Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on August 23, 2013, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
We here at FANGORIA are fans of busy genre actor AJ Bowen—though we’re not sure we’d invite him to our next gathering at an isolated home. When he turns up for a family reunion in You’re Next and a dinner party in Among Friends, grisly trouble follows, but Bowen survived to speak to us about both movies.
In director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s You’re Next (pictured above), Bowen plays Crispian, who travels to a large, remote home with his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) to help celebrate the 35th anniversary of his parents (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton). The festivities turn awkward when tensions between Crispian and his brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) boil up, and then deadly when the family comes under siege by animal-masked attackers determined to bloodily dispatch everyone inside. Among Friends, the directorial debut of actress Danielle Harris that Lionsgate is releasing to DVD, casts Bowen as Adam, who’s invited to a murder-mystery party by his friend Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit, who also scripted), where things get psychologically and physically torturous as the group is drugged and their deepest secrets are pried out. In both cases, Bowen really was among friends, reuniting with past collaborators in front of and behind the cameras (also including Ti West, who directed Bowen in The House of the Devil and the upcoming The Sacrament, and has a small role in You’re Next).
You previously starred in Wingard and Barrett’s A Horrible Way to Die; how did that lead to You’re Next?
We premiered A Horrible Way to Die at the Toronto Film Festival; we were a Vanguard film there, and Adam and Simon wanted to put a movie in the Midnight Madness slot because James [Wan’s] Insidious had been there. They really wanted to do something a bit more mainstream and fun, because I wouldn’t describe A Horrible Way to Die as fun. So Simon wrote this thing and…it’s funny, he and I, much like Ti, both like and dislike almost the same exact movies. Neither of us really enjoys the serial-killer subgenre, and we both made one, and Simon and I both dislike home-invasion movies and he went off and wrote one. He wanted to take a subgenre he had problems with and do his own version—the challenge was how to make a home-invasion movie that was fun.
So we got back together with some of the main team, both in front and behind the camera. Keith [Calder] and Jessica [Wu] from Snoot came on board to produce it, and we went to Columbia, Missouri, where we shot Horrible Way to Die, and almost exactly a year later, we were making You’re Next.
And you got Ti in there as an actor.
Yeah. We kind of make movies for each other and we’re all close friends, so I really appreciate that people are willing to watch our stuff. I don’t have much experience with making movies with people I don’t already know; when we do this, it’s like going to camp together—and going to war together. We all hate each other at some point during the process, but we love each other when we premiere them and as we’re going through them, so we’re family in that regard. A very dysfunctional one—or, I guess, a very normal one.
When I first got to Columbia for You’re Next, I went to the production office, where they always have, before the shoot starts, pictures of all the cast members respective to their roles on a wall, so we all know who is who, and right beside my picture was this woman. Now, I knew before the script was written that I was doing this movie, and I hadn’t paid attention to what was going on with casting, other than going in to read with actresses for the role of Erin. So I had no idea that Barbara Crampton, my honest-to-God biggest cinema crush of all time, was going to be in the movie—and not only that, but she was going to play my mom. I went, “Who is this woman we hired who looks like Barbara Crampton?” They laughed, and I said, “No, seriously, who is this?” And they said, “That’s Barbara.” I said, “Yeah, but why is her picture on the wall?” They said, “She’s in it; she’s playing Mom.” And the first thing I said was, “Get the fuck out of here!”
I was really scared, like white-hot. Joe Swanberg was getting into town like an hour after me, and I waited at the office until he showed up and was like, “Joe, we have to go to the bar right now.” We went and had a few drinks, and he didn’t understand why I was so freaked out. I was like, “Barbara Crampton is playing our mom! I don’t know what to do,” and he’s like, “Yeah, Rob Moran’s in it. That’s pretty exciting.” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, Farrelly Brothers, I love Rob Moran, but fucking Barbara Crampton is playing my mom. I don’t think she’s old enough to be my mom. I’m really uncomfortable with this, because Barbara is in some of my favorite movies, she’s really good and she’s also gorgeous.”
