Residue is a dark and twisty supernatural crime thriller, with some horror elements. The story follows a private investigator who gets his hand a book of sinister origins, unaware that it is actually a highly sought-after supernatural artifact. Criminals pursue him in search of the book, hoping to use its dark power for their own agendas. We caught up with writer-director Rusty Nixon to ask him about the movie and how he assembled such a kickass cast (William B. Davis and Matt Frewer to name a couple).
Dread Central: The idea of a supernatural noir is not unheard of – I cite Cast A Deadly Spell, and its sequel Witch Hunt – but it’s pretty rare. So what made you decide to go ahead and make one as a feature?
Rusty Nixon: My dad was a cop, then a private investigator in his retirement. My brother-in-law’s a cop. Just been around that my whole life so I really took to the film noir in film school. And I’ve always loved horror movies. So I’m watching Double Indemnity and Evil Dead and just thinking this is a match made in heaven to me.
DC: Tell us a bit about who’s in the movie, and how your cast came together – it’s a rather large ensemble, but each character is given their due – did they audition or did you just enjoy their previous work?
RN: A bit of both. I’d worked with James Clayton on Candiland. His character was supposed to lose a lot of weight and I was looking into ways to do it through makeup and James is like “I want to lose the weight myself – I can lose 50 pounds during shooting.” And he did it. In a two month period he went from one of the healthiest people I knew to being so skinny he looked like was hanging onto his shoulders keeping him standing. 99.99% of the actors out there couldn’t do something like that even if you held a gun to their head. I remember James going toe to toe with Gary Busey and Gary grabbing him by the shoulders at the end of the take and saying that in over 40 years in the business that James had truly inspired him as an actor. James’ performance in that film is so disturbing it just haunts you. When it was time to pick a lead for my next film my wish list had one name on it: James Clayton.
Blaine Anderson is my producing partner and also a great actor. I wanted him to play the doctor because it’s a character that I’ve built the sequel around and I wanted a strong performer that had a powerful presence. Dan Payne just won a Leo – he’s usually cast as the clean-shaven heartthrob in romance films. The role of Anthony was the exact opposite of that. He came and delivered the badass. I loved working with him.
Costas Mandylor was my favorite part of the Saw franchise. I love what they did with is character. He’s an absolute genius as an actor. I met him at the AFM. He’d read one of my scripts that was circulating at the time. He took me aside and said I was really onto something with my stories and he really wanted to work with me. It was such a huge honor it really stuck with me and got me through some hard times. And when the time came to do Residue he was true to his word. He even worked for scale – we pretty much had to shove money into his pocket but it was really important to him that we spent our budget on making the film something special. Support like that from an actor of his caliber is the highest compliment I’ve ever received and I hope to make him proud.
Matt Frewer has played such iconic characters from Max Headroom to Sherlock Holmes. I thought getting him was a long shot but he really clicked with the Fairweather character and was on board right away and I think he gives a show-stealing performance. And he’s also just a great human being. I really hope to work with him again.
Taylor Hickson I’d seen in Deadpool. She just nailed the audition both as Angelina and as her demonic counterpart. She’s really going places – as is Elysia Rotaru. I’d seen Elysia on Arrow and her audition was just spot on. We were very lucky to get her.
So many more. Some amazing local talent in Vancouver: Scotty Mac, Jason Burkhart, Alika Autran, Michael Matic, Paul Vigano, James Hutson, Will Williams, Matthew Graham, Dalias Blake – I could sing their praises all day. Linda Darlow, a great actor and a mentor to both James and Blaine. She came and gave one hell of a memorable performance and was so much fun to work with.
And of course William B. Davis. He’s a legend not only for his role on the X-Files but for all he gives to the acting community in Vancouver. I’d heard so many great things about him. He was my first choice to play Mr. Lamont. I was so excited when he signed on. Of course in all films sometimes things don’t go as you planned them. We had a couple FX that we tested out that didn’t work out the way I wanted. But the thing is the alternatives worked out a lot better and made the film stronger. But both times it affected Mr. Davis’ character. So I had to go up to him twice and be like ‘So, change of plans…’ But thank God it was with him because he was such a professional and could alter things on the fly like that. He’s truly the glue that holds the film together.
DC: The look of a film like this, in which an alternate reality must be created pretty much from scratch, is of paramount importance. So tell us about how you came to hire your DP, and what he brings to the table.
