Horror fans may not necessarily recognize the name Connor Paolo, but there are millions of people worldwide who will. The up-and-coming actor is part of the ensemble of young talent that makes up The CW’s hit show “Gossip Girl.” Now Paolo is set to leave his impression on the genre everywhere when Jim Mickle’s Stake Land opens in limited theatrical release this Friday.
Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to chat with Paolo about what attracted him to the project, the difficulties of juggling a hit television series and his role in Stake Land, and how he prepared to take on bloodthirsty vampires alongside co-star Nick Damici.
Paolo said he knew from the moment he picked up the script that he had to play the role of Martin, a tragic young man who gets saved by a mysterious stranger named Mister (Damici). The pair then set off for the fabled New Eden community in hopes of escaping the perils of the vampire-plagued world around them. “As soon as I read the script in the spring of 2009, I immediately saw how brilliant the part of Martin was and knew I wanted to be a part of it. Then, when I read with Nick, I just absolutely knew I wanted this role and I had to work alongside this guy. His delivery and range was amazing.”
“The day that I got the offer with Stake Land, I basically tried to be around Nick as much as humanly possible for training since he’s a professionally trained martial artist. In Stake Land he worked martial arts techniques into staking vampires so I would train with him just to get a sense of the technique and timing. It was exhausting but worth it because I think that adds a little something to the film when you see us actually doing the moves. You believe it,” added Paolo.
When production was set to begin on Stake Land, both Paolo and Damici decided to head to set early to settle into their roles before the cameras started rolling.
“We both arrived to set about a week early so Nick and I actually camped out together the entire time before we started shooting just so we could get used to spending all our time together,” said Paolo. “We both believed that Stake Land’s success hinged a lot on Mister and Martin’s relationship so we knew what we needed to do to ‘get there’ as actors. We wouldn’t even shower or anything, which I know drove everyone crazy.”
For Paolo one of the more challenging aspects of Stake Land was that he was still continuing to work on “Gossip Girl” while in production on the indie horror feature. “I had made a commitment to the role of Eric (van der Woodsen) so I couldn’t just completely stop working on ‘Gossip Girl’ while making the movie. It was nice when we had the break for a few months to let the seasons change for Stake Land so I wasn’t nearly as stressful.”
“When we came back to film the second part of the movie, I was a little nervous that the time away would have changed dynamics on set, but it did the opposite,” added Paolo. “Everyone fell right back into the swing of things, and I think the time away from set actually made all of our bonds that much stronger.”
There’s no doubt that the heart and soul of Stake Land is the relationship between Mister and Martin. Paolo discussed what drove the relationship between the two men.
“Throughout Stake Land Martin’s character really evolves and comes to have such a love and respect for Mister,” explained Paolo. “I think a lot of that comes from the idea that once you save someone, they become your responsibility. At the start of the film, Mister made a promise to Martin’s father that he’d keep him safe, and from there a bond begins growing between Nick and my character that becomes very familial- he’s a father figure to Martin but also much more than that. You don’t see those kinds of relationships in horror movies very often these days.”
Even though Paolo was excited about coming on board his first horror film, it wasn’t necessarily the vampires that lured him onto the project. “Vampires weren’t quite everywhere like they are now when we made Stake Land, but I’ve always thought the movie is so much more than just about fighting vampires. There are cannibals, religious zealots, closed borders and a failed government, which all sort of came together to make a statement on the state of our country these days.”
“If you take away the vampires, there’s still a very powerful film at the core of Stake Land, which was all Nick and Jim’s approach to the script. They did something amazing and created a movie that would still be interesting to audiences if there weren’t any vampires in it. There’s so much going on in Stake Land that even though the vampire aspect is what will attract people’s interest, I think what will keep them watching are the relationships between the characters and what they must endure overall in order to survive,” Paolo added.
Another aspect of the story that Paolo appreciated was the realistic take on modern vampires- there are no suave vampires in Stake Land trying to seduce the ladies or planning for world domination. These vampires are visceral, brutal killers, and the young actor found that refreshing.
Paolo said, “Jim and Nick went with the genetic approach to vampires so these aren’t supernatural vampires by any means, which is why they have sort of a zombie-like quality to them. They’re essentially brain-dead creatures so they don’t have the ability to reason or be suave or even articulate like a lot of vamps these days. They only know one thing, and that’s feeding, and I think that makes the Stake Land vampires truly terrifying. You can’t reason with them.”
Our thanks to Connor for taking the time to speak with us. For more visit the Stake Land viral site On to New Eden. When you’re done there, be sure to visit the new official Stake Land page on Facebook.