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  • Interview: Bill Moseley of Repo! The Genetic Opera

    Fri, 14 Nov 2008 16:14:42

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    After spending five minutes with Bill Moseley, it's almost hard to believe that he can play evil as well as he does. However, that's the mark of a truly talented actor. With piercing blue eyes and a wide smile, Moseley comes off extremely warm and friendly. In person, he's completely different from the scourges of the screen that he typically embodies. Sauntering up to a favorite Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on a sunny Los Angeles day, he laughs, "Thanks for wearing that white jacket. That definitely helped me find you! I tried to do my part with The Abominable Dr. Phibes shirt." Moseley's t-shirt choice was helpful in recognizing him, but his punctuality proved impressive, especially by Los Angeles standards.

    A Yale graduate, Moseley is intelligent, witty, and engaging in conversation. He's been in every one of Rob Zombie's film projects in addition to slew of other genre staples. His latest film, Repo! The Genetic Opera, showcases another entrancing performance. It's calculated, darkly funny, and vibrant enough to stand alongside his other work.

    Moseley is a horror film stalwart. From playing "Chop Top" in Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 to assuming the role of Otis B. Driftwood in Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, he remains recognizable to genre diehards. However, with Luigi Largo in Repo!, Moseley constructs another complex character that's as psychotic as he is brilliant. Sitting at The Coffee Bean, Moseley's excited to discuss Repo! and much more with ARTISTdirect.com. He delves into his acting style and various musical projects in this exclusive interview.

    Looking back at Otis in The Devil's Rejects, you gave such a vibrant performance. With Luigi in Repo!, do you feel like you completely became him like you did Otis? Did you prepare for the role really intensely?

    Well, yeah, pretty intensely. My preparation included lots of singing. I've always taken singing lessons because it's good to keep your voice in shape. I've been doing that for about 15 years. Part of taking singing lessons was inspired by the band I had with Buckethead called Corn Bugs, because I was the vocalist. It was good to keep my throat ready. With any kind of acting job, it helps to have a strong throat. You don't want to go hoarse on Otis, or Chop Top, for that matter. That was my main concentration for Repo!. I tried to get the job by passing the singing test. [Director] Darren Lynn Bousman, as he said, certainly is a fan of my work, but he wanted to know if I could carry a tune because that's really important for an opera! That was pretty much where I concentrated. I wanted to make sure I passed the audition. In fact, I was able to take the audition song that they gave me, "Night Surgeon," to my singing coach and work on it—not only in terms of hitting the notes, but also in terms of the song's dramatic presentation. When I went to audition for Darren and Co. at a sound studio, I was able to hit the song and do a good enough job that they were excited about having me as a part of the ensemble cast.

    In Repo!, Luigi Largo seems like another very complex character for you. Is there some inner conflict that he faces?

    Yeah, there's a lot of inner conflict. It's about pleasing a father who has already made up his mind about him. When you're considered the family fuck-up or one of the family fuck-ups, there's really nothing you can do. So what you end up doing is trying harder not to be a fuck-up, and of course that makes you more of a fuck-up. I think at this point, Luigi is really pissed off. Then, thrown into the mix the fact that Luigi's aware that the line of succession from his father hasn't been determined yet. So there's also that sibling rivalry, not only to vie for the affections of his father but also to be tapped as his heir-apparent to GeneCo—the largest company in the world. That also makes for some rambunctious relationships.

    Some of the character struggles sound very Shakespearian.

    It definitely was Shakespearian. It's funny because a lot of the wardrobe—which is something that's going to blow your mind—is very Edwardian, even though it's a movie that's set in the future. The mixture of those two things—the future and very much of a retro wardrobe—is another wonderful aspect of Repo!.

    Descriptions have the movie pegged as "Blade Runner meets Rocky Horror Picture Show." Would you say that's accurate?

    I think, as a two-second summary, that is accurate. It gives you a sense of Blade Runner, in that it's a dystopic, not-too distant future where some of these things could happen, especially this whole idea of organ failure and designer organs for sale. The idea is you can buy them on time, but if you fall behind on your payments, the repo man comes and repossesses your organs. By an act of congress, even if that results in the death of the organ owner, tough beans, that's just the way it goes. If you don't make payments on your heart, your heart is repossessed and you die. That's the way it is. There are a lot of current events that weave themselves into Repo! in a warped way. It's like Blade Runner in that sense. Rocky Horror suggests there's a certain comedic element to it. There is, but at the same time, I don't think any of us ever tried to be campy. The Rocky Horror part is there, but we're not out there flaunting it.

    The sense of humor is more like The Devil's Rejects, where it's witty and sharp, but it fits in with the dark aesthetic.

