He may not always make the best movies, but I still dig Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Possibly because his portrayal of The Comedian in WATCHMEN was so undeniably shameless, bordering on dangerous, that you keep hoping the guy finds that kind of solid footing again as an actor and just shocks the hell out of us. That being said, I liked what he did in THE LOSERS and even in the rickety TEXAS KILLING FIELDS from last year. And from what I hear, he's killing in on the Starz series "Magic City."
The film we got together to talk about at Comic-Con is THE POSSESSION, the story of a young girl (Natasha Calis) from a broken marriage (between Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick who purchases an antique box, opens it and is possessed by an ancient spirit. The warring parents much come together to save their daughter. The film is directed by visionary Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal, and I know at least one fellow film journalist whose opinion I trust that has seen the film and said it works because of the emphasis on the family dynamic. It should perhaps come as no surprise that the writers of THE POSSESSION, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, also have a hand in shaping up the script for the upcoming remake of POLTERGEIST.
Morgan is a fun guy to talk to--plain and simple. And although he confessed to being a little "touchy" after "a bottle of tequila greeted me upon my arrival" in San Diego the night before, he was still a great talker early this particular morning. Please enjoy my talk with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, during which I also asked his thoughts about the new BEFORE WATCHMEN series, being heavily promoted that particular week at the DC Comics booth. Photos come thanks to Gavin "Malone" Stokes.
Capone: I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve heard that one of the things that separates it from some of the other possession films of late is that there’s a real strong family emphasis. Can you talk a little bit about how that factors in? And was that important to you?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Yeah, I don’t think I would have done a “horror” movie--not that I’m not a fan, I just don’t think that they are done very well anymore and I don’t mean to bag on anybody, but I’m not a big fan of found footage and shaky camera things; you know what I mean? It’s just been done to death. But I got this script and I’m not going to lie, it sat on my table for a couple of days before I cracked it open and then I read it, and because of this family element…you’re dealing with myself and Kyra Sedgwick as the parents of these two girls and they're going through a divorce.
Capone: It’s about family, but it’s not a stable family.
JDM: No, it’s not. So you’ve really get to dive into it that way, and so the audience becomes invested in the characters, and then you add this box into the mix. In talking to Ole before I agreed to do it, he’s like, “Look, this isn’t a typical horror movie, and I don’t want you to even think of that word. It’s not that. I mean, I guess when we are marketing it, it is of course a horror movie.” But going in to shoot it, I never looked at it like that. This is just a family that’s going through a lot of shit, and then they stumble upon this box. So you see this family, who at the beginning of the movie broken apart, and they kind of have to find that way to come together to save their girl.
But it’s based on these family relationships, and the dynamic that I think we had as actors was kind of extraordinary, and Ole allowed us a lot of freedom. We didn’t necessarily have to stick to the written page, so we got a chance to explore stuff beyond what was on that page and got to go do our own riffs and do scenes that weren’t there. I haven’t seen the movie either, so I’m probably not the best person. Everybody else has seen it but me, but from what I hear, it really works in that respect as far as getting your audience to care for these people, and the other key for me is this little girl here.
[Jeffrey points to Natasha Calis at a table near ours.]
Capone: That was my next question, what was it like working with her and the things that she has to go through?
JDM: Awesome. She has to go through a lot, and for a young actor, she could make or break it with her performance, and I was concerned about it, because she hadn’t done really anything. I got her credits and I’m like, “She hasn’t done anything, how can this possibly work? We need a really fine actor for this,” and Ole sent me a DVD of one of her auditions, a work session he was doing with her, and it blew my mind how good she was, and that’s what took me over the top. I was like “Okay, I’m in.”
Then we went to Vancouver, and I started working with her. I think the key for this movie and why it works is how we all get along and as heavy as the stuff that she does is especially, my job was to keep things light and easy, so she didn’t get stuck into some kind of creepy demonic rut, which I think could have been easy, because she was really putting it out there physically and emotionally.
Capone: You steering her away from like the Linda Blair stuff.
JDM: Yeah, I was. I didn’t want to make that movie either, although I love THE EXORCIST. That’s an example of one of the movies I think this reminds me of. I think of THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, ROSEMARY’S BABY--movies that have a real story to them with real characters, and certainly Natasha is about ready to blow people’s minds. Her performance really is superb.
