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An Interview with Damian Maffei, Star of Christmas with the Dead

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2011

Films starring Damian Maffei on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your upcoming film Christmas with the Dead - in a few words, what is it about?

 

It's about a man, possibly the last man, trying to make up for what he wouldn't do when his family was still alive. And that's being a good husband and father. Celebrate some Christmas. And there are zombies. Is that a few words? It's more isn't it?

 

How do you prepare to play what's essentially the last man on earth?

 

Michael... I often feel like the last man on earth everyday. Nah. Got to get into the mindset. Of what it could possibly be like to lose your family. The people you love, and vow to defend, and fail to. Everyday things you take for granted, all gone. Why you would continue to try and make a life for yourself, or simply continue living. You can't just rely on the dialogue, the lines put there for you, you have to go deep. Very deep. It's a disturbing place to go.

 

I've heard your (Christmas-)movie was shot in the heat of June. How much strain did that put on you physically, and on your performance?

 

New York (where I live) can get pretty humid in the summer, but wonderful Texas, East Texas... it's the kind of heat that you would out of the house and it hits you and you curse at the sky and air around you. At least that's what I found myself doing, quite often.

That said, I think I did pretty well with it. I sweat like a jungle boar just thinking about Texas, so other than drenching my wardrobe within minutes, I handled it well. And the crew made it easy on us, getting us in and out, providing places to go. Like a brisk shade of 102 degrees. Quite lovely. My character is a Noo Yawker, and the time and location of the shoot line up with the film (Texas in June) so I just took it in as long as it didn't threaten my life. There was one day, I'll not forget it. It was my birthday in fact (thank you) and we were filming out in a field, devoid of shade, and it was brutal. I love what I do, but I had to remind myself that I wasn't being punished for something.

 

According to my information, legendary writer Joe R.Lansdale [Joe R.Lansdale interview - click here], who wrote the story Christmas with the Dead, discovered you for his film when he saw you in the stageplay A Night of Joe R.Lansdale (also based on his work of course). Would you like to elaborate on this, and what kind of a person is Joe R.Lansdale?

 


A Night of Joe R. Lansdale was the first encounter between myself and that guy. Patrick Kennedy, who I had not talked to since college, called me up one day and said he was doing a play of Joe's and he wanted my participation. I was heading off to do a film, but I told him when I got back I could help out. Wound up playing a Rod Serling-esque narrator opening the first and second act. I didn't do much in the show, but what I did do, Joe must have liked, because we stayed in touch.

What kind of person is Joe? Hmm... he's smart. Saw me and wanted to work with me. Kudos. I can tell you, I had been a fan of Joe's for some time before I met him, and having read his work, and seeing his manly back cover photos, you wonder what kind of guy is going to show up. Will he chew nails in front of us? Look at us, grunt, and chop a park bench in half?

The guy that does show up is as personable, funny, and as enjoyable to be around as anybody I've known. And he's a wily sumnagun. I don't have to tell anyone about his talents, he's brilliant, and the fact that you can't peg him down into a genre, or set pattern, makes him the legend that he is. But don't get on his bad side, he'll chop you in half.

 

You also had your hands in the production of Christmas with the Dead. How did that come about?

 

I think I was one of the first people Joe called about Christmas with the Dead, and it was still in the early birthing stages, so we weren't sure exactly what we were going to do with it production scale-wise. I just put some feelers out, got some folks involved, both in creating websites and such for it, and those would later on work on the actual production. I contacted a terrific artist named Alex McVey, who I had been seeing the work of on many a Lansdale and Brian Keene cover. So he and I got to talking and we hired him to do what turned out to be a series of teaser posters which all represent the magic of Christmas.

 

A few words about your director Terrill Lee Lankford [Terrill Lee Lankford interview - click here], and what was your collaboration like?

 

Lee Lankford is aces. He came in and took over the production, hoisted us all on his shoulders, and dragged us across the finish line in style. And in first place. I loved working with Lee, he's a smart s.o.b., and I think he carved out a pretty damn cool film here. And we complained about the heat together.

 

Let's leave the present behind for the moment and head forward to your past. What got you into acting in the first place?

 

Sitting around watching movies with my mother, going to see shows. She was a film fan, and even when I was sitting there watching some B film, she'd point out some veteran actor and pull out some adorable tidbits of information on them. Or tell me how underrated they were. I started to recognize some performances standing out from others in movies, and that was exciting. I wanted to do that. We'll see about that.

 

As far as I know, you attended the William Esper Studio for Acting in Manhattan. In what way did that shape you as a performer?

