Angus Scrimm Talks I Sell the Dead, a New Phantasm, His Violin Playing, and More
This Tuesday, March 30th, is the long awaited DVD/Blu-ray release date of Glenn McQuaid's I Sell the Dead, and our trilogy of interviews with its cast and crew continues with the one -- the only -- Angus Scrimm, who portrays the character of Dr. Vernon Quint in the film.
Elaine Lamkin: Thank you for taking time to do this interview with me, Angus. First question – how did you find yourself playing Dr. Quint in I Sell the Dead? What was the attraction? And how would you describe the good doctor, whose exit from the film is both hilarious and well-deserved?
Angus Scrimm: In January, 2008, this ruddy-cheeked Irish fellow with a perpetual twinkle in his eye turned up at the Burbank, California, studio where Larry Fessenden was filming the infamous rant I contributed to Jim McKenney's Automatons DVD "extras." Undeterred by what he saw, he offered me the role of Dr. Quint in a film he'd written and was about to direct. The script, a look at the fellow's earlier film The Resurrection Apprentice, and most especially the twinkle all persuaded me to sign on. Re Quint, to my mind, the shifty doctor's insatiable demand for more and more dead bodies suggests something grotesquely in excess of pure medical research. Quint lingered with me, and long after the film was wrapped and making its first festival appearances, a line popped into my mind unbidden that, for me, defines him: "Bring me pretty corpses. Lovely girls and boys who died tragically young...unexpectedly perhaps...in some dark lane!"
EL: For those NOT in the know, how would you summarize the plot of I Sell the Dead?
AS: The plot? A tall, handsome, charismatic, and quite vigorous-looking octogenarian doctor buys corpses from two unspeakably rascally actors -- oops, sorry! -- grave robbers. But all this takes place in storied Ireland of the late 1800's, so far spookier things than mere human remains await them in the graves they violate.
EL: The look of this film is amazing – if one didn't already know, they would swear it was actually shot in Ireland. What was your initial impression the first time you walked on the set?
AS: For the seductively real visual and auditory impact of the film, credit these brilliantly accomplished pros: production designer David Bell, art diector Beck Underwood, costume designer David Tabbert, special effects makeup men Brian Spears and Peter Garner, visual effects effectors Spontaneous John Loughlin, VFX Supervisor Matt Connolly, the superb score composer Jeff Grace, canny (and sometimes uncanny) sound designer Graham Reznick, sound mixer Tom Efinger, and a cinematographer with a magical eye Richard Lopez, and their assistants, all guided by Glenn McQuaid, who had comprehensive visuals in his mind of what he wanted, and producers Fessenden, Phok, and Kunkle, who'd now spent several years on multiple Glass Eye pictures amassing the wily savvy needed to implement the requirements of all these artists/craftsmen.
My first location on the film was the forbidding 1800's Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, which offered up picturesque settings for many of the film's scenes including the open-air guillotining of Fessenden, the dungeon in which Monaghan relates his checkered past to Perlman, and Dr. Quint's laboratory. The latter was spookily decorated with flaming candles, human skulls, ominous vials and flagons of varicolored liquids, alll surrounding a lab table bearing a corpse concealed beneath a beige linen sheet. Bonechilling! My second was The Scratcher pub in Greenwich Village, which the Glass Eye sorcerers had transformed into an authentic period Irish pub, packed with rubicund extras costumed in garments of the era. Great stuff!
EL: Reading about first-time feature director Glenn McQuaid, I was surprised that I Sell the Dead began as a short film entitled The Resurrection Apprentice. You have worked before with young, new directors (Don Coscarelli springs to mind) – how was your experience working with Glenn?
AS: Bliss! I love a director who sets up great entrances for his actors. Don Coscarelli is a whiz at this. Glenn set up vivid entrances for not just the first but for both my key scenes, and for his other actors as well. The rest of my stuff was already skillfully preblocked. Glenn's direction is succinct, amiable, but completely authoritative. Like that other Glass Eye director Jim McKenney, with whom I've done three films to date, Glenn McQuaid is a delight to work with.
EL: Working with Larry (Fessenden) and Dominic (Monaghan) must have been hilarious. Any anecdotes from the set you care to share?
AS: Regrettably, I wasn't present for the Fessenden-Monaghan on-set hijinks. I'll bet there were hilarious moments. Dom and I had no scenes together, but we had chances to chat offstage and found common interest immediately in our mutual high regard for J.J. Abrams, for whom Dom memorably plays Charlie in the Lost series, and I did Agent McCullough in Alias. Larry I had worked with before in McKenney's The Off Season, in which he's the ne'er-do-well who's a bad influence on Don Wood's struggling writer. In a scene on the hotel porch, I come between the two and shoo Larry off. Instead of merely walking off camera, Larry astounded me by leaping over the high porch railing, landing nimbly on his feet, and strolling nonchalantly down the street in character till he was at least half a block out of frame. Now there, I thought, is a Method actor with his own cheerful method. Our moments together in I Sell the Dead are among my favorite scenes of any I've ever been given to do, in which McQuaid has Quint go from oily affability to tyrannical rage in seconds. The acting by Larry, young Daniel Manche as the boyhood Dom Monaghan, and Joel Garland as the barkeep is all top drawer.