But I just bonded with her immediately, and we hung out in between every take, and I reverted to being a 12-year-old boy and just tried to keep things light and easy for her and Madison, who plays her sister, because the content is moving so heavy. Before the box even becomes involved, it’s just a family going through a divorce and how uncomfortable that is for kids. I come from a divorced family and I remember that being shuttled from one parent to the other, and my dad trying to be the fun guy you do fun things with, yet it’s just a horrible position for kids. So there was always something going on. In between takes though I tried to lighten the mood.
Capone: Working with Ole, how did he explain his vision to you that even made you want to do this in the first place? Was that a big selling point for you?
JDM: Yeah, it was. He’s got a style all his own, and before I agreed to do the movie I watched two or three of his movies, and he and his DP [Dan Laustsen] go hand in hand, so I knew with the look of the movie it could possibly be. He really knows how to work the camera and where to put a camera doing a scene, and you would think all directors know how to do this, and they certainly do not. And not only that, he really knows how to talk to actors, especially the young ones, and I think that’s so important with a film like this. I was just talking to him about another project that we want to do together; I just loved working with him so much.
But I guess his selling point to me was, “This isn’t going to be a horror movie. I don’t want you to think of it that way,” which was exactly the right thing to say to me, because I didn’t want to do a horror movie. I don’t know why, but that genre just sort of scares me just to say that. And in reading the script, I realized that it wasn’t that and it was much more character driven, and he was the right guy. I remember we shot for about a week, the first week, and the dailies go back to L.A. and [producer] Sam Raimi sees them…
Capone: Yeah, I was going to ask about how involved he was.
JDM: On my end, not really. Ole dealt with him.
Capone: But he did check out the dailies?
JDM: Yeah, yeah he did check out the dailies. He was prepping his OZ thing, so he wasn’t in Vancouver, but he watched every daily, and the words started filtering back that Lionsgate and Raimi were just loving what they were seeing, which is always good. You always feel good about that when you’re going in.
Capone: Raimi’s a good gauge for that sort of stuff.
JDM: Yeah. Look, who knows this world better than Raimi? I mean he sort of invented a big part of it. EVIL DEAD is still one of my all time favorite movies ever.
Capone : Is this your first time back to Coimc-Con here since the WATCHMEN panel? Was LOSERS here?
JDM: I don’t remember. Yeah, I think this is my first time back.
Capone: I was walking the show floor today, and they have the big DC Comics booth with all of the BEFORE WATCHMEN displays. What is your interest level on that?
JDM: It’s high, it’s really high. I have not read any of the new prequel stuff yet, but everybody I’ve talked to who was a fan of WATCHMEN is really kind of over the moon about it.
Capone: Reluctantly so, but yes they are.
JDM: That’s exactly right. Everyone kind of went in saying, “You can’t mess with this,” and now I guess people are really liking it. So I’m going to go by that booth and grab them today.
Capone: There’s a huge billboard up on one side of their booth that’s really impressive.
JDM: I’m excited. I’m excited to read it, yeah. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, which makes me very happy, because you’re always nervous about that. I remember like six months ago people talking to me about it, and then I was like “I don’t really want to comment on it.”
Capone: They might give you a free copy or two.
JDM: They might.
Capone: Yeah, if you ask nice. Real quick, are you excited that RED DAWN is finally coming out?
JDM: [laughs] Yeah, I am. And I hear it’s a pretty good movie.
Capone: I haven’t heard anything yet. But over the last year or so, I keep interviewing people who are in it, and asking, “You were in RED DAWN too?”
JDM: It’s kind of a huge cast, but it’s so weird, we did that movie in 2009. I went straight from Puerto Rico on LOSERS to go and shoot that in Michigan, like literally straight there, so that was a long time ago. But I’ve heard good things about it. I haven’t seen a frame of it, so I don’t know, but everybody that I know that has seen likes it, and test screenings have done really well. Oh that’s what I was going to tell you, for this movie THE POSSESSION, they had a test screening for it and it’s testing higher than any movie that Lionsgate has ever had. So that’s exciting.
Capone: Well, it was really great to meet you. Thank you so much.