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Q&A: Director Lawrence Roeck on “DIABLO”

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With the genre marketplace being as it is, it’s actually not quite surprising to see both westerns and horror movies, with secular fan bases in their own right, cross paths so often in recent months. With bone tomahawk, the hateful eight and and now Lawrence Roeck’s DIABLO, the line between gritty western, shocking horror and brutal thriller has become more and more blurred. And while the latter is probably more notable for its cast, which includes Western royalty Scott Eastwood as well as Walton Goggins and Danny Glover, the inspirations, hard-hitting violence, thematic material and cinematography from Dean Cundey make DIABLO a must see for horror fans. Fangoria caught up with Roeck to talk DIABLO, shooting an indie western and the film’s frightening influences…

FANGORIA: How did DIABLO first come to you?

LAWRENCE ROECK: DIABLO is my baby. I came up with the concept, approached the writer Carlos De Los Rios, and once we felt confident with it, we approached Scott Eastwood and got him to sign on to the project. The film was basically built for him by Carlos and myself, so I’ve been with this project from the very beginning.

FANGORIA: How did Scott Eastwood board the project, especially keeping in mind this is his first major Western performance?

ROECK: When it comes to DIABLO and my approach, Scott and I worked on the project as if it was anything else that we were passionate about. We really wanted to find a way to get his personality across as well as the things that make him a good actor. I really wanted to capture his strengths and not offer a clichéd Western performance. DIABLO has a certain amount of clean language in our hopes to make a authentic 1800s period piece as well as drop some of the expectations of the Western genre. DIABLO is a psychological thriller with horror elements that is mixed with a great American Western, and it was something that was really fun to do with Scott.

FANGORIA: DIABLO certainly shows certain similarities to PALE RIDER, which was one of the first Westerns to explicitly court the supernatural and was, of course, directed by Clint Eastwood. What were your specific influences on DIABLO as a western with thriller/horror aspects?

ROECK: That is a very good question. In order to do DIABLO in a way that felt authentic, I went through and watched all of the great westerns, like THE SEARCHERS and THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. But at one point I just sort of turned them off in order to concentrate on my own story, so I had a good feeling for the genre but if I wanted to make DIABLO feel fresh, I would really need to turn off all of my influences and listen to my own voice.

There’s always a desire to honor all of the great filmmakers that came before you any given genre but at some point you have to make it your own. By doing that we took DIABLO into a place that a lot of westerns don’t necessarily go to, although that’s not to say that we did something that nobody else has ever done before. I feel like anytime you say that, 10 other people have done it. But with DIABLO we really wanted a fresh start, and I think we got that by mixing psychological thriller elements with a story of a PTSD-ridden soldier from the Civil War.

FANGORIA: It seems Scott was more of a collaborator on this film than strictly a leading actor might be. Was this true on DIABLO?

ROECK: I think Scott’s collaborative nature has something to do with my directing style. Scott was really into the movie and he really wanted to make this role his own, so he really didn’t want to do a Western unless he could have a hand to personally guide it to a place he was comfortable with. But my directing style is such that when you have your leading actor, actors are generally highly intelligent people that are very good at their craft so if they’re going to embody a character, why not try to get into their head? So I tried to see what Scott’s thoughts were and I really opened it up to him.

I think there’s a lot of things in terms of what Scott does that is going to blow people’s minds. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but just look like he does in the final gunfight and how he embodies that character. For me that was really exciting and I don’t think I would have gotten that performance had I not opened up with him and created a collaborative platform. And sometimes an actor can feel like, “Hey, a director just wants me to come in and do my work,” but as a filmmaker, I really want to do something beyond that. So if I can I would love to use any actor’s intelligence to bring out with a better performance.

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FANGORIA: How did Walton Goggins get involved as the villain of DIABLO?

ROECK: Walton was brought to me by our casting director Roger Mussenden, who is a great guy and very well respected in Hollywood. Roger brought Walton to me and told me that he believes this is the guy who embodies what I was looking for. We took a look at a lot of different actors, but not because we didn’t think Walton was right for the role. I wanted to see what other opportunities were there but I always found myself going back to Walton. And at the end of the day it was almost like this rule was written specifically for Walton Goggins. He really took to the screenplay when he read it himself, so in that regards it was like a natural fit. A lot of characters that he’s played in the past, including Boyd Crowder from JUSTIFIED, carry a lot of the meanness that his character Ezra shows in DIABLO.

It was a thrill to work with Walton on DIABLO. He’s one of those actors where sometimes you have to clear the set because everyone on the crew just wants to watch him perform. That’s the kind of villain you want; you want to be mesmerized by that performance and he definitely got that down.

FANGORIA: What was the experience like as a storyteller having to balance the horror, western and thriller elements?

ROECK: We just did what felt right. In the end, it was the best place to guide us, because whenever you drift into one direction for too long it just doesn’t feel right. You have to pull back and go “hey what are we doing here?” And one of the big questions about Jackson, the lead character of DIABLO, is that you’re always wondering what this guy is about, and through the course of the film that question is changing due to some of the things that are revealed. So we had a good story there as well as some of the touches that make the film good on its second, third, and fourth viewing, which works because DIABLO is a very stoic film in the way that there’s not a lot of dying and that there’s a lot of silence in it. There’s a lot of little clues whether it’s in the score or the characters actions to understand what’s going on and pick up on the symbolism in the film.

FANGORIA: What was the most memorable part of the filming process?

ROECK: I have to say that I love shooting the gun fights as well as working with the horses. Horses are such incredible creatures. I’ve always been a skater / surfer / snowboarder, and I could have really cared less about horses going into the movie. But by the end of the film I was just in love with these animals, and when the first AD would yell “Action,” their ears would perk up; they knew exactly what was going on. So it was really cool to work with them.

Working with the guns and all of the firearms was a rich experience as well and was a lot of fun as a director. Oddly enough, filming a very violent movie is rather cathartic. It feels really good afterwards.

FANGORIA: What was it like working on the action elements specifically, especially considering the time and resource constraints from independent films?

ROECK: As a director, you always want to go back with 10 million dollars and shoot another hour of the movie that you can cut together. I think any director can say that about their work. But I’m really proud of this movie, and it was made by a crew of people who were really invested in the film. We really tried to keep everything as lean and mean as possible. So rather than making movie with 200 gunfighters and big city streets, we rather relied on our strength which was one man going through the wilderness and meeting these incredible characters along the way and dealing with them in his own violent way. That simplicity allowed us to concentrate and keep everything tight. So we got everything in DIABLO that we wanted.

FANGORIA: So where do you go from here? Do you see your career remaining in the horror genre?

ROECK: Absolutely! My writer and I are big lovers of the horror genre, so we’ve been talking about a couple of projects and we’re definitely open to it. Right now I’m working on a project that is more of a action / adventure thriller, which follows the man who inherits the world’s largest fortune and disappears. That’s a big thriller film but it does have some heavy horror elements in it. You will still probably even see horror elements in my future films, even if they’re not horror per se.

In fact our director of photography was Dean Cundey,  who shot HALLOWEEN and THE THING. So we were always bothering him about what it was like to shoot those films, and obviously, having him a part of the process really informed the shape of this film. So we had a little bit of horror right there in terms of having the master of photography from horror films on DIABLO.

DIABLO is now in select theaters and on VOD from Momentum Pictures.

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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