Actor Jamison Jones has appeared in TV hits such as True Detective, 24, Burn Notice and big screen features such as Hollywood Homicide and The Lodger.
For his latest role he’s stepping into the horror genre for The Pierce Brothers’ critically-acclaimed supernatural chiller The Wretched. In the film Jamison plays Liam, the father of the film’s lead character Ben.
I caught up with Jamison to find out more about his work on the film, talk about realities of making horror film, and to discuss how he’s spending his time in quarantine…
The Wretched was one of about 70 films I watched for Arrow Video FrightFest last year and it’s the only one that scared me…
Really? That’s exciting to hear. It scared me too. After reading the script, knowing the characters and shooting it wasn’t scary. Then I went and saw it and I was like, “oh my god, this is much more terrifying than I had anticipated it would be’.
It had me from the opening scene in the basement with the woman on the chair…
That was an addition. They added that later. They had an opening scene and then they cut it and then they changed it. They wrote that I think maybe a few months after when they were in the editing room.
I didn’t know that. That was a very good decision…
The original script that I read had a similar type of scene, where it was 35 years earlier and then this thing happens and we cut to the present. The script that we shot didn’t have that in it. They added that in post and the original idea to have this 35 years earlier thing was really important to establish this weird creature, this supernatural thing that’s going on.
For our readers that haven’t seen the film yet, tell us a little bit about what it’s all about..
It’s about a young man who’s had some troubles at home, potentially because of his parents’ separation. I’m the father that lives up in this lakeside community and is running the marina. Ben and my son played by John Paul Howard, comes to visit me for the summer and he’s going to work at the Marina. It’s a way for him to stay out of trouble, have his dad looking over him and give his mom a break. What happens is because he’s gotten into some trouble prior to this point he starts, what (my character) thinks is spinning these tales that aren’t true. Something weird’s happening at the neighbours, things are missing, kids are missing and the mom next door is acting kind of strange. Of course, I think he’s just vying for my attention and trying to cause trouble so I don’t believe him, Push comes to shove and things start to happen where he’s really behaving out of character, and then we have to address the issue and come to find out he’s not spinning tales. There’s actually something going on and we have to, without giving anything away, solve the problem of the witch.
How did you get involved in this film?
It’s a long and sordid tale. I’ll give you the brief rendition of it. I met these guys probably two or three years before (the film). A friend had written a pilot and we were doing a reading. They came to see the reading and connected on the Michigander moving to California to pursue the Hollywood dream kind of thing. We’re all from Michigan, as well as the the girl who had written the pilot. I had just connected with him initially on that, and they sent me the script a couple of years later and said, ‘we’re doing a reading of this. We’d love for you to take a look at the role of the dad, Liam’. I said, ‘oh great’ and I really didn’t think much of it at that point. The reading never happened but it was another six months later when they sent me the script again and they said, ‘oh, we’re finally going to do this. We’ve gotten rid of that old production company and now we’re really moving forward with this. We want to set up this reading and have a look at the script’.
I came in and read it, and then they sent me the look book. I saw Sam Rockwell in there for Liam and I was like, ‘oh, well (laughs), I guess I’m shit out of luck on that one’. I assumed that they had gone after some bigger names for this, because it’s the kind of role that you would. It’s a really fantastic role and anybody would want to play this role, who’s in my shoes. I finally went in and and read for them. I had this really interesting conversation with the director two weeks later. I was going into read for something else and I ran into Brett and he was like, ‘oh, God, we just loved you. You’re just the best actor that we found for the part but our producers really want us to find a name for the role’ and I said, ‘well, that’s not that’s not the first time I’ve heard that’. At that point it was nice for me to be able to just let it go and I thought it was a shame because it’s such a great role in such a great movie. I really loved the writing and I loved the characters.
To me, it reminds me more of a movie like Jaws that that has all of this character development that builds and builds and builds, then once you know these characters, and things start to go wrong, you have a sense of how they’re gonna behave. You also begin to sympathise and empathise with them because you know them. It was hard for me to let it go but I did. Six weeks later, they called and they said, ‘well, we talked to our producers and they said hire whoever you want for the role and you were our first choice’. (laughs) After a couple of years bouncing back and forth with this thing thinking it was gone, it came back. What I didn’t really realise is that it had never left, I was none the wiser at that point. We went to Michigan in May and we were shooting all these outdoor scenes as if it’s summer and the first scene where we’re snacking on hotdogs and having our father-son outdoor barbecue was 32 degrees. (laughs). That was an interesting experience being there in the spring and Michigan had not quite thawed out yet.
