What can you tell us about the upcoming movie Christmas with the
Dead and your role in it?
Christmas with the Dead is based on a short story by Joe
Lansdale [Joe R. Lansdale
interview - click here], and the screenplay was written by his son
Keith. It's a delightful post-zombapocalypse story about a man who wants
to decorate his house for Christmas for his dead daughter and zombified
wife. Could be the feel-good movie of the year.
I play the Reverend Mac, a crazy preacher whose congregation consists
of all the other escapees from the Mud Creek State Hospital for the
Criminally Insane (of course!). Ole Mac, who's about three gospels shy of
a New Testament, thinks this whole thing has been planned by God to remind
us all of life after death, and he and his minions sacrifice other living
people they capture to the zombies in a kind of unholy communion -- living
wine and wafer. Yum!
How do you approach the
role of an insane priest gone evil, and what can you tell us about your
personal religious background?
I just play myself.
really, Joe sent me some links to these East Texas Baptist preachers, and
I copied their style of walking and moving. As far as East Texas dialect
went, I just tried to sound like Joe as much as I could, though the end
result has a little Kentucky in it too, the result of watching too much Justified,
As for my own religious background, I'm kind of a lapsed
Protestant, pretty much a secular humanist.
In all honesty, was it
fun to order zombies around?
You bet -- I'd never had
actual minions before! The zombies don't take orders too well,
though. Rev Mac handles them like some sects handle serpents. Of course,
he makes sure that his minions are holding the poles that keep them from
ripping off his arm and gobbling his innards. Still, minions are good. I
like minions. Wish I had some at home.
To my information, Christmas
with the Dead was shot in the heat of a Texan June. Was this at all
taxing on you and your performance?
Actually it wasn't too
bad. All my scenes were interiors, so between the air conditioning and the
shade, I survived pretty well. We shot the climax in a big covered (though
open-air) expo center, where they have rodeos, and that cooled down pretty
well by night time, which is when we shot. What was more taxing was my
screaming. I'm not going to give away any spoilers, but there was a scene
where I'm lying on my back and screaming for a long time. Even though I'm
a trained singer and know how to use my voice, I got too far into the
moment and screamed so hard I broke a capillary in the back of my larynx.
Two and half months later, it's still healing. It'll get better
eventually, though, as long as I shut up. So when folks see that scene, I
hope they realize what I sacrificed for my art. Yeah.
What can you tell us
about your director, Terrill Lee Lankford [Terrill
Lee Lankford interview - click here]?
Lee was great
to work with. With all the students from Stephen Austin State University
on the crew, it sure wasn't the setup that he was used to, but he handled
it really well from what I could see the week I was there. There were
tensions, of course, just as there are with any project, and it was a real
trial by fire for some of these kids, most of whom did a great job working
long hours. As for Lee, I just loved the guy, both on set and off. I had
gone down a few weeks before shooting started for a table read and
discussion. I'd done very little film acting before, and by the time I
left Texas, I felt that Lee had taught me more in just a few sentences
than I'd have gotten in a whole year of class training. He's also a
terrific novelist, by the way -- I'm reading his Blonde Lightning
now, and his other books are at the top of the to-be-read pile.
with the Dead is based on a story of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale [Joe
R. Lansdale interview - click here]. Were you at all familiar with
that story prior to filming, and what can you tell us about the good Mr
Lansdale, the man and the writer?
with the Dead is one of the few Lansdale stories I hadn't read. Joe
and I have been good friends for many years. We first met when we read our
stories from the Silver Scream anthology at a World Fantasy Con,
really appreciated each other's work, and never lost touch. We went to the
WFC in England a few years later, took our wives, and all had a
great time together. He's bought stories from me for a number of
anthologies he's edited, and wrote a glowing introduction to my short
story collection, Figures in Rain. His work is just amazing, and
he's as amazing a person. His wife Karen and his kids, Keith [Keith
Lansdale interview - click here] and Kasey [Kasey
Lansdale interview - click here], are very cool too!
Let's go back to the
beginning of your career: What got you into acting in the first place, and
what can you tell us about your early acting experiences?
school. I played leads in a lot of musicals in high school and college,
and did straight plays as well. I got my Actors' Equity card by doing
professional industrial shows, which were convention shows put on by
different major corporations for their clients and distributors. I was out
of acting for many years, but got back in about five years ago, and do a
few short run shows every year.
main claim to fame though is as a writer. So what can you tell us about
Chet Williamson, the writer?