 

My first real foray into acting came at Nassau Community College. I thought I was hot shit coming out of High School, and got cast in my first play at the college (Raft of the Medusa) and so I really thought I was hot shit. I was apparently more like misshapen steamy shit, because I got my acting ass handed to me. Director and theater chairperson Victor Abravaya pushed and pushed until real moments started spilling out of me. It was pretty incredible. I remember coming home from rehearsals pale white, and a bit lightheaded. My mother thought I was "doing drugs". Except she knew I couldn't afford them, so she bought the whole "acting"-thing. After NCC, I went to the Esper studio. NCC proved to be a wonderful launching pad, and Esper helped shape me into an actor who wants to make that interesting decision. My teacher there, a brilliant teacher named Terry Knickerbocker, runs a tight ship. Being real through the given circumstances.

 

What can you tell us about your first experiences on a movie set?

 


Well, I guess that was Nikos the Impaler. I was still in Esper, and a friend of mine (Marcus Koch) was heading to Long Island to do the f/x for the movie, and they were still casting some smaller parts. So I threw my hat in there and scored Officer Cole. Big score. The most memorable experience for me on that set was me showing up one day (non-work day) to visit Marcus, and they were preparing to film a scene that I guess someone overlooked, that a body needed to be on the ground for. So... I'm there. My visit consisted of me laying on a cement floor for 2 hours, with another actor laying on top of me (we introduced ourselves after he was laying on me for 25 minutes) and buckets AND buckets of blood being dumped on me. It's precisely what I was going to acting school for.

 

You have also done quite a bit of stagework. How does live theatre differ from acting in a movie?

 

It can be pretty funny. Generally, if you do a lot of stage then set out and do your first movie without making an adjustment... the results can be pretty alarming. Horrifying. I've been horrified. The camera man, it picks up everything. And it can be obnoxious too, if you don't do exactly what it wants. Stage is a bit more giving, bit more free. Usually you get a part and rehearse, you grow as a character, fun stuff starts to happen. The instant reaction from an audience is a wonderful thing for an actor, but it's a curse too. One night you'll go out, and what you're doing is the funniest thing. Ever. Next night's audience... not so much. But you've got to keep doing what you do. Don't add on, don't push, don't "improve". A good actor will feel it. And sometimes there is no audience. The big test of theater comes after however many number of performances, and that thing you've invested so emotionally, doesn't mean anything to you anymore, because you've done it so many times. I can only kill Fido off in my head so many times before the well is dry and I've got to go somewhere else. Keeping it fresh and real can be a bitch.

On the other hand, when you see a great performance in a film, we usually take it for granted. Film's don't generally allow for all that much rehearsal time, or takes. With all the variables in play in every given scene, between actors and equipment... a great performance is just that. And usually means someone did their work beforehand.

 

What can you tell us about Ghost Lake, on which you had a supporting role and also did quite a bit of behind-the-camera work?

 


Ghost Lake is a movie that once again, Marcus Koch was doing the f/x on, and I was friends with one of the director's friends. I knew they were still casting some parts, and I wanted everyone to know that I was going to be in the movie. Even if I had to jump on a bus and take an 8 hour trip to upstate New York and show up and wander around until they put me in. Which is what I did. That was a great shoot. Very small cast and crew, most of us stayed in this lake cottage and it really became a team thing. It was unusual to put that number of people in one place, shooting something as tense as any movie in the best of times can get, and not really fight. As for the behind-the-scenes thing, someone was initially supposed to film it, but that didn't happen, so I elected myself (I was in the zone). I had no real crew experience, or talent for it, but I wasn't leaving, so I became behind-the-scenes guy. And I shot the hell out of it. It didn't occur to me that someone would have to go through 30 hours of behind-the-scenes footage (including 4 hours of a stray cat which didn't make the cut) until much later.

 


You had your first lead role in a movie in Jay Woelfel's Closed for the Season, right? What can you tell us about that film and your role in it?

 

I think technically my first lead was in a film called 7 Couches, which is slinking around somewhere. Neat film, it should rear its head one day.

As for Closed for the Season, I played James, son of the caretakers of this abandoned amusement park in Chippewa Lake, Ohio. One night a woman runs up to the house shouting and pleading for help, and so we head off into the park. Me, the valiant sort, wanting to help. But instead, we find ourselves trapped by a park that's none to happy to have been left alone for so long.

I had worked with Woelfel on Ghost Lake, and he had contacted me about doing this one. He said a whole bunch of stuff but all I really heard was "shooting in an amusement park that has been abandoned for 30 years." Sign me up. That kind of stuff is directly up my alley, so I was totally for it. Script and part and stuff would fall into place later on. The place was incredible. It's amazing what plant life will do to stuff when you just leave it be. I knew from a documentary and book I had been sent, that when you enter the parking lot of the park, you'd see the giant wooden roller coaster that stands right at the fence. But when I arrived there to be brought around... I didn't see no roller coaster. Because it had been completely surrounded by plants gone wild. And that's what the whole place was like. It was a privilege to shoot there, and really kind of sad. The movie and locals made you think about what a fun place it used to be, all the memories there, and it was just left to rot.

