Q&A: Director John Schneider talks Bill Moseley and “SMOTHERED”
In celebration of our current Bill Moseley-centric issue, FANGORIA reached out to John Schneider, who recently worked with the actor in a role you may not expect him to play: a horror acting icon! Schneider, of DUKES OF HAZZARD and SMALLVILLE fame, recently wrote and directed SMOTHERED, in which Moseley plays an alternate version of himself who joins a private haunt for an easy payday, only to come face-to-face with a hellbent, beautiful real-life psychopath.
Despite directing a roster of horror all-stars such as Kane Hodder, Don Shanks, R.A. Mihailoff, Malcolm Danare, Dane Rhodes and Brea Grant, Schneider spoke of Bill’s performance as one-of-a-kind, and certainly one that Moseley fans won’t soon forget. Now, a word to the wise, Schneider does share minor plot spoilers throughout, but nothing too telling. So there’s no danger in reading on, Moseley acolytes…
FANGORIA: In putting together a project like SMOTHERED, the actors playing versions of themselves must have trusted you not to actively make fun of them maliciously. Were the other actors in the film aware of that intention?
JOHN SCHNEIDER: They did. We had a great stroke of luck in that before the team came to Louisiana, we had a read-through. The casting director put a group of people together for a table read at Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge, and during that read-through, several people really shined. When it came time to cast, for instance, there’s a character named Trixie, and we found this actress named Shanna Forrestall, who lives in New Orleans and read for DeeDee in the readthrough. For DeeDee, we wanted Brea Grant, who is fantastic in the film and is a big name in her own right in the genre, but Shanna was wonderful and brought so much to Trixie.
For the person who read for R.A., his name was Dane Rhodes and he did such a fantastic job that when “Rowdy” Roddy Piper couldn’t do the movie, I immediately called Dane who came in and knocked it out of the park. I made up his character, but he plays a guy who starred in a fictional sequel to THEY LIVE, which I think I called THEY STILL LIVE, but in actuality, he’s a highly trained Shakespearean actor so his dilemma was the night before the convention, he was doing Shakespeare and getting a standing ovation, but at the convention, he’s not only known as the guy from THEY STILL LIVE, but he’s constantly mistaken for Roddy Piper.
But, for example, Bill [Moseley] had gone through many names in the script. He was first ‘William Soggy Dammit,’ and then ‘Christian Dammit,’ before finally settling on ‘Soggy Christian.’ I’m not really sure why, because Bill is a really complex guy and a really deep thinker. Sometimes, you might think Bill is sitting on the side of the room in his sleep, but he might be doing trigonometry with his eyes closed for all I know. So when Bill came in, I started putting in little references and a lot of this was done on the fly on-set.
In fact, there’s one point where he grabs some Spanish moss and gives himself an ‘Otis’ look for his hair and he goes, “I am the Devil, and I’m here to do the Devil’s shit.” I knew that moment was a winner because I saw one of our dolly grips, who was a big Bill Moseley fan, get very excited. Of course, it’s a riff on the line from THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. So as I started to get to know Bill, things began to change a bit.
But oddly enough, the whole “heart” aspect of Bill’s character, after he almost gets shot in the beginning of the film and he faints right away in the back of a defunct convenience store in Holden, Louisiana, he’s revived when DeeDee puts habanero-seed soaked moonshine on his lips. That was always in the script, even before I cast Bill, because that action destroys his sobriety, and at that point, alcohol had crossed Soggy’s lips, now he’s has a big debate now in his mind: “Did I violate my sobriety even though I was unconscious? What have I done here? What has happened to my 26 years now?” I wrote that not knowing anything about Bill.
Once Bill read that, he loved it so much. He was like, “Are you telling me this guy is arguing with himself about whether or not he violated his sobriety, even though he was unconscious when it happened?” I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “I love that.” So there’s some wonderful moments at the heart of SMOTHERED. It’s really an interesting film, especially with someone as thoughtful as Bill playing this role. It’s so cool. He has a scene underneath Thelma, which is our ’73 Mini-Winnie, where Don catches him taking a drop of Tequila and putting it onto his finger and touching his tongue with it. It’s a pretty touching moment, especially for a horror film, but the people know these actors are going to be moved by a lot of what’s going on in the story. I’m delighted with all of the performances, actually. Every single one.
FANG: As a fan of Bill, it’s going to certainly be a change of pace from the foul-mouthed baddies that we normally see from him in the past.
SCHNEIDER: I’d love for you to see SMOTHERED. From what I’ve been told, people haven’t really seen anything like this before. We might have made a new genre, which is scary since they’ve never seen it before and they might not want to see it again!
FANG: At what point did you specifically decide to bring Bill Moseley onto the project?
SCHNEIDER: Well, right away. Bill was always at the top of my list because of his amazing work in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS and HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. Bill never really had the masks, but he did have iconic hair and for my money, he was the most classically trained actor out of the bunch. I wanted a brooding intellectual, and nothing against Kane, but I don’t think anyone would call Kane Hodder a brooding intellectual [laughs]. You might call Don just brooding, even if he is quite intellectual.
But Bill was at the top of my list for people I hoped we could get, and it was actually Kane who got the script to Bill. So you could imagine my delight, as a writer, to have this group of people read a script that I wrote in a genre they’ve become famous for, especially when that includes Bill Moseley, who said, “I love this script and I want to do this.” Those guys only kind of knew me, and I had never met Bill previously. But each of them read the script and said, “How come no one has ever done this before? I want to do this.”
