Horror & Cult film expert RavenX The Living Dead Girl is known for spending months researching her subjects before an interview to make sure her questions are fresh and inventive. This December 2011 interview with Bill Oberst Jr. fits the RavenX pattern, as The Living Dead Girl puts Bill’s feet to the proverbial fire with questions on females in horror, his thoughts on mortality and darkness and Bill’s creepy nipples, all set to the background music from Take This Lollipop. It’s a popular interviews, with nearly 700 views to date. For best effect, read it with the music and extras on Raven’s site.
ANATOMY OF FEAR, LOLLIPOP and SEVERED EAR
I’m so HONORED to have had the opportunity to indulge in this interview with the AMAZING Bill Oberst Jr.
Q: Do you believe in Fate and if so would you elaborate on your perspective?
A: I do believe in fate. And I believe in God. I believe that we all have a reason to be here, and that the good part of life is about finding out what that reason is.
Q: Your career as an actor began with many theatrical portrayals of historical figures. From 1994 through 2004 you played, Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth and from 1996 to 2004, you played John F. Kennedy in a one-man show titled, JFK. Would you elaborate on how your career as an actor began in the theatrical world portraying historical figures and your experience creating your one-man show, Stand Up! When Comedy Was Funny?
A: I still do Jesus of Nazareth on occasion. When I was a kid, I would have conversations in my head with the great men I had read about. When I grew up to become an actor, I turned those conversations into one-man shows. I traveled across the country with the idea of resenting a figure of the past using only their actual words. Besides Jesus there was Mark Twain, JFK, Lincoln…and of course Woody Allen and Rodney Dangerfield. It was great fun and surprisingly hard work. All actors should tour. It builds humility.
Q: You also portrayed Lewis Grizzard in, A Tribute To Lewis Grizzard with the touring production, from 1999 to 2009. Reflecting back to that time, can you share the impact it had on you and your career?
A: Lewis Grizzard has been good to me. When I launched that show in 1999 with the blessing of his widow, Dedra Grizzard, Lewis had only been dead for 5 years, so it was a challenge to do with the memory of him so fresh in people’s minds. I looked a bit like him and the timing was right. It took off and at the peak of that show I was doing hundreds of Grizzard shows a year, often standing on the same stages he had a few years before in front of the same audiences.
Q: How did you transition from theatrical roles to your first film?
A: Rick King cast me as the lead in his docudrama SHERMAN’S MARCH and we got a review in The Wall Street Journal. I was making a good living on the stage but I thought, “If you ever want to try film, you better get your ass to LA while the iron is hot.” So I came out with my little review in hand. Tough town. Educated me real quick.
Q: How do you feel about females in the horror genre today?
A: I kill a lot of women. And those I don’t kill I terrorize (I’m speaking cinematically, of course!) Women in horror are traditionally the victims. There’s an archetype of Beauty and the Beast, an ugly man and a beautiful woman who is afraid of him. It goes back to Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I understand the appeal of it. Lord knows it keeps me working, but it is a little tired, isn’t it? I think filmmakers should give horror fans more credit and assume they are more diverse and intelligent than many seem to. All of the horror fans I know are smart people who are bored with clichés. And there are many young directors moving in this direction already. But old formulas die hard. Why do women have to be so helpless in horror? I always wonder why they don’t just kick the villain in the nuts. Sure would stop me.
Q: As an actor your choice in roles has gravitated toward projects in the Horror genre, since you first began as an actor. Would you say that your greatest passion for your creative expressions as an actor is in the Horror genre?
A: A fascinating question – never thought about that before. But the answer is yes. I enjoy playing conflict and darkness and brutality and remorse and rage…all mixed up together under one human roof. The characters in horror allow an actor like me to play in that dark sandbox and to have fun. The audience can tell if you are having fun or not. Audiences have a highly tuned bullshit detector. So I do my best work when I am playing that mix, which for some reason works for me on camera. That’s where I can have fun. This allows the audience to have fun (which is the whole point of the exercise!)
Q: Are there any character roles that you want to play and haven’t yet had the opportunity? If so, would you share why and would you elaborate on the character roles which you want to play?
A: I keep thinking that there are and then I keep getting to play them, so my list is getting shorter! Onstage I did everything I ever wanted to: I played Jesus and Presidents and did musicals and dramas – very satisfying. In my three-and-a-half years in film, I have been similarly lucky. I did want to play a cult leader; had been thinking about that for a while; and then I have to play one this year in Jourdan McClure’s disturbing CHILDREN OF SORROW. I have wanted to play an otherworldly monster and now I can cross that off my wish list since I’m attached to the Cheryl Compton script EVIL’S TOY as the demon Gadriel. I’d like to do a werewolf or skinwalker…another cannibal would be nice…maybe a badass non -Twilighty vampire; a real throat-ripper. I guess that’s my Christmas list.
