The director of the Jeepers Creepers franchise, Victor Salva, has teamed up with Saw‘s Tobin Bell for Dark House, a tale about a father who travels to a seemingly abandoned mansion in order to learn about his son’s dark psychic gifts.
Instead, Bell’s character, Seth, a mysterious woodsman, leaves them wrapped up in a journey about the true nature of fate.
Tobin Bell was kind enough to speak with us about his long and fascinating career and why he was drawn to the themes found inside the Dark House.
DC: I know you’ve been interviewed quite a bit in the past by guys like me about your experiences in the horror genre, but I would love to talk about your entire career and your time in New York. How did you first get your start in the business?
TB: Alan Parker hired me to do Mississippi Burning in 1987. That was really the first major film that I did. Prior to that, I’d been doing Off-Broadway plays and doing what actors do, which is try and make a living. But that kind of got me started, and that was a great project to get started with because Mississippi Burning was an important film.
DC: Absolutely. I know you were involved with the productions of Manhattan and King of Comedy, and just being on those sets with those filmmakers must have been a great learning experience.
TB: I did 35 films as a stand-in and as an extra before I really ever spoke in a film. To give you an example of one job, I worked in Sidney Lumet’s film The Verdict for two weeks as a courtroom reporter. It was a great job. I got to sit in a courtroom and watch Sidney work with Paul Newman and James Mason and some terrific actors. I always loved those jobs because you got to be close to the artists and close to the talent. I was wanting to find out from a more realistic perspective whether this was something I could do, if I could be one of them. I worked with Sydney Pollack as a waiter and Scorsese in King of Comedy. I had lots of experience and training being that guy in front of the camera.
DC: How was your time on set with Victor Salva? Was it a fun set as opposed to something like Tootsie, where it was reportedly quite volatile?
TB: I heard that, too. I was never really privy to that, but I heard that about Sydney and Dustin [Hoffman]. They’re both very committed artists and that happens and sometimes great films come out of that relationship. Being in Mississippi with Victor on the set of Dark House, we had a bunch of actors who couldn’t have been more cooperative and talented and committed to what were long nights. You’ve got Luke Kleintank in it, who is an up-and-comer in this genre, and others. I just did another film with him called Phantom Halo. Alex McKenna is a woman you’re going to see a lot of moving forward. So, yeah, I really loved working in Greenville, Mississippi, and loved working with Victor and everybody in the cast. This guy named Don FauntLeRoy, who was the cinematographer, just did amazing work, and the film looks terrific. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a forest trying to shoot something, but he just did a great job and has worked with Victor on a number of different projects over the years. So I’m hoping that Dark House is going to draw some of the horror fans in because it’s an intricate and action-filled story with lots of twists and turns.
DC: Speaking of the action, I wasn’t expecting there to be so much action in this. Was it a nice change of pace to get in on some of the action as opposed to being the one who orchestrates it?
TB: Yeah, that of course has been one of the hallmarks about the Saw films, that John Kramer is sort of the hand behind it all, and in this case I’m on-site and ready for bear. I liked being in the Deep South, and I loved being in the woods so it was all good.
DC: Your career to me is pretty fascinating because most actors start in the horror genre and then go more mainstream when they achieve greater stardom. Do you feel like you’ve done the exact opposite, and do you think horror has gone more mainstream because of the success you’ve had and enjoyed?
TB: Do I think horror is more mainstream now? Yes, I do. I think the envelope is always being pushed further in terms of what can be put on screen, and I think that more people go to horror films now. The success of the Saw films… it bridges languages also. Saw is popular in the Far East; it’s popular in South America and all over Europe. Yeah, the whole thing about genre is it gets talked about a lot, but when actors become actors, you become an actor to play as many different kinds of characters as you can. Even with John Kramer or with Seth in Dark House, I’m always playing someone I try to bring some dimension to that’s not in the script necessarily. They don’t need me to play out exactly what impression the script creates. They need me to fill in this character and make him as multidimensional as all human beings are. No one is all one thing or something else. That’s one of the nice things about Dark House, that there’s some mystery as to who this guy is. That mystery pervades the film once you meet him, and I think there’s a really fascinating underlying story in this film about good and evil in the world. [Seth] is a working guy from the Deep South and he’s been around for thousands of years and he can look lots of different kinds of ways and if we ever do another one of these, he will.
DC: You mentioned how an actor is always looking for different roles to play. Is there still a type of role out there that you’d really like to try and play at some point?
TB: Oh yeah, good question, Drew. I’m looking for the most complex people that I can find, and obviously it has a lot to do with the script. I don’t think I’ve actually done my best work yet. I think that playing John Kramer was a terrific opportunity and I was able to do some really great stuff with that guy and I very much appreciate that. And playing Seth, I felt the same way. I felt I was able to create another kind of character and another kind of texture. But what kind of character am I looking for? Someone who’s smart and sensitive and cares. He can still be powerful and edgy, but very often when you’re a powerful, edgy guy in a film, they don’t develop the other aspects of you. So I’m waiting to do the love scenes, ya know?
DC: Well, I will look forward to seeing you in some sex scenes in the future, and in the meantime, good luck with Dark House!
Dark House is now available on VOD and Blu-ray and hits theaters in NY and LA TODAY, March 14.
Dark House, which follows the terrifying road trip of a young man in search of his dark past, is the freshman effort of LA-based Charles Agron Productions. It is directed by Victor Salva, who co-wrote the script with producer Charles Agron, based on a story by Agron. In addition to producing the film and co-writing with Salva, Agron plays a lead role.
Along with Bell, up-and-coming young actor Luke Kleintank (“Pretty Little Liars,” 1000 to 1), Alex McKenna (“Crossing Jordan”, “Dallas”), Zack Ward (Postal), and multiple award-winner Lesley-Anne Down (“Upstairs/Downstairs”) star.
When Nick Di Santo learns that his father is not only alive but can possibly reveal the origin of his son’s dark gift, he sets out on a trip that takes him to an abandoned mansion he thought only existed in his childhood imagination.
– Behind-the-Scenes featurette
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