THE LESSER DEAD's Jack Kilmer On Playing A Vampire In '70s New York

Kilmer stars alongside Minnie Driver in this horrific audio drama.

By Gabriel Theis · @gabe_theis · April 26, 2023, 5:00 PM EDT
the lesser dead

What's so appealing about 1970s New York? Why do film and television, from Todd Phillip's Joker to Amazon Prime's Hunters, love to revisit this aesthetic of a decaying metropolis? Is it the griminess, the fact that The Big Apple had never been less safe, or more on the brink of financial ruin? Was it the culture that said griminess produced? The pioneers of punk that packed the halls of CBGB, like The New York Dolls or The Ramones, or the rogue filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, that used this seedy backdrop for parables of wanton violence and street-level mayhem?

Whatever the reason, this moment in time still allures those artists across all mediums, from film to novels and now audio dramas. And you know what's better than late '70s New York? Late '70s New York… and vampires. If you agree with that statement, you'll have to check out The Lesser Dead. Echoverse, the prolific podcast studio, has adapted the vampire novel of the same name into an eight-part series.

The official synopsis reads as follows:

"Set in wild-and-wooly 1978 New York City, The Lesser Dead embeds you in a colony of vampires led by the formidable Margaret McMannis (Minnie Driver) and is narrated by one of her clan members, Joey Peacock (Jack Kilmer), an irreverent, eternally-young 19-year-old who quite literally never grew up. When a dangerous new adversary enters their world, Margaret and Joey's unconventional family of vampires must come together before it's too late."


The Lesser Dead will surely be a hit with fans of both creature features and '70s throwbacks, creating an immersive audio experience filled with charismatic voice acting. Star Jack Kilmer spoke to FANGORIA about his love of the era, groovy vampires, and the challenges of playing someone in 1978 that's been alive since 1932.

So what attracted you to the project? Was it the character you're playing, was it the chance to work with people like Minnie Driver?

Yeah, I think I was drawn in by Minnie Driver being attached. Seeing that name is super exciting and attractive because she's such a professional and has so many great credits. But apart from the wonderful cast, I think I was attracted by doing an audio-drama because I hadn't done that before, and I was drawn to the setting. Late '70s New York is probably the greatest setting for a film or audio-drama you could think of, right? All the great movies from Taxi Driver to Bad Lieutenant. It's just such a cool, gritty time.


I got involved, and then EchoVerse sent me a gift. They immediately sent me a pair of fangs and two vinyl records—one of Bill Withers and one of The Velvet Underground. And I just thought, "This is so cool." There are a lot of great music cues in the script.

Walk us through the challenges of playing a vampire who's living in the late '70s but has been a young man since the 1930s. How do you prepare for a role like that?

My character, Joey Peacock, is like Peter Murphy or someone, but he's like an adolescent, kind of a clumsy and irreverent sort of rock star who has to reconcile how he became a teenage monster. And the future of vampires really depends on it.


The podcast takes you deep into this clan and embeds you in this underworld of groovy vampires. As far as some of the research goes, tapping into the music of that era was really important. I was listening to all the CBGB music, Ramones, Blondie and Television. Richard Hell and all that stuff.

I was also doing a little work on the accent. There's a little Ray Liotta in there. You know, vampires are centuries old, so they not only have swagger, but they have deep, ancient swagger from other eras. [Laughs] So there's a lot of fun as an actor with backstory on that.


Was that a fun part of the role? Playing a man out of time?

Yeah, yeah. One of the cool things about this project is how immersive it is, and what a great job they did to put you in that world just through audio and tricks of the studio.

One thing about our vampire universe is that they have vampire superpowers, and I don't think I've played anything like that before, but it's really engaging. There's all kinds of crazy stuff we did to make these superpowers come to life.


Can you walk us through some of the special techniques you guys used to bring this story to life?

As far as that versus "normal acting," obviously, you're not in-camera, so it's less physical. But we knew that would be the case, so we did various physical exercises. If I'm getting beat up in a scene, I probably took a couple of laps around the studio. We had some dumbbells and stuff. We made sure to get that "real" breath.


You've got to be focused, and you've got to speak very clearly into the microphone, which is something I really struggled with at first. Just speaking into the microphone, simple as that.

But I love playing music, and I'm a big gearhead, so I loved being in a recording studio. We were in a really cool recording studio in Hollywood, I was surrounded by synthesizers and really expensive rack mounts, so I was nerding out about that.


We had a great director and crew, and they'll guide you. They know what they need to get at the end of the day, and the engineers know what kind of audio works. So they'll keep you on track. Otherwise, yeah, I was able to just do my thing and make this character fun and crazy.

Do you get to act alongside your co-stars like Minnie Driver and Danny Huston?

We try to get as much magic with the cast in the same room, as possible, but everyone's schedules are so different, and sometimes that doesn't happen. And sometimes, they need straight, pure audio isolated in a booth just for the sake of editing.


Minnie was really generous, and so was everyone else. We had a lot of scenes face-to-face, in the same room, which was really fun. The rest of the cast mostly piped in through headphones, but they made sure to record them, so I had something to listen to.

Is that a space you would like to continue working in? The horror-thriller space, with monsters and creatures?

I love it. There's a reason people keep making stuff in the genre, it's magical, it transports you, and it's just a good time. I was able to do one of these characters that you hope comes along as an actor. Most leading roles are like, you know, you have to play the straight guy. And this was just oozing with character the entire time.

The Lesser Dead will only be available on Wondery+ until May 28, with a wide release in late May/early June.