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An Interview with Chet Williamson, Star of Christmas with the Dead

by Mike Haberfelner

September 2011

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What can you tell us about the upcoming movie Christmas with the Dead and your role in it?

 

Christmas with the Dead is based on a short story by Joe Lansdale [Joe R. Lansdale interview - click here], and the screenplay was written by his son Keith. It's a delightful post-zombapocalypse story about a man who wants to decorate his house for Christmas for his dead daughter and zombified wife. Could be the feel-good movie of the year.

 

I play the Reverend Mac, a crazy preacher whose congregation consists of all the other escapees from the Mud Creek State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (of course!). Ole Mac, who's about three gospels shy of a New Testament, thinks this whole thing has been planned by God to remind us all of life after death, and he and his minions sacrifice other living people they capture to the zombies in a kind of unholy communion -- living wine and wafer. Yum!

 

How do you approach the role of an insane priest gone evil, and what can you tell us about your personal religious background?

 

I just play myself.

No, really, Joe sent me some links to these East Texas Baptist preachers, and I copied their style of walking and moving. As far as East Texas dialect went, I just tried to sound like Joe as much as I could, though the end result has a little Kentucky in it too, the result of watching too much Justified, I guess. 

As for my own religious background, I'm kind of a lapsed Protestant, pretty much a secular humanist.

 

In all honesty, was it fun to order zombies around?

 

You bet -- I'd never had actual minions before! The zombies don't take orders too well, though. Rev Mac handles them like some sects handle serpents. Of course, he makes sure that his minions are holding the poles that keep them from ripping off his arm and gobbling his innards. Still, minions are good. I like minions. Wish I had some at home.

 

To my information, Christmas with the Dead was shot in the heat of a Texan June. Was this at all taxing on you and your performance?

 

Actually it wasn't too bad. All my scenes were interiors, so between the air conditioning and the shade, I survived pretty well. We shot the climax in a big covered (though open-air) expo center, where they have rodeos, and that cooled down pretty well by night time, which is when we shot. What was more taxing was my screaming. I'm not going to give away any spoilers, but there was a scene where I'm lying on my back and screaming for a long time. Even though I'm a trained singer and know how to use my voice, I got too far into the moment and screamed so hard I broke a capillary in the back of my larynx. Two and half months later, it's still healing. It'll get better eventually, though, as long as I shut up. So when folks see that scene, I hope they realize what I sacrificed for my art. Yeah.

 


What can you tell us about your director, Terrill Lee Lankford [Terrill Lee Lankford interview - click here]?

 

Lee was great to work with. With all the students from Stephen Austin State University on the crew, it sure wasn't the setup that he was used to, but he handled it really well from what I could see the week I was there. There were tensions, of course, just as there are with any project, and it was a real trial by fire for some of these kids, most of whom did a great job working long hours. As for Lee, I just loved the guy, both on set and off. I had gone down a few weeks before shooting started for a table read and discussion. I'd done very little film acting before, and by the time I left Texas, I felt that Lee had taught me more in just a few sentences than I'd have gotten in a whole year of class training. He's also a terrific novelist, by the way -- I'm reading his Blonde Lightning now, and his other books are at the top of the to-be-read pile.

 

Christmas with the Dead is based on a story of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale [Joe R. Lansdale interview - click here]. Were you at all familiar with that story prior to filming, and what can you tell us about the good Mr Lansdale, the man and the writer?

 


Christmas with the Dead is one of the few Lansdale stories I hadn't read. Joe and I have been good friends for many years. We first met when we read our stories from the Silver Scream anthology at a World Fantasy Con, really appreciated each other's work, and never lost touch. We went to the WFC in England a few years later, took our wives, and all had a great time together. He's bought stories from me for a number of anthologies he's edited, and wrote a glowing introduction to my short story collection, Figures in Rain. His work is just amazing, and he's as amazing a person. His wife Karen and his kids, Keith [Keith Lansdale interview - click here] and Kasey [Kasey Lansdale interview - click here], are very cool too!

 

Let's go back to the beginning of your career: What got you into acting in the first place, and what can you tell us about your early acting experiences?

 

High school. I played leads in a lot of musicals in high school and college, and did straight plays as well. I got my Actors' Equity card by doing professional industrial shows, which were convention shows put on by different major corporations for their clients and distributors. I was out of acting for many years, but got back in about five years ago, and do a few short run shows every year.

 


Your main claim to fame though is as a writer. So what can you tell us about Chet Williamson, the writer?

