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Exclusive: AJ Bowen is 'Among Friends'

Full disclosure – AJ Bowen is a good friend of mine. I've interviewed him several times through out the years; first for Fangoria on his feature films The Signal and then The House Of The Devil and later for Massive Hysteria (Icons Of Fright's sister site) for both A Horrible Way To Die and Hatchet 2. So while on set for Among Friends, I knew I wanted to focus primarily on interviews with the other cast members as I knew I'd be able to talk with AJ at great length after the production wrapped.

A few days later, AJ and I met up at a local pub where he graciously purchased me several beers. (OK, maybe it was just two.) Having been somewhat lightheaded by the time I clicked my tape recorder on (hey, I didn't eat anything all day, alright?), he insisted that I transcribe every last word of our interaction, otherwise he'd walk out on the interview. The journalist in me had to comply for the better of the story (naturally), so below are the unedited results of our chat. You have been warned.

Okay, so Amongst Friends

No, it's not Amongst Friends. It's Among Friends. Two and a quarter beers into the day and Rob's already done.

Maybe I'm really tired and have had a stressful week. Can you please make my job easy for me, please?

Oh… I'm sorry that you had a stressful week.

Okay, so how'd you get involved in Among Friends? Because obviously you're friends with Danielle…

Oh cool, so you're just going to answer my questions for me, huh? I don't need to answer them.

Oh come on. Didn't she con you into agreeing to do this film?

Con me? Okay, I want an agreement from you right now. If I do this interview with you like this right now, that you promise you're going to transcribe this entire thing word for word, including the garbage that's coming out of your mouth. If you edit this in any way, shape or form, I know where you live and I will leave you an upper decker.

Wow. Fine, fine.

So are we agreed? You're going to leave all of this in? Unabridged? 

Yes, yes. Fine. Just answer already. How'd you get involved with Among Friends?

Well, Rob… I did a movie called Hatchet II. And during that I got to know Danielle Harris and we became friends, fell in love and we've seen each other through traveling to promote that movie. It's been mentioned before, but the horror group is a pretty small tight-knit community. So we started hanging out and we both had the good fortune of doing a decent amount of work in the last year or so since we did Hatchet II but for both of us it's mostly been on the road. When you're on the road as an actor shooting a movie, you keep really odd hours, there's nobody to talk to, and so you find each other that way. Danielle would be up at three in the morning and I would too, so we'd text and keep each other company while working. We both have been there for each other over the last couple of years and she's become a very dear friend to me. Personally for me it's incredibly beneficial to be friends with someone who is primarily an actor and who's been doing it for 27 years because I can ask her any question about what I'm going through and she's experienced it already and can answer it so she's very good in terms of being a guiding voice for me. She's a really good person. And somehow working in this industry for three decades, it's not created an ugly monster as it could. She's great, she's regular people. Regarding Among Friends, she did slightly con me. She may argue this point but I have the emails to back it up. She asked me to do a short for her because her and I had already done a short together for Michael Rosenbaum. She called me and said she had a short she was going to direct, asked me if I'd do it and of course I said yes. Send me the script. Before I can read it, I said I'd do it as long as I didn't have to rape any girls. She said, "oh, it'll be tastefully done." And I thought she was joking. So I got the script for the short and it was 87 pages long and I called her and said, "this is the longest short I've ever seen. How much of this do you intend to shoot?" "Oh," she said, "all of it! Yeah, we're going to shoot it in a short period of time." So, you're really making a feature? "Yeahhh." Even if I didn't want to do it, I was already committed at that point. But I did want to do it. I had not really ever been directed by an actor. The script was a mix between the original Prom Night and Clue and Happy Birthday To Me, and it had genre elements to it, but it's at least half comedy. It's about a group of old friends that get dolled up for an 80's prom themed mystery dinner, so they go to their friends' house and things go dramatically wrong from there. In terms of getting to do that movie, it's the only time I ever worked on something where the other actors in the movie are dealing with exactly the same thing as I am. Most of us found ourselves in the same predicament, plot-wise and structurally. It was really informative for me to see how other approaches work, because there were about eight of us and I could see the other seven processing the information and how they got their performance, which were all very different from each other. It helped me understand how to work with an ensemble.

Who's the character you play and how does he fit into the overall story?

I play Adam, which is easily the most important character of the movie.

Naturally. [Laughs]

 [Laughs] No, I play one half of a pair of siblings. My sister is played by Brianne Davis. And I'm sort of the nerdy, goofball, funny guy. When I read it, I thought it was incredibly emasculating. I asked Danielle why she thought of me for this and she said, "oh I just want you to do something that's like you, the AJ that I know!" I was like, "what?" Fuck you!" It was an opportunity to play something that was gregarious and wasn't hitting women all the time (like in my previous films) and who got to be weak and vulnerable and human in different ways that I've gotten to experience as a performer before. So in that regard, Danielle let us go a lot with freedom of dialogue and improv and trying to create real moments between the characters and we all did to bring a bit of ourselves into it, more so than on any other film I've done. 