Q: As an actor your roles have included a bit of nudity. Would you share some of your most memorable moments of trial-and error when you were first developing and learning to play roles, which included nudity? Also, is there one specific film or scene which included nudity which really stands out to you and if so why?
A: I don’t do it that often but if it makes a strong statement about the character, I don’t shy away from it. I’m in kind of a subset with nudity because when I’m asked to do it, the scene always relates to violence or creepiness; never to love. So I have no illusions about being attractive. When you are supposed to be disturbing, you have to check your ego at the door. There’s actually a long tradition of using nudity to accentuate a villain’s scariness or insanity. It’s a trope (a recurring motif) in films and television. I’m in good company: there’s Doug Hutchison who insisted on doing it as the killer Tooms in THE X-FILES because he thought it would be more primal; Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO and many more examples, both male and female. It’s an odd little subset of chilly villains. They are never easy scenes to do. It’s always cold. And mine always involve some stunt or action, like fighting demons in dungeons or falling onto tiled floors and such, so you’re gonna get scratched and bruised. But my attitude is, if I’m committed enough to a character to be au natural to make him more disturbing, I had better go the extra mile to make that scene work. If I don’t, instead of disturbing, I’ll just look ridiculous. And so will he.
Q: How do you feel about the Horror independent film scene at this current time?
A: I feel very good about the future of the genre! There are so many gifted young directors and writers with a passion for good creative, fun horror; and I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few of the. Their enthusiasm is infectious. For anyone who has only been paying attention to big-budget studio horror (some of which is quite good but some of which is so boring). I’d say check out the independent horror scene. Talent is everywhere – not just in LA or New York. I get these amazing scripts from writers all over the country and they say, “How can I get someone to look at this?” Talent is out there. BUT (and I feel strongly about this, Raven) we have got to stop stealing people’s work or indie horror will die. It’s just that simple. This is a business and nobody will make the films we love anymore if they can’t make money. They can’t afford to. We all are tempted by torrents. But we just have to stop stealing. Period. Or else I’ll have to wait tables. And I’d make a really crappy waiter.
Q: Do you have any interest in expanding your career in film as a director, producer, editor, writer, etc?
A: Absolutely. Like all actors, I look at directors and think, “I could do that.” But I can’t. Not yet, anyway. Producing is also a specialized skill. I’m slowly learning the ropes of both. I have to careful because I know how it hacks me off when someone says, “Hey I think I’ll be an actor. Looks easy.” Makes me think of when I first saw Michael Jackson moonwalk and thought, “What’s the big deal? Looks easy!” That’s the great trick of the business: to make it look easy.
Q: Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
A: My father taught me about work. My grandparents taught me about life. My mother taught me about Jesus. I could list hundreds of others, but those were my foundations.
Q: I’ve heard that you have been branded as the male Debbie Rochon and I must say, “HAIL Debbie Rochon!! That is such a huge compliment Bill!! How do you feel about that and what aspects about yourself as well as an actor do you think created this brand?
A: I just hope that Debbie Rochon is not offended! Yes, Brandon Sites of Big Daddy Horror Reviews gave me that nickname and I take it as a compliment. I hope it has something to do with a work ethic: Debbie works constantly. In a business with a 98% unemployment rate, she is a shining example of hard work. And she’s a great actor too. I played her abusive husband in an indie film called, RIPPED MEMORIES. She met me strength for strength in every scene. Boy, I sure hope no poor actress is ever called ‘the female Bill Oberst Jr.’ That isn’t a pretty picture to ponder.
Q: You are also a motivational speaker for schools and churches. Would you share what inspires that aspect of your life and the message you are communicating to others?
A: You ask about all the stuff I never get to talk about, Raven! I will try to contain my enthusiasm and be brief, but I am passionate about telling kids that they have a gift. No matter what life has thrown at them; no matter the hardships; God gave them a gift. And the purpose of life is not to acquire things or money or status – the purpose of life is to give the gift he gave to you back to others, as best you can. Life is only good when you are giving what you have away as a free gift. That’s how you start to receive. So I encourage them. I tell them to be tough. And I ask them to be kind. I tell them life is not a movie, and that only love is real. Only love endures. Then I take questions. They only really want to hear about monsters and 1,000 Ways To Die but I hope some of the real stuff takes root. They send me the sweetest thank you notes. One said, “I don’t care what the directors in Hollywood tell you – I think you have a very nice face”. Now that’s a good kid.
