Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Don Coscarelli’s wonderful bit of weirdness JOHN DIES AT THE END has a lot of things going for it. David Wong’s fantastic and hilarious original source material, great appearances by genre favorites Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Angus Scrimm and Doug Jones and Coscarelli’s energetic direction to name a few, but what’s really going to hook people, I think, is the discovery of the two leads: Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes.
Williamson plays David Wong, the narrator and straight man of the story and Mayes plays David’s best friend and title character John, who was a bit weird even before he was exposed to this crazy drug known as Soy Sauce that allows him to see… well, everything… living or dead, real or imagined, in this universe or the next. You name it.
This film marks their feature debut and they knock it out of the park. Williamson in particular had a difficult task carrying this film, especially when you consider that his very first day as a professional actor saw him sitting across from Paul Giamatti in a massive dialogue heavy scene between the two of them.
It should also be worth noting that Williamson is a huge AICN nerd and made me feel really old when he spoke of reading the site in his young teen years. So, nevermind. I take it all back. He sucks and is too young and stuff!
This interview was conducted in Park City the morning after the midnight premiere of the movie. All things considered this was a surprisingly lively chat that, for some reason, kept returning to Rooney Mara. As you do.
I hope you enjoy the interview!
Quint: Well, you didn’t get booed out last night, so your Sundance must be going pretty well!
Chase Williamson: No, that was my biggest fear, so that was sweet.
Quint: I’ve seen audiences turn against movies here, it’s not pretty.
Chase Williamson: Yeah, well I definitely went through that experience in my head several times before that happened. It’s weird, I’ve been waiting for this for so long and I didn’t really plan for my life past last night, so now I’m kind of lost in space a little bit. (Laughs)
Quint: I think one of the biggest things that Don [Coscarelli] should be proud of is finding you two. You guys really have to ground this movie and make everybody comfortable in this crazy world, but you also have to keep it fun and that’s what I love about the tone that both of you struck, especially Rob. John as a character is almost childlike in his excitement about everything that happens. I want to talk a little bit about you guys getting the role and seeing the script and then going “Holy shit, how do I keep all of this straight? How do I keep it easy?” Because you guys have to believe what you are saying. If you don’t then the audience won’t.
Rob Mayes: Well, thank you for your kind words, it really means a lot. This was something that I had gone in for and I hadn’t even read the script, because it was such a last minute thing for me and I went in not knowing what was going on and the audition was like the most confusing thing ever.
Chase Williamson: Yeah, you did the scene in the truck…
Rob Mayes: This dog comes up to me and then all of a sudden I’m being electrocuted and then I’m alive and happy, but I’m dazed and confused like every thing is good, but the world is kind of ending. So I was like “Okay, let’s try some different things” and weeks later we were on set filming.
I read the book and I fell in love with it. I read the script and its one of the coolest, most unique things, and specifically this character I thought was a lot of fun, because I figured I could really just go for it. I figured it wouldn’t be too much, because I knew Don was going to reel me back in and I think the “soy sauce” allowed me to go there and being able to play off Chase. I think we provided a balance and I hope that we achieved that with the two of us.
I’ve just never had more fun. It took a ton of energy and it was energy that I would have not wanted to expend anywhere else, because it was like I was in this mini-“soy sauce” world for three months and it was fucking awesome.
Chase Williamson: For me, I graduated from USC like two weeks before I went in to read for this. This was one of my first auditions and I got a few scripts to read since I was going in for pre-reads. It was the first time I ever had reps, so I was like “This is crazy. I’m reading scripts…” never assuming I would actually get a job until I was like 30 or whatever. This was by far the best thing I had ever read in my entire life. I felt like I had written it like in a dream world. I just connected with the humor and the tone of it so much, so I kind of became obsessed with it and just went in.
The first audition was a little “meh,” because I was looking around and I was like “Look at all of these slacker guys. They look way more slackery than me” and then I guess through the nerves or whatever they saw something they liked and brought me back. Then I got to meet Don, who I was a huge fan of, and he was the nicest guy in the world. He put me at ease and I was able to just go in and have fun in the audition, so that was cool. Then once I got it I pretty much shit myself and then I just had the best time ever, because I don’t know… I’ve been doing theater my whole life and I’ve been a huge genre horror fan my life and have never gotten to play in that kind of world before, so it was like playtime. It was amazing. It was so much fun and all you have to do to sell the reality of it is just accept it as reality and just be in that. It was the most fun I have ever had in my life.
