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Q&A: Actor Ray Stevenson talks “RARE EXPORTS” Helmer’s Next, “BIG GAME”

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For fans of foreign horror, one contemporary Christmas chiller that has stood the test of time is RARE EXPORTS, the Finnish fright flick that gave a dark, mythological twist to the Santa Claus legend. Now, RARE EXPORTS director Jalmari Helander is back with another film that’s larger than life: BIG GAME, which pits the US President (played by none other Samuel L. Jackson) and his unwitting 13-year-old savior (Onni Tommila) against terrorists who aim to hunt the Commander-in-Chief. Among the big bads is OUTPOST veteran Ray Stevenson, who spoke to FANGORIA about his villainous role, his humanizing approach and his upcoming role as Blackbeard on BLACK SAILS…

FANGORIA: How did you first come aboard BIG GAME?

RAY STEVENSON: Well, the script arrived out of the blue, and I hadn’t heard of Jalmari Helander, the director. I hadn’t seen what other things he had done, but I read the script and thought, “What on Earth is this?! This is crazy! Either this is going to be really, really great or a big tank.” But I got to speak with Jalmari and I thought that there was something about him in his devil-may-care attitude that I went, “You know what? Let’s go for it.” So that’s how BIG GAME came about.

FANGORIA: When you signed on to the film officially, did you go back and watch RARE EXPORTS to get a sense of Jalmari’s style?

STEVENSON: Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t, and perhaps I should do that more. But I’m not one to Google people or go back to stuff, and maybe I should, but I didn’t. I just went head-on into BIG GAME.

FANGORIA: BIG GAME is both a high-concept action flick as well as somewhat of a coming-of-age film as well. Did that narrative shift make the film more appealing to you as an actor than the standard action flick?

STEVENSON: Actually, yes, and you really hit the nail on the head. I always ask myself, “Do you really need to put yourself out there?” I don’t, but I need to entertain people. A film doesn’t need to be a high-brow, intellectual argument and a film like BIG GAME can make people laugh and have them on their backs. But the film is also like a rites of passage movie about a 13-year-old boy who finds himself in extreme circumstances surrounded with this outrageous story of a secret service agent who arranges for The President to be hunted as big game for his own reasons.

BIG GAME is just terrific, and I like doing movies to which I am not the demographic for. I don’t know if I’m the demographic for the film but I had to commit to BIG GAME. It was too enticing not to.

FANGORIA: You’ve played many different kinds of roles in the past, whether it be supporting roles, lead roles, villains, etc. How did you approach your character in BIG GAME as to differentiate him from your previous villain roles?

STEVENSON: Basically, I didn’t see him as a villain. He may be the villain of the film, but I didn’t see him as a villain. The way I approached it, I was playing a man who had taken a bullet for a President whom he considers weak and getting weaker, and therefore is weakening America itself. This is his last tour of duty, and he’s going to die very soon, so he’s turning on the President after all these years of service but he’s not a traitor; he’s a fanatical patriot and considers his actions to be the greatest act of patriotism he can do. So the character puts up smoke-and-mirrors and, in an outrageous way, get rid of the President so that he’s replaced and that America gets strong again.

FANGORIA: Is that your regular approach to a role? Do you eschew the label of “hero” or “villain” in order to grasp onto the character’s humanity?

STEVENSON: Well, the people who align themselves as either a hero or a villain are not very interesting, and are actually quite shallow characters. It’s like how you play a hard man: a real hard man doesn’t stand there and threaten people, he goes ahead and just does it. But for me, my approach is to make every character accessible. Basically, I don’t care if you like my character; I just care if you believe me. If you believed that I fully was that character, my job is done.

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FANGORIA: BIG GAME was one of the biggest Finnish productions to date. What was it like shooting this project?

STEVENSON: Here we go, spoiler alert: we actually weren’t shooting in Finland. We were actually shooting in southern Bulgaria. But it was stunning; basically, we only shot there because Finland doesn’t have the rocky outlets but it was the perfect backdrop for this kind of dramatization. It’s also perfectly believable because it has this remoteness about it that you can imagine losing someone in such wilderness.

The location was just great, and it had a nostalgic feeling to it. It really felt like the old movies I used to watch as a kid like WHERE EAGLES DARE and THE GREAT ESCAPE where there were great, big backdrops and landscapes. It was really fun.

FANGORIA: As someone who is familiar with the action genre, do you think it is important that more unique adventure films like BIG GAME come around and shake things up?

STEVENSON: Absolutely. Entertainment comes in many strange and wonderful forms, and the action genre is made for this kind of movie. BIG GAME has its tongue just enough in its cheek to not take itself too seriously while still taking you on a thrilling, enjoyable, visceral ride. I think it’s just great entertainment, especially for the budget; the series I’m working on now is spending what we spent on that movie for a single episode. It’s a really creative use of the material, and I think they did a great job of that.

FANGORIA: I presume the series you’re talking about is BLACK SAILS, in which you play Blackbeard. Can you tell us anything about that role?

STEVENSON: My character appears in season three, which debuts in January of next year. By then, I should be working on the fourth season, which is the last season I’m contracted on. Blackbeard will descend on that show, absolutely.

BLACK SAILS is not a docudrama, like ROME was. It’s an authentic dramatization, or as authentic as it can be, as opposed to taking the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN approach to the stories and characters. And there’s only so much they can get from the press at that time since it was so sensationalized, yet when you look at it, there was only about 20 years that these caribbean pirates historically existed. It was a very brief spell, but a very bright and bloody spell in history filled with these larger than life characters. Edward Teach, which was Blackbeard’s real name, was 6’4 in 1710, walking around these pirates like a living legend.

BIG GAME is now in select theaters and on VOD.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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