I was eight years old. Music was my first love. I did a lot or playing, touring and studio work over the years. I started a little independent label, learned digital recording technology and began producing. It was an amazing few years. It ran its course and I felt the urge to step back into the acting arena in 2006 and I’ve been working ever since.
Interestingly enough, it would seem you stayed away from TV after “Beetleborgs” and stuck to film work. Or was that not a conscious decision?
I wish I knew the answer, I truly do. I have had this conversation with many colleagues over the years. Guys like myself that have worked for years but never cracked the TV game. I’ve been blessed to put together a decent resume over 30 years. Why it has not translated to more TV and Episodic work is baffling to me. Perhaps I have a face made for film? I don’t have the answer. I used to dwell on it and it would get me down. I just stoped thinking about it. It’s not healthy to dwell on things that are out of your control. I get the parts I get, and do the best I can with the opportunities presented. That’s all I can do. The rest is up to the universe to sort out.
You seem to be always busy, with many, many films out each year, does that simply come down to the fact that you like to work?
Yes, I do like the process. I’m a creative, its what we do. If I’m not acting then I’m doing my photography, or playing a guitar, doing something that engages my imagination. When you have been around Hollywood for a while you meet and work with a lot of people. You build a network. Most of my work comes from my network or referrals. If you do good work and are easy to work with people will circle back around and say, “…Marshal would be great for that character, call him”. I still audition for work, but most of it comes as referral or offers.
And I imagine films like “Astro”, “Primal Rage” and “The Debt Collector” all have relatively short shoots, so you are able to fit in a few films a year?
Yeah, with independent films the budgets have gotten much smaller because the revenue streams have gotten smaller due to all the streaming platforms paying on royalty models. There is such a glut of films in the market that producers have got to shoot these films lean and mean. The margins are much smaller so it’s turned into a volume game. There just isn’t enough time and money to mess around. They need actors that know the flow, can hit their marks, and deliver the goods in a couple of takes. There’s not any time to coddle or “train” actors on set. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re just starting out and get an opportunity to work it can be a bit
overwhelming how fast we shoot these things. Just be humble and gracious, keep your eyes open, your mouth shut, listen, and absorb as much as you can. We’ll know if it’s your first rodeo, and if you’re cool we’ll take care of you.
One of your latest projects is “Echoes of Fear”. What can you tell us about it?
There’s not much that I can divulge other than this film leads you down a familiar path, then smacks you upside the head. And its not a mild gentile slap. It’s more like an emotionally dark visceral haymaker that is completely unexpected. It twists you up in a creepy uncomfortable way. It gets pretty intense.
We can’t go into your character much, since it’s a bit of a spoiler, but can you tell us what appealed to you about playing David?
Indeed, this is the most difficult part about this film. We just can’t really go into much detail. After reading the script it was a no brainer. As an actor you dream about the subtext, the story going on in the head of a character behind their eyes. Everyone has a story, and everyone has secrets. Humans are very protective of themselves. Finding those layers is where the craft comes to light; the imagination, the peeling of the onion, the digging for the physical and psychological nuances that are buried and hidden inside the character, not spoken, just felt. There are just so many layers to this story. But on the surface, what’s not to be fascinated by a guy that uses a cane to walk, an oxygen tank to help him breath, and yet he still smokes cigarettes?
The one thing that really stands out about “Echoes of Fear” is that it’s smarter, more unique than your standard genre movie. Was that part of the appeal for you as an actor?
Without a doubt, the slight of hand is stunning. Things are not always as they appear. This film sneaks up on you in ways completely unexpected. That’s also a great challenge as a storyteller. Keeping your cards close and constantly bluffing while not giving away the secrets is fun!
Tell us about working with Brian and Laurence Avenet-Bradley?
Brian and Lo are wonderful people. They really care about the work, and it shows in Echoes. They are very diligent with each moment, each frame. They were very well prepared with the storyboard and very specific with the treads and layers. They needed too be because this was a very small production. They wore many hats. When you have that much going on preparation is the key. Because it was such a small team there were some difficulties, but there are difficulties on every film shoot. But you realize what it is that you’re taking on and know that going in. I think that we all understood the constraints. But the bottom line is the final product, and Echoes delivers their vision.
They open to suggestions? Anything you brought to the character that wasn’t on the page?
