In his time off from the ongoing Twilight series, Jackson Rathbone decided to dive right into a film about the nature of fear itself: Dread, based on the Book of Blood short story by horror-fantasy author Clive Barker. In the film, adapted and directed by Anthoni DiBlasi, Rathbone plays Stephen, a mild-mannered film student who gets caught up in a classmate's study of fear -- a project that takes an unexpectedly dark and disturbing turn.
FEARnet spoke with Rathbone by phone as he was preparing to play New Orleans with his band, 100 Monkeys, with whom he'll be touring right up to the start of his promo duties for June's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. (Read our Eclipse-focused chat with Rathbone here) Rathbone discussed his reasons for taking on the part in the gory psychological thriller -- including the behind-the-scenes story of his brush with a live maggot, partially documented on the Dread DVD, out this week -- and how the disparate worlds of Dread and Twilight both fit into his multi-faceted career.
Rathbone also recalled his challenging guest spot on Criminal Minds as a killer with multiple personality disorder and spoke about fight training for M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender, his upcoming fantasy-action film. Dallas fans can catch Rathbone in person on April 24, when he appears with 100 Monkeys at the Spencer Bell Legacy Concert in memory of his late friend, Spencer Bell, whose posthumously-released song Beautiful, More So also marks Rathbone's music video directing debut.
Dread is out on DVD this week as part of the After Dark Horrorfest.
FEARnet: How's the tour going, and where are you right now? Do you get pulled back from time to time to do press for films like Dread and the upcoming Twilight film, Eclipse?
Jackson Rathbone: We just got into New Orleans, which is nice because my mom was born and raised here. Well, basically I kind of go back and forth; sometimes we have driving days and literally I'll have one day where I fly back and do some promos. So I can keep both up at the same time. It's fun… I'm always in motion.
What was it about the script for Dread that hooked you and made you want to be a part of it?
I've always been fascinated by Clive Barker's dark, Gothic world, and I was a fan of the Hellraiser series when I was growing up. When I got the script, I was told it involved his short story so I read them both and I thought, this is much more of a personalized, humanized version of these dark tales that Clive Barker likes to tell. I really liked it because it was something that could happen in real life -- the derangement of a character like Quaid [played by Shaun Evans]-- that was something that was grounded in reality, and I really liked that aspect of it. I was kind of on the fence, so I gave it to a friend of mine to read and he got through all of it, and at the end he was like, oh man, I almost vomited toward the end. That's when I knew I had to do it.
What was it that you think brought him to that crucial vomiting point?
I think it was the realistic element of the ending, really. I don't want to give away or spoil the ending, but the realistic, visceral imagery of what Anthony was able to pull out of a short story and turn into a full length feature script -- it's one of those things, I have such a strong imagination whenever I read a script, I can visualize things pretty well. A lot of my friends are like that too because they're artists.
In the DVD special features for Dread, there's a behind the scenes moment where we see you eat a maggot. Please tell us there's a good reason for why that happened?
[Laughs] That was kind of a dare; I don't know if they got the entire scene on camera, but you know… In the beginning of Dread, Stephen's only friend is a crow. There are a couple of scenes that I don't think made it into the final cut where I feed the crow little maggots.
So these maggots were on set the whole time, especially towards the end, and people were always joking with one another, "You have to eat a maggot!" They're full of protein, they're actually not that bad for you. So Anthony DiBlasi was holding one out, and I happened to be covered in blood and it had been a long day, and somebody asked me to eat the maggot -- so I did!
The funniest thing about that is that someone's already posted that clip to the 100 Monkeys message board under the title, "Sexiest Jackson Moments…"
You're kidding me! Wow. I'll take it!
How familiar were you with Clive Barker's work beforehand, and did you ever get the chance to meet with him at any point during production?
I never got the chance to meet Clive. I was running and gunning, shooting that film; I was up there for 28 days, I believe, and worked every day. I don't think I had a single day off. So I never got to meet him, but I really wanted to. I'm extremely jealous of Anthony, who got to meet with him a lot. He's worked with Clive in a producer capacity several times, and then he was able to adapt this short story into a feature. I thought he did an amazing job with it, I love the slight changes and how he expanded upon his ideas to lengthen it out and make it a full length story.
One Barker-esque element that is hinted at early on in Dread is the subtle sexual subtext between Stephen and Quaid, especially as horror and sexuality can often be quite intertwined. Is that tension something that was present in your mind or discussed beforehand?
I'd definitely say that horror films are the best kinds of films to take a date to. You get a little scared, you get a little closer. But in terms of filming, there were only a couple of scenes that seemed to me to have a slight sexuality, especially when Quaid is sort of laying out his idea for this project and he's in the shower while Stephen's outside the shower. I think that was one of those first moments, for Stephen, where he's thinking, "This guy's kind of weird." And of course, after the club and all the things that go down in the house afterwards, there's definitely a sexual [vibe] there. But I don't think it's too homoerotic. It's more a subtlety of these two guys becoming friends and testing the , which is always kind of weird.
