Q&A: Actor Zach Gilford Talks “DEVIL’S DUE” and “THE PURGE 2”
After a bumpy start, some may be wondering if 2014 will be as good a year for screen fear as the one before it. Actor Zach Gilford certainly hopes so; the FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS actor has doubled down on the genre this year, enduring hell in this week’s DEVIL’S DUE before entering the battlefield of THE PURGE 2, out June 20. FANGORIA spoke to the busy young actor about his first foray into found footage, and how horror may have been more familiar than he anticipated.
FANGORIA: As of late, you’ve been appearing in a number of genre-tinged projects, starting with the bloody and over-the-top action film THE LAST STAND, followed by DEVIL’S DUE and THE PURGE 2. As an actor, what is it about these films that appeals to your sensibilities?
ZACH GILFORD: They’re fun! And if I could get excited over anything about DEVIL’S DUE, it would be that it’s different. It’s not your typical scary movie, and [the Radio Silence filmmaking team] had a fresh take on the concept, which hasn’t been proven to work. But if it does work and people like it, it’s fun to be a part of that experience.
With THE LAST STAND, it was a Schwarzenegger film! Who doesn’t want to be in an action movie and work with the Terminator? When I was growing up, I was watching all of those movies, and it was super-exciting to work on that. As far as THE PURGE 2 goes, I really liked the original; I thought it was cool. They came up with a great way to do a sequel, because the first one took place in an upscale suburb and follows what happens to a family there when their security system doesn’t work. The new one has none of the same characters, but it’s the same day of the year and takes place in the city, where there are no security systems, and it’s like a war zone where people are just trying to survive. I thought it was pretty interesting to take that concept and look at it from a different angle.
FANG: DEVIL’S DUE is the feature debut for the Radio Silence guys, who have worked in found footage many times before with their viral web shorts and V/H/S segment. How did it feel, as an actor, transitioning from the traditional filmmaking process to that shooting style?
GILFORD: It was great! The one hard thing I had to get used to was that I shot half the movie myself. That was really fun and cool, to put the way I thought it should look into the film, but it was difficult to figure out how to do that, and perform opposite another actor I was filming as well. But when I was not behind the camera and it was free to go wherever, that’s kind of how we worked on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, where it was handheld, 360-degree filmmaking. On that, it was like, “Don’t worry about the cameras; just play the scene and we’ll get it on film.”
So acting like that was definitely in my wheelhouse, and it was fun and I loved doing that. It was cool, too, because that was something me and Radio Silence talked about a lot and were conscious of; we asked ourselves, “How can we make it so that it’s not just a camera in someone’s hand all the time? When is it natural to put the camera down and catch a pretty cool frame?” There’s a nice composition in DEVIL’S DUE; it’s not just a shaky camera all the time, and it’s not always scenes where it’s one person off-camera the whole time as another one talks to the lens. We tried to be creative with that, but make the film feel real.
FANG: Was it ever difficult to ground your character in reality, considering the supernatural aspects of this story and the reactive expectations of doing a found-footage film?
GILFORD: Not really. I think playing very real and grounded is my strength. Allison Miller got to play her character a little larger than life at certain times, and that kind of acting scares me, because I don’t have that kind of confidence. So I was like, “Cool, I can play the normal guy whom audiences relate to.” That’s where my confidence comes from, and to experiment by filming at the same time and trying different things, which is the base of my character, was something I felt good about.
FANG: Considering you were shooting so much yourself, were there ever concerns during the freakier moments that you wouldn’t be able to catch anything effects-wise that needed to be captured, or was that carefully staged?
GILFORD: We actually got to figure that out as we went along. The other unique thing about found-footage films is that you’re not looking to do a lot of acting; you’re looking to basically get one good take. In the final cut, there’s the cheat you can use with found footage where you can have a static burst and then go to another shot, but what Radio Silence did very well was not rely on that a lot. They just made sure they had what they needed in order for the scene to play in one shot without cheating.
