Fangoria just posted an awesome interview with Fessenden about Ted Geoghegan’s “neo-fulci fright flick” WE ARE STILL HERE.
For fans of independent horror, the name “Larry Fessenden” should be very familiar. The creator of the NY-based production house Glass Eye Pix, which turns 30 later this year, Fessenden has proven himself as performer, producer and director in the independent horror world, shepherding talents like Ti West, Jim Mickle and Glenn McQuaid while helming fright fare such as WENDIGO, THE LAST WINTER and 2013’s killer fish movie BENEATH. However, Fessenden has been just as busy on-camera as he has been off, appearing in recent projects such as YOU’RE NEXT, HELLBENDERS, LATE PHASES, JUG FACE, I SELL THE DEAD, THE STRAIN and, most recently, Ted Geoghegan’s WE ARE STILL HERE.
Recently, the neo-Fulci chiller played at the incredible Stanley Film Festival, where Fessenden also represented his own TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE LIVE as well as his appearance in Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s BODY. FANGORIA caught up with Fessenden shortly after the Festival to talk about his multi-faceted macabre role in Geoghegan’s demonic directorial debut…
FANGORIA: Director Ted Geoghegan has been working in various capacities in the NY film world for a while now. How did Ted first approach you for WE ARE STILL HERE?
LARRY FESSENDEN: Well, I’ve known Ted on-and-off for almost ten years; he’s worked with my friend, Glenn McQuaid, and WE ARE STILL HERE was funded by MPI, whom I’ve worked with long enough to know that it was a real deal. That’s the thing I love about MPI: when they say they’re going to make a movie, they do. So I thought it was cool, and Ted asked me if I wanted the role and I said, “Absolutely, whatever it is. It’s so sweet of you to think of me.”
As it turns out, WE ARE STILL HERE was a period piece that took place in the ‘70s; I think ‘79 was what was decided. I really enjoyed the script and loved the character, and I liked that Ted would trust me to have a slightly more substantial role. Normally, I come on to get killed in a film; in WE ARE STILL HERE, I come on, hang out for a while and then get killed in the film. [laughs]
FANGORIA: You sort of get to play two different versions of the character as your character uncovers some of the supernatural elements. What was that experience like to jump from one type of performance to the next?
FESSENDEN: Dude, I’ve gotta be honest: it’s a dream come true. I’m a completely hammy person, and everyone who knows me knows I do voices. I’ll gladly be evil or become possessed or be a werewolf or play a mad scientist; I’ll do whatever you need. So to have that shift in the script gave me a great opportunity. I took it seriously as to how the role would work, but the basic opportunity was just great. What could be better than to be in that situation?
Actually, the early transition in those scenes were complicated, as I had to act like everything’s fine and then… there’s… something… wrong! It’s great, and it’s like playing a piece of music in that you have to calibrate what is going on and then you have to track that stuff. I go from friendly guy to something else entirely, and that’s craft. I’m not saying I’m a craftsman but that’s the assignment.
FANGORIA: Having studied up so much on the Wendigo and having been in the genre so long, did you know anything about real-life occult stuff going into WE ARE STILL HERE or was there anything that inspired your psychic-esque character?
FESSENDEN: With any character, I always base it off the script because a script is a very specific thing. There’s a lot of clues in a script as to what is going on, and then you do some research to see if something like this had happened on such-and-such of an occasion. But for my character, he’s kind of a ‘70s guy, so I thought about my brother and having grown up in the ‘70s with the perspectives on weed, being a hippie and having uptight friends.
So I had this orientation as to how this character is as a person, and then you can imagine the grievance that the demons have, which is honestly the kind of work that I do in terms of thinking of the story and how the demons would intersect with this hippie character. So it wasn’t like I was doing deep research on the Salem Witch Trials. [laughs] You can go to De Niro for that kind of performance! I’m not getting paid enough for that shit! [laughs]
FANGORIA: Those later scenes are much more intense than many of the eccentric roles you’ve gotten in horror as of late. How do you put yourself in the shoes of someone in that type of situation?
FESSENDEN: Oh, dude, I’m ready any time. I never get these types of roles because I don’t get the right calls! It’s funny because I always play characters who walk on and get killed, and doing the types of scenes I did in WE ARE STILL HERE were no problem at all. It’s like an untapped resource!
