For the past few years, actor Mark Webber has been a mainstay at film festivals like Sundance and SXSW, appearing in movies that premiered at one or the other, including his first two features as a director, Explicit Ills and The End of Love. Probably his most high profile role to date was playing musician Stephen Stills in Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, although he's had pivotal roles in a number of other movies as well - Save the Date and For A Good Time Call… are two of my personal favorites in terms of Webber performances.
Right now, he can be seen in the thriller 13 Sins, directed by The Last Exorcism's Daniel Stamm, playing a salesman faced with a baby on the way and insane medical bills for his autistic brother. When he gets a phone call offering him a lot of money to take a series of 13 challenges, each one progressively more dangerous and questionable, he goes with it, leading to a night of terror as he puts his very own will and morality to the test.
It's a very different type of movie and role for Webber, first of all being the lead who appears in just about every scene, but it also shows another side of the actor, who clearly has a lot more to show us than what we've seen from him before.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Webber a few weeks back to talk about the movie as well as his latest foray into directing with a movie co-written by and co-starring his wife, actress Teresa Palmer, called The Ever After.
ComingSoon.net: This is a really interesting movie for you, because it's different from what we've seen you do before, first of all being a high concept thriller but also because you're the lead. So first of all, because you're the lead, how did you first hear about this and how did you get involved?
Mark Webber: Well, it was just kind of the regular run of the mill way of hearing about things, you know? My agent was like, "Hey, you should read this script." Then I read the script and I was like, "Oh wow, man. This would be really fun to make and this is not something I've ever really attempted to do before. This would be really awesome." Then I'm a fan of Daniel's work - his first film I thought was great, then his second movie was really awesome as far as genre films go. So I sat down with Daniel and like, "Ah, this guy's the real deal." Then I had to go fight for it. A lot of guys auditioned for it so I just busted my ass trying to get this movie, then I got really lucky that I did because I was able to really have a lot of fun making it.
CS: I assume a lot of the challenges were in the original screenplay, so you must have had some things to mull over on how they were going to do some of them.
Webber: No, totally. That's what was so appealing to me. I was like, "Right on, I get to cut off somebody's arm and walk around with a dead guy." It was fun to be in those situations, because when you're making a movie that's really intense and has all these kinda dark things that happen, the actual making of it is hilarious. I'm sitting there laughing with the guy that has the prosthetic arm being strapped on, figuring out the blood pump and how they're going to spray actual blood. And we're cracking jokes, then it's, "Okay, cut his arm off." The dude who played the corpse was the most bright-spirited, hilarious man. It was actually really difficult working with him because he was so chatty and so boisterous, then he would just fall into playing dead and I was really thrown by it, because you were just telling me about your crazy life and now I'm going to have to lug around your 200-pound body and be completely dead. It was pretty crazy.
CS: I get the impression it's one of the bigger budget movies you've done, like an actual studio film. Did it feel that way to you while you were making it or did it just seem like another acting gig where you just had to spend more time on screen?
Webber: No, it definitely felt like a very big movie to me. First of all, whenever I get lucky enough to be asked to carry a movie on my back and be in almost every single frame of the movie, it's a huge responsibility. Yeah, there was a little bit more of a budget on this thing, so it felt bigger, but the process was really what I was accustomed to on kind of smaller independent film, where there was a real camaraderie and a real optimal level of respect, where we were like, "Let's kinda really dig deep and experiment." That was all facilitated by Daniel, so it was really the best of both worlds.
CS: You bring something to the role that reminds me a bit of Jimmy Stewart, so was he an influence on your performance at all or did that just happen to come out because of the situations?
Webber: No, that wasn't my intention. I guess that just organically popped out, which is cool. For me, I was able to really show this different side of what I'm capable of doing in a different kinda way, but my approach is always the same, you know? How can I make this as realistic as possible, is always my MO. But then being in these really outlandish situations and where the stakes get really, really high, the tension that this story lends itself to my character and enhances my characterization. It was a cool thing to have this really strong arc and thrust of the movie while simultaneously me trying to ground it in a certain way, I think it struck a really nice balance.
CS: I don't want to spoil the scene, but there's a particularly grisly one involving a group of bikers so how was that to do?
Webber: Yeah, that particular sequence is awful. That was just so emotionally and physically draining, that whole sequence. It was just disturbing, having all the people laying in the street, and the body parts. It was four in the morning at that point, and I'm screaming and running and crying. It was awful. It literally was awful. It was not fun. That was the one part that was not fun, but what was great, I think, is that it added a sense of realism into the moment. I mean, I was really upset at that point about what we were doing and what had happened. That was really intense.
CS: You haven't done too many genre movies over the years until recently, but you appeared in Ethan Hawke's movie and he's been doing a lot of interesting genre films lately, so has that been the case with you where doing something like this makes you interested in doing more genre flicks?
Webber: Yeah, I think I got a bit of that bug. I think because having had a career really steeped in being a part of a lot of relationship-based films that are just kind of grounded in a certain type of reality, these bigger movies, they're fun, you know? There's a certain fun aspect in the making of it that I think I'm gravitating towards just because my life and my career as a director, I'm making some different films that are really the opposite of these bigger genre movies. So it's kind of fun as an actor to be able to kind of get into that world because I think that they can both help facilitate more interesting work on both ends of the spectrum, you know?