Well, I'd just direct people
to my website: www.chetwilliamson.com
- there they can find out all about my
twenty-plus books and hundreds of short stories and other stuff. Most of
my work has been in horror and suspense, and many of my early books are
now back in print as e-books, available at Amazon's Kindle Store or from
Crossroad Press, my publisher. I've also recorded a number of audiobooks,
some of my own, but others by Michael Moorcock, Tom Piccirilli, David
Niall Wilson, and Zoe Winters. All of these can be found at Audible.com
and at Crossroad Press. I also have a new suspense novel out as a trade
paperback, Defenders of the Faith.
In your stories, you seem
to return to the horror genre quite frequently. A genre at all dear to
I grew up on horror. Famous Monsters of
Filmland was my favorite magazine. I found Poe very early, then
Lovecraft and all the classic horror writers. I was fated to write horror.
You have also written quite a few plays of late.
How would Chet Williamson, the actor, judge Chet Williamson, the
playwright (and vice versa)?
My first full-length play, Revenant,
was a ghost story/psychological thriller, and I've written some other
darker work. I love to write for the stage both because of its
collaborative nature (I have a number of talented colleagues in the
Lancaster PA area where I live) and its immediacy. It's wonderful to see
and hear an audience reacting to what you and your colleagues have
created. And I've always loved writing dialogue, so plays are a perfect
choice for me.
(At least) One of your
plays deserves special mention here: The Sockfather! Would you like to
talk about that one for a bit?
The Sockfather was
the second in a series of sock puppet parodies I've written for Creative
Works of Lancaster, a non-profit performance group with which I'm active.
The first was Sock Puppet Psycho. They're 40-50 minute parodies of
the films using sock puppets, and are totally insane. You can actually see
them online: Sock Puppet Psycho here: www.vimeo.com/16432558
Sockfather, our parody of The Godfather, here: www.vimeo.com/25123600
One of your short
stories, the greatly titled Gandhi at the Bat, has been turned into
a short film. A few words about both story and film?
story appeared in The New Yorker years ago, and has been
anthologized over and over, most famously in Fierce Pajamas, the
first collection of humor The New Yorker published. It posits
Mahatma Gandhi batting for the Yankees in a 1933 ball game, and is total
insanity. It's written in the style of a 30s sportswriter, and Stephanie
Argy and Alec Boehm, the two L.A. filmmakers, did it as a 30s newsreel.
Their realization is absolutely brilliant. Here's the website: www.gandhiatthebat.com
can you tell us about your musical career with Fire in the Glen?
in the Glen is an Irish duo with which I sang lead vocals and played
guitar for about six years with fiddler/bodhranist Tom Knapp. I had to
leave the band a few years ago, since my theatre work was getting in the
way of gigs, but I rejoin Tom from time to time when the newer band
members can't make gigs. I recorded two CDs with Fire
in the Glen, available here: www.rambles.net/fitg
future projects (be it films, plays, novels, music) you'd like to talk
Well, I'm working on some new plays, and trying to
get started on a new novel. Detritus, a story that I wrote
based on my experiences in Nacogdoches shooting Christmas with the Dead, will appear next year in Impossible Monsters, edited,
of all people, by my Christmas with the Dead colleague, Kasey
Lansdale interview - click here]. Other than that, I
don't like to predict, believing in the old Zen saying, "One inch
ahead is all darkness."
Writers who have influenced you?
Joseph Conrad, Lovecraft, Poe, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Lafcadio
Hearn, Philip Roth, P.G. Wodehouse, Andrew Vachss, Samuel Beckett, Harold
Pinter, and of course Joe Lansdale Hisownself [Joe R. Lansdale
interview - click here].
who inspire you?
That changes with every film or play I
see, but my latest epiphany was seeing Mark Rylance in the closing weekend
of the Broadway run of the play Jerusalem. It was the strongest
performance I've seen since I saw James Earl Jones do The Great White
Hope on Broadway when I was a student. Absolutely unbelievable.
Your favourite movies?
Too many to start, I'm afraid, but a few that come to mind are Vertigo,
Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kurosawa's Ran and
Samurai -- many Japanese films. I like most films by Hitchcock and
Kubrick -- pretty old school, really.
and of course, films you really deplore?
anything by Baz Luhrman -- his aesthetic and mine don't match up at all.
And most horror movies with the number 5 or higher behind the title...
except for the Final Destination-series, which I find to be really
Facebook, whatever else?
www.chetwilliamson.com, and I'm on
Facebook, and on Twitter I'm @chetwill - so come on by and say hello!
Anything else you are dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Since you're a
film guy, you might find it interesting to know that, when I was doing
work for hire, I wrote a novelization of The Crow: City of Angels.
It was a terrible film, but David S. Goyer's screenplay on which I
based the novel was really good. This taught me a valuable writer's
lesson: no words are so brilliant that a director can't screw them up.
Delighted! And everyone come see Christmas With the Dead!