Exclusive Clip, Q&A: Shane Johnson on “THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING”
In horror, it seems films which deal with skeptics and their various supernatural comeuppances are too few and far between. After all, genre fans love some karmic justice, which is what David Jung’s THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING delivers alongside enough genuine scares to keep you jumping in your seat. With only 24 hours before FANGORIA hosts the first of four advanced screenings in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Austin, we debut an exclusive clip and speak to Michael King himself, actor Shane Johnson, about embodying the titular skeptic and the measures he took to bring the character to life.
FANGORIA: How did you get involved in a project such as THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING?
SHANE JOHNSON: Well, there are so many genre scripts floating around that people are trying to make, but what attracted me to the project in particular initially was the character. I fell in love with this guy and the journey of this character. This was a script that was getting a lot of attention in town. Again, there’s so many scripts in this world that not many stand out, and THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING really did.
The film had a really well crafted journey for the hero, and it’s funny because I spoke to the writer/director, David Jung, about the Joseph Campbell hero element. He just said, “What are you talking about?” So for him, it was just his natural storytelling ability; he didn’t have any special way of approaching it.
FANG: Was there anything about the character of Michael King that specifically spoke to you or that you wanted to bring to life?
JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, he’s a father and I’m a father, so I could relate to what he is going through. I haven’t lost my wife or anything like that, but putting myself into the position of someone who is searching for meaning with what’s going on with him and where he is in life. I think his position is something we can all relate to on different points, and there were points when making this movie where something like that was real for me.
It was so easy making this movie because I’d go home and deal with my kids before I’d get on set where I’d believe in the situation Michael King was in. I’d find myself floundering, because that’s likely what I would do in reality. It was easy for me to associate with the character.
I also love the idea of him questioning the supernatural and using himself as the testing ground. That whole concept is exciting to me because it’s usually, “Oh, we moved into this old house and it’s haunted,” or, “We used a ouija board,” or whatever. Those conventions are used a lot, but in this film, it’s more like, “C’mon, this is BS. It’s all BS. It’s all just used to make money off of people. Psychics, mediums, necromancy, all that stuff is just nonsense.” Since he has that belief, that’s something I can hold on to and that’s an angle that I love.
FANG: Inversely, was there anything not on the page that you wanted to bring to the character of Michael King?
JOHNSON: Well, one of the things that occurred to me was that it’s important for the audience to appreciate who this character is. So I think what I brought to the project was Michael’s sense of humor. It wasn’t necessarily missing from the character, but it wasn’t explicitly there either.
So I wanted to add some flippancy to him so that he’s the kind of guy you’d want to hang out and have a beer with, at least until stuff goes south. But with Michael King, you need to get on the rollercoaster before you take the ride. So I wanted to inject some humor, for sure, into the film, so that once we start the journey, you give a shit.
FANG: Your character goes through quite a journey from skepticism to in the midst of the supernatural, and not every horror protagonist has that experience. Did you find that beneficial as an actor to have that experience on a genre film?
JOHNSON: Yeah. I try not to do anything as an actor if I can’t comprehend it. By that, I mean I don’t want to say anything unless I know what I’m saying, and I don’t want to do anything if I don’t know what it’s all about. So I did a lot of research into the different areas that the film goes into.
For instance, there’s a scene where Michael King goes on a DMT trip, and as embarassing as it was to admit, I didn’t know what DMT was. I didn’t know what that trip was like. It would have been really cool to have bought DMT and took a trip for the movie; just kidding, I wouldn’t do that. But I did do a bunch of research into that so I could understand it. I basically watched other people having DMT trips so that I could say, “Oh, I know what that is now.”
The same thing applies to necromancy and being inhabited by spirits. I said, “Let me see what this is really about instead of just taking in the cultural knock-off B.S.” You can spend an hour on the web checking stuff out about these subjects and what you’ll find will blow your mind. There is a lot of stuff out there that’s really scary and not hard to find. So opening that world for me made it easier as an actor and a human being to experience those things. To me, it wasn’t about re-enacting what I saw; it was to experience it. I feel that if I experience it as a person, you can experience it as an audience.
FANG: Since your character experiences a lot of these events himself, it appears that you went through a lot of practical effects work for THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING. As an actor, what was it like to go through the effects work on a horror project like this?