CS: And how do you balance out the acting roles you take with directing your own movies?
Webber: You know, there's no particular set kind of formula. I think that it's just really been kind of working for me. I've just been lucky in terms of when I go and set out to direct a movie, I really carve out the appropriate amount of time and that's it. I clearly can't act in a movie for a while now and the turnaround with the way movies work, I can bang out a few back to back and then they all come out the following year or in a year and a half. So then I can take the next seven or eight months to kinda shape my movie, which I've been doing now. I haven't acted in a movie since last year, and I've been working on the release of my latest movie that I directed. Then I'll get that all set and ready to be shown and seen and then I can roll up my sleeves again and go, "Okay, what projects are out there now that I can act in?"
CS: You recently did another movie called Jessabelle with the director of some of the "Saw" sequels. Does that have a similar vibe in terms of horror and gore?
Webber: No, it's actually quite different. That film is more of a slow burn, more of a classic haunting about this kind of presence. It's about this kind of slow burning build, this tension, which was really, really fun to make, ultimately as well. That's more of a ghost film, whereas "13 Sins" is like more of an action-thriller than like a horror movie. "Jessabelle" has more suspense elements involved, which was really cool.
CS: I wasn't at Sundance this year, but I know you worked with a couple cool indie filmmakers like Lynn Shelton and Joe Swanberg. When you work with people like them, are you able to take some of what you do with them and bring them into your own way of making movies?
Webber: Yeah, I think I am. That's what's great about doing a movie with Lynn and then doing a movie with Joe. There's a certain base level of mutual kind of respect and admiration. When they get me, it's like they don't just get an actor, they also get someone who knows how to direct and how to put movies together. So there's a certain level of exploration that is afforded to all of us that's really fun for me, you know? I don't go in and try and like throw my weight around and be like, "Well, Joe, I think the camera really should be here." If they want to engage with me in that way, then it's cool to be able to do that. There are little moments in between both those projects, where I think that that kind of seeps in in a way. That was nice.
CS: They're both very collaborative in the way they work with actors, too, so how has that been I the movie you're making with Teresa Palmer (Webber's wife)?
Webber: Yeah, well, it's an extension of that process, right? "The End of Love," I did with my kid, who was two, and now, "The Ever After," I'm doing with my wife, you know? We're making a movie about a married couple and certain aspects of marriage and a certain level of kind of complacency that can happen in a relationship. Making a movie about a relationship while really being in a relationship with that person is fascinating stuff. So the same way I was able to show on screen in "The End of Love" a real loving relationship between a father and a son, I'm able to go really deep with a certain level of memorability and intimacy in a romantic relationship. But, you know, it feels different on a base level. You can't act some of the elements in our movie, and it's really exciting. That's kind of where I've been pulled as a director, experimenting with using real-life relationships and friendships and folding them in with other actors and the approach in a way. I try to recreate real life settings and situations and that's where my head is right now. I think that we succeeded in making a relationship film that you kind of really haven't seen before in this way. I'm excited about it, man, and I'm excited for people to see it and share it.
CS: Also, you end up having some really good home movies with a record of your son and wife with bigger production values that you can watch down the road.
Webber: Yeah, I know, totally. Right, like the next one, "Mom, what are you doing?"
CS: What's your next plan after finishing that up? Anything else lined up?
Webber: You know, I'm trying to direct some music videos right now. I'm trying to kind of dabble into, the short form a little bit, just to keep building my muscles as a director so that I could flex my muscles as a director in a different way in the coming years. I'm just trying to hone my craft and fine-tune it. I have a couple other ideas for movies I want to make and trying to develop a television show with some friends. Yeah, I'm just kinda trying to put things together. I'm definitely in the headspace of wanting to continue to direct. Acting, for me, is still very much there, I just want it to be more so with friends and with family and kinda doing our own stuff right now.
CS: So if somebody handed you a script wanting you to direct it, you don't expect to go that direction any time soon? You want to develop your own stuff?
Webber: Yeah, no, because I get to do that as an actor. I get to go be a part of someone else's kind of world and vision, so directing for me really is an outlet for me to kind of totally completely do my own thing and hone in on my own voice and create my own worlds and explore that realm in that way. And then, acting is kind of like, "Okay, yeah. Who's this character and what's this guy? How do you want to do this?"
CS: Listen, it was great talking to you again, and while I missed Sundance this year, I hope to see you and maybe your movie there next year.
Webber: Yeah, I hope so, too. Keep the record going.
CS: Yeah or maybe we'll see you in another movie before then and be like, "Oh, there's Mark Webber."
Webber: You never know, hopefully.
CS: I talked to Pat Healy recently for "Cheap Thrills," a movie in a similar vein as "13 Sins" in fact, but he's also had cameos in movies like "Captain America" and "Draft Day."
Webber: Yeah, no, totally. I love Pat, he's awesome.
13 Sins opens in select cities on Friday, April 18, but is also available On Demand and on iTunes, accessible from the official site.