The script was very specifically crafted. Brian and Lo knew all the nuances they wanted to see. It was all there. The layers, deception and discovery were all written. There really wasn’t any reason for improve or ad-libbing. As far as the character, I was busy shooting other films and had the script for a while. Up until about a week before shooting I still didn’t know what I was going to do with David physically. I was starting to worry about what to do with him. I was at my chiropractor’s office one day and one of his patients had an oxygen tank to assist his breathing. He was an older gentleman, hunched over, and balding. It was like a beam of angelic light filled to room the moment I saw him. It was like God said, “ Here you go”. When I heard the man’s voice and watched how he struggled to speak with a shortness of breath I was mesmerized. I had been watching You Tube videos of people with emphysema speaking, but this guy was the real deal. I bent that man’s ear for about thirty minutes, soaking in every nuance of his essence. It was a miracle. I rushed home and called Brian and spoke to him in my “David voice”. He liked it. We also agreed that I might look a bit too young and too clean for the character he had envisioned. I knew that David needed to be created correctly, the script and story called for it. I tossed out the idea of going with a semi bald look to age myself and I went several weeks without shaving. It was a big risk to head down that path. My ego felt scared and uncomfortable. The artist in me said, “…That’s perfect, you need to face the fear, break the mold and go for it”. Thankfully, Brian liked the idea so we went with it.
Many of the independent films you’ve done of late have gotten theatrical releases – “Echoes of Fear” included. What do you attribute that too? Just good work?
Well, I’ll leave the “Good Work” assessment for you and audiences to decide. I think it comes back around to the Network we discussed prior. If you manage to hang around this town long enough your network gets more established as well. Filmmakers develop better relationships with established producers and distributors, get better budgets, successfully sell films, and as they get more established the projects they produce have a better chance of getting wider distribution. Some will go straight to streaming platforms, that’s the nature of the beast. Others, depending on the Genre, will have a chance to go wider. I’ve had a few lately that have gone Theatrical and that is pretty cool.
What noticeable changes have you noticed about the industry since you first started in this game?
Digital technology put a pro-consumer camera in the hands of the masses. There is a content glut. On-Line Streaming digital platforms are now micro genre segmented and global, budgets are much smaller, individual “Branding” is more important than ever, and talent lies somewhere in the middle.
Have your interests changed during that time too?
Too some degree, yes, I feel as though I am evolving. I turned 60 in September. As you get older perspective changes, priorities change. You begin to see the final act of life in front of you. When you’ve been hyper focused on one thing for so many years other parts of the world and life can get neglected. The roses need watering. At the moment I am doing a lot of watering, and it feels really good!
What’s next? And what type of parts are you largely chasing now?
I’ve got several films coming down the pike. We just had the Los Angeles premier screening for “A Clear Shot” at the TCL Chinese Theatre. I co-starred with Mario Van Peebles in this film directed by Nick Leisure. It’s a Cop/Hostage thriller base on a true story. We shot the entire film at the Foxsploration Studios in Rosarito Baja Mexico last December. It should be hitting the masses very shortly.
Earlier in the year, I filmed another movie in Mexico with Luke Goss and Louis Mandylor titled “Legacy”, directed by R. Ellis Frazier, produced by Elais Axume for Premier Entertainment. It’s an action adventure film and should be hitting the public soon. Also this year I did a fun little cameo in my friend Shane Stanley’s action-adventure film “Break Even”, starring Tasya Teles, Steve Guttenberg, James Callis and Joseph Reitman. It’s in post and will be in the market place soon.
Late last year I co-starred with Latin soap star Osvaldo de Leon in a TV episodic pilot shot in Houston formerly titled “H-Town”, now called “Muddy Waters”. It’s a Texas Ranger story about two Texas Rangers trying to solve the murder of a retired police officer. It’s set in the world of Houston’s Latino hip-hop gang culture, and dirty politics. It’s making the usual rounds and seems to have a few suitors, so we’ll wait and see.
It’s been a pleasure and thank you for reaching out. Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew, I just want to say thank you for supporting this film. It was a passion project for everyone involved. I hope you and your readers enjoy the film.
You can keep tabs on what’s going on by following any one of my social media profiles. We’re constantly putting up news and info.
Follow the continuing adventures of Marshal Hilton by visiting his official website at www.marshalhilton.com. Connect with him on social media via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. See where “Echoes of Fear” is screening — Click Here!