I hadn’t seen her in anything in a long time, and that night, I knew full well that we had to meet up with Barbara and Rob. I got to the restaurant and actually tried to duck out, because I was so nervous. I got outside and was waiting on the production coordinator to throw me in the car so we could go get drunk and do karaoke. All of the sudden, here comes Barbara, bursting out of the restaurant, and she goes, “Hey, you’re AJ, right?” I said, “Yes, ma’am.” “How old are you?” That’s the first thing she asked me! “I’m…33.” “Huh…” and I could tell she was sizing me up, because I probably looked like I was pushing 40 right then. Clearly, she was concerned about looking old enough to be my mother, and she said, “I guess, technically, that could work if this is a Gilmore Girls thing.” I said, “Yes, it’s nice to meet you.” Fast-forward a week, and we were at karaoke after doing some scenes together, and Barbara came up to me and said, “I’d like to sing a song with you.” “No, I don’t want to, Barbara.” “Please?” “OK, fine.” She picked it, and it was Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” We got up there to do it and she was looking at me while she was singing to me, and I got really scared and literally turned my back on Barbara while we sang it.
After all that settled down and I figured out she was a living, breathing human being, we became very, very close and she’s now a dear friend. But it is surreal to me to watch a movie where Barbara is playing my mom, and to go to festivals with her and see how people are responding to her choosing to re-engage in film, because she’s so talented. She’s incredibly smart and good at her job, and I’m so glad she has decided to work again. For me, out of anything from You’re Next, Barbara deciding to come out of retirement is fantastic. Everything else is gravy after that.
You played a savage serial killer in A Horrible Way to Die, but your role is very different in You’re Next…
It is! I’m an emasculated son in You’re Next. I do happen to have a super-smoking-hot girlfriend; Crispian is a professor who’s dating a former TA played by Sharni, who’s an awesome, awesome friend of mine, an Australian chick who was the lead in Step Up 3D. She rules, and she’s a really good dancer, and she was in a pop group so she’s a great singer too; I forced her to do karaoke with me. Crispian is the outcast, emasculated son, while Joe got to play the dominant older brother, which is funny because I’m five years older than Joe. Crispian doesn’t have his shit together and is kind of a mess, and is not an aggressive, strong human being at all. That was refreshing, but it was a nightmare on set to be around Joe, who got to do the opposite. Basically, I was abused by Joe and Rob for the duration of the shoot, which then bled over to the crew treating me that way. The only person to have my back was Sharni.
What led you to Among Friends?
One of the great blessings of appearing in Hatchet II was that I became very close with Danielle Harris. She called me and told me she was getting ready to direct Among Friends and asked if I would do it, and I said, “Yes, as long as I don’t have to rape any girls.” She laughed and said, “Oh no, it’ll be tasteful.” And I was like, “Wait, what?” She sent me the script, and it was kind of a horror/comedy, like Clue meets April Fool’s Day. I got to play a different character, and it was awesome to go to set every day with one of my best friends, somebody I respect as an actor who’s an even better person, and to work with Kane [Hodder] again, who’s also a friend of mine.
I couldn’t think of someone better suited to direct a feature film than Danielle. She knows so well the actor’s process, and the different approaches they can have and how to deal with temperamental assholes like me, so it was an awesome experience. I would have loved to have been able to shoot it longer, but it was done on a low budget and on the fly.
There’s a sequence in Among Friends where one of the characters is having a hallucination, and we see the story through her eyes; various people show up in this part, and one of them is Dani. Now, for the record, I have to say that although Dani is gorgeous, I don’t look at her the same way most people do, because she’s like a sister to me. We talk about relationships and gross things together. But when I showed up to set that day, she was wearing the clown suit from Halloween 4, and I didn’t know it was her because her back was to me. So I leaned over to the first AD and said, “Who the fuck is that?” He just laughed, and I said, “Seriously, who belongs to that ass?” I feel terrible telling you this, but it’s true.
So she turned around and it was Dani, and I felt so guilty, like I needed to apologize to her because I had just objectified her, and I know she’s had to deal with that a lot. She’s very talented, but unfortunately, people often look at her looks first, and I felt terrible that I had done this, though I didn’t know until she turned around that it was her. So the very next thing I said was, “Dani, could you do me a favor? Can you wear that for the rest of the movie while you’re directing? Also, next time we hang out, I’ll make you dinner and maybe you can wear that again?” She just gave me the finger and laughed at me, as she’s prone to do, and told me to go fuck myself. But yes, Danielle Harris can still rock that clown suit.