Alyssa Lobit was the writer on this and she also starred in it as well as produced it. Compared to the previous work you'd done, was it beneficial to have the writer of the script there on set to talk to?

I've had that experience before, but it was incredibly beneficial in this film because Alyssa's a great person and since she's also an actor, it was easy to both bring questions up as well as defer to her with questions. I'd ask, "hey, I was thinking about doing this. You know better than me. Would that work?" It created a much quicker, more efficient way of communicating together. In terms of storytelling when you're trying to get an ensemble of actors together and you're trying to tell a story in 90 minutes worth of time, that's so helpful to have Alyssa there. She's a really talented performer and it was great to get to play scenes together knowing that the writer is in there, so she would let that hat go when she was performing. It's a real heavy load she had to lift for this one, not only writing and producing, but playing essentially the lead role. She had to tear through a lot of dialogue, which by the way is all her fault for writing it. (Laughs) But she did great. You and I have spoken about this – full disclosure, Rob and I are friends. I was in a place creatively before I made that movie where I was feeling tapped out professionally and was feeling a little disillusioned. I'd been in a world of film for the last couple of years where there wasn't a lot of fun and I was trying to rediscover my joy of cinema and so it happened at exactly the right time when I needed it to. This was the first movie I made sober, so I had a lot of my own personal shit that I brought to the table. And having Alyssa – I could give you a list of everyone's name. Having every single one of them there was sort of like being a kid and going off to summer camp. I got to go hang out with these people that are all working, that have all been working for years, that are really good fun people to be around. So my job was to go play with new friends every day and a couple of old friends. And knowing that Danielle was steering the ship made it a really safe environment to do truly absurd things. We spent most of the time having to do additional takes because we were cracking each other up. For me, getting to do Among Friends really helped me turn a corner and helped me rediscover why we all get into this in the first place. Its hard work, but you do something like that and you see how much fun it is, it sort of reminds you of being a kid, staying up late and watching movies on USA Up All Night, eating pizza. That's what that work experience was for me.

Hmm… what else was I going to ask you about…

I had a wonderful sex scene, thank you for asking. 

Really? Who with?

I can't tell you, that's spoilers, bro! All I can tell you is myself and Jennifer [Blanc-Biehn] and one of the other male characters in the movie had a wonderful time. I can't talk about it, it was among one of the first things we did, but I'll tell you, it was a hell of a way to break the ice. 

Can you talk about Danielle as a director? She directed the short film "Madison" and you guys did the short with Rosenbaum.

Well two fold – 1 – she understands actors. That's helpful because she knows how to communicate because lots of times directors will decide (and even more so if they also wrote it) that it's either their way or the highway. They're not open to interpretation which is really I think is the purpose of making a movie collaboratively. A movie has many lives. The first on the page when you're first reading it. One when you're casting it, another when you're shooting it and you feel the group dynamic. And Danielle is acutely aware of that and was able to cultivate a safe environment to explore new ideas that were on the page and also subtext in the moment. The other part is that she is one of my closest friends, so I can assure you I heard about it instantly if something didn't pass muster. [Laughs] I'd hear from the next room this petite ballsy woman scream at me. She's an assertive woman. I like assertive strong women so I had no problem working with her. It's one of those things where I trust her, and I don't always trust director's that I work with, but I trust her. I knew that she was going to move the story forward as a director so I would do my thing unless I heard from her, she would come tell me if she wanted something different. She knew what she was getting into. There is the other element where she is my friend. I hope she felt safe being critical and hard on me. We pretty much want to figure out how to make a movie a year together. I would say that about almost all the people that I worked with. If I could find a way to be in another movie with the ladies of Among Friends, the dudes maybe, I guess they could show up. But I prefer to spend as much time as possible with the ladies of Among Friends

What stands out about the experience?

I can't give you a specific instance but I can give you a specific feeling. There was a day when an actor who hadn't been around us after most of the cast had come in. I felt bad for them because they had a tough time gelling. I realized then that we had all become really close really quickly. I say close, but when you're working on a movie you get to know people intimately at an exponential rate compared to the real world. And for a long time, I thought that was fake and not genuine. But having done it now for several years I realize that's sort of how you have to get to know one another. The reason I say a specific feeling is because most of the movie takes place around one table. And we're all sitting, tied up stuck at this table together. So the entire two week process was me looking across and around and being close to all these people going through the same thing together and getting to watch each of their performances whenever the coverage would switch around. I was very bummed out when it had to end, because I made some really good friends. You're lucky if you can find one person you want to work with again while you're making a movie just because of the nature of it. With Among Friends, I miss all of them. I really look forward to working with any of them again and being around them again, because they're all good people. And my hope is that it translates to the final film, because it was really a special environment and it was an actor's playground to be around all these people day in and day out. I just wish we could've done it for much longer. Wish we had James Cameron money, where we could spend two years making the movie, sitting around a dinner table for two years. [Laughs] My Dinner With Andre for the horror crowd. There's always room for a sequel.

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