We rehearsed a lot with the cameras to figure it out, to see what the character would naturally shoot and see if that would get what we wanted. If not, we would have to finesse it, but it was a fun process. The movie was very thought-out; I know a lot of people think, “Oh, they just run around with a camera and whatever they catch, they catch,” but it was actually really carefully planned to make sure we captured what we wanted.
FANG: According to Radio Silence, among the more important concerns was to catch elements of humor, to create characters who are relatable. Were you ever surprised that the film had those elements, considering the story naturally goes in such a dark direction?
GILFORD: No, that was actually the first thing I talked to them about on our first day on set. I said, “Look, with these two people, I can’t be the annoying guy behind the camera. I need to make sure he’s someone people like, and not the one they hope gets killed by the end of the movie.” And they were like, “You’re 100 percent right.” Their goal was to make a love story where you care about these people, and then all this awful stuff happens to them. You feel for this couple even more because you don’t want this to happen to them. They don’t deserve it.
You’re more invested if you like the characters and are connected to them than if it’s a normal genre movie, where it’s like, “Oh, he’s this archetype and she’s that archetype, so they’re going to be killed at this point and that point.” We keep saying that this is a found-footage movie where you genuinely like both of the characters from the start to the end. That’s what I wanted it to be, and when I learned that was their take on it too, I was excited to make DEVIL’S DUE.
FANG: Before the project, were you more familiar with other Antichrist or Satan films? Did you watch any after you came aboard?
GILFORD: No, and coincidentally, I actually saw ROSEMARY’S BABY about a month or two before I joined this film. After I watched it, I was like, “Did you see that movie? That was creepy!” I know our story mirrors that one in a few ways, and I like movies that are creepy rather than scary, where you feel uncomfortable the whole time but are not sure what’s happening and know something is very off. I enjoy that, as opposed to movies where around every corner, someone is going to jump out with a knife. It’s fun to have those jump scares and we’ve definitely worked some into DEVIL’S DUE, but they’re a little different. We’re not “the killer behind the curtain.” It’s cool when you can make an audience feel off-center for a whole 90 minutes.
FANG: Did you revel in working with Miller on these supernatural setpieces? I assume they had to keep you involved in many of the practical stunts, because you’re also the cameraman.
GILFORD: It’s funny; I felt really bad, because I’ve talked to Allison a lot and it was like a Catch-22 for her, since she had to do certain scenes where it wasn’t always super-easy, like, “Hey, how’s it going?” As an actor, I wanted to be there with her and talk to her like two people would, but if I was doing that, I might lose track of the camera and be filming her feet. “I’m glad you were acting so well, but we didn’t get it on camera.” I had to be conscious that the camera was on her, and I wasn’t seeing her as much as I would if it were a traditional shooting style, because I didn’t want her performance to be wasted. She got it and was totally cool with it, but I felt bad about that.
FANG: Were you familiar with Radio Silence’s other work before you joined DEVIL’S DUE?
GILFORD: I actually watched V/H/S before I went to shoot DEVIL’S DUE, because I was told they had directed a segment—although I didn’t know which one! So I watched the whole movie and thought, “F**k, which one did these guys make, because some of them I do not like!” Then I went into the room and met them and was like, “Oh shit, you’re the guys from the movie! I know which one you guys did, and it was my favorite!” So I was so excited, and they were so awesome to work with. They had so much energy and were so collaborative. The whole crew was in love with them, since they make everyone feel valued and appreciated. I’ve become really good friends with them, and every time I talk to them, I’m like, “Have you figured out our next project yet? What are we doing next?” They’re like, “Don’t worry, dude. Whatever we do, you’re in on it.”
FANG: Do you have anything else coming up aside from THR PURGE 2?
GILFORD: Just that. We just started filming last week, and I’ll be on it for the rest of the month. Other than that, I need to start looking for work!
See our interview with Radio Silence on DEVIL’S DUE in Fango #330, on sale now.