On January 8, 2011, this writer took a trip up La Tuna Canyon just outside Sun Valley, CA, for a visit to Frank Ippolito’s then-shooting short film “Night of the Little Dead” (set visit and photos coming soon) and while there chatted with one of that film’s stars, genre vet Bill Moseley, who talked up a few of his other horror projects, including Susanna Lo’s upcoming feature Manson Girls.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said the actor, who is familiar to horror fans for his turn as ‘Choptop’ in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as well as for his portrayal of ‘Otis’ in the Rob Zombie films House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, of his role in Manson Girls. “It is kind of funny to have these brushes with Charles Manson over the years. I did a stage play many years ago called ‘Timothy and Charlie’ about a historic night when Timothy Leary and Charles Manson were side-by-side in solitary (confinement) in San Quentin, and the play kind of took off from there – certainly fictitious. I played Timothy Leary (in it), and my buddy Gill Gayle played Charles Manson. Of course, a lot of people really think that (the character of) ‘Otis’ (in The Devil’s Rejects) has a lot to do with Manson, too. There’s that Tex Watson line (in the film) that goes, ‘I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s work,’ so it does seem to be something that’s a recurring motif for me.”
Dread queried the prolific actor as to the approach he plans to take in informing his role of Manson, and he expounded, “The person as an actor I’ll probably go to for reference would be my Devil’s Rejects buddy Steve Railsback because his portrayal of Charles Manson in (the Tom Gries 1976 made-for-TV film) Helter Skelter is the high-water mark. What I remember too is that, ‘It is an actor playing a part’. When I did the ‘Timothy and Charlie’ play, a lot of actors better than I turned it down because they were asked to portray a living and breathing human being, and Timothy Leary was living at the time. What I did was instead of trying to mimic Leary, and to look like him and to talk like him, was that I actually sat with it for a while. While he was a Harvard professor of psychology, he also grew up in Boston and was a tough Irish-Catholic kid from the streets. So what I tried to do was to not simply emphasize the intellectual but to give him a strong physical presence, too. Somehow it turned out with a nice balance. Timothy Leary came to maybe seven of the twelve performances, and we became pals after that. I don’t necessarily see that happening with Charles Manson though, but as I said, it’s a role, and I’d be more inclined to speak with Steve first and kind of find my way through it.”
The topic of America’s fascination with serial killers came up, and we asked Moseley if he felt any particular responsibility in accepting such a role and as to whether or not he feels that these types of films glamorize their subjects and/or further their dubious notoriety.
“I’m not a method actor per se,” replied Moseley, who interestingly enough prior to working as an actor was a seasoned journalist, penning articles for such respected mastheads as Omni and Psychology Today. “The first thing I do is approach it as a role, and I end up reading the script a bunch of times and try to capture the essence of the person as they are portrayed in the screenplay. I think that also in approaching it in that way, it provides an emotional and psychic safety net.”
Given the despicable nature of some of the characters which Moseley has in the past portrayed, his need for a safety net is rather unsurprising. Case in point, the rather shocking scene of sexual assault required of his character of ‘Otis’ as perpetrated on actress Priscilla Barnes in The Devil’s Rejects, which, according to Moseley, was greeted initially by him with trepidation upon his first reading of the script.
“When The Devil’s Rejects came up, I remember giving the screenplay to my girlfriend, Lucinda, and almost passing the responsibility to her, like, ‘Read this, and tell me what you think,’” recalled the actor. “I really kind of set her up to read that scene, and if she had said, ‘If you do this, I’ll never talk to you again,’ I would have had a good excuse not to do it. Instead, she read it and handed it back to me; her eyes were glowing, and she said, ‘It’s a great part for an actor,’ and it was such a wonderful thing to hear because it just centered me because I was reminded that I didn’t have to be that person – that I just had to make it real as an actor. It is artifice. That really helped me out.”
As for his expectations for Manson Girls, a film in which he’s set to act beside Eric Balfour (Skyline), Thora Birch (American Beauty), Monica Keena (Night of the Demons 2009), Laura Herring (The Punisher), Estella Warren (Planet of the Apes 2001) and Heather Matarazzo (Hostel: Part 2) and whose period narrative centers around the summer of 1969 (when the Manson Family murders were committed), “It should be very disturbing,” said Moseley. “It’s a great cast. I think they are doing a press conference (regarding the film) at Sundance, and I think they are probably shooting around here.”
Chatting with him regarding a handful of other projects he’s rumored to be attached to, Moseley set the record straight on a few of them.
“Stingy Jack is in limbo,” Moseley stated of the yet-to-shoot Todd Langseth horror feature, in which he’s set to star with Jason Priestley and Rejects alumni Barnes and Michael Berryman. “I am doing a couple of things, though. I am doing (a film called) Dances with Werewolves up in Michigan, which is probably (shooting) at the end of February. I think I’ll also be doing a movie called Holy Oak down in Austin, Texas. It’s a witch film. I play a novelist who is the descendant of someone who was cursed by witches and who has to perform a task, and keep doing it on a daily basis, or the witches might go after his daughter. So it’s cool!” (Writer’s note: The Busted Buggy Entertainment production is also set to star Courtney Daniels and AJ Bowen and will be directed by Bryan Ryan with cinematography by Frozen’s Will Barratt and effects by Robert Hall of Almost Human F/X).
When asked whether or not he’s attached to director Anthony Michael Hall’s in pre-production feature Deception (as listed on IMDB, a source which has become increasingly unreliable), the actor laughed, “I don’t know! I go to IMDB, and it seems that it’s more fiction than fact. I think what happens, and God bless them, is that young filmmakers for some reason throw their projects up there and then point to it and say to potential investors, ‘Hey, look at that!’ But it’s good. I used to be kind of ruffled about it, but then I was told that it makes you look busy, and looking busy is attractive in Hollywood. So yeah, I’m attached to thirty-five different projects!”
Ruminating on the public’s and casting directors’ general perception of Moseley as a ferocious, cinematic maniac (of the sixty or so feature titles he’s appeared in, he’s played the heavy in many of them), the good-natured actor (who happens to have a long-standing fondness for the more innocent genre of kaiju), said, “I’m basically a fun-loving guy. I still scratch my head when people see me as a psycho, a serial killer, a Nazi, a monster or a child molester. The heavy roles are really a lot more fun, though. I’ve done it so much, though, that sometimes I’m even hired as the red herring, like if I’m in the movie, then I’m obviously going to pull out a hatchet and start chopping people up! I have to say that I’m just happy to keep working. I enjoy it. I enjoy being on the set. I just enjoy the rush of hearing the word ‘Action!’”
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