Interview: Bill Sage Talks Welcome to Willits, Practical vs CGI, Hap and Leonard, and More!

Coming to limited theaters, VOD, and digital platforms in the U.S. this Friday is IFC Midnight’s horror film Welcome to Willits, which follows a group of friends who go camping only to be attacked by a drug-addled resident who insists that aliens are after him.

The film’s lead is none other than Bill Sage, who many of you might know from “Hap and Leonard”, American Psycho, We Are What We Are, and other genre fare. Today, we are bringing you an interview with Sage as he discusses Welcome to Willits, what it was like being a part of that production, CGI vs Practical FX, and more!

Bill Sage, Dolph Lundgren, Anastasia Baranova, Sabina Gadecki, Rory Culkin, Thomas Dekker, Chris Zylka, Garrett Clayton, Karrueche Tran, and Keelin Woodell star in the flick from director Trevor Ryan. Written by his brother, Tim Ryan, the film is adapted from their acclaimed 2015 SXSW Midnight Short Welcome to Willits: After Sundown.

The film is produced by Jordan Yale Levine, Scott Levenson, and Jon Keeyes of Yale Productions and Shaun Sanghani of SSS Entertainment. Matthew Helderman and Luke Taylor serve as executive producers alongside Patrick DePeters of BondIt Media Capital, Michael Rothstein, Brandon Baker, and Serge Levin (who also co-stars).

Synopsis:
Aliens, burnouts, and clueless campers collide in this bloody and bonkers slasher freak-out. Deep in the woods of Northern California lies the off-the-grid town of Willits, a haven for marijuana growers, meth addicts, and conspiracy theorists. When a gaggle of vacationing friends unknowingly set up their campsite on the property of Willits’ most disturbed resident—a psychotic, drug-addled pot farmer convinced extraterrestrials are out to get him—they’re in for one hell of a bad time.

Dread Central: You’re no stranger to horror, especially in the last several years. What’s the appeal of the genre?

Bill Sage: It’s independent. It belongs to the fans. They own it. Much of my career has included indy film and no other genre keeps to the spirit of indy filmmaking quite like this genre. What’s really incredible about horror and sci-fi that I absolutely love, is the way you can sneak a substantial story into a genre that a lot of snobs think is a substandard genre.

DC: Tell me a bit about Welcome to Willits and working with the cast and crew.

BS: Yes, “Welcome To Willits” is about aliens, burnouts, clueless campers and shit, but you’ve also got a story about the horror of our great divide as a people and the insanity of it. Our mentality seems to have gone back to the Civil War. Not to get political, but we’re building a wall! What? This film is about the “us and them” mentality. At least thats how I saw it.

Working with Trevor Ryan, we were on the same page as far as the allegory, the humor, and trying to keep it just right without beating people over the head with it. Sabina Gadecki who plays my wife, Peg, and Anastasia Baranova who plays my niece, Courtney, were angels. The three of us would get together after each days shooting and prep for the next. I think that’s where a lot of the spontaneous humor came from. That, and Tim Ryan’s script, as brutal as it is, is also fucking hysterical.

DC: In the film, you get to portray a character who is high on intense drugs quite often. How does one prep for that kind of role and, additionally, maintain it?

BS: So, yeah, Brock digs the finer things in life without getting all materialistic about it. He’s a man of means. He likes drugs, fucking, and fighting. But, he’s also an inquisitive man and is pretty damn sure he’s already got the answers. A pretty volatile cocktail. Oh, and there’s aliens…

So, there wasn’t much prep for me with Brock. It came to me last minute and sometimes that can be good. I’d like to say I did a lot of sense memory, but I was flying by the seat of my pants. If not for Trevor, Sabina, Anastasia, and Rory Culkin, who I’d worked with before on ‘Electrik Children’, I’m pretty sure I would have sucked, and it’s a distinct possibility that I do anyway. So…

DC: Horror fans absolutely adore practical over CGI when it comes to effects. For an actor, what are the differences of working with both mediums?

BS: Look, when you can share a smoke with one of the aliens your about to shoot, it’s always a plus. I’m with you. As an actor and a fan I prefer the genuine article. The only thing I like about working with a green screen is that you’re usually making more bank when you’re doing it.

DC: What do you think makes Welcome to Willits something fun and exciting for genre fans?

BS: I’ve got to say the humor, and then it turns severe. I think fans will appreciate what we did with so little. If just one person can wet themselves just a little from laughter and terror, we’ll have done our jobs.

DC: Tell me a bit about your time in “Hap and Leonard”. What was it about Howard’s character that appealed to you?

BS: Loved working on “Hap and Leonard” also in Louisiana where we shot [Welcome to Willits]. I’d already worked with Jim Mickle on ‘We Are What We Are’, so we had that short hand you get with a director you’ve worked with. Howard was an interesting character. Joe Lansdale made him a soulful asshole instead of just an asshole which gives you a lot of room to play. You’ve got a character that’s incredibly intelligent, supremely confident,
and on a ride to disillusionment and hell. What’s not to like?

DC: While not horror fare, “Hap and Leonard” was created by Joe Lansdale, who has a lot of work in the horror world. What do you think it is about the show that makes it so accessible to pretty much anyone?

BS: “Hap and Leonard” shows us two guys that can’t be more different. They get in the shits and have to figure it out together. We want to BE these guys. They’re Butch and Sundance, but more inclusive.

Also, Joe, Jim, and co-scriptwriter and creator Nick Damici have an incredible sense of the horror genre that does lend itself to the series and it’s chilling as hell. You gotta see it!

DC: What’s next on your plate that you can tell us about? Anything exciting in the works?

BS: Last year I worked on the Starz show, “Power” and played this great recurring mob character, Sammy. We start shooting “Power” season five this month and while I can’t say much Sammy will be WREAKING HAVOC!

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Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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