When Vera Miles from Psycho is your grandma, I guess it’s only natural you’ll go into horror movies, too! Jordan Essoe has been in a few fright flicks, but his biggest and best to date is Bedeviled, in which he plays Mr. Bedevil, a not-so-helpful hologram lurking inside an app that scares the besjesus out a group of hapless teens.
With the film having just premiered at Screamfest 2016, we caught up with this blue blood of horror and got deep into what makes Mr. Bedevil so damn scary – check it out…
Dread Central: We loved you as Mr. Bedevil! That’s a great role; he could very well be the next horror icon. So tell us… given your relatively recent introduction to the genre, how did you first hear about the role, and what was it like getting it?
Jordan Essoe: I’m so thrilled you responded to Mr. B! He’s an incredibly fun character to inhabit, and I love him, too! I’ve played villains before, but this is my first time working on something that was pure horror. The tone and mood of the genre is addictively engaging. On set, especially during the night shoots, you’re just carried away into this eerie wonderland of delirious shadows and anxious stillness. The Vang Brothers first told me about the project when we met for lunch in June of 2015. We had worked together previously on their sci-fi short Sentient (see it below), where I played a captured soldier who turns out to be a sophisticated killing machine, and – up to that point – it was most amount of fun I’d ever had on camera. I remember auditioning for that part in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere, improvising the internal monologue for this soldier who was struggling with the fact that he wasn’t a man, and afterward hoping so bad that they would choose me for the role. They did! And it was amazing. I couldn’t wait to do something else with these guys. They have such a polished sense of cinema and a raw passion for storytelling. They’re brilliant, and they’re also really great human beings. When they told me they wanted me to play Mr. B, I was smiling ear to ear, just like on the movie poster.
DC: What did you think when you first read The Vang Bros.’ screenplay, and were you invited to collaborate on the character?
JE: When I read the script, one of the things that struck me immediately about the character of Mr. B was the way he, through the phone app, initially presents himself to these kids as a friend and confidante. He flaunts the personal things he knows about them. I asked myself if he, in any conceivable way, truly thought of himself as a potential friend. The obvious answer would be: Hell, no! He’s hunting them! But maybe the more interesting answer is: He actually does want to be their friend, just not in a way that you or I can easily relate to. If you can go there, you allow for the possibility that Mr. B’s hallucinatory games of terror and murder are the way he tries to connect with humanity. Why would he do that? I have one monologue in the film that supplies many clues. And the conclusion I draw is that fear is something that not only fascinates and excites Mr. B, but it’s also what he views as the peak human experience. He thinks it is the single most powerful, organizing force behind all meaningful human behavior.
I used to have an acting teacher who said that we are never more alive than when we are defending ourselves. Mr. B would agree with that. He wants to entangle himself in the most intense and personal fears of his victims because he thinks that it’s through fear that people most clearly animate who they truly are. The specifics of what people are most frightened by reveals the true character of their desires, loves, humility, weaknesses, and what they prioritize in life. What people work so hard to contain and control. Intense fear is also this ecstatic, heightened, otherworldly state. For Mr. B, I think it’s a kind of euphoria, which is why he laughs so fucking much! He’s not only philosophically putting his victims’ lives into stark relief; he’s also “getting high with a little help from his friends.” Even if – or especially if – it kills them.
DC: Rob Hall, who did the makeup effects on Bedeviled (review), has some of the nicest things to say about you! His praise means a lot in this biz. How long have you known him, and what is your working relationship like?
JE: The feeling is definitely mutual. I didn’t know Rob before this project, but I think the world of him and his talent. The visuals he designed for the film are mind-blowing. Spoiler: The one that bleeds from the mouth is one of my favorites! I first met him for drinks after the table read. He had seen my work in Sentient and was incredibly supportive and kind from the very beginning. We both adore Carpenter’s Halloween, and we hit it off in general. The world-building he did with Bedeviled is iconic. Not only his interpretation of the Vangs’ vision of Mr. B, but also designing all of those other horrifying manifestations and apparitional faces throughout the film. They feel inevitable and inescapable in Mr. B’s world. There is an immersiveness and seamlessness to what Rob does, and you have to step back and remind yourself – that isn’t a digital creation; this was made with human hands. It’s awesome.
DC: Although The Vangs were on the map as Nicholls Fellowship winners, Bedeviled is their first foray into feature film directing. Tell us what you observed about their style and how they were as directors.
JE: On the set, Abel and Burlee work really closely with their cinematographer, Jimmy Lu, who is a visionary in his own right. All three of those guys have very strong, shared visual instinct, and the finished product speaks for itself. It’s breathtakingly luminous. They went to school with Jimmy at USC, and that mutual history is really obvious when you see them setting up a shot. But this is all after the Vangs have spent months holed up, just the two of them, writing and sketching and carving out the master plan. You never see Abel and Burlee disagreeing on how to execute something on set. They are in lock tandem, and I’m in awe of that unquestioning, almost psychically united workflow, with complete faith in each other and total absence of ego.
In terms of the way the Vangs work with actors, sometimes they will ask me to do something very specific in a scene, but a lot of the time they will wait to see what my instincts bring to it. That kind of trust is really exciting because it gives you the freedom to be in the moment. They are also really great at recommending films that will suggest the general landscape of what they are going for. When I worked with them on Sentient, they asked me to look at 4 or 5 films. This time, in preparation for Bedeviled, I watched a ton of horror films, but they only suggested I look at one: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan and in particular the “Woman of the Snow” sequence. It was a slightly enigmatic piece of guidance. I loved it. Because, again, they are looking for specific results from their collaborators but remain truly open to embracing the full palette of interpretations that their work inspires in others.
DC: What’s it been like seeing Bedeviled with an audience? Any surprises or fave stories about reactions?
JE: We had an amazing audience at the premiere. We were blessed with a packed house and a really invested crowd. You could hear them holding their breath during the tense moments and feel the relief when there was a joke. They had fun with the film, and it’s a great feeling.
DC: Who are some of the actors who’ve played horror villains in the past (and now) that inspire you?
JE: On the surface, Mr. B is this exuberant, ecstatic character with an incredible amount of confidence, so I thought a lot about the iconic villains that Jack Nicholson has played – Jack Torrance in The Shining, The Joker, Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick, Frank Costello in the Departed, and even Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men. All those characters are like prime numbers, indivisible by anything but themselves, and Mr. B has this kind of indelible presence. Of course, there is a kind of Freddy Krueger aspect to Mr. B, but underneath, at his core, he has more in common with the uncomfortable invasiveness of Ben Kingley’s Roberto Miranda in Death and the Maiden – someone who gains intimacy through violence. There is a spidery seductiveness to Mr. B that also made me think about Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter and Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux. There is a motive of consumption that is spiritually like Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal… The list goes on, but the only thing I physically carried around with me on set to inspire me was a book about the pictorial history of Vaudeville.
DC: Any sequel plans for Bedeviled? And… What’s coming up next for you?
JE: There are definitely plans for a Bedeviled sequel. Obviously, I can’t say too much about that, but the Vangs and I have talked about it, and I know they are eager to reveal more about what makes Mr. B do the things he does, explore more of his world view, and maybe even tease at where he goes when he’s not killing teenagers! I’m excited. I’m also a writer, and some of the other projects I’m working on include adapting some of my stage plays into screenplays. There is also another horror film on the horizon. Stay tuned!