Actor Xander Berkeley is no stranger to the role in genre films, some of his first roles in the films Candyman and Terminator 2 : Doomsday, while in recent years he has entered the world of the undead, like Gregory in AMC The Walking Dead. Despite the horror fans’ knowledge of the actor, they will see him play a completely new role in The Dark and the Wicked, which for many viewers is probably the most disturbing project in which they have seen Berkeley. The Dark and the Wicked will be on the 6th. November in cinemas in HD digital quality and on request.
A man dies slowly on an isolated farm. Bedridden and struggling with his last sighs, his wife slowly gives way to a devouring sorrow. To help their mother and say goodbye to their father, brothers and sisters Louise (Marin, Ireland) and Michael Abbott Jr. return to the family farm. It won’t be long before they see that there’s something wrong with mommy – something more than her grief. Little by little, Luisa and Michael, like their own worries, begin to suffer from a darkness similar to their mother’s, characterized by waking nightmares and a growing feeling that something bad is going to happen to their family.
Berkeley met him recently to talk about his impressions of genre films, the disturbing character of his new film and his close relationship with the spider on set.
(Photo: RLJE films)
Throughout your career you have been involved in different projects in different media, but if you look at your earlier projects, there are many in the world of horror and fiction. What do you think of these genres that allow you to tell exciting stories in a way that traditional theatre might not allow?
Xander Berkeley: I’ve been very careful with this sort of thing. I was a big fan when I was a kid, but in a way, when I came to Los Angeles, from the theater, when I was brought to Los Angeles when I was very young, drama and comedy was accepted in the sense that it wasn’t so bad… It was when you started making flash movies and you just wanted to stay away from the splatters, if you were the little hippie kid that I was, I didn’t just want to go to unnecessary violence. And that’s why the things I did that were fancy were different. It was clearly something like Terminator 2 and Candyman, which I like to see as a clever art horror, just like The Dark and the Wicked.
And the very first film I made was Dear Mommy, who wasn’t meant to be a horror movie, but somehow became a horror movie. Somehow the camp was so overwhelming, and Faye [Dunaway] was so full of her Joan Crawford that she almost looked like a monster, the way she filmed it, and the whole Frank Perry approach to cinema and all that, she really evolved from a sophisticated, serious studio film to a camp horror film the night it came out. He’s always told me that there’s a really nice way to steer a career towards an A-list of directors I want to work with and learn from, because I actually always want to steer myself.
It’s like I’ve been in college forever, trying to learn from as many great directors as possible, and the fiction and horror genres certainly overlap. Terminator 2, at the beginning of my career, I certainly think I’m in the field of science fiction and a lot of ideas for it to play, and then The Living Dead in this … It is difficult, because these zombies, the Walking Dead, can be scary and have brilliant effects. For me, The Dark and the Wicked goes that way, because Candyman was in between an art and a horror film in a way, he really goes in a deep psychological place, not something that needs to be disturbing, scary or disgusting for no reason.
Writer/director Brian Bertino’s most recent films Strangers and the Beast have well-known horror structures, but he manages to convey a very specific kind of fear that sets them apart from his contemporaries. How do you feel when you learn from the directors on set who took the time to work with Brian on this film?
He’s a very personal man, so you don’t get much straight from him. And I haven’t been here long enough to… I ate very well with him and he told me a bit about himself and I really enjoyed it. It’s dark, but so attentive, and he struck me with his calm concentration, and he himself, it’s the property of his family there in Texas that we filmed. He really created the atmosphere, and the filmmaker [Tristan Nibi], they were definitely on the same wavelength as what they wanted, and I felt it as an atmosphere, in a time that always helps you as an actor.
If you feel that you have created a vibration on the set, you want to see it on the screen. It’s just something you’ve walked into and become a part of. There was one thing I was looking forward to when I talked to Brian and asked him if this would limit him in the newsroom. He spoiled me during the shooting of my first scene in which I turn up outside in the rain, the truck stops and Michael [Abbott] stops to see who that weird guy at the end of the driveway is and I give him a cross.
There was a spider, a big spider that jumped on my hat at the first rehearsal of a truck, or maybe it was a masterstroke. He stayed up there and circled around my hat, completely absorbed by my gaze. It was a big spider, but I didn’t knock it out because I read the script and there were so many references to spiders. I thought it was just an omen. It’s like this thing blesses or curses this movie, and I don’t know what it does. There’s something in my head, so I asked Brian if we could leave it there. Regardless of the fact that it might limit you in terms of discount? It’s just something, or you did it like a subconscious thing in Michael’s head, or it’s just something I’m carrying with me.
I think it’s too much to ask and we should cut it out… because he would eventually read it in the next scene. It was stuck, and I don’t think there was anything between my arrival and my arrival in the script. I forget exactly how he played the script, that I didn’t notice he was one after the other. And it would be too much to read a book and talk about spiders.
But for me there was something else that said something about his bravery, because a lot of directors will go, no, no, leave that out of my head. It doesn’t match. But this thing, I mean, even if we used it, even if you used it in a different way, and if there was a memory or something that he was willing to go with, because this thing stayed in my big dress over my shoulder, over Michael, that shot, that thing was up there, and it made a nest on top of my hat.
I’ve never had that before. I would probably shake all the other spiders that dare to land the same size and then I would be stuck in front of my eyes. But it was my first scene that created this area for me. Eventually he pulled over his shoulder and to the side and clearly cut around the spider.
So I hurt my performance a bit, because it was something very impressive, I think it was a big welcome for him, but it’s a risk. So when I make small movies, you feel like a God, not big movies on a big budget, but movies on a smaller budget. One of the reasons that I do them is that of course you don’t do them for the money, but because you can get up in the gorilla position and enjoy what’s going on around you and sometimes it’s one of the strongest things you’ve ever seen on tape, it’s really funny. And there is a dynamic flexibility in a low-budget independent film that is not made in a huge production, with all the money, planning and timing it requires. You can’t take that risk for money.
But that’s what he drew on the map. I just thought it was interesting that he was ready to turn around and get an impulse from the spider and me and then work with it. And for me, it really put me in a trance, and then we did the next scene. And then, even though it was the next day, I felt this spider still crawling inside me, and I used it for my physical character.
The Dark and the Wicked will be on the 6th. November in cinemas in HD digital quality and on request.