Something that makes this film so rare is that it’s a horror film that’s actually had pretty much universally good reviews. That just doesn’t happen…
Yeah, the last time I checked it was 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess it’s a newer term, the elevated horror, where they wanted horror to stay in its genre so they created a new genre for movies that are really good, but they’re still in the horror genre. I guess this one fits into that category of the elevated horror genre because it really is a character driven plotline, and a really compelling story. Like you said there’s that first scene that really grabs you, but then we go back into the beginning, we meet the characters, we learn who they are, we figure out what their tropes are and we find out what their idiosyncratic things are and we really get to know them before things go bad for them anyway.
I told The Pierce Brothers when I saw them last year, that it reminds me a little of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window…
That’s right You said Rear Window with a supernatural twist…
If Hitchcock were alive and still making films, he’d be creating things like The Wretched. The film reminds me of those classic horrors. It feels old-fashioned in some ways, which I loved, but very modern at the same time. Was that the intention when the film was being made?
I definitely got that feeling when we were shooting it because like I was saying earlier, it feels very character driven. It feels like there is time spent developing those characters. When I first saw the film, I thought a lot of that had been stripped away. I was like, ‘where did these other moments go?’ but when I saw it the second time, I realised that what they were doing was really driving us to the point, driving us to the things that we needed to get to, to hurry the story along enough to engage the audience, while still giving them enough of the character development but engaging us enough to keep us ahead of the audience. There is that problem, especially I think with horror where if you don’t stay ahead of the audience, they start to sit back and judge. What you want them to do is to be up and listening and paying attention and you’re delivering this information so quickly that they’ve got to stay on top of it or they’ll get lost or they’ll get left behind.
What’s it like actually filming a horror movie? Is it scary on set?
You do a lot of late nights, which can be kind of creepy. You’re shooting these days, and then you switch the day for night and then you’re just in nights. You’re trying to sleep during the day and you’re getting up halfway through the day and then you’re getting to the set as the sun is setting and shooting as much as you can before the sun comes up again. The first day that I realised that we were shooting a really terrifying horror movie, was about three o’clock in the morning in the middle of the woods and I walked into one of these little warming tents, where the cast and crew can hang out when you’re not shooting, and there in the corner was sitting Madelynn, who plays the the wretch and it was the first moment where I was literally terrified. Not only because the makeup effects by Erik Porn are so incredible, but because it was so unexpected. The beauty of the way the film unfolds, is that you’re not really sure what’s going on, you know something isn’t right but then these moments when we actually see the creature, it’s so unexpected and so terrifying that it makes you jump. Not in the traditional sense of a jump scare, where the directors are manipulating you into feeling like everything’s okay and then jump, but quite literally because the thing is so scary.
Just hearing that cracking sound in the trailer puts me on edge…
The sound effects are such a great enhancement. Even when shooting the stuff on set, I was there to be able to observe the way they were capturing it. But even the way they captured it was scary and you add these elements afterwards that just amplify it, the sound effects and the oozing and the creaking. It just really seals the deal and makes it all work so well.
What challenges did you have in terms of making this film?
It was a lot of long days, or I should say long nights. That’s what made it challenging. There were a lot lot of practical effects, which can be quite time consuming. We had an amazing DP Connor Murphy who just captured the space so well and Mars who did the production design, just had these these beautiful sets, and the right lighting and the beautiful cinematography with these anamorphic lenses that they use. Sometimes that takes time and I think for an actor in this environment, it’s hard sometimes to just sort of jump in and jump out. Waiting for the things to get set up and go was oftentimes the hardest part of it. The joys of it were just shooting with this amazing cast and crew, everybody just seemed to enjoy themselves, whether it was one o’clock in the afternoon or four o’clock in the morning. There was one day where we shot literally for 24 hours and the Pierce Brothers were just as enthusiastic and energetic at hour 23 as they were at hour one.