JOHNSON: Well, whenever we practically did a special effect or a stunt, it made it easier to be believed, you know? And when an audience can see that, it’s more tangible. I would say for THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING, 95% of what we did was practical. There are small digital effects here and there, but they’re pretty minor and really in about only 2 or 3 scenes. Everything else was achieved practically.
I think people who have seen the movie are surprised that during the ant scene, those are almost all real ants. I think maybe 2% of them were digital but 98% of those ants were absolutely real. They found a guy who breeds ants and he had these massive ants that you could surf on. So he brought thousands of them and for films, he puts them briefly in a freezer because it slows them down. Otherwise, they’re too fast, so by getting them cold, they slow down for whatever reason. So they’d be constantly pulling ants out of the fridge and they’d crawl on me, and then I’d hear, “Action!”
The ants were pretty awesome. They did what they were told, even though they’re obviously not trained. They did manage to do some pretty creepy things, like crawl in my ear and stuff like that.
FANG: I know the character of Michael King is a hardened skeptic, but in terms of your own personal beliefs, did you believe in the supernatural at all before boarding or during the project?
JOHNSON: Well, I’ve had a couple things happen to me that were pretty creepy. It’s stuff that made me question and doubt the situation and I tried not thinking too much about it. After the first audition, I went back one more time for the director and producer for the most grueling audition I’ve ever had. I was in the room for 90 minutes from which I came out sweating. But I also felt great, since it was really rewarding and I felt like I let it all out in the room.
So about an hour goes by and my lower back goes out, so suddenly I can barely walk. I’m now hobbling around like a 95-year-old, so I go to the chiropractor. She tells me that one of my bones is in my pelvis and in a wrong direction. And this is where, if you think about the movie, you’ll think, “Oh God, this is messed up.” But she says, “You know what I think will be good for you? Take thirty minutes a day and just crawl. Crawl around your house on all fours.”
So immediately, my mind goes to the movie and the scene where the demon is telling me to crawl. There were a couple of other situations that happened that were similar to that where I just felt scared. Here I am, 36 years old, and I’m just scared but knowing I had no choice. I knew with THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING, I committed to the performance, I’ve got to make it happen and I have to make it real for me so that it feels real for everybody else. By putting myself in that position, where I’m researching the occult and I’m summoning the devil, I’m actually saying the lines and looking in the mirror, and I realize I look different and I start to question the shadows around me. It’s pretty scary.
FANG: One thing I find interesting about this project is that so often in the possession subgenre, the person being possessed is usually a woman or a child whereas THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING follows a full-grown man as the victim of demonic possession. Did that gender twist ever influence your performance in any way considering the research you were doing into actual supernatural cases?
JOHNSON: I actually never really thought about that. I mean, no one’s ever offered for me to play the female lead in anything yet [laughs]. But now that you ask the question, I know that it’s not right but a lot of people in our culture think, “Oh, if someone is going to play the victim of a crime or a predator, it’s more apt to be a woman.” That’s something we hear all the time in our culture, and even though this is a bit off topic, but that same way of thinking goes for domestic abuse. People say that women are the only ones being domestically abused, but more and more in our culture, we’re learning that’s not entirely true. It’s just in the case of a man being abused, they tend not to report it.
My point there is that we’re all potential victims, whether it’s of a crime or an accident or even if this supernatural stuff is real. And when you see footage of possession, even when it’s chalked up to schizophrenia, it’s still very believable when you see it. I’ve seen real footage of possessed people who were locked up and it’s blown my mind.
But I will say I like the idea of having a cocky, confident and arrogant guy turning around and becoming the victim. I love that because it feels like it’s further for him to fall. I love the way the film ends, and THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING really deserves to be in 3000 theaters, even though I know it’s not going to be. David Jung and Gold Circle did a great job with the film, and I’m proud of the work that the cast and I did on the film.
My first day on set actually was my scene with Dale Dickey, who plays the medium. And I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, if this is the way this movie is going to be, we’re off to the races.” Dale is like one of the best actresses I’ve ever seen and the set was amazing. So I think we are really lucky and I’m proud of the product, for sure.
FANG: Do you have any other projects coming up or that you’re working on at the moment?
JOHNSON: Well, I’m on the Starz series POWER, in which we start season two in about a month and a half. So I’ll be in Brooklyn, working on that for the next five or six months.
THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING hits theaters on August 22nd, and lands on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray on August 26th from Anchor Bay films. You can see an exclusive clip from the film below, and don’t forget to RSVP for Fangoria’s four free screenings of the film beginning tomorrow.