In Jim Mickle’s Stake Land, actor Nick Damici plays a mysterious survivor simply known as Mister whose knack for saving others and his ability to kick some vampire ass led to him being the ‘leader’ of a group of survivors in search of safety in an area known as New Eden.
With Stake Land hitting theaters today, Dread Central recently had the opportunity to briefly chat with Damici about the evolution of the project, why he doesn’t like backstory in his films, and how even though Mister’s relationship with Martin (Connor Paolo) is the heart and soul of Stake Land, it’s actually another character that helped set the tone for the film and took the story to a completely new level.
Stake Land is the second feature film collaboration between Damici and Mickle. The pair also co-wrote 2006’s Mulberry Street (which Damici also co-starred in) which explored the darker sides of humanity in a world overrun by zombies. This time, they decided to take on vampire folklore and what would happen to the world around us if we were suddenly taken over by bloodthirsty hordes. Damici discussed how Stake Land was originally envisioned by himself and Mickle as a web series and what prompted them to adapt the series into a feature.
“Originally, Jim and I wrote Stake Land to be a web series,” explained Damici. “We had come up with the concept of a guy teaching a kid how to kill vampires and thought that would work well in short form storytelling. But then we took our initial web series outline to Larry Fessenden who loved it so much he told us that we had to make Stake Land into a feature film. I was really surprised by how enthusiastic he was over the project but he saw the big picture of the story we wanted to tell, so then we set off to create the feature film version of the script.”
Damici went on to discuss where he and Mickle found inspiration when creating the world in which those who had survived would need to find their way in beyond just the threat of vampires. “Creating the devastated world you see in Stake Land wasn’t all that hard with everything going on these days, which I guess is a bit scary if you think about it. But our whole goal when writing the script was to keep everything as real as possible. During the Obama campaign, we could almost see the division in the country coming in the distance. When you have something as devastating as a vampire outbreak in the country, you have to look at how the infrastructure would collapse and what people would do in order to survive.”
“We also used the Great Depression as an influence on how survivors would react in such a world and since I am a fan of westerns, there’s definitely some of that in Stake Land too,” Damici added.
The one thing fans won’t see in Stake Land is time spent on the character’s backstories which is somewhat refreshing in a day and age when it seems like studios dumb everything down for audiences and have a tendency to overexplain to viewers. Damici said that this was a conscientious decision on his and Mickle’s part anytime they collaborate on a project together.
“Jim and I have always been sticklers for not doing backstories in our collaborations,” said Damici. “Personally, I’m not big on it when I’m watching movies so it’s not something I feel the need to do. That being said, that doesn’t mean that I don’t come up with my own backstories for my own characters. I decided he definitely had family that he lost in the plague so I borrowed my mother’s wedding ring and wore it on my pinky. A lot of what I tried to do with Mister was inspired by John Wayne’s performance in The Searchers. I’ve always found characters that have that kind of enigmatic presence more fun to play and to watch as an audience member.”
Even though his co-star Paolo is a relative newcomer to the industry, Damici felt an instant connection to the young actor. “I felt an immediate bond with Connor the first time we read together. By the time we started shooting, Connor was already almost a natural with his staking techniques. Since I’m a trained martial artist, I worked with him for two and a half months before we even stepped on set.”
“Connor always had such enthusiasm for whatever it was that he was doing before production or even when we were on the set of Stake Land. We camped out together for three weeks straight and both even skipped showering for those three weeks too, which is another kind of bonding in itself,” joked Damici.
But even though his relationship with Paolo was the primary focus of the story in Stake Land, Damici said it was another character that brought the project to an entirely new level with her performance. “Even though the heart of the story in Stake Land is Martin’s character, I think Kelly’s (McGillis) role as the Sister was key in setting the tone of the movie. She was about finding balance and hope in this terrible world we now lived in and I don’t think anyone could have pulled it off better than Kelly did. When I saw what she could do with the role we wrote, I don’t know how the movie would have turned out if we had another actress in her place. She elevated every scene she was in which was a gift to the story of Stake Land.”
Our thanks to Nick 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.