Dread does have its gory moments, but it's much more a deeply psychological thriller than a straight out blood-fest -- and that seems to be what makes it all the more disturbing, doesn't it?
I definitely agree. You know, it's hard for me to classify Dread as a horror film; it does have horrific elements, but horror to me has always had more of a fantastical element - movies with monsters, or films like Friday the13th or Halloween. As opposed to this, which I think of more as a psychological thriller; it's much more about testing the limits of your mind and your psyche, exploring the darker side.
On the subject of fear, what's the first movie that ever scared you?
The first movie that ever scared me was Poltergeist. I watched it when I was about ten, my older sisters made me watch it. Freaked me out for two or three days. I couldn't sleep at all, I was scared of my own shadow… that was definitely the first movie that ever did it for me in the horror genre, and it freaked me the hell out. My parents got real mad at my older sisters for that one.
Dread is a film more in the traditional horror realm than perhaps Twilight is, but do you see much of an overlap between those two worlds?
I don't know… I've always been varied in terms of the art I like to create; I'm a musician, I'm an actor, I write, I just directed my first music video for one of Spencer Bell's songs called "Beautiful, More So," and I also have the same degree of varied taste in art. So it depends on your taste, really. But they are very different films. [Laughs] Twilight's more of a romantic action film, and Dread's more of a psychological thriller. The two are very different, but that's also how I've managed my career, through very different mediums and different characters, as much as I can. It lets me spread my wings as an actor and try on different shoes for a little while.
At the beginning of Dread, Stephen meets Quaid as a stranger in a darkened alley. Have you had any similarly fateful, random, life-changing meetings in strange places yourself?
Well, I don't have too many life-changing experiences in dark alleys, I've got to admit. [Laughs] But I was fortunate enough to go to a high school called Interlochen Arts Academy, and we had halls in the dorms that we lived in, and I lived down the hall from two guys who eventually became my best friends later in life. One of them was Spencer Bell, who I met as I was blaring some Primitive Radio Gods. I don't know if you know that band, but it's a fairly obscure band from back in the '90s. And Spencer came by and said, "Hey man, are you playing Primitive Radio Gods? Hell yeah, I love that band!" We kind of became friends through music.
That was about ten years ago; Spencer passed away about three and a half years ago from adrenal cancer. Spencer and I had always written and played music for each other, sending it back and forth when he was living in New York and I was living out in Los Angeles. Spencer formed a couple of bands, and then he passed away and his CD was released posthumously. So now we're working with his father, Bill Bell, and his other band members from The Stevedores, to release his albums posthumously. We're about to release the third one, and we're supporting it with the Spencer Bell Legacy Foundation which is coming up in Dallas, Texas, on April 24. There will be performances by Spencer's other band mates from bands he's been in since he was 15, and a record release of his new album that we put out. So I hope people come check that out. You can go to ASCCNow.com, which is Artists Supporting a Cure for Cancer Now, or SpencerBellMemorial.com. There's some amazing music that he was making that never got a chance to see the light of day until he passed away. That changed my life.
Tell us about your guest spot on Criminal Minds, which may have been a surprising role for some fans see you in.
That was one of the roles that I, to use a vampire pun, loved sinking my teeth into. I just love playing characters that are really out there. That was a hard role; I got to work with [actor-director] Jason Alexander, who's incredible to work with as an actor because he is an actor and he understands the difficulty in trying to play extreme characters as honestly as possible. I had a great time working on that set. I got to work with Matthew Gray Gubler a lot - he's one of the coolest guys I've met so far.
Right after The Twilight Saga: Eclipse premieres (June 30), you've got a prominent role in M. Night Shyamalan's epic-scale fantasy film The Last Airbender (July 2). What kind of fun did you get to have on that set?
M. Night Shyamalan brought it to life; it's the first film he hasn't completely come up with from scratch. It's pretty cool, it's going to be an amazing action movie for families. It's an amazing fantasy realm. I was stoked to be a part of it, I got to do like three months of kung fu training.
What forms of fighting did you train in?
It was a lot of different forms, kind of a crash course. I learned power fist form and they taught me a lot of grappling techniques and holds, it was basically a run-through of many forms. I will say that my kicks are terrible. I don't kick so well. I'm pretty good with my hands and my hand-to-hand combat, but foot-to-foot? Not so good.
Do you get to use your character's signature sword in this as well?
Not yet. Right now it's still the first series, so he's rocking a boomerang.
Lastly, what do you get to call M. Night Shyamalan on set? M? Night? Mr. Shyamalan?
Night. I call him Night. I wondered that, too. He's an amazingly cool guy. It's great to get to work with someone who I've respected for years.