Q&A: Jon Gries opens up on “LOCKER 13″, “TAKEN 3″
For fans of ‘80s horror, Jon Gries is one of the many character actors who holds a special place in our horror-minded hearts. With memorable performances in such films as THE MONSTER SQUAD, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 and TERRORVISION, Gries has earned his spot in the horror lexicon, even as far as gracing the cover of Fangoria #76. And while Gries has strongly steered the second wind of his impressive career to diverse places, the veteran actor is still actively looking for a different challenge with each role.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that Gries effortlessly embodies the ominous storyteller in LOCKER 13, the new horror anthology from Brothers Ink Productions. In this performance, Gries trades eschews the cartoonish insanity of his past genre films for much more humble and nuanced territory. Gries spoke to FANGORIA about his restrained role in LOCKER 13, and opens up about what lies ahead in his genre-friendly trajectory…
FANGORIA: What attracted you to an anthology project such as LOCKER 13?
JON GRIES: Particularly, I’ve never really played in anything like this and when they sent me the script, I thought the script was good. They also sent me one of the segments they had shot, and I immediately knew what they were doing. They put a good cast together, the writing was good and when I got on the phone to talk to those guys, I was like, “These guys are great. Let’s do this.”
I’ve also never really done a project like LOCKER 13 and thought this would be cool. I was a big fan of any reruns that had anything to do with Rod Serling, even if my character isn’t like Rod Serling in the fact that he’s not always smoking a cigarette and walking around in a suit. Serling looked like a typical pitchman, while I like the fact that my character was a proud night custodian who gets to play Sheriff and takes his job very seriously. There’s something sweet and pathetic about him, but also something sage-like, and that’s why I liked him.
FANG: Your character is relegated to the wraparound segment, “The Other Side,” where you set up a lot of the other stories. Was that a draw to you as an actor as opposed to acting in one of the separate segments?
GRIES: Absolutely. That specifically drew me towards LOCKER 13. I don’t know how I would have reacted if they had contacted me and said, “Hey, do you want to be in one of the segments?” unless it was something that blew my mind. Sometimes, there’s a great comfort in just being that guy. I thought it was pretty ballsy on their part because usually, I’m playing the guy who’s killing somebody or getting killed or being weird.
I’ve played a lot of different characters and I’ve always been a huge fan of midnight cinema growing up. During high school, I’d always go out to the midnight movies, whether it was EL TOPO, THE HARDER THEY COME, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, or ERASERHEAD. Those were movies that were all a little outside of the mainstream, so I feel like a lot of the work that I’ve chosen to do has reminded me of that kind of stuff or could possibly end up like one of those films. They all felt like they would fly under the radar and find a life later, but in LOCKER 13, I felt the filmmakers were being inventive by asking me to play that regular-type of guy.
It’s unusual for me to be asked to play that type of role, where he’s objective and kind of a character but he’s only sort of half in this world and almost breaking the fourth wall a bit. I felt like he could look at the camera and wink if he wanted to. The was an air of playfulness about that character, and I appreciated that.
FANG: Did playing the “anthology host” role give you greater freedom with your performance?
GRIES: I think the filmmakers and I played with it a little bit because it was like discovering a new language for the character. When I started on the project, I talked to them about how I wanted to do it and as things were going on, there were moments where we decided to try a couple of different things. Apparently, from what I’ve heard, those changes stuck and it worked.
And sometimes, when it’s with a company that isn’t really established and is trying to find its voice, you’ll get this wholly original quality and you’ll try to work yourself into that project and augment that originality. I think Brothers Ink spoke to that and offered that, and did so where you have this night custodian who isn’t a sheriff, and you’re not sure if he’s in a story or not but this wraparound turns out to be a little story of itself surrounding around LOCKER 13 and the neophyte that I’m training in the locker room.
FANG: When you were given the script, was it completed with all the stories written into it or did it contain merely the framework that you were involved in?