Q: Would you share with our readers your thoughts about mortality and darkness?
A: Oh my gosh. What questions you ask! OK, again I will try to be succinct, because I think about these topics a lot. Too much maybe. It’s my nature to be contemplative. I read a lot about pain and death as a kid. I was lonely and I read voraciously. I read above what was supposed to be my ‘approved level,’ so I was reading Greek tragedies and 18th century war diaries when I should have been reading Curious George (who I have since caught up on and enjoyed immensely, by the way.) All of that reading of the words of adults who had experienced loss and darkness taught me one really useful lesson. It’s universal. It’s all happened before. No matter what we suffer, it has happened before to millions of other humans. It also taught me that all things have an end. And I think most vividly, it taught me that much of the life we build around us is an illusion and a distraction. Sometimes a dangerous distraction. All of the noise we surround ourselves with keeps us from hearing the quiet whispers of what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Only a few things in life are real. Love is real. Darkness is darned sure real. But so is light. The value of stories about people who have journeyed into darkness is that they teach us how they got out of it. Sometimes the men I play don’t make it out. But those are real stories, too. They are cautionary tales. I thank God for the darkness. It is where I have learned my most-needed lessons. It is quiet in the dark, a good place to listen.
Q: You describe your body as creepy and I know the human body fascinates you. Would you share with our readers, your perspective on these topics?
A: Raven, my body is creepy! At least on film, it is. I know this because I have been told so by so many directors and cinematographers. They meant it (and I took it) as a compliment given the type of characters, I play. I also know it because I have seen my clips. Of course, when I look in the mirror I see the same as all of us do, just a body with a lot of flaws. I hate my ears; I hate my nose, etc. But the camera is a wonderful thing because it sees what it sees and not what you may want it to see. My body is lean and bony and my ribcage is freaky…combined with the rough texture of my face it makes me read as very creepy on camera. And thank God it does! I work because I have a definite look. Otherwise, I’d be just another middle-aged actor with bad skin. But even for beautiful people, I do think there is an inherent creepazoid factor in all human bodies (see the Ray Bradbury story ‘Skeleton.’) I mean we are trapped in these things and we can’t get out…all the pulsing blood and the cracking joints and the unseen processes going on just beneath our skin. I am fascinated by the human body; how it is so durable and yet so fragile.
Q: Do you consider your nipples creepy? I’m going to look at a photo that really shows your nipples. Then we can post the photo with our Interview and take a poll!!
A: I should fill your readers in: Raven is referring to a make-up artist on a shoot earlier this year telling me that I had the creepiest nipples she had ever seen. I told Raven that I thought that was just piling on. I mean c’mon – creepy nipples? How can nipples be creepy for pete’s sake? But it’s not the first time it has happened. I played this meth-addicted vampire for a pilot that never was sold last year and I remember a crew member saying, “You know, you have really weird nipples – they’re so long.” How do you respond to that? You can’t really say, “Why are you looking at my nipples?” because you are running around set in a full-body airbrush job wearing only prosthetics and a flesh-colored speedo, so you are kind of fair game. It’s an odd business, Raven. A very odd business. To which my IMDb keywords can attest.
Q: I read that you just formed a production company with Seth Metoyer, a writer and webmaster at MoreHorror.com. How did that collaboration come about and what is the status?
A: Seth and I share a passion for horror that has some spiritual component. THE EXORCIST is one example we both talked about in forming the company. There doesn’t have to be a religious angle necessarily, but we both enjoy horror that affects both the mind and the soul; intelligent horror that asks questions while scaring us silly. So we formed Dismal Productions to try and explore those kinds of stories and see if we could get some of them produced. Seth is finishing a draft for what might be our first film, about a priest with a secret. I’m hopeful.
Q: As you get older how do you think interaction with horror change and if so in what ways?
A: I hope that I’m lucky time enough to do a role that turns out to be iconic and I can have the freedom to play a little; maybe get behind the camera or the keyboard and help create the next icon. I love that you ask me to dream, Raven. Dreaming is good!
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: To keep doing what I love, to remember where I came from and to remember to be nice to people. Not lofty goals but I’m not a very lofty man.
Q: What is your philosophy as an actor?
A: Jimmy Cagney said it better than I ever could, “Hit your mark, look the other guy in the eye, and tell the truth”. To that, I would add John Wayne’s philosophy, “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say much”. And of course, Michael Caine’s, ”Don’t blink.” That’s about it. As Rabbi Hillel said, “The rest is commentary.”
