In 2005 writer/director Stevan Mena introduced genre fans to the twisted world of serial killer Martin Bristol in his breakout indie horror flick Malevolence, which was the middle part of a trilogy of films surrounding the serial killer as envisioned by storyteller Mena.
Now the indie horror filmmaking maverick is back with his follow-up to Malevolence called Bereavement (review here), a prequel that introduces us to Martin’s world soon after he was kidnapped at age six by psychotic recluse Graham Sutter, who is not only a kidnapper but a serial killer that tortures and kills teenage girls on his pig farm in the middle of nowhere.
Graham raises the young boy to be more like him by teaching Martin (who suffers from CIPA- a condition that makes it impossible for the youngster to feel any sort of pain) about suffering while Sutter forces the young boy to watch him kill and torture each of his victims, which was also part of Sutter’s own twisted personal search for redemption through bloodshed of those unable to accept pain into their lives.
Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to catch up with the madman himself, Brett Rickaby, who delivers a star-making performance in Bereavement with his raw and emotionally unhinged portrayal of Graham Sutter in the movie. During our interview we had the chance to speak with Rickaby about maintaining the humanity in a maniacal character like Sutter, the pressures he faced being a first-time lead actor in Bereavement, what’s up next for him and more.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out Rickaby in Bereavement yet, you may recognize him from Breck Eisner’s 2009 remake of The Crazies, where the veteran actor played Bill Farnum, a farmer who becomes infected by the town’s contaminated water supply and subsequently burns his house down with his family trapped inside, a chilling demonstration of just how bad things can get when you get a case of ‘the crazies.’
Even though in real-life Rickaby is an easily likable gent, he offered up his own musings on why he seems to only get offered roles that skew a bit on the manic side lately. “They say in acting you meet your demons along the way so I suspect that there’s a little bit of a guy like Graham Sutter in me somewhere. I mean, I’m not going to kill anyone or anything like that, but I can definitely see why I get offered roles like The Crazies or like this one.”
“Growing up, I guess you could say that maybe my family didn’t always have its act together all the time, and I know that’s something they would all back me up on, too, so I don’t feel weird saying that. But I definitely didn’t have the most normal family dynamic around me growing up so maybe that comes through in these kinds of roles. I don’t know- I think I’m a pretty nice guy, but it seems people like seeing the crazy version of me doing movies for some reason or another,” added Rickaby.
The actor went on to discuss how Mena took him by surprise when he offered him the leading role of Sutter, which marked the first time Rickaby was going to be tackling such a huge role in a feature film.
“I really wasn’t familiar with Malevolence or any of Stevan’s previous work when I was offered the role of Sutter in Bereavement,” explained Rickaby. “I got the offer for the lead in Bereavement as I was finishing up with a theater show I was doing in New York, and I was completely stunned, in a good way, to be getting the offer from Stevan before we even had a chance to speak. Especially when you consider I really hadn’t done any other leading roles before.”
“That was a huge honor in itself that he was willing to take a gamble on me. But then we finally talked and I think we really hit it off from that first conversation. Then I had a chance to read the script and watch Malevolence for my own reference, and I knew that getting to work with Stevan on this was going to be a something really incredible.”
“Sutter wasn’t a huge character in Malevolence so I was interested to see what he had planned for his story in the prequel. But Stevan’s the kind of guy who has very strong ideas, and I trusted in his script and the character he created. We did collaborate a little bit in bringing Graham to life- he wrote such a great story to tell that I just had to trust that if I was willing to traverse the emotional terrain as a guy like Sutter that hopefully it would come through as Stevan was crafting the movie. And I think it has- or at least I hope it has,” added Rickaby.
When it came time to start work on Mena’s Bereavement, Rickaby spoke about how he mixed things up with his approach to bringing Sutter to life through his performance in the film. “I used to approach acting by being thoroughly prepared to the point where sometimes my performance wasn’t nearly as organic as it could have been. But with Bereavement I just went with a ‘moment to moment’ approach while we were shooting and just let it all go and I had to trust that hopefully there’d be something good in there somewhere with my performance.”
