Interview: Actor William Sadler Talks TALES FROM THE CRYPT, SHAWSHANK, THE MIST and More

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Veteran character actor William Sadler talks about his work in the genre and elsewhere.

William Sadler is an actor whose roles have spanned the Hollywood spectrum. He has squared off against Bruce Willis’ John McClane character in DIE HARD 2, he was the American President in IRON MAN 3 and even picked up a Saturn Award for his role as ‘Death’ in BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY.

However, Sadler’s roots are firmly planted in horrific soil.

The actor has an impressive history working with and for some of the biggest names in the genre. One of his first gigs was an episode of HBO’s lamented TALES FROM THE CRYPT series. And now, in the wake of the lush new Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of the spin-off TALES film he served as lead in, TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT, SHOCK locked Sadler down to tell a few ‘tales’ of his own…

SHOCK: Looking back on your extensive career, was there a specific moment that changed everything for you?

WILLIAM SADLER: In 1989, I auditioned for the first episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, ‘The Man Who Could Cheat Death’; they saw me for the cop at the end who says, “Mr. Talbot, you have the right to remain silent”. I asked the casting director Karen Rea, “What’s up with the lead role of Niles Talbot?” She said, “They’re looking for a name.” So I left the office and started back to my car. Halfway across the parking lot I heard Karen Rea yell for me to come back. She gave me the Talbot sides, told me to grease my hair and come back Monday and she’d put me on tape for the role. I came back the following Monday, she taped my reading and, lo and behold, I got the job. Walter Hill directed the episode and it not only helped launch the series, we were nominated for an Ace Award. Walter Hill later cast me in TRESPASS. Joel Silver was a producer on TALES FROM THE CRYPT and later hired me as Col. Stuart in DIE HARD 2, and then TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT. One of the writers on CRYPT was Frank Darabont who approached me on the set with a Steven King novella called “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.” I got the role for what would be THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. He would later go on to work with me in THE GREEN MILE and THE MIST as well. I can’t count the roles that have happened since then as a result of that one episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT so yes, that one audition for Karen Rea and her willingness to give me a chance at the lead was a moment that changed the trajectory of things for me.

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SHOCK: With SHAWSHANK, did you know at the time that you were helping to forge a modern classic?

SADLER: No. We all knew it was a strong script and I think everyone on the set brought their ‘A game’. I don’t think any of us knew it was going to be received the way it has. I’ve always thought that a ‘classic film’ moniker was a high bar to reach. It’s very gratifying and humbling to think that our film is being held in that kind of esteem. Remarkable!

SHOCK: Were you given the freedom to explore the character of Heywood?

SADLER: Frank Darabont encouraged us to find and explore those relationships in ‘Red’s Gang’. Those are the details that bring scenes to life. I think for men who’ve spent decades together in prison, those relationships are the fabric that holds the story together. Since then. Frank and I have developed a great friendship and working relationship over the years. There’s much love and trust and respect there. We’ll see each other after a long time and pick up right where we left off as if no time had passed at all. It’s great when that happens.

SHOCK: Any memorable on-set stories you can share with us?

SADLER: My favorite memory on the SHAWSHANK set was sitting around between takes with my fellow actors, listening to the great James Whitmore tell stories of his life in the business. Priceless.

SHOCK: Heywood in SHAWSHANK and Klaus in THE GREEN MILE are radically different characters, both with opposing roles in the prison system. Did you prefer playing one role over the other?

SADLER: Heywood was great fun to play. He became a colorful, dimwitted, even sympathetic character in SHAWSHANK. Klaus in THE GREEN MILE, on the other hand, spent most of his screen time absolutely terrified that something awful had happened to his two girls and then finds out that the worst has happened. Loss and grief replace the fear panic and later in the film all of that turns to pain and anger. Getting into Klaus’ headspace and staying there all day while we filmed, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as an actor. My own daughter was about six at the time and imagining any of that was just excruciating. I’m glad it’s such a good film but the process wasn’t fun.

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SHOCK: Your character in THE MIST, Jim, quickly regresses into something more frightening then real monsters. Are you attracted to troubled characters?

SADLER: I’m not sure why these characters find me. I’ve always been attracted to roles that have a dark side because they’re fun to play and, I guess, its fun to watch me play them. Once you do something well on film, Hollywood is more than happy to let that define you from then on. You have to show them something else if you want them to think about you differently.

SHOCK: What was it like working on such an effects heavy film?

SADLER: The effects in THE MIST were great fun to work with. Wonderful creature tentacles and giant bugs and spiders that attacked you! What’s not to love? It always feels a little like when I was ten years old, running around our barn playing make-believe; diving out of the hayloft with my BB gun and coming up shooting. I felt right at home fighting giant spiders and fifty-foot creatures…