I had to the pleasure to do an interview with the uber-talented Bill Oberst Jr., known for movies such as DISMAL, THE SHUNNING and the soon-to-be-filmed A HAUNTING IN SALEM. Do yourself a favor and check out his work. This actor can carry a movie on his own and is a rare talent.
Notable Figures In Horror Tribute Page: http://www.morehorror.com/bill-oberst-jr
Q: Tell us a little about your stage acting and history before going to Hollywood in 2008.
I had a great, fun stage career over on the east coast for 12 years…played all sorts of roles in touring shows and had a sideline of playing great men of history in their own words. I toured as Mark Twain, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Of Nazareth and even Woody Allen! It was a good living and I never even thought about film until I saw a casting notice for the role of General William T. Sherman in The History Channel film, SHERMAN’S MARCH. I’m from the South so I knew about Sherman. To my surprise, I booked the role. It was a Â ratings success, the Wall Street Journal did a piece about my work in it and I wondered if I should get my ass out to Hollywood and learn the craft of film acting. So I did and here I am.
Q: Was going to Hollywood a natural progression, or was it something that just happened?
It just happened. Funny, because now I love camera acting as much as I did stage acting. I had no idea I would. The camera is like a lover, as Michael Caine says. He’s right. I’m in love with the lens.
Q: Are you surprised at the success that you are having, or did you know that you always had the talent to make it?
Totally surprised.Â Acting is all I’ve ever done and all I’ve ever wanted to do and I’m amazed that I have been able to make a living at what I love to do for 15 years; the first 12 on the stage and the last 3 in film. I’m not rich but I sure am happy. I thank the Lord every day for it.
Q: Tell us about A HAUNTING IN SALEM and your role in it.
A HAUNTING IN SALEM is a great ghostly horror feature from The Asylum. It will be my first 3-D film. I’m the lead; a war vet with a bad past newly arrived with his family in Salem, Massachusetts to take the position of Sheriff. The only problem is that Sheriffs of Salem have a bad habit of dropping dead. The script involves graveyards, the witch trials of 1692 and lots of blood. Written by H. Perry Horton and directed by Asylum favorite Shane Van Dyke. The writer runs a blog about Asylum films so I thought it was very cool that The Asylum is making it. It has the potential to be a very scary film in the old school tradition. We shoot in May in Los Angeles.
Q: THE SHUNNING was quite a different role for you. How did land that role?
I think it was a gift from God. Seriously. I didn’t even know it existed and had never auditioned for it. I got a call from the casting director who had seen me doing an 18th century German minister role in an unreleased film about John Wesley. She said they had auditioned hundreds of guys and could not find the combination they wanted (a hardass face with eyes that could show compassion.) I was in a motel room in Georgia for a weekend theater gig and couldn’t fly back to audition, but I did a quick video read and figured that was that. Booked it off the video audition. Miraculously. 6 months later I’m watching myself on The Hallmark Channel. My role was the strong silent type. But I did get to smash a guitar, so it wasn’t totally out of character! My friend Dean Jones was make-up artist on that one and he has a long string of horror credits as well as Star Trek series credits, so I felt comfortable not being the only “horror guy” on set. And of course, Danielle Panabaker, who was the lead, had done FRIDAY 13TH and THE CRAZIES.
Q: How was that experience playing the male lead role of an Amish farmer?
Loved every minute of it. Michael Landon Jr. is an actor’s director and he runs a tight ship. He really pushed me as an actor and I worked my ass off to please him. He’s that kind of director; he inspires loyalty. Michael is also very savvy about the business…he called me to offer the role and he was like “I want you but I don’t know if the network will approve you…there are some pretty far-out titles on your IMDB.” I said, “I assume you’re talking about NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS.” And he said “Well yeah that and the role in which your character name is Rapist.” But he went to bat for me with network. He’s the reason I got approved. I’ll owe him forever. The role also taught me a lot because the character kept all of his anger pushed down inside of him. The Amish don’t do rage. I think I came away from it a stronger film actor.