“And I think that’s why Sutter comes across so strongly in the movie- there are times when I’ve watched it and I really don’t remember doing some of the things I’d did or some of the mannerisms I gave him either. So that was really interesting for me to step back and watch what I did on Bereavement- but it never hurts when you get to work with an incredibly strong story either so a lot of what makes this movie so great is Stevan’s vision, too,” added Rickaby.
For Rickaby, playing Sutter proved to be one of the biggest challenges of his career- a challenge that he relished, though, because he realized that Bereavement was his opportunity to make an impression in the industry and prove himself a formidable leading actor within the horror genre or otherwise.
“There was definitely a lot of pressure on me for Bereavement just because I’ve never had a lead role in a feature film before,” said Rickaby. “So while I hoped I’d be up for the challenge, I was really untested until Stevan took a chance on me. But this ended up being one of those moments in your career where you get to really test yourself and see what you’re made of. When you get presented an opportunity like this, you just know you have to take it and trust that you’ll be able to rise to the challenge.”
“I will say that in terms of challenges, the hardest part for me in playing Graham was trying to keep the humanity to his character. In his eyes he wasn’t evil; he was just doing what he thought was best and that’s all he knew in his world. You can’t really play a character if you don’t understand them on some level and I think that’s why I was really able to embody Sutter wholly- of course I’m not a killer but I’ve had my share of struggles in life, and I recognized that his journey in the movie was about his need for redemption and for forgiveness, and I think those are pretty universal themes for anyone watching this movie to relate to,” added Rickaby.
In Bereavement Sutter’s demented and torturous journey for redemption was captured second-hand by his 11-year-old protégé Martin played by Spencer List. Rickaby discussed how his working relationship started off rather awkwardly with the young actor, but as time wore on, he had an incredible working relationship with List.
Rickaby said, “I loved working with Spencer and I think his character is incredibly clever- the way Stevan created this world, a lot of what drives the movie is Graham’s fascination and sometimes fear of this boy who he’s trying to mold in his own image. Because Martin doesn’t talk, Graham can never quite understand just how much he’s getting through to the boy and just how much of his radical message the boy is actually absorbing so he sometimes pushes him really hard, but to Graham he’s doing all of this to Martin from a place of love- even if it seems twisted to the rest of the world.”
“Plus, Spencer was such a great kid to work with- a true pro. And incredibly smart and just was able to do so much in this movie without uttering a word. I remember the first scene we shot together was a scene where I (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) stab a knife through his hand. It was a pretty awkward and tense scene to shoot and we didn’t have much time beforehand to talk about our characters together. But as we got ready to shoot that scene, we had an immediate connection, and I knew if we could get through a scene like that as strongly as we did, we were going to really work great together on-camera. Even though he knew what was real and what was fake, there was this one moment when Sutter is laying into Martin and you can see Spencer flinch at me yelling at him and that was 100% organic on his part. That tiny little moment by him just elevated that scene so much, and I think it’s one of the best moments between our characters,” added Rickaby.
Now that Bereavement is set to hit DVD and Blu-Ray shelves worldwide on Tuesday, August 30th, we asked Rickaby what is up next for him. “I just booked another lead role for an indie movie that I’m pretty excited about. I play a code-breaking NSA agent and I’ve even got a romantic interest. I’m also happy to say that my character’s not creepy in the least bit, too, so that’s cool to get to play someone a little more normal.”
“But I’ve also been working for a while now putting together a movie that I wrote the script for called The Book of Matthew. It’s based on something that really happened to me personally where I got heavily involved in this church that escalated into a rather intense experience to say the least. It’s something that really shook me to the core so I knew it was a story I needed to tell. It’s definitely controversial but I also think it can help people put things like faith and organized religion in perspective, too. But it’s definitely a challenging story so it’s taking a while to get off the ground- but I think that’s why it’s so important for me to tell it- I like challenging audiences and I think The Book of Matthew will do just that,” added Rickaby.
Special thanks to Brett Rickaby for taking the time to speak with Dread Central. Make sure to check out Rickaby’s performance in Bereavement (review here) when the movie is released August 30th, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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