EL: You are almost always called upon to play the heavy in films. Do you feel it's about time for Angus Scrimm to do a romantic comedy or a musical?
AS: I thought my film musical credentials were firmly established when I sang 'Dixie' in Don Coscarelli's Masters of Horror film and my own 'Prairie Dog Song' in McKenney's The Off Season. But Rob Marshall passed me over for the male lead in Nine, thus ruining his chances for prizes in the recent awards season. As for comedy roles I'm convinced offers from Judd Apatow and the Farrellys are right around the corner. Just the other day, a friend whose judgment I trust told me, 'Angus, quite frankly, the older you get, the funnier you get'.
EL: I must know – was that you playing the violin in one scene in the film? If not, you did a brilliant job making it LOOK realistic, and if so, what other hidden talents do you have?
AS: I'd casually mentioned to Larry's then eight-year-old son Jack, a budding pianist and guitarist, that I'd studied violin in my early teens. Jack relayed this information to his dad, who passed it along to Glenn McQuaid, who promptly revised one of Quint's scenes to include a violin solo. I was aghast. Acting and journalism were my twin passions in high school, and in five years in the school orchestra, I'd never more than scratched and squeaked. With five weeks before filming began, I rented a violin, enlisted Mitch Newman of the L.A. Philharmonic's string section to give me a couple of brushup lessons, and spent two to six hours daily in the isolation of my bathroom relearning fingerings, bowing, scales etc., and going over and over the haunting little tune Jeff Grace had written for Quint to play. Glenn and Larry decided the questionable sounds I produced should be used in the finished film, but thankfully that pretty melody gets its due from pro violinist Tom Chiu on the CD recording of Jeff's incomparable score.
EL: What sort of feedback have you been receiving for I Sell the Dead? Rue Morgue magazine named it Best Indie Feature of 2009.
AS: Go to glasseyepix.com, click on the 'Scareflix' adjunct, and you'll access a lengthy compilation of all the rapturous reviews, print and Internet, for I Sell the Dead. It's a unique treasure of a film.
EL: I have to ask – will there be another Phantasm film? The world needs the return of The Tall Man! (And, just for the record, your appearance in the first Phantasm completely freaked my youngest sister out … the scene where you call out, "BOOOYYYYY!!!")
AS: Am I losing my touch? Your youngest sister! What happened to the rest of the family?!! I think that plans for further Phantasms are always simmering at the back of Coscarelli's mind, and wouldn't I love to get a peek inside! I know that creative force is ever juggling half a dozen different projects, so never say never!
EL: What are some of your favorite horror films? And horror literature?
AS: I still love the 1930's black and whites I saw in my early teens -- Frankenstein and its early sequels, Dracula, The Old Dark House, White Zombie, etc. As an adult I loved Jaws, Alien, and Night of the Living Dead; and I dote on the richly varied terrors coming from Glass Eye recently, from Fessenden, McKenney, West, Reznick, McQuaid, et al.
As for literature, nothing beats the awesome spell cast over my twelve-year-old self when I first read Bram Stoker's Dracula, lying mesmerized on the hallway couch of our home at the corner of State Line and Esterly in Kansas City, KS.
Joe R. Lansdale's stuff is always fun to read, and I had a great time recently with David Wong's mindbender John Dies at the End, which Coscarelli has optioned for a film.
EL: Is there anything you would like to add that I haven't covered?
AS: Few reviews have failed to cite the excellence of the acting in I Sell the Dead, and I must confess I find my fellow actors a jawdropping delight. Ron Perlman has been a favorite of mine since The Name of the Rose and City of Lost Children. Much of his ISTD performance is done in closeup, just head and shoulders, but instead of being static, Ron keeps the frame marvelously visual with that classically rugged face that clearly displays his character's every thought with those glittering, threatening, merry eyes and the graceful expressiveness of his hands and arms, almost constantly in meaningful motion. Dom matches him note for note, trick by trick, in a great display of two ace actors working beautifully in sync and then turns around and pulls off the same feat in tandem with an entirely different acting personality, the incomparably comic Larry Fessenden (whose joyous work drew a Slamdance Festival acting award). Brenda Cooney sizzles as the unscrupulous barmaid Fanny with the solid femme fatale impact of a Stanwyck or Signoret. Both Fessenden and Cooney could move with complete aplomb into A-feature star roles. John Speredakos froze my bones in Larry's eerie film Wendigo. Here he skillfully mixes macabre humor with his menace. Eileen Colgan reminds us what lovably consummate character actors the Irish are. Daniel Manche has the guileful acting chops of filmdom's all-time great kid actors. James Godwin is the most hilarious zombie you'll ever see, and Joel Garland, Aidan Redmond, Heather Bullock, Alisdair Stewart, and indeed all the other cast members add richly colorful conviction to the mix. As for the old ham who plays Quint? Well, I can safely say he acts better than he fiddles.
EL: What is one thing no one knows about Angus Scrimm that you think they should?
AS: Never again! I told Jack Fessenden about my fiddle playing, and look what that led to!
Big thanks to Angus for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us, and keep your eyes open for one more I Sell the Dead interview in the coming days!
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Sell your dead in the Dread Central forums!