I’ve always wanted to play evil people and conniving villains, but I never get those jobs, whether it’s because I’m actually silly or that people just want to kill me as fast as possible. But honestly, that is what I loved about Ted; he gave me this opportunity and I’m pleased that it seemed scary. And I’ve got more of that type of role in me since all of that evil, nasty stuff seems very appealing to me.
FANGORIA: The Fulci inspiration is pretty apparent in Ted’s direction. As a filmmaker yourself who is well-versed in horror, did you pick up on those cues at all?
FESSENDEN: I’m a Fulci fan and I love Stuart Gordon as well, who also inspired the film. But no, I didn’t pick up on anything like that because when I’m acting, I’m trying to pick up on the character’s true nature. I don’t feel like constructing anything, and though there may be a lot of artifice in the other side of my performance, that even comes from how that version of him is outraged about the town’s betrayal.
That’s the emotion I played, and it reminded me of how I casted WENDIGO when I hired John Speredakos. He did not play a villain in WENDIGO; he played a jilted country guy who had resentments, and that’s why I cast him. It was an absolutely true and personal emotion that anyone could relate to, and if you’re just playing a villain as if he’s a nasty guy, it’s false. I would never direct with that.
One time, I was working on a TV show playing a simpleton, and the director told me, “That’s good, just do it a little more RAIN MAN.” That is not how you direct someone! First of all, you don’t reference anything else, and second of all, you don’t say, “Play RAIN MAIN!” You have to tell the actor, “You’re having trouble relating here,” or something like that. You don’t direct from the outside in because an actor’s choice in how they do their work is their business.
You need to find your voice first, and I know I can play a villain because I know evil thoughts. I know what it’s like to want to rule the world and I know what it’s like to want to destroy other lives, and that’s because I know how to make the work personal.
FANGORIA: What was it like working with the cast of WE ARE STILL HERE?
FESSENDEN: Of course, Barbara is Barbara, and she is a legend of her type. But one of the best things about being an actor is when you get onto a set, no matter who you work with, even if I’m working opposite Jodie Foster or Bill Murray, you’re all equal on the set. You’re there to do the job unless there’s a very distorted thing going on, but you’re all there, so you have to deal with the camera, schedule, lines, concentration, and trusting each other.
So acting is really a bonding experience from the top down; even with producer Travis Stevens or Ted or our DP Karim Hussain, everyone just bonded on the set. Andrew Sensenig and the other actors in the movie were a part of a warm group of people who connected in doing our best work and trying to take care of each other as well as celebrate each other.
Andrew was very sweet and when it came time to do our big scene, he’d always say, “Oh wow, Larry, you’re amazing!” It would make me feel great, and I’d go, “Well Andrew, it’s funny that you mention it! You’re amazing too!” So we would just get into a really great vibe.
Barbara was very earnest, and that’s the thing about her. She’s an actor and she was there to act. It wasn’t like she’s ever saying, “Well, I’m in a genre movie, so I’m going to give it half of my all.” She was fully committed in a difficult role; she had to play a grieving mother, and that’s serious stuff. If the movie can get laughs and it feels like a good time for the horror audiences, the reality was that we believed in what we were doing and that’s why it works.
FANGORIA: Do you have any other acting roles coming up that you’d like to touch upon?
FESSENDEN: One experience I’d love to talk about was working with Joe Begos, who was absolutely awesome. I think Joe, Josh [Ethier] and all the actors they assembled for THE MIND’S EYE is going to make for a really fun movie. I’m only in it for a moment, and I don’t get to play anything like WE ARE STILL HERE; I get to play a relatively nice guy, which is fine because I feel like I’m a nice guy at times.
But that was a great set to be on as well, and I’m a big fan of these low-budget, upstart “do-it-yourself” films. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with Glass Eye Pix and I love walking on to those sets. That’s the role that comes to mind; I’m actually in a lot of crap and that’s the one I’ll mention. [laughs]
WE ARE STILL HERE will be playing at Denver’s SIE FilmCenter starting Friday, May 29th before releasing on VOD and select theaters on June 5th from Dark Sky Films; tickets are available here. Make sure to look out for more from Larry Fessenden and Glass Eye Pix on FANGORIA.com soon.