A.J. Bowen is a long time regular in genre film. His credits include fan favorites, The House of the Devil and The Signal. Shock chatted with Bowen about his new film Rites of Spring, which opens tomorrow. Bowen filled us in on working with director Padraig Reynolds in his directorial debut, shooting on location in Mississippi, and gives us an update on Silent Night of the Living Dead.
Shock Till You Drop: How did you get involved with Rites of Spring?
A.J. Bowen: I was making another movie in Missouri, called A Horrible Way to Die,and, I got an email from John Norris, who I had some experience with, because he manages my good friend Ti [West]. John has another client named Padraig [Reynolds] and they had a script that they were getting ready to shoot. They asked if I would consider taking a look at it. I hadnt met Padraig before, but I looked at the script. In terms of content and tone, it was 180 degrees from what I was doing right then. I was working on this art film where I was trying to make a serial killer sympathetic. So, when I read the script, the first thing that caught my attention after noticing that John Norris was producing it was how straightforward it was. Im a really big fan of that. It reminded me of when the first Wrong Turn film came out. I really loved that movie because it was lean and straightforward. For me, it was a movie flavored movie. Ive been lucky to get to work on some really interesting things, the last few years, but I had been in this sort of art word for a little while. So, getting that script and seeing a different type of character than what I had been playing for the last couple of years made it kind of a no brainer. Finding out that they were bringing in Anessa [Ramsey] who is a good friend of mine and my co-star in The Signal made it very interesting for me. Knowing a lot of the people that were working behind the scenes also helped. When we wrapped A Horrible Way to Die, I think I went back to L.A. for like 18 hours and I packed another bag and ended up in Canton, Mississippi, which in May isnt the nicest place to be. But, I lost weight, by sweating a lot.
Shock: How long was the shoot?
Bowen: About a month, all in. With movies on the independent level, we usually shoot anywhere from 18-27 shooting days. Its typically structured with six days on and one off. I think I was there around a month. I think the principal photography all got done in under a month. Then, I think they went back and did some additional shooting a little bit later with a smaller crew.
Shock: It looks as though most, if not all, of the film was shot on location. Was any of the film done on a sound stage?
Bowen: It was all practical. Theres one scene where were in the monsters lair. That was fabricated on location, as well. We were shooting at a former Mississippi Governors Mansion. We ended up shooting at a really old school building that had been vacant, I think, since the fifties. So, running around there and trying to avoid tetanus or falling through the floor was interesting. Im sure that helped with the heightened paranoid nature of the character, to know that if I stepped to the right I was going to fall 130 feet down to the boiler room. It was great for that picture and it was great for the art department, because there was so much already there. There is such a humid quality to shooting down there in early summer/late spring. That paired really nicely with what Padraig had written. So, he got a place that reflected very accurately what he was trying to create in the script.
Shock: Your performance in Rites of Spring feels very authentic. Did you do anything in particular to get in to character, or did you just show up and start filming?
Bowen: I kidnapped a small girl… Just kidding. It wasnt too complicated for me. I dont try to justify my characters behavior in performances. But, I wasnt starting from behind the eight ball with that character. Hes very human and I could relate a lot to someone not taking control of their life. We had the kidnapping/heist movie that was going parallel to this creature feature. When they run in to each other, it was pretty easy for me. Im not a very good actor, so I just pretend.
Shock: What was your experience working with Padraig in his feature film directorial debut?
Bowen: It was really cool for me, because Padraig isnt 20 years old. Hes been watching movies for a long time and hes a good writer. The enthusiasm that he had for getting to make a movie was great. I had been living in this art world where we would talk about Whats the meaning of it all? You can sort of get up your own ass with self importance with that type of thing. So, going to set where there was a guy who wanted to make a movie flavored movie and was really excited to be there made it kind of impossible not to have a good time. We all stayed in the same hotel in the middle of nowhere. Most of the time I was going to set with Padraig or with one of the producers and so when we werent shooting we were talking about the script or other movies. Padraig and I would have so many conversations about movies from the mid to late seventies and early to mid eighties. We would have in depth arguments that probably sounded really pretentious, about the merits of various Friday the 13thfilms. So, it was great. It was like making a movie with your buddy that you grew up watching horror movies, late at night, in the basement with. We spent a lot of time together when we werent shooting, so it ended up being a very positive experience, other than the fact that we were trying not to get tetanus, trying to not go to the hospital, and trying to not get struck by lighting when there were thunder storms. All of that probably translated to a sense of paranoia in the final product. I loved working with Padraig. We are going to work together again, as soon as we can get our schedules to align.
Shock: When do you begin shooting Silent Night of the Living Dead?
Bowen: I talk to Paul [Davis] about once a week about it. I think its still on track for the very end of this year. I may spend Christmas in London. I think that the end of this year/the beginning of next year, we will be shooting it. I think it will probably be in post production by February of next year. Then we will start seeing where they are going to take it from there. I am really stoked to work with Paul. Hes a good friend of mine. When they told me that Tom Savini was going to be playing my dad in the movie I was like I think I can do that. I think that will be fine. Im really excited. The script is great. James Moran and Paul Davis wrote a really great script. I have a really weird perverse interest with Christmas genre films. I think I have every single one, either on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, or 16 MM. So, to get to finally do a Christmas genre picture was pretty exciting. Im pretty stoked about it.
Shock: It was a pleasure to chat with you.
Bowen: Thanks for talking to me.