How have you been spending time since we’ve been in lockdown? Are you finding it quite stifling or frustrating or have you been able to be creative in any way?
It’s an interesting mix of both. I have been able to be creative. I have a movie that I wrote called The Nothing so we’ve continued development on that. There’s another script that I started about a year ago that I’ve been able to continue with. I also teach a masterclass for professional actors and I’ve been able to continue that on Zoom. That’s been really great. Not to mention my wife has me on countless house projects and it’s great to be able to spend more time with the kids and to cook all these amazing meals together. That part of it actually has been pretty fantastic. It’s when I go out in the world and have to do something or go shopping or something like that. It’s just strange out there. It’s been a mixed bag. I guess part of it too is a little frustrating that this movie is supposed to have a nice release in theatres and now it’s going to be more VOD. The sort of silver lining is that IFC Midnight is doing this interesting campaign to try and get it in as many of the drive-in theatres around the country so that could actually be a really great spin for the movie.
I’d like to see this movie in a drive in actually, that’d be a good way to experience it…
I know! I think a bunch of the cast and crew are going to try and join forces and get over to this Mission Tiki in Montclair here in California and watch the movie Friday night when it opens May 1st.
It’s a difficult decision for film-makers at the moment whether to embrace streaming to get their film out or to push it back. Were there any conversations around pushing The Wretched back?
I think there was a point in which they thought everything would be reopened by May 1st. I feel like, and I haven’t been privy to all of those conversations, but come hell or high water they were opening May 1st whether it was going to get a release. Maybe it’ll get another release a little bit later for those people who really want to see it in a movie theatre, but I think it’s been full steam ahead since since May 1st was the date set.
I’m glad the film’s still coming out because as we said earlier the critics are loving it but also so are the horror fans that are getting to see it. What reactions have you seen from audiences?
It’s interesting. I think most people really love it, and especially the genre fans. There’s an interesting throwback feel to it as well. I think The Hollywood Reporter said it felt very reminiscent of some of those 80s horror films and they even made the Jaws reference, which I’ve always said it feels very much like the characters that develop throughout Jaws before you really get to the meat of of the story, which all takes place on the boat. I’ve heard really positive things and then there are some people that just absolutely hate it (laughs). I feel like it goes one way or the other; people either absolutely love it or people just don’t respond to it. I’m not really sure what that bent is because I feel like even if you’re not a horror buff, there’s so much in it that is interesting and intriguing and exciting to watch and unfold.
I couldn’t imagine watching this film and hating it…
I know! That’s what’s so weird to me. You read a couple of the reviews and it just seems like they have it out for The Pierce Brothers but that’s maybe two out of the 30 that have been written.
That’s amazing really, especially in horror…
Yeah, it really is. I think you just have to dismiss some of those because if it was kind of half and half, you’d go ‘well, there’s something there’. For the most part everybody seems to really enjoy it, and really enjoy it for different reasons, which is great too. Everybody’s got their own spin on what they think the movie is or what they think inspired it. A couple of bad reviews I think don’t mean anything to the movie because so many of them are so positive. It’s like when you’re taking notes on your project, whether it’s an edit or a script or a rewrite or something like that, if the same note keeps coming back then you have to address it but if 20 people love the thing, and two people say they don’t like something then it might not be an issue with the story itself.
Has this film given you a hunger to do more horror in the future?
You know it has. I have never been a horror genre buff but my son is. He’s introduced me to some really great movies. There were a couple that really hooked me Babadook and Let The Right One In. I just thought those were so fascinating. The Ring. I love The Sixth Sense but I feel like that fits more into the thriller genre, less about the horror. There’s something really exciting about building the suspense and building the thrill and building the horror. I think the best horror films are ones that have really strong character development because then you’re invested. That’s a really fun thing for me as an actor to do, is build the investment in the characters, build the relationships, build the trust and then break it and get the audience so invested in the characters that they really care about what happens to them. They care about when they do something wrong. They get upset when they do something out of character. That to me is really fun.
The Wretched is released on 1st May 2020 by IFC Midnight. Watch the trailer for the film below: