Q&A: Bruce Davison on Rob Zombie’s “THE LORDS OF SALEM”
Amidst the many strange, twisted denizens of Rob Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM (just out on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay), Bruce Davison serves as something of a straight man. Fango got the chance to sit down with the actor and talk LORDS, and get his thoughts on the remake of his horror classic WILLARD.
In THE LORDS OF SALEM, Davison plays Francis Matthias, an expert on the infamous Massachusetts witch trials who helps local DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) look into a mysterious record that seems to portend a return of evil to the town. The actor, previously best known to horror fans as the original WILLARD’s rodentophile title character, is joined in THE LORDS OF SALEM by Maria Conchita Alonso (pictured below with Davison) as his wife, along with a coven of fellow fear favorites including Ken Foree, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace and Barbara Crampton.
FANGORIA: How familiar were you with Rob Zombie’s work before you got the part in LORDS OF SALEM?
BRUCE DAVISON: Well, mostly from my son, who is an avid fan going back to HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, and he said, “You’ve got to meet this guy. He’s disturbing.” So I said, “Sure, I like to be disturbed.” Then I was offered this job, and I had the best time I’ve had in probably 10 years working on a movie. Rob is just the best, and collaborative, and laid-back and easy, but he has this incredibly disturbing vision [laughs] that people respond to. And they never respond in the middle of the road; they’re always on one side or the other, which I think makes for a great artist.
FANG: Your character isn’t privy to a lot of the truly weird, disturbing stuff that takes place in the movie; were you around for any of that part of the shoot?
DAVISON: You know, we were all shooting different scenes at the same time in a big warehouse, so, like, Meg [Foster] would walk by [in makeup] and I’d say, “Whoa, new part for you, huh?” A number of the cast are my friends; after being in this business for 45 years, I seem to know everybody. Barbara Crampton is an old friend, and used to go with a best friend of mine.
FANG: Did you do any significant research for your role?
DAVISON: You mean, what it feels like to be hit with a frying pan [laughs]? Well, not really. I’d been to Salem when I did [1996’s film version of] THE CRUCIBLE. We shot in Danvers, MA, and I spent months living in that area, so all the research I did came from Arthur Miller, back over the years. Having been to Salem and a few of the places up there where Francis would have gone, I had a handle on it.
FANG: How much of THE LORDS OF SALEM was actually filmed in Salem?
DAVISON: I was only there for a week or two shooting exteriors. All the interiors, for the most part, were done in Los Angeles.
FANG: How early were you cast in the film? LORDS went through a whole series of recastings on the way to production; were you aware of any of that?
DAVISON: I believe I was cast toward the end, so no, I wasn’t—and the changes happened right up until the film was released, I gather.
FANG: Did you have any big moments that were left on the cutting room floor?
DAVISON: There was one great moment where Dee Wallace turns to me and says, “Are you married?” I say, “Yes, 17 years.” And she says, “How’s the sex?” I told Rob he should have left that line in.
FANG: How was it acting opposite Sheri Moon Zombie?
DAVISON: She’s a delight. The two of them, it’s like joining the circus: You just get on the wagon and take off with them. They’re great, and really laid-back; they are people you want to socialize with.
FANG: They weren’t in character at all while they were shooting?
DAVISON: No, not at all. I didn’t see it. I don’t know what anybody’s working process is—I never do—but I never got any “Stay away from me while I prepare” kind of thing, which you get sometimes. Everybody works in different ways, but this was a very inclusive, collaborative process. If I had an idea of something to say or do, I always felt it was welcome.
FANG: You hadn’t done a horror film in some time before LORDS…
DAVISON: Well, I did a film called CAMP HELL a little while back. It was originally called CAMP HOPE. I think it’s playing on HBO now.
FANG: That’s the one Jesse Eisenberg is in for about three minutes.
DAVISON: Yep, about two minutes. He did a day or two in the beginning, and then it sort of threads through the film. But he’s gotten some big success now.
FANG: Do you enjoy doing horror? Is it something you actively seek out?
DAVISON: Oh yeah! I love it. It’s great to have done a number of things that have been around for years, WILLARD being one.
FANG: How have you seen the business change over the years you’ve been working?
DAVISON: CGI, and they don’t pay actors—of course, they never did, especially in B-horror films. A perfect example is WILLARD. I did that with 600 rats eating me alive, and now that would be easy to do as opposed to, “Get on the floor, rub yourself with peanut butter” and they dump the rats on me!
FANG: What did you think of the WILLARD remake?
DAVISON: I haven’t seen it! I never got to see it. I got the painting; they sent me my portrait, since I’m the dead father up over the mantelpiece, which was a very sweet homage. I was going to remake WILLARD with John Landis for a number of years, and then we let the option slip and it disappeared.
FANG: How did you feel about Crispin Glover taking over your role?
DAVISON: Well, I think Crispin Glover is one of the great actors. I remember seeing him in things by David Lynch and thinking, “This kid is the most exciting actor I’ve seen in years.” He’s wonderful. I don’t know how he plays in WILLARD—I believe you need a lightness to carry the darkness—but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t really make a judgment. I do love him as an actor from the films that I’ve seen him in.
FANG: Did you intentionally avoid seeing the remake?
DAVISON: I don’t know; I don’t like to watch stuff when I know what’s coming, and have seen before and I’ve done before. The ending, I hear, is more along the lines of what I would have wanted to do, and led into a sequel. I would have liked to be a horrible, disfigured psychopath bringing my rats to New York City or something, but that’s another story.