 

Well, I'd just direct people to my website: www.chetwilliamson.com - there they can find out all about my twenty-plus books and hundreds of short stories and other stuff. Most of my work has been in horror and suspense, and many of my early books are now back in print as e-books, available at Amazon's Kindle Store or from Crossroad Press, my publisher. I've also recorded a number of audiobooks, some of my own, but others by Michael Moorcock, Tom Piccirilli, David Niall Wilson, and Zoe Winters. All of these can be found at Audible.com and at Crossroad Press. I also have a new suspense novel out as a trade paperback, Defenders of the Faith.

 


In your stories, you seem to return to the horror genre quite frequently. A genre at all dear to you?

 

I grew up on horror. Famous Monsters of Filmland was my favorite magazine. I found Poe very early, then Lovecraft and all the classic horror writers. I was fated to write horror.

 

You have also written quite a few plays of late. How would Chet Williamson, the actor, judge Chet Williamson, the playwright (and vice versa)?

 

My first full-length play, Revenant, was a ghost story/psychological thriller, and I've written some other darker work. I love to write for the stage both because of its collaborative nature (I have a number of talented colleagues in the Lancaster PA area where I live) and its immediacy. It's wonderful to see and hear an audience reacting to what you and your colleagues have created. And I've always loved writing dialogue, so plays are a perfect choice for me.

 

(At least) One of your plays deserves special mention here: The Sockfather! Would you like to talk about that one for a bit?

 

The Sockfather was the second in a series of sock puppet parodies I've written for Creative Works of Lancaster, a non-profit performance group with which I'm active. The first was Sock Puppet Psycho. They're 40-50 minute parodies of the films using sock puppets, and are totally insane. You can actually see them online: Sock Puppet Psycho here: www.vimeo.com/16432558 and The Sockfather, our parody of The Godfather, here: www.vimeo.com/25123600

 

One of your short stories, the greatly titled Gandhi at the Bat, has been turned into a short film. A few words about both story and film?

 


That story appeared in The New Yorker years ago, and has been anthologized over and over, most famously in Fierce Pajamas, the first collection of humor The New Yorker published. It posits Mahatma Gandhi batting for the Yankees in a 1933 ball game, and is total insanity. It's written in the style of a 30s sportswriter, and Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm, the two L.A. filmmakers, did it as a 30s newsreel. Their realization is absolutely brilliant. Here's the website: www.gandhiatthebat.com

 

What can you tell us about your musical career with Fire in the Glen?

 

Fire in the Glen is an Irish duo with which I sang lead vocals and played guitar for about six years with fiddler/bodhranist Tom Knapp. I had to leave the band a few years ago, since my theatre work was getting in the way of gigs, but I rejoin Tom from time to time when the newer band members can't make gigs. I recorded two CDs with Fire in the Glen, available here: www.rambles.net/fitg

 

Any future projects (be it films, plays, novels, music) you'd like to talk about?

 

Well, I'm working on some new plays, and trying to get started on a new novel. Detritus, a story that I wrote based on my experiences in Nacogdoches shooting Christmas with the Dead, will appear next year in Impossible Monsters, edited, of all people, by my Christmas with the Dead colleague, Kasey Lansdale [Kasey Lansdale interview - click here]. Other than that, I don't like to predict, believing in the old Zen saying, "One inch ahead is all darkness."

 

Writers who have influenced you?

 

Many: Joseph Conrad, Lovecraft, Poe, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Lafcadio Hearn, Philip Roth, P.G. Wodehouse, Andrew Vachss, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and of course Joe Lansdale Hisownself [Joe R. Lansdale interview - click here].

 

Actors who inspire you?

 

That changes with every film or play I see, but my latest epiphany was seeing Mark Rylance in the closing weekend of the Broadway run of the play Jerusalem. It was the strongest performance I've seen since I saw James Earl Jones do The Great White Hope on Broadway when I was a student. Absolutely unbelievable.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Wow. Too many to start, I'm afraid, but a few that come to mind are Vertigo, Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kurosawa's Ran and Seven Samurai -- many Japanese films. I like most films by Hitchcock and Kubrick -- pretty old school, really.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

   

Feeling lucky ?
Want to search for books by
Chet Williamson
yourself ?

The links below
will take you
just there !!!

Pretty much anything by Baz Luhrman -- his aesthetic and mine don't match up at all. And most horror movies with the number 5 or higher behind the title... except for the Final Destination-series, which I find to be really dumb fun!

 

Your website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

www.chetwilliamson.com, and I'm on Facebook, and on Twitter I'm @chetwill - so come on by and say hello!

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Since you're a film guy, you might find it interesting to know that, when I was doing work for hire, I wrote a novelization of The Crow: City of Angels. It was a terrible film, but David S. Goyer's screenplay on which I based the novel was really good. This taught me a valuable writer's lesson: no words are so brilliant that a director can't screw them up.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Delighted! And everyone come see Christmas With the Dead!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!

 

Bauliche Angelegenheiten
ein Roman von
Michael Haberfelner

 

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