Rob Mayes: I have thoughts like this in my head, not to minimize David Wong’s brilliance… I don’t mean that at all, but I do have strange thoughts in my own mind and when I see someone else who also has strange thoughts in their head I’m like “This is pretty cool. I’m not alone.” To be able to explore that and dive into it is great.
Chase Williamson: The fans of the book… If you read their Facebook page or all of the comments they put out, they’re hilarious. It’s like all of these crazily funny people just united over this weird, awesome book. It’s cool.
Rob Mayes: And they’re all funny. It’s like everyone who posts something is funny.
Chase Williamson: It’s the sense of humor that a lot of people have, you know? It taps into that more so than I think anything recently has. I think if you get it, you’re like “Yeah, we get it!”
Quint: Talking about the book, I would have to imagine it’s a very valuable resource to essentially flesh out what’s in Don’s script page. Did you ever use it to help shape your idea of who the characters were?
Chase Williamson: Totally man. I have so much back-story in the book that’s not in the movie and I definitely thought about all of that shit a lot. Some really crazy stuff happens to me in the book, like I may or may not get raped and then cut out a guy’s eyes in the locker room…
Quint: So be honest, you were really disappointed in the rape not making the movie, weren’t you?
Chase Williamson: I mean, I think the rape could have made it a little bit quirkier.
Quint: There goes your Oscar, I’m sorry.
Chase Williamson: (Laughs) Damn it!
Quint: If only you were raped…
Chase Williamson: Oh Rooney [Mara]… But yeah… I forget what we were talking about now. I’m just thinking about rape.
Quint: If I had a quarter…
Rob Mayes: The book.
Chase Williamson: Oh yeah, the book. It was awesome, like it filled in any questions I possibly could have had.
Quint: What about working with Don? You mentioned that he put you immediately at ease.
Rob Mayes: Don is the sweetest man ever.
Chase Williamson: I would literally do anything for him.
Rob Mayes: He is so brilliant and thoughtful and I have just so much respect for the guy and I can’t thank him enough for putting me in this movie.
Chase Williamson: I was a huge fan of PHANTASM and BUBBA HO-TEP and all of that stuff, so when I met him at my first reading I was a little scared. It was the same with Paul [Giamatti] like when I first met him I was obviously terrified. Both of them are just such real honest awesome guys that as soon as I met both of them I was just totally at ease.
Quint: And you’re a big movie fan, right?
Chase Williamson: Yeah.
Quint: You can talk to Don about any movie and from my brief interactions with Paul, he’s the same way.
Chase Williamson: I mean I didn’t know how I was going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to be geeking out like embarrassing uncontrollably, but I kind of kept my shit together I guess. (Laughs) We just made friends you know and it was awesome.
Quint: So did Don rehearse with you guys a lot? Did he talk with you or did he kind of just say, “Hey, this is it” and then go take by take?
Rob Mayes: I don’t remember a lot of rehearsal.
Chase Williamson: We didn’t really rehearse. He was really open with his whole process, like we always knew what was going on with him and what he was thinking, but we didn’t really rehearse. We just kind of jumped in. Paul and I ran lines a lot.
Rob Mayes: But I think the thing was that we were able to establish pretty early on, especially you, me, and Don just an understanding and a trust. Once we got those first couple of scenes out of the way or first takes or whatever it was like “Okay, this is where we live. Let’s just do it and see what happens and just have fun with it.” Then to have Don overseeing it all… We had a lot of fun.
Quint: And you did all of your shooting with Giamatti pretty early on, right?
Chase Williamson: That was my first three days as a professional actor.
Quint: Just a scene with you and Giamatti sitting across from each other.
Chase Williamson: He’s the first professional actor I’ve ever worked with. It was crazy.
Quint: Ah, Paul Giamatti. I guess you it was okay.
Chase Williamson: It could have been like Rooney Mara or whatever, but yeah it was really scary before I met him, but then as soon as I met him he was like “Do you want to run these fucking lines?” I was like “Yeah… Can I run lines with you? Please?” (Laughs) I don’t know, we just had fun and there were a lot of moments where I realized I had to take a deep breath and take in the fact that I was sitting at a table across from Paul Giamatti and playing pretend with him and realize that I just need to be in the moment, step up, and have a good time, because it’s crazy that that happened.
Quint: You hold your own in that sequence, man. It’s got to be ridiculous that suddenly you’re having to essentially fight for your scene with one of the most charismatic character actors to ever be in front of a camera.