 

A few words about Ext. Life?

 

Ext. Life is a cool short film I did about this actress hoping that she just caught her big break. I play Dave, some guy that appears out of a bonfire at a part. Shot on Long Island, it's a bizarre, dark little piece, and I really enjoyed doing it. As far as I know the director, Kevin Kolsch, had intended on making it a three part piece, which I still think is a cool idea.

 

Anything you can already tell us about your upcoming Castaways?

 


Castaways is going to be badass. It's an adaptation of a Brian Keene novel, and I've been a fan of Keene's for years, so getting to be in on this is a giddy little feeling. I had met Brian through Joe and Kasey Lansdale [Kasey Lansdale interview - click here] and I got the Lansdale company behind Christmas with the Dead, Drive-In Movies, to option the rights to Castaways, with my solemn oath that it would be supremely badass. And it will be. Kasey and I started gently pushing it in the right direction, and since then it's simmering wonderfully.

The book (and movie) are about a reality show called... Castaways that puts contestants on a deserted tropical island to fend for themselves whilst performing hard to ridiculously hard tasks (I think there's a show like that on TV). There's the usual stuff, you've got romance, lust, intrigue, alliances, backstabbing, emotions run high, and a race of mutant cryptid cannibals who don't care about the show but rather their selfish feeding and mating needs. As a horror fan I'm excited for it. Ted Rypel is penning the screenplay, and his combination of intelligence and the balls to go where the thing needs to go, is cause for excitement. Jon Wagner is on to direct, and I'm very pumped to be working with him. He's a force to be reckoned with.

 

Any other films of yours you'd like to talk about, any future projects?

 

I want to talk about Castaways some more. There's some great stuff cooking along for me, but I'll mention a play that I'll be doing in the near future called Suckerfish, which Patrick Kennedy of A Night of Joe R. Lansdale put me on to. I'll keep the details vague on this one, but just know that it's way awesome. So you folks that don't like to sit in building and watch people run around on a stage, live, can just stow that. And it's going to be produced (unleashed?) by Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet of RAW Studios, and if those two aren't enough to peak interest... then you're already dead.

 

Most of the films you're in are horror movies. A coincidence, or is horror a genre dear to you, and why?

 

Horror is dear to me. Folks have asked why I love horror films, and frankly the questions always comes from someone seeing me on stage, or having become familiar with my stage work. They want to know why such a "serious" actor, such a "delightfully and wonderfully talented actor" (quoted myself there) loves horror movies so much.

I dunno. Just do.

Let's just say there's something about an effective horror film. I still sit there and watch anything, but I don't get the enjoyment out of the rubbish like I used to. But I still search through all of them, hoping for the best. So that has a lot to do with why the majority of stuff I'm in falls in that genre. The horror community is a solid one, it's unlike any other genre. There are society's dedicated to this wonderful thing. Dozens of successful conventions fire off around the country every year, and they're a whole lot of fun to attend. So growing up as a horror fan, you have the advantage (especially with that there internet) of linking up with other horror fans. Some of those horror fans go on to do stuff in movies, and you can team up to build a better tomorrow.

 

Roles you'd really love to play (no matter how improbable)?

 

I'd love to play Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum on stage. I'd love to play Mitch Brenner in The Birds (and be horrified at a remake at the same time). I'd also love to play a small town sheriff in a horror movie. Looks like fun. I can squint.

 

Actors (or indeed actresses) who inspire you?

 

Claude Rains. Roy Scheider. Clu Gulager. Darren McGavin. Guy Pearce continues to inspire.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

The Invisible Man, The Descent, The Birds, Aliens, The Thing (Carpenter), Defending Your Life, Black Christmas (original)... I'm going to stop myself, otherwise we'd be in trouble. I'd like to have more artistic films on there, and I do have my cultured moments, but... I did leave off The Money Pit.

 

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

 

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I can't really tell you, can I? I'll tell you what, I'll invite you to hang around with me for a day or two. Inevitably someone will mention a movie that will cause an instant reaction to my face that is undeniably me disgusted. This will more than likely happen several times. Good fun.

 

Your website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

The website is www.damianmaffei.com. It gets updated every so often. You can track me down on Facebook, as long as supplies last. Just throw in my name, I'm the Damian Maffei that looks like me, and not like the other ones. Similar rules apply to twitter: @damianmaffei. Go forth and follow me. I'm good with the following back unless you're just selling jewelry, or penis enlargements. Got enough of one, and I've given up on the other.

 

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

 

I don't think so. Just don't forget to ask me to play the part of small town sheriff if you're ever casting the role of small town sheriff in your small town (sheriff) movie.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thank you, Mike, I enjoyed the hell out of it!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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

 

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