FANG: Once he joined the project, did you tinker with the character to match his sensibilities, or did you allow him to change the character when he got on set?
SCHNEIDER: Well, we tinkered with it on-set, but we spoke beforehand. Bill is a very interesting guy in that he wouldn’t just come into a room and say, “Here’s what I think!” Bill responds to what you think. We would be doing something and I would field Bill some questions, like, “What would this feel like? How would you react to this? If your sobriety had been violated and you were standing on this bridge, what would you be thinking?” So we’d have these conversations that would be designed around his reality, and I don’t have that reality, and I wanted the film to be real for Bill because if it’s real for Bill, it’ll be real for everyone who is watching Bill.
He loved the fate of his character. When we spoke about it, he just said, “Now that’s cool!” So developing the character was all in a conversation with Bill. The guidelines were there, the script was there and we had a shooting schedule, so we didn’t sit around and think about things for hours on end. We had to speak quickly, but his ideas were always top notch and they were always true to who he was playing.
FANG: Considering that Bill was playing a version of his real-life identity, was he ever apprehensive about portraying this character true-to-life or did he feel that gave him license to divert into weirder territory?
SCHNEIDER: I think that aspect inspired him to do great things. I was very careful, and at the beginning of every day, I’d meet with Bill over by the coffee pot and say, “Here’s what’s going on today and here’s what I want. If any of this is offensive to you, I don’t want you to do it but I’ll want you to come up with something better because the last thing I want to have at the end of the day is what I only want. I want to have something that’s so much better than what I want.” I think he appreciated that and would bring great things to the table.
That moment under the Mini-Winnie, where he puts the tequila on his finger and then on his tongue, was all Bill’s idea. He wanted to portray someone who was creeping back into drinking, and that came out of Bill’s head. So all the color and connective tissue of Bill’s character came from Bill and the conversations that we would have.
I’d pat myself on the back a little bit because I didn’t want to do anything that would be offensive to him in any way because I realized that is a very precarious position that I put him in with the character. To that point, in the beginning during the opening credits, we freeze frame into a comic book drawing of the character with a little introduction on there. I wanted to make sure that was right so I ran that through Bill after the movie had been completed and edited. Even though it was one of the final things we did, I wanted to make sure the words on that card were approved by Bill so that it didn’t put him in an uncomfortable position.
FANG: Do you think, considering the duality of the role, that Bill may have set out to do something differently with this role than his fans may have expected?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, absolutely. There’s things Bill does in SMOTHERED that, because of the nature of what he and Don are talking about, that nobody had ever seen before from Bill, possibly including Bill himself. I don’t know if anyone has seen Bill cry, and he does. It was real and it was wonderful, as they were tears of his character’s disappointment. Doesn’t sound like we’re talking about a horror movie, does it? Those tears shocked everybody when we shot the film, and that’s the scene underneath Thelma. It’s a simple scene of Don Shanks trying to bolster up his friend by telling him, “You did a good job, man,” and Bill dug deep, thinking about what happened that day and saying, “No, I didn’t.” It’s heart-wrenching and it surprised everybody, including Bill. Then, when Bill saw that it was in the movie, that brought it all back again. So it was an amazing, real performance. I think people aren’t going to be surprised that it’s a great performance, since Bill always gives a great performance, but I think people are going to be surprised by the level of heart and transparency in Bill’s performance.
FANG: Bill has often been portrayed by his peers as a consummate professional on-set, but Bill’s sense of humor and personality is always present as well. Considering these guys got to play characters which mirrored their own personalities, was the shoot funnier than you expected?
SCHNEIDER: We had a great time, but there wasn’t a lot of time for levity. However, it’s my understanding that in the cafeteria area in what is now my studio in Holden, Louisiana, where everyone was waiting to be called to do their scenes, there was some rather unusual things going on with some prosthetic pieces we used for Brea. I did not see this myself, but Bill may have been involved in these and I did have those pieces washed!
My great memory of Bill was that he was a consummate professional and when he was called, he was ready to go. But one night, he wandered off towards a light and everyone was thinking, “What the hell is Moseley doing?” He was staring at this light and for all I know, he could have been running math problems in his head. So I called over to him and he shushed me, and then he waved a bunch of us over and we saw this beautiful moth that was attracted to one of our lights. It was a big thing, and it probably had a three-to-four inch wingspan. Bill saw it, went over to look at it and was appreciating the beauty of the creature. It took three or four minutes out of our day, but so what?
It was like being in a science class all of the sudden, but it was a classic Bill Moseley moment. He was sharing some beautiful thing, and I know people don’t think about Bill Moseley that way. Then we got back to work and were killing people, doing what we do [laughs]. He was a cool guy. He knew what kind of frogs were making noises, and when he heard a certain bird, he said, “Oh, that’s a cardinal!” It was like being with an Eagle Scout who is known for playing these bad, bad men. I didn’t see any of those bad men at all. I saw a professional who was in love with life in every form that it comes in.
For more exclusive comments on John Schneider’s SMOTHERED, make sure to check out the Monster Invasion section of FANGORIA #332. You can also check out more appreciation of Bill Moseley in FANGORIA #331, on sale now.