Q: Do you have a specific mission in your professional career and/or do you just take it as it comes?
A: I wake up each morning and am so amazed that I get to do what I love for a living. It is kind of hard to get past that or to stop being grateful for it. I pray for the right doors to open. I trust God. I trust my manager. And I walk through the doors that open up to me. You know, when I write this down, it sounds pretty simplistic. But that’s all I got.
Q: Would you describe your creative process therapeutic, a relaxing outlet or more of an obsessive passion, which keeps you, exhausted until your project is completed?
A: Can it be all three? Because it honestly is.
Q: What career would you have chosen if you didn’t choose and become as an actor in the Independent Horror film industry and what plans do you have in the future as far as expanding your career?
A: I wanted to be a preacher. I wonder if I would have been a good one, or one of the hypocrites? I dunno. But acting is all I have ever really felt a driving passion for. It’s my vocation. I can’t do anything else. Nor do I want to.
Q: What are your current projects?
A: I don’t want to be one of those actors, who plug a long list of projects, so I’ll just invite readers to peruse my IMDb page if they are interested at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2454994/. I do have three projects I am especially excited about: I did the lead role in Jourdan McClure’s CHILDREN OF SORROW, a very dark horror feature in post right now. It is the most disturbing role I have ever done, so I am hopeful that my performance in it will be worthy of Jourdan’s truly twisted vision. Michael Emanuel’s horror feature SCARY OR DIE is picking up steam in early screenings prior to its release. It’s a horror anthology gala CREEPSHOW and I have a fun and reprehensible role in it. And I have just been attached for the lead role of Gadriel the Demon to Cheryl Compton’s very hot screenplay EVIL’S TOY, about a young woman who becomes obsessed with a Ouija Board and releases a demon into the world of social networking. Oh yeah and I’ve been scaring the crap out of millions of folks on Facebook this week with the Take This Lollipop app from director Jason Zada. That’s been fun!
Q: Any Shout Outs?
A: My amazing manager Matt Chassin, who kicked my career into overdrive this year. He is indispensable to me.
Q: Where can our readers, anyone and everyone find more out about you?
A: Here are my links. I follow back, I friend back and I answer my own mail. Always happy to hear ideas to make horror a better, more fun experience for all of us.
Official Site: http://www.billoberst.com/
Facebook FanPage: http://www.facebook.com/ActorBillOberstJr
Facebook Personal: http://www.facebook.com/billoberstjr
H.O.W.L. (Horror Online Work Listings): http://horrorjobs.com/bill-oberst-jr/
Fan Question from Heather Gortney: How long did it take in the make-up chair before filming every day, was the makeup comfortable and did it stay on or did it have to be touched up a lot during scenes?
A: I think Heather may be referring to scenes I did opposite the great Robert Loggia earlier this year in APOSTLE PETER AND THE LAST SUPPER. It is a Biblical film, not horror, but I played a demon who torments the elderly Peter, played by Loggia. They went back and forth, on how scary this particular demon should be. Since it was not a horror piece there were concerns about making him too frightening. In the end, they settled on black-iris contacts, distressed skin, hemorrhaging capillaries and curled black fingernails. The contacts hurt (as they always do; you can’t see much through them so they have to kind of point you in the direction of set or lunch or the bathroom) but the fingernails were actually the only part of the whole 2 hour make-up that hurt. I don’t see how women do it! There are many touch-ups throughout the day, yes. I might add that when you have been in a demon makeup for 12 hours, even when you get most of it off you are still going to look pretty scary. Probably not a good idea to stop for Twinkies on the way home. Just saying. Take it from a man who once wore a severed ear on a string into a 7-11. People do freak. Even in LA. Thank you so much for the interview. I’m a huge Raven Xfan so this has been exciting for me!!
Thank you Bill!! All my love and support always!! Bill supports very important charities, which include cancer research and guide dogs for the blind in particular. Guiding Eyes For The Blind http://www.guidingeyes.org/ and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center… mskcc.org/mskcc/html/44. As stated on IMDb, “The blood stained uniform Bill wore as Ranger Dale in the film ‘Dismal’ was a high-bid item when it was auctioned off at the 2008 Horrorfind Convention in Washington, D.C. by Scares That Care, a non-profit organization that raises money for children’s cancer research.”
Just heard from a U.K. television viewer that my torso was used on the program “World’s Greatest Body Shockers” on the E4 channel. Apparently a Google search for pics of Christian Bale’s torso from The Machinist returns this one of my own creepy ribcage as the first result and a researcher at the channel snagged [...]Read story