GRIES: No. That’s a good question; it was the framework and it would say, “and we go to…” and it’d have this episode or that episode. They only sent me a link for one of the episodes, which I was able to watch, to show off the quality of what they were doing. That really spurred my interest because sometimes I’ll have people who contact me and don’t really have anything besides a script. I’m not usually one to say “No” right off the bat, unless I’m booked or busy doing something else, and I’ll read what’s there since some of the best filmmakers in the world started out just trying to get their films going.
That’s the nature of collaborative art, though. When NAPOLEON DYNAMITE came to me, both my agent and my manager said, “Don’t do this. These filmmakers haven’t done anything and they’re not paying anything.” But I read the script and I told them, “Are you crazy? I’m going to do it.”
FANG: Having seen the finished film, were you at all taken aback by the other segments? Had you known what they would do, would you have tinkered with your performance a bit?
GRIES: I was taken aback by the segments, but I don’t think I necessarily would have changed my performance. I think there had to be a certain modestness to the character, especially since they shot all of the other segments outside of my shoot. I didn’t want to chew the furniture, so to speak. I just wanted to be a regular guy. I didn’t want to upstage anyone.
Maybe in the future, if they decide to go back and make more of these films, and this is something that’s been mentioned as a possibility, I might do a little more with the performance. But in this one, there was none of that. We thought it was important that this character was just handing off the ball to the other filmmakers. We kept it simple so I didn’t want to make too much out of it.
FANG: A lot of your past roles in the horror genre were that of very colorful, crazy characters. However, in LOCKER 13, your character appears to be much more normal and humble. Was it appealing to have this low-key role in a genre film as a change of pace?
GRIES: Absolutely, 100%. That was key. I loved having the opportunity to play the storyteller who has a certain way about him. He doesn’t have to be bouncing off the walls or anything like that; he’s just there for one reason. He may be a sage or he may be an apparition; you don’t even know. I liked that and having that mystery behind him a little bit because you don’t want to confuse people or give too much away with these kinds of roles.
FANG: You mentioned before that you were a fan of Rod Serling, and in the film, they pull a bait-and-switch with you as a “wise cowboy” archetype. Was your performance emulating either or those specifically?
GRIES: Not necessarily directly. Of course, I thought about those cowboy poets; I’ve seen cowboy poets and cowboy authors in the past and they’re really great. I was also inspired by things like THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and Sam Elliott’s character in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, but I didn’t want to be too derivative. My character had a tendency to let the stories be told, and it was his job to tell them.
FANG: As to those archetypes, though, were you expecting the segments to be inspired by folk tales or horror mythology? Did you always know the segments were going to be played closer to thrillers?
GRIES: I knew they were going more for a thriller tone. There are bits and things there where things turn into horror territory, but I think there was a lot of allegory as well. They were drifting towards both sides of that lane, so to speak. I liked that.
FANG: As of late, your fans have seen you on the big screen in the TAKEN films, although to our dismay, your character sees very little in the way of action. Knowing that a third TAKEN film was just greenlit, is there any chance we’ll see your character go deeper into the fray?
GRIES: Well, I just started filming on Monday on TAKEN 3, and I don’t finish shooting until July. This time around, I’m a little more involved; I won’t say that I’m a great deal involved but way, way more than I’d been involved in TAKEN or TAKEN 2. Leland Orser and David Warshofsky are coming back too, so it’s the original trio from TAKEN. If you recall, on TAKEN 2, David was out of the country and we only shot for a couple of days, so D.B. Sweeney stepped in for the role. But David is back for TAKEN 3.
FANG: Is there anything else that you have coming out in the future, genre-wise?
GRIES: I do have one thing coming out in the horror genre called VILLISCA, and it’s about the Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa. It’s about a few teens who decide they want to break into that house, and I play the caretaker of the house. It’s a pretty wild ride and it’s from the group behind BlackBoxTV, who are making VILLISCA their first full-on feature.
LOCKER 13, starring Gries, Ricky Schroder, Jon Polito, Rick Hoffman and Krista Allen, is currently available in limited theaters and on VOD. You can also see Gries in the genre festival favorite, FAULTS, which is slated for release later this year.