RN: I love Jan Wolff. My first film, ‘down the line’ had such a small budget that most DPs we approached turned us down instantly. But something about the title made him curious and he couldn’t help but read the script. I’ll never forget when he called and said he was in. He even helped me come up with ways to tell the story in a more economical way without sacrificing anything. He brought in a strong crew and I’ve used many of them on my subsequent films. For Residue he came up with the idea to use motel ranchers instead of one big building. It really opened the film up and gave us beautiful outdoor shots instead of lots of cramped hallways.
DC: What is it about the supernatural and the dark arts do you find particularly interesting from a story telling standpoint?
RN: I have this weird thing about me – I get a lot of nightmares – sometimes two a night. It really affected me when I was a kid. But then one day I was at a sleepover at a buddy’s house and his older brother had friends over. They were telling some ghost stories to us. And I was such a shy kid – but I wanted to fit in and I found myself saying that I knew some ghost stories – even though I didn’t. They were like, ‘Oh yeah? Tell us one.’ All I could think to do was tell them about the dream I’d had the other night. I dreamt I’d woken up in a ditch on the other side of town and had no idea how I got there, so I ran to the nearest payphone to call my mom to come get me. But them my mom started sobbing on the phone saying her son had died weeks ago. I got to that point in the story and one of the older kids elbowed the other and said he loved creepy stories like this. At that moment I went from a shy kid to someone having a captive audience of kids twice his age. What I thought was my greatest weakness had suddenly become my biggest strength and I knew at that moment I was never going back.
Sometimes I have good dreams. But when I dream I’ve won the lottery I wake up feeling disappointed. But when I dream someone’s chasing me with an axe I wake up thankful to be alive. And I feel the same way when I watch a good horror film.
DC: Since we are a horror website, please tell us about some of the scarier aspects of Residue, and what your favorite genre moments are.
RN: The demons in Residue don’t know that they’re demons. They’re born from the reader’s innermost fears. They come at you thinking they actually ARE the father who abandoned you or the uncle who traumatized you, or the kid who bullied you… One must confront both their grotesque appearance and the very fears we keep all keep buried. I hope when people watch the film they won’t help but imagine what their own demons would look like and what they’d have to do to subdue them.
But almost as frightening as the demons attached to the book are the underworld figures who fight over it. Our film is populated with some of the most ruthless and cruel people imaginable willing to take on the dark arts in order to control them.
DC: What’s next for Residue?
RN: I already have two sequels written. And that might seem a little excessive to some people. Like, why would you do all that work for something that may or may not happen? But keep in mind that I spent twenty years working my ass off to get here – and I’d gladly do it for twenty more just to have this opportunity. On my first film I wrote, edited, directed, I wrote and sang the title song, I designed the set and when the day was done I’d be the lone person staying on site finishing the construction of the set. I was exhausted – I’d ripped my hands open from hand mixing parge with a shovel and bucket. My blood was literally on the walls from how hard I worked. I had a director’s chair that I never sat on. Then for Candiland I think I used the chair to hold my notebook. I just never sat because I had so much I wanted to get done. When Residue went into production they didn’t bother getting me a chair. And the hard work paid off. We used the first film to raise enough money to make the next two. Residue just landed with XLrator and I know they’ll do big things with it.
So I’ll be damned if I’m going to come at this unprepared. I love film, I love this business and I love my life. I’ve got an amazing team with so much more to offer and I know we’re just getting started.
The film from writer/director Rusty Nixon stars Costas Mandylor, Taylor Hickson, James Clayton, Matt Frewer, William B. Davis, Michael Matic, and Elysia Rotaru.
Private investigator Luke Harding (James Clayton) reads a book of sinister origins owned by seedy crime lord Mr. Fairweather (Matt Frewer). Unbeknownst to Luke, the book is a much sought-after supernatural artifact and Fairweather’s greatest rival, the enigmatic Mr. Lamont (William B. Davis), pursues Luke with his henchmen (Costas Mandylor, Michael Matic). While the criminal underworld is desperate to retrieve the book and harness its power for their own dark agendas, it’s evil begins to take root in Luke’s apartment; putting himself, his daughter (Taylor Hickson) and his secret love (Elysia Rotaru) in a fight for their lives… and their eternal souls.