Bill Oberst, Jr. is an indie horror icon. His turn as Papa Corn in Circus of the Dead is part of what made the film one of DREAD’s most successful releases of 2020. His resume is extensive including a recent appearance in Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell and the bizarre pandemic horror Greatland (now streaming).
Set in an imaginary country dubbed the birthplace of love and endless source of fun, Greatland tells the tale of Ulysses, a rebellious non-binary teen on a mission to save his childhood sweetheart as an absurd election and a deadly virus wreak chaos and violence.
Dread Central was lucky enough to score an exclusive sit-down with Oberst; sit back and give our convo a read below.
Dread Central: Tell us about your beginnings, Bill…
Bill Oberst, Jr.: Weird kid. Small town. Loved monsters. The monsters were my friends.
DC: Naturally! And what was the first thing you ever filmed?
BO,J: Sherman’s March, a Civil War docudrama for The History Channel. I played Sherman. First day, first take, I fell off the horse. It got better.
DC: I did not expect that answer. Tell us about your start in acting.
BO,J: Yeah, I made my living for 15 years as an east coast stage actor before I ever did camera work – not counting an early 8mm attempt to recreate Dr. Frankenstein’s lab in my dad’s tool shed, that is.
DC: And right away, did you always intend on being a staple of the modern-day horror films, or did it just work out that way?
BO,J: That generous characterization makes the horror kid in me grin – thank you! It happened because I was starving in LA, going out for soccer dad roles. A really kind casting director gave me some advice: “Go dark.” I said, “How dark?” She said, “With that face, you can’t go dark enough.” So I did. Working in a genre I love so dearly as a fan has been one of the greatest joys of my life.
DC: Is there a particular movie or project that you believe cemented your career in genre films?
BO,J: Two that were personally affirming for me were Jason Zada’s viral Take This Lollipop and CBS-TV’s Criminal Minds. Both those characters were spot-on examples of where my horror heart is; wounded monsters who show more than they tell.
DC: Nothing like some wounded monsters. I imagine being a part of Rob Zombie’s films also helped open doors?
BO,J: Oh yes. I’m very grateful to Rob. He’s a gifted artist. Rob Zombie would be a strong filmmaker for any genre. Horror is lucky to have him.
DC: Your new film, Greatland, isn’t so much a horror film – it’s more a patchwork of several different genres. Can you explain how it came about?
BO,J: I got a call from my agent with an offer. I said, “What’s the role?” She said, “The Philanthropist. He’s gaunt, has bad skin, speaks Shakespearean gibberish, and loves cockroaches.” I was like, “Check. Check. Check. And CHECK!”
DC: Hilarious! Did you get “the message” it was relaying from the get-go?
BO,J: Of course not. It was clearly a very personal vision of writer/director Dana Ziyasheva. So I researched her before we spoke. Fascinating background – she’s originally from Kazakhstan, has two decades of service at the UN; a very international vibe. We got on well and I trusted her vision. That’s my favorite way to work with a director – build a relationship and then just trust them.
DC: How was the shoot?
BO,J: My scene was written to be played in front of an aquarium full of cockroaches, but when I got to location (this huge hilltop mansion in Malibu) Dana said, “Would you mind taking a bath with the cockroaches instead?” Are you kidding me? “I’d love to!” Don’t have to call me to supper twice!
DC: Ha-ha! Tell us about Dana Ziyasheva‘s unique vision and work ethic.
BO,J: Like the best directors I’ve worked for, she’s a leader, not a commander. There’s a sweet spot between hierarchy and teamwork on a good set – you want people to want to follow your vision – and Dana hit it spot on. Right after shooting with Dana I did Scream Queens and watched director Jamie Lee Curtis do the same thing on that set. It’s an admirable trick; the mark of a pro.
DC: You seem to be steadily working. How many other films did you shoot the year you did Greatland?
BO,J: Google Calendar says I did 6 others that year; in LA, the Czech Republic, Florida, and Mexico (if Google Calendar ever goes dark my work history goes with it – who can remember?)
DC: And how has 2020 been? I imagine work has little stalled?
BO,J: Theater is dead until there is a vaccine. Filming has started up again with precautions. I also do voiceover, so two of the three legs of my work stool are intact. I was in the middle of touring my new stage portrayal of Ray Bradbury when Covid came calling, and I am eager to pick up that thread again. It’s my baby. I did start a gothic fiction podcast in lockdown, Gothic Goodnight, and the first season will soon be on Audible.com as a compilation. There’s a lot of my heart in that pod.
DC: What’s coming up for you? Any horror films you’re starring in?
BO,J: I’ve wrapped a role in the 80’s Texas slasher homage Butcher’s Bluff for director William Instone – that’ll be out next year. Mark Savage’s revenge thriller Painkiller is fielding distribution offers and will be out before long. The Good Things Devils Do from Jess Norvisgaard was my most recent release and is out now, Billy Pon is talking a Circus of the Dead sequel, Adrian Corona, whose arthouse extreme horror DIS I did, is prepping a movie about apparitions of the dead in Aztec sweat lodges that he’s asked me to be in, and I just signed attachment to play Adolf Hitler in a WWII feature to be shot in Romania. Oh, and I’m a creepy vampire elder in the new season of Age Of The Living Dead, which debuts November 15th on Amazon Prime. God is good. I am grateful. The horror boy lives.
OFFICIAL SITE: https://www.billoberst.com
Are you a fan of Bill Oberst, Jr.? Have you seen Greatland and, if so, what did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.