Rob Mayes: Chase has something so unique… In your acting, man… His eyes are so interesting and I don’t know how to explain it, but I almost feel like I’m you, like as an audience member watching you work now. I feel like I am you and I wonder if that’s what the audience feels like, like you are that vehicle for the viewer to kind of take this journey. It’s amazing.
Chase Williamson: Thanks, bud. I think a lot of that is Don just putting it together in a way where it just takes you along for the ride, you know?
Quint: You both are just very naturalistic up there and I just saw the new Spike Lee movie and he cast these kids and I guess he’s going for realism in casting non-actors or whatever, but they are delivering dialogue worse than Jake Lloyd in PHANTOM MENACE.
Chase Williamson: Oh no!
Quint: It’s just the worst unnatural thing ever.
Chase Williamson: What is going on with Jake Lloyd now?
Quint: Oh man, I read an interview with him where he said being in that movie has kind of destroyed him, because everybody thinks he’s a joke and he was made fun of relentlessly through school.
Chase Williamson: “There’s sand storms over here!” That was good.
Quint: “Are you an angel?” But yeah, I mean it’s actually a rare thing to come off as natural on the screen. I see a lot of young actors coming up and most of them don’t have what you guys have, a feeling of effortlessness to your performances. It’s the same thing Giamatti has. No matter what he does it just feels like he’s not putting any effort into it.
Chase Williamson: Thanks, man.
Rob Mayes: Thank you.
Quint: So, where do you guys go from here? What’s the next jump?
Rob Mayes: You’re working on a movie now.
Chase Williamson: I just wrapped another movie with Clancy (Brown). It’s called SPARKS and its based on this comic. It’s like a superhero noir thriller and Clint Howard and William Katt and Jake Busey are in it. It’s a crazy cast. It was fun, it was really fun. Then I’m doing a play when I get back to LA, so we’ll see what happens.
Rob Mayes: SPRING AWAKENING as “Moritz.” It’s an awesome role.
Chase Williamson: Yeah, it’s a musical!
Quint: And you?
Rob Mayes: I’m on this new show called JANE BY DESIGN on ABC Family and I think my character actually enters a week from Tuesday. So I’m excited about that and also I did a movie shortly after we wrapped on JOHN DIES called BURNING BLUE, which is based on the play that debuted in the West End like 15 years ago and its about two fighter pilots and their respective families and the struggles that they faced considering the circumstances. If you know anything about the play, then you know what to expect with the film, but it’s an intense drama, it’s a beautiful love story…
Chase Williamson: [To Quint] I mean you’ve read the play, obviously.
Rob Mayes: Yeah, well I’m really excited for it and it’s got a great cast.
Quint: After talking with Jason Pargin (alias David Wong, author of the book) it seems we’ve got the JOHN DIES sequel novel coming out at the end of the year. I would assume since you guys had so much fun, if the movie gets out there and people like it and there’s an interest in doing the sequel and Don wants to do it, you guys are down, yeah?
Chase Williamson: I mean, like I said…
Quint: Well he’s going to have to talk to your agent.
Chase Williamson: (Laughs) No, my agent can stand down, because…
Rob Mayes: I will always do JOHN DIES.
Chase Williamson: I would only do sequels to this for the rest of my life if I had to and I would seriously do anything Don ever wanted me to do. I would take a bullet for him.
Quint: Would you guys be excited to re-enter the world of John Dies? Do you find yourself missing it at all?
Chase Williamson: Yes! I constantly miss it.
Quint: It’s such a unique place.
Chase Williamson: Yeah, it was the most fun I have ever had and my favorite character I have ever played. I miss it a lot. (Laughs)
Rob Mayes: The cool thing too is it’s not just a horror movie, it’s not just a comedy, it’s everything. I see it as an adventure. It’s this crazy adventure sci-fi movie that is horrifying and is freaking hilarious. It’s everything that I want to see in a movie.
Chase Williamson: It was like going to space camp, it was awesome. I would kill to do a sequel.
Quint: Who would you kill? Not me, I hope.
Chase Williamson: I would kill… Rooney Mara. I just keep saying “Rooney Mara.”
Quint: I know. A psychologist might say you’re obsessed.
Chase Williamson: I loved her. She was amazing in (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
Chase Williamson: She was great.
Quint: Awesome. Well, I think that’s about all I’ve got. Thanks for your time!
This won’t be the last you see of these two men, mark my words!
Keep your eyes peeled for some more upcoming interviews, including my Sundance chat with Frank Langella and a new entry into the AICN Legends series.