Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on October 20, 2011, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


Would you venture inside an allegedly haunted asylum, guided by a couple of guys who call themselves The Vicious Brothers? Actor Sean Rogerson did, playing reality-TV host Lance Preston in Grave Encounters, which just debuted on DVD; the actor recalled the experience for Fango.

The movie, out from Tribeca Film and New Video, is set at the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, which is said to be a site of supernatural phenomena. Preston, the host of the Grave Encounters paranormal-investigation show, heads inside with his crew (played by Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko and Merwin Mondesir), who lock themselves in for the night in the hopes of capturing some scary stuff on camera. Unfortunately for them, evil forces really do dwell within its walls and aren’t about to let them leave, and the writing/directing Colin and Stuart Vicious present their plight as recovered video footage, documenting the group’s plunge into terror and madness. Fortunately, Rogerson himself, who spoke with us at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, made it out with his sanity intact…

Often, in the auditions for movies like this, the actors aren’t told much about the project or the role. Was that the case for this one?

My audition process was completely different from anybody else’s. I had to go out of town during the time of the audition, so I had to send in a tape that I made on my little camera. I videotaped myself, took the small scene they gave me and added a little bit of dialogue of my own.

Which scene did they give you?

It was one of the scenes when the caretaker arrives to take us into the building. So it was just me basically setting up a shot, doing the very beginning—“Welcome to Grave Encounters, I’m Lance Preston.” And also breaking down with Sasha in the tunnels.

How much did they tell you about the role and the character before you got the part?

Nothing, really. They had seen my demo reel prior to that, and all the people I’ve played in the past have been much darker; I’ve always played the bad guy in everything. They said they liked that aspect of me for when I go into the tunnels and I’m by myself, but they wanted to see the host guy—to see if I could be, I guess, fun [laughs].

What horror roles had you played before this one?

I’ve played psychopaths and people like that, guys with mental issues. And I played a vampire in the second Underworld.

What was that experience like?

It was amazing. It was a huge set on a mountaintop in Vancouver. We went up there, I guess at midday, and there was no snow, so we were going to have to create it all. And then in four hours, we had two feet of real snow just come down. It was crazy. And it was just such a giant set—it was humongous. People in half-werewolf costumes, everybody freezing, horses everywhere.

And from that, you went to the very small, contained shoot of Grave Encounters.

Yeah, very much so. It was so confined, and so real. There was nothing fake about where we were at all. It was a real mental institution that is shut down now, and primarily used for filming. But the building just up the road from it, in the same lot, is still active.

How much of a screenplay did you and your co-stars work with?

They had a complete script, but we were allowed to ad-lib when we wanted to, while trying to stay close to the basis of what they had written.

When you did a typical scene, were the cameras just sort of embedded, and you were free to wander around and improv your movements? Or was it a very strict process where you had to be within this camera’s range at this particular time?

We were shooting with, probably, three or four cameras at any given time. I had one in my hand that was always on. Ashleigh, who played Sasha, also had one that was always on, and our camera guy, his was actually doing most of the filming. The only cameras that were set up were the ones on the tripods, those static cams in the movie. Those were the ones we sometimes had to stay in range of, but otherwise we were free to roam and follow ourselves with our cameras.

The directors of the [REC] films have said that they would not always tell the actors when the scary stuff was going to happen, just to add to the realism of the reactions. Was it the same kind of experience on Grave Encounters?

There were a lot of times when the guys would scare us at some point within the scene; they’d be hiding behind a door, or make noises when we weren’t expecting it. There were many moments when they would let us kind of go off on our own, and they’d go somewhere and set something up for us.

Did you shoot in sequence?

Yes, the entire thing. That was so fortunate for us actors, that we got a chance to work it from start to finish. It was kind of like doing a play, almost, because we got to live the story as it went on, instead of doing the end first.

Many of the scare scenes must have been crucially dependent on timing.

So many. And a number of them didn’t make it into the film. During the last scenes, the sun was coming up, we had time constraints, and we had to run from one end of the building to the other, shoot the scene right there, and then move on. We were always fighting the light.

What kind of stuff didn’t make it into the film? Any moments you were especially proud of that you wish were still in there?

[SPOILER ALERT] There was just some fun stuff. Lance is the only one who actually makes it at the end, and he’s pretty much empty. There was a scene where the caretaker actually finds me, and I thought it was a great moment because he’s completely devoid of anything anymore. Throughout the movie, you see that he’s so full of life, and all aspects of life; he’s a pain in the ass, but he takes care of everything, and then he just loses it at the end. It was great.

As you said, Lance has his non-likable side…

He’s a bit of a douchebag, yeah.

But he’s also the character we follow the most through the film. Was it a challenge to make him likable enough, even though he’s a bit of a jerk, to keep the audience with him over all that time?

I was worried about that, but I found that the true douchebag side of Lance Preston really came from his voice. You know, when he turns on “the voice,” and it kind of makes him a little bit of a dick. But when you have those moments when he talks to the other cast, and wants to do his job and be good at it, that’s when you kind of warm up to him and think, “Well, he’s just working hard.” He gets the job done, you know?

Had you seen many of the previous found-footage genre movies, and did you take any performance cues from them? This is obviously a different kind of acting than in traditional horror films.

I was a big fan and fell completely into the whole Blair Witch thing. I mean, I thought that was real when it first came out. I fell hook, line and sinker for that. And I knew that Grave Encounters was going to require being completely in the moment for whatever was going on, because that’s exactly what I felt it was for Blair Witch. That style of acting is just so honest; these guys are experiencing something now, and that’s what I felt when getting ready for this role. We were just going to have to be there, take in our surroundings—which, fortunately, were a psychiatric hospital. We had three days prior to filming to get to know each other, and develop the relationships we were going to have on camera, and spending that much time together made it all happen. It helped us come together and live in the moment.

How long did you shoot for?

Twelve nights, straight through in the hospital. I guess there were maybe two additional days as well.

Did that take any kind of toll, working all nights?

Huge. It was my first time doing a lead in a film, so I was on set all the time, every scene. And it was 13 hours at a time when we were shooting. So there was very little rest, and there were times when we were kind of delirious and started hearing things. That really helped out.

Did you sleep on the premises to keep the spirit going?

A few times, yeah. It was completely surreal, everything about it. But fortunately for us, that was not hard in that place. You could take five minutes and go off into one of those rooms; they were all completely different, they all had such different personalities, that it didn’t take long to get back into the moment.

Was there a lot of dressing of the rooms, or did you just use what was there?

What was there. There were a few times when the hallways start to get more convoluted with stuff, and that was the only set dressing that happened.

And when the characters start disappearing in the movie, was that it? As soon as the actors wrapped, did they just leave?

Gone. We were by ourselves. By the end of the shoot, it was me and, you know, three people just hanging out. It became very lonely, absolutely.

Are you going to reteam with the Vicious Brothers on future projects? Have you talked about follow-up films?

We have talked, and yeah, we have some things in the works. They have a script called Clinic, and I guess they have a couple of parts they want me to take a look at, depending on who else they cast. I don’t know too much about the project, but I believe it’s about a drug rehab clinic and pertains to vampires as well. So I might be playing some kind of orderly within the facility, and possibly be a vampire.

So that would be your second one, after the Underworld film.

Yes, I loved it. Are you kidding me? Who doesn’t want to play a vampire? It’s so much fun. Just put me in contacts and I’ll play the part.

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