Actor A.J. Bowen has won deserved praise from horror fans for his unsettling turns in House of the Devil and A Horrible Way to Die. But in the actor’s latest project, he plays (as he explains in the following interview), the least creepy person in the film. Read on to find out what Bowen had to tell me about his role in Padraig Reynolds’ cross-genre kidnapping tale turned supernatural thriller, as well as his next film, the holiday fright fest Silent Night of the Living Dead.
Rites of Spring has an unusual rhythm in that it begins as a gritty realistic drama and becomes more of a supernatural thriller as it progresses. Is that part of what attracted you to it?
I was in the middle of making another movie called A Horrible Way to Die, and I was almost done with that when an email from my friend Ti [West], whose manager John Norris, who was producing this movie, Rites of Spring. He told me that one of his clients was directing it, and would I have an interest in it. He sent me the script, and I read it, and was immediately drawn to it because… I kind of lived in this indie arthouse world for a couple of years. And I loved being in that world, but sometimes it can get exhausting, because these films are either self-aware or you can end up treating yourself and your content way too precious. And become too self-absorbed with your own sense of important. When I read this script for Rites of Spring, it reminded me of the first Wrong Turn. When that came out theatrically I loved it, because it was so straightforward. It wasn’t winking at the audience in any way. It was lean, I think it was seventy, eighty minutes long. It was in and out, and I really liked that about Rites of Spring. Because tonally it was similar. It was structurally not dissimilar from Dust Till Dawn or one of those other movies that are sort of like a genre mash-up, but it wasn’t a comedy, and it took its subject seriously. It was more like that Bronson movie Ten to Midnight, where you’ve got a Charles Bronson movie and it also mixes with a slasher movie. I really liked that element to it, and like I said, I’d done a few movies where I played a bad guy, and I was getting tired of doing that. I was really tired of choking women out. I know they were paying me, but I was like, “I’d really like to stop doing this.” So when Patrick told me he wanted to play the part in Rites of Spring when he did, and I looked at him, I was like, “I don’t have to choke any women out? I don’t have to stab any girls? Righteous! Yeah, I’d down.” That’s how I ended up getting involved with it.
You’re working here with an actress with whom you worked in The Signal, Anessa Ramsey...
Yeah, right before it became official we were doing it, when Patrick told me he was trying to see if he could get Anessa for the movie, I was like, “Anessa Ramsey? Hold on. I’ll call her.” I got off the phone and I called her and told her, “If you’re thinking about not doing this movie, I’ll hurt you. You gotta do this.” Because we hadn’t gotten to act together since The Signal, and we’d been friends for years. So it was cool to do a movie together, as actors, where I’m not trying to chase her down.
It was interesting, because she had one part of the movie, and I was in the other part. Then when we run into each other it becomes the third part. So it was cool to be holding down separate parts and then entangling those together.
How would you describe your role in Rites of Spring?
[Laughs.] How did I describe him to Patrick… “Sad guy that frowns a lot,” I think. I thought it was an interesting sort of character, because it was a guy who was sort of emasculated, and had not really taken control of his own life, was a passive character in his own story. Seeing how easily that can lead to tough situations… beyond the whole creature feature element of it. I was really trying to key into playing a guy who looked up and found himself involved in this kidnapping that he had no intention of getting to this point So he kind of looked up and painted himself into a corner, that he couldn’t get himself out of. Then quite literally a monster comes in and kind of reshuffles the deck. He doesn’t have a lot of time, but that moment for him puts him in a situation to try to take control of what’s going on the best that he can for himself, to try and right the situation he got into. For me, it was keying into the character of the little girl in the movie, that represented that sense of hope that was gone from the guy. So keying into the girl and spending time around that girl really humanized him. I probably scared the little girl who was the actress in the movie, because I wanted to hang out with her a lot. I was like, “See, I’m not a creepy guy. We can be friends. It’s gonna be okay. I gotta put this thing back in your mouth now, but it’s no big deal.”
I saw some review of the movie that hadn’t actually seen the movie, that was talking about creepy I am. I put on Twitter yesterday, “Hey, look, if I’m creepy in Rites of Spring than I really fucked up. Because that is not what I was supposed to be. Apologies.” I’m probably the only non-creepy person in the movie, except for Anessa, but she’s creepy for different reasons, because she’s so petite.
You have another film of interest in the pipeline – Silent Night of the Living Dead. The name alone would seem to make it a hit with horror fans.
[Laughs.] Paul Davis, the director of it, we’ve been friends for years, and I loved his documentary on American Werewof, and he told me “This movie, I’m gonna direct it. Do you have any interest in doing it?” I asked him what it was called and he told me and I said yes immediately. Because I have this weird… I have pretty much every Christmas-themed horror movie ever made, on VHS Laserdisc, DVD. So when he told me about Silent Night of the Living Dead, I said “Wait, I get to be in a Christmas-themed horror movie? Yeah, I’m in. Completely.” Then he told me Tom Savini was going to play my dad, and I was like, “I guess that’s alright. I mean, I don’t know who he is or if he’s done anything of any value, but I guess I’ll work with him.” [Laughs.] Then just hearing how they were going to shoot outside of London, I was like, “I absolutely have to do this movie.” We’re shooting it at the end of this year, the beginning of next year. It’s been punishment for me, because I’d known about it for over six months, because when he first asked me I thought I was saying yes to then going and getting on a plane. I was like, “Oh, you English dudes talk about it and then you actually do it. American-style, I find out about it and six hours later I’m on set. I don’t know how people who actually plan things get things done. But yeah, it’s gonna be pretty cool. The script’s great. James Moran wrote it, who wrote Severanace. I love it. For me selfishly it’s an opportunity to play a very different type role than most people have seen me do, so I’m really stoked about it.