After battling a flesh eating virus in Eli Roth?s Cabin Fever Rider Strong has come out as a smart-mouthed, post-apocolyptic survivor and a human sacrifice starring in two of the 2008 After Dark Horrorfest titles, Tooth and Nail and Borderland.
We caught up with Strong on the brink of tomorrow?s DVD release of Tooth and Nail about post-apocolyptic survivors living in a hospital to avoid a cannibal-ridden world and Borderland, the story of a nerdy tourist who tries to party with a few friends and ends up having to escape a human-sacrifice cult. And we couldn?t let Strong get away without giving us the latest on his upcoming projects, including the anticipated gore-fest Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever directed by Ti West.
Could you sum up your role in Tooth and Nail in one sentence or less for those who haven?t seen the film?
In Tooth and Nail I play a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world. My character name is Ford and I?I?m supposed to do this in one sentence aren?t I? [Laughs] God?Well then, he?s the impulsive guy who turns out to be correct in a lot of ways.
In Tooth and Nail Ford is very impulsive and headstrong but in Borderland your character is much more careful and submissive?
Nerd. He?s a nerd. You can just call him a nerd. [Laughs] He?s about as geeky as can be.
When I read the script [for Borderland] I thought wow he could be so predictable in a lot of ways. He?s a virgin and the one time he tries to party hard it just backfires so I wanted to make sure that his nerdy-ness wasn?t too on the nose. [Laughs] In the way he dresses and the awful haircut I wanted to make sure it was at least someone who was trying to be cool. He may not be succeeding but he?s at least trying to be hip in some version of his world.
With those two roles being so different what actually attracted you to them?
Well they were filmed pretty far apart. In some ways by the time I went to go play Ford I would have been wrong for the part of Phil [in Borderland]. I was already looking a bit older. But I was sort of done playing victim types after Cabin Fever and Borderland.
So you actually shot in Philadelphia for Tooth and Nail?
Yeah we shot it in an abandoned hospital in Philly. We had this entire hospital to ourselves and it was just the creepiest place imaginable.
You know FEARnet is actually headquartered in Philly?
Really? Well my mom is actually from Philly but from the suburbs. So when we came to the city that?s where we would go. I had never actually gone out around there but during filming they put us up right in the heart of the city and it?s just great.
I think location came first in that movie. They had this great hospital that the Philly Film Commission set up and the [crew] said what can we do with it? And Mark, the director just said well, we can do some apocalyptic thing. And it was really fun.
And after non-horror but Philly-based Boy Meets World I guess it was interesting to actually come to the city?
You know I was recognized so much more out in Philly than anywhere else. Most people don?t even know the show was supposed to be in Philly, but people from Philly do. They pick up on the subtlties of the sports teams. I?d go out to a bar and everyone would know who I was.
You guys were sort of confined to small area of the hospital; did you have a favorite memory from being on set?
Well, I fell in love with my girlfriend on the set of Tooth and Nail. Her name is Alexandra Barreto and she actually plays my girlfriend in the movie. We had actually done a show together before, Pepper Dennis for the WB. So when Tooth and Nail came up they were asking if I knew of any actresses, so we brought her along. And then of course it worked in my favor because we fell in love during the course of filming.
In both Tooth and Nail and Borderland, the characters are both sort of trapped trying to escape. In Borderland Phil is very aggressive and manipulative while Ford in Tooth and Nail is sort of sneaky attempting to escape quietly in the middle of the night. What escape route do you think you personally would take?
Wow, well in Borderland, it?s so psychological. While he feels physically trapped his only way out is to sort of convince Randall to let him out. That would probably be the escape route that I would have gone. But wow, what if I had cannibals after me? I think probably what I argued for in the movie. I would have stood and fought. I would have took on the theme of the movie, that banding together in stress is better than splitting off, which is what we end up doing and getting killed for it. Both don?t work in either movie, but I think that if I were doing it, it would?
So you have Cabin Fever 2 coming up soon. Years ago when you filmed Cabin Fever did you ever think you?d be coming back for a sequel?
Not at all. Not at all? Cabin Fever was such a fluke. We were just hoping that it would play at some festival somewhere until Lionsgate picked it up and had such a great run with that movie which is obviously because of Eli Roth and his accomplishments with the film. It wasn?t until we finished filming and premiered at Toronto that Eli (Roth) started talking about sequels. It changed so much, he had 10 different sequel ideas that he was always talking about. In the end, he really wasn?t that involved and was just a producer on the second one. But I think it?s in his style.
Anything really exciting that you can tell fans to watch out for?
In general, the first movie walks such a fine line between comedy and horror, and I think that people fall on one side or the other. With the sequel I think they?ll probably end up more towards over-the-top comedy. Like all sequels, it had to get bigger, so rather than buckets of blood there were a thousand buckets of blood. In general it?s just going to be more. So if you thought the first one was funny, then the sequel is going to be hysterical. If you thought the first one was a straight horror film, I think you?ll find that the second one is much more of a gorefest; an over-the-top gorefest horror film because it just pushes the envelope.
So I guess there were a ton of differences in working with Ti West on this film as opposed to Eli Roth on the first?
They are very different in terms of directing styles. Ti will grab the camera himself and Eli used lots of planned shots and longer takes. Ti was much more free. Cabin Fever was Eli?s first movie and Ti has already made a couple films. He?s got that low-budget style down. But I think they?re both sort of crazy. They?re crazy in different ways, but they?re both pretty insane people and they?re both motor-mouths which I thought was pretty funny. Non-stop talkers and planners always discussing things and sharing their ideas. I think that?s the mark of a great director.
Anything else coming up?
I wrote and directed with my brother, a short film. So we are going to be premiering it at the Tribeca Film Festival. Technically we aren?t supposed to announce it for a couple of days but it will be announced by Tribeca and will be playing at the end of April, our movie Irish Twins.
I?m sort of moving into the writing/directing realm with my brother. We?ve worked together forever but this is our first big project that we?re working on. We?re really proud of that.
What is your biggest fear?
Bears. I have a pathological fear of bears. I?ve traced it back to these movies that I watched as a kid. They were kid films but they sort of became horror films for me. They?re the Wilderness Family films. The first one ends with a grizzly bear attacking the family. I identified with this movie so strongly because I had hippie parents and we built our own house in the woods. We didn?t have bears where I grew up but I was so terrified because of the movies. When I go backpacking everyone will be sleeping and I?ll be wide awake because of bears. [Laughs]
Well at least you?ve identified where your fear has come from?
Yeah I mean I know it?s because of those movies. Because the reality is, if you see a bear you sort of yell at it and it runs away. But I have this image of very vicious bears attacking a family because of some dumb kid?s movie.