Q: Before that role, did you feel like you were being typecast as the same dark character?
I like being typecast! That means I am being cast. My business has a 97% unemployment rate, so I’ll ride the horse that brings me.
Q: Are you looking to branch out into other genres? If so, which other genres would you like to work in.
I love horror. I like drama. I love playing the dark side of humanity so we can see what we really are. Every actor thinks he or she can play anything, and so do I. But look at me…every genre I touch turns a little dark. I’m kind of disturbing on-screen. And I like that. Gives me an edge in a very tough industry.
Q: How do you get into character for these dark roles?
Ah, there’s a good question. And it’s one I can’t answer. The places I go to inside before I do a dark role are dark and cavernous and spider-infested places with demons lurking in the shadows. I have to keep my demons chained up under lock and key until I need them. And I can’t talk about them or they don’t work anymore. Does that sound ridiculous? Probably. But it’s true.
Q: You have been getting rave reviews from fans and directors alike. How does that feel?
It feels like they are talking about somebody else, to be honest. I don’t believe a word of it. I just keep on working.
Q: You have had a ton of roles. Do you have any favorite roles?
There are two favorites. The first was JESUS OF NAZARETH from my stage days. I was always amazed at how people reacted so differently to the same words depending on what they brought to the performance in their own heart and in their own history. The second was a little art house horror film called SOMETHING WICKED DWELLS. It was based on a gothic poem and set in a dungeon where prisoners are waiting to be dragged into a demon’s lair. I was the lead and I had to recite dark poetry but not make it sound like poetry. While wearing only shackles. Very Poe. In the middle of it I realized I wasn’t acting anymore. Those are the best moments.
Q: Do you have any favorite movies that you have starred in?
SHERMAN’S MARCH has a special place in my heart because it was my first. DISMAL, which ran forever on Showtime, was my first cannibal role so that’s always special 🙂 Â And I got to throw Jennifer Hudson into a squad car and jerk Dakota Fanning out of one in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES with Paul Bettany (although he didn’t remember me when we met again on the set of PRIEST.) Â I did my first kid’s movie last year, The Asylum’s PRINCESS AND THE PONY and got to terrorize a pony and wear a wicked Daniel Day Lewis moustache (it’s on Netflix and rents well.)Â I’m proud of what Michael Landon Jr. pulled out of me for THE SHUNNING. ButÂ I hope my favorite movies are the ones I haven’t done yet.
Q: What are some of your favorite all-time films?
EVIL DEAD, the original NIGHTMARE, DARK KNIGHT, the original TEXAS CHAINSAW, JESUS OF MONTREAL, AMADEUS, a baseball film with Robert Redford called THE NATURAL, anything with Johnny Depp, old Universal Horror, the original NOSFERATU, Lon Chaney’s PHANTOM and his son’s WOLFMAN, the old tv-movies GARGOYLES and THE NIGHT STALKER….I like movies that make me think and movies that make me say “Oh shit look at that!” Why can’t screenwriters ever seem to combine the two?
Q: This last question was sent in by Frank – What do you eat that you are so skinny?
You mean what don’t I eat that makes me so skinny! The answer would be desserts and bread. I eat a lot of raw spinach, protein powder, whole wheat pasta and grilled chicken. Purely by accident, I became known as the disturbing actor with a disturbingly creepy body. So the more lean and bony I am, the better for my brand as an actor. I think my ribcage will be getting its own IMDb page soon.
Seriously, I love using my physicality when it is appropriate to help create a dark character. I think the human body is kind of a bizarre thing for us to be trapped in anyway. When you start looking closely at all of the bones that protrude and the veins and the skin on anyone’s body, let alone a creepy one like mine, it can weird you out. In fact, I’m hoping that somebody will be so freaked out by me that they’ll do a t-shirt design around me and I can buy one on FearShop.com That would be the ultimate compliment!
Bill Oberst Jr.