Doing Time With the Cast of Driftwood
Our trip out to the Left Coast for our first ever San Diego Comic Con yielded all sorts of cool stuff for us, as you’ve seen in the past few days, but one major score we had that no one else zeroed in on was our time with the cast of Tim Sullivan’s Driftwood, his follow-up to the much-loved 2001 Maniacs.
For those not in the know, Driftwood tells of a kid named David Forrester (played by Ricky Ullman), who has not been doing well since the death of his older brother. He begins to act out, and his parents (Sullivan regular Lin Shaye and former Jimmy Olsen, Marc McClure) finally decide that he needs an attitude re-adjustment, electing to send him to Driftwood, a camp for troubled youths under the direction of Captain Doug Kennedy (former WWE superstar Diamond Dallas Page). As if the cruelties of the camp weren’t hard enough to deal with, David soon begins being haunted by the ghost of a former inmate named Jonathan (Connor Ross), who met a mysterious end and is looking for retribution.
Despite the obvious supernatural threats that face David, one of the real world issues Driftwood deals with is the near inaccessible gulf between parents and their child. "We send him to this place that we feel is the best thing for him, and it takes a while to find out that it’s not such a good place." McClure explains, "We visit him and he tries to tell him that, but we just don’t hear him. He just wants out, but we have to be strong. Dallas' character tells us when we go in there that we have to be strong, that our son is going to say things to get him out of there."
"There’s an element in the script about just not hearing your kids, that parents really don’t know how to listen to their children; they have their own idea about what is right for them," Shaye continues. "I have a 17-year-old son myself, so I know that it’s really important to listen and figure out what is the truth in what they’re telling you."
David does his best to try and make his parents see that there is more to this place than just trying to make kids behave better, but the strict rules put in place by Captain Kennedy make it very difficult to get the message across. "[Kennedy] won’t let us touch our son for whatever reason, but at one point I just say 'This is ridiculous' and I go to give him a big hug," Shaye explains. "Then this monitor goes off that tells me to step back. It’s then we really start discovering that we’re caught in this web, too."
"Driftwood is not a good place," Captain Kennedy himself, Diamond Dallas Page, confirms. "The character I play is a Southern cracker who doesn’t take any shit from anyone. He’s trying to teach these kids what he thinks is the right thing, and he believes what he’s doing is the right thing; he just screws up on some points. One lie leads to another until you start to believe the lie."
The casting of Page in such a prominent role, indeed the bulk of the dialogue comes from Captain Kennedy, was something that was fought by pretty much everyone with any interest in getting Driftwood made, but Sullivan was adamant that he was the right man for the job. "I originally met Tim after watching 2001 Maniacs, and I wanted to read for the part of Noris, who is kind of a henchman for the Captain, because I didn’t think anyone would give me that kind of opportunity to play a lead role." Page continues, "When Tim got to know me, he realized that I really do live life at 90%. I speak about it, I’m an inspirational and positive guy, and he read my book, Positively Page, in two days. He called me up after our meeting and said, 'Diamond, I just don’t see you playing Norris,' And I was like 'Oh, man...' and he said, 'I want you to play the Captain,' so that was great! He got a lot of adversity from the producers who said that if they were going to use me, they’d have to cut my dialogue down."
Said producers already had someone in mind for the part, Hellboy star Ron Perlman, but Page ended up getting the job and proved that he had what it took to handle such a large role. "When I talked to Mike (Richardson, head of Dark Horse and producer on the film), he said I was the biggest surprise of the entire film. He didn’t think I could do it but admitted he was wrong, and while it’s important to care what everyone thinks, you know it really only matters what the boss thinks (laughs). If the boss loves it, you’re good."
Though it initially may seem odd to see a former wrestler get such a meaty part, Page is quick to point out that he’s been acting in one form or another for most of his professional career. "In wrestling we know who’s going to win. When you know that they know, and they know that you know, how do you get 20,000 people to care?" was the question DDP proposed. "You build a character, a character the people want to tune in every week to see, and someone they can relate to by the things he’s done. If you screw up, everybody knows, and they will let you know that they know. The fans would chant stuff like 'YOU F’D UP! YOU F’D UP!' They know you blew it, so you gotta be on time and live on that. When I came to acting and got to do take after take, that part was easy for me; the challenge was developing the character."
Building character is what a film like this is all about because you really can’t feel fear for a person if you don’t care about them or their motivations. To that end, it was beneficial for the teen cast that they were shooting in such a creepy location. "We filmed Driftwood at an actual abandoned juvenile jail, which is being re-opened now, and this place was completely haunted," says star Talan Torriero, who plays Yates, the Captain’s right-hand man. "The minute you walked through the barbed wire gate at the front, you could feel it; kids died there, kids were tortured there, it was just a weird feeling."
Star Shanine Ezell, who plays Cobey, agreed, "In the chapel where we shot one scene, a kid had apparently hung himself from the top where the cross is, and while we were shooting, the cross fell a little. It was pretty ridiculous!"
Hearing voices, strange sounds, and all manner of unexplained creepiness really helped get everyone in the mood to make a ghost story, but sometimes it was the real-life experiences of those involved that made it seem that much more real. "This story is kind of Tim’s story," McClure explained. "He had a friend who went through this so it’s very important to him. Some of these lines are verbatim what he heard. I’m sure the best thing that will happen to this film is his passion for the story."
The younger cast had some help as well, as one of their own had gone through a military camp similar to Driftwood in real life. "He told us a lot of stories, and he was able to validate the whole thing, and he said Tim’s vision was right on, from the way he was treated to the way he had to dress," explained Ezell. "You’re not allowed to have any kind of individuality or any sense of self; they strip you of all your dignity."
As you can probably imagine from what you’ve read, Driftwood is a complete 180 from Maniacs, but Sullivan still had a very strong grasp on how to work with his actors. ”Especially with Ricky and me, to give us a role that is completely different from what people are used to seeing us do, to help us play with these characters and really push it to the next level, it was great," said Torreiro, and star Ricky Ullman confirmed that being cast against type is something that hardly ever happens, so they were happy that Tim gave them such a chance. "As an actor you never want to play the same role forever, so it was great in that respect."
From the sounds of it, Driftwood is going to be a very strong dramatic piece mixed with supernatural elements, but it really all comes down to one question for us fans: Is it scary?
"It’s definitely a disturbing film, but I don’t know if I’d call it scary," said Lin Shaye, who should know a thing or two about what makes scary movies work considering her long history in our genre. Ullman sees it slightly differently. "All the things that happen to these kids is scary enough. The idea of these kids being in this place and not being able to get out and being abused for no reason, and to know this really happens all over the country is freaky."
"It was scary to us for a completely different reason because we lived it," said Ezell. "When we see the drama and the supernatural part, it makes it ten times more scary for us because we actually lived this life."
So perhaps going into Driftwood expecting to cry out in fear isn’t going to be the best approach. I look forward to seeing how Sullivan can handle a film that’s so heavy on drama and story after being so focused on the gore–n-tits in his last movie. From the sounds of it he won’t disappoint.
I’d like to thank all the stars who sat down with me for these chats -- your participation is very much appreciated -- and to the PR people (especially Niocle) who helped make it all happen! Be sure to check out Driftwood’s MySpace page for a lot more on the film, and keep it here for all the release details as we get them!
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