    Exactly. I don't think there's anyone that's really going for laughs in this, which is really important. That's crucial especially because some of the characters certainly could lend themselves to that interpretation. I think that's another feather in Darren Lynn Bousman's cap. He held us all in check. He had an amazing ensemble of actors that certainly could've gotten way crazy, but instead we stayed true to the story and to the reality of the characters. We didn't just turn them into a bunch of cartoons.

    Similarly in The Devil's Rejects, Otis spoke how he did. The audience never felt he was trying to be funny. Some of those hilarious lines were just part of his character. Luigi sounds like he's got his own identity as well. To assume an immersive identity like that, do you feel like you undergo a certain transformation? How does it work creatively?

    The way I do it is I read the script a bunch of times and make the character real. I don't try to write things that aren't there. Some people do that. Some actors will write a biography of a character that they make up themselves. I don't know if that's really fair to the character, or to the writer for that matter. I try to take what's on the page and let that impact me somehow, so things and feelings make sense without necessarily having to come up with a novel about the character. With Luigi, there's plenty there on the page. I'm not sure if I'm Pavi's twin brother or if I'm actually the oldest. I was playing it like the oldest brother. It should be a slam-dunk that I would inherit the company from dad, and yet dad is not pleased with me and dismisses me. There's plenty there. Then to sing the songs and dance the dances, you end up with plenty of psychological ammunition without having to inject anything else.

    It seems like you have such reverence for the character and the material.

    Yup, that helps, too. You have to be able to do that even if you don't like the material. I think that's the trick. It's certainly easier to play someone like Otis or Luigi that is actually really well written. A lot of times, you're not going to get scripts that are as well written as those are. You won't always get characters that are as beautifully and frightfully delineated. You've got to have a system down. I try to do an open-eyed meditation. I try to make the story real. If the story's real, I can be okay with the fact that the character would have certain responses to certain situations. The more you sit with that, the more it just becomes real. Once a character becomes real, you have fewer distractions like, "Is the left side better than my right side is on camera?" or "Is my hair sticking up?" and all that crap. Those are those actor's considerations that end up distracting. I'm not into that stuff. I like to grab the character, get into his skin, and go for it.

    It sounds like the film even reflects some of our own current economic troubles as well. With repossession happening due to economic troubles, the concept truly shines light on some of today's problem. It does that while telling a story that's completely out there…

    And yet may someday happen. [Laughs] One advantage that Terrence Zdunich and Darren Smith, the co-creators of Repo!, have had is they've been doing Repo! for eight or nine years. It started out as a series of skits in nightclubs. Out of the skits, apparently one of the more popular ones involved the repo man repossessing someone's organs if they fell behind on their payments. That started to grow. It's taken a good long time. Usually you have something that's shaped out of the ice of one's imagination for a couple of months or a year. The fact this has had its own greening process has been really helpful. Everything is a lot more organic. That makes it an easier reality to play. There's nothing that's been forced into play because of time constraints or deadlines. This had a long mellowing process.

    Are there any operas that you're particularly into?

    I do like Pagliacci and all of that stuff. I love the voices, and I listen to it every once in awhile. When I hear this opera, I'll certainly listen intently.

    There's a rhythm to cohesive films so the music ties in. This film seems like it truly flows.

    It's funny, too, because I think one of the reasons that Lionsgate financed and produced Repo! is because of Darren Lynn Bousman's great work on the Saw films: Saw II, III, and IV. I commend Lionsgate on taking [the] chance to greenlight Repo!, whatever the risks and reasons were, because it's the kind of movie that's so foreign from most cookie cutter films today. It's pretty amazing because making movies is not an inexpensive undertaking. Even if there is just a limited theatrical release for Repo!, I think you have to look at it like, "Well, at least there's a theatrical release." I hope that with its limited release, it becomes wildly popular and is forced into opening wider. I know that Darren Lynn Bousman was actually going to undertake a road trip. He and some of his buddies are going to throw a print of Repo! in the back of a van and drive it around to show people what this thing looks like on the big screen in some of the towns that aren't getting that limited release. Between the size of the images and the sound quality, you really can't beat Repo! on the big screen. I was actually in Montreal at the Fantasia film festival for the world premiere of Repo!. That's where I saw it on the big screen for the first time, and what a fantastic experience. It's the kind of experience that's truly larger than life.

    Let's talk about The Graves. You're playing opposite of Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, which sounds intense. How did you craft your character in that film?

    I read the script. My character's named Caleb. I was talking to my buddy Kevin Kelly who is a member of the Actor's Studio. Sometimes when I get a script, I'll call him up and talk character [with] him. I was talking about Caleb. This isn't something I do naturally, but Kevin likes to assign animal values to the characters. I think maybe that's what Marlon Brando did or someone like that. When I was describing Caleb, he thought of him as a real pig. [Laughs] Without spoiling the character, that was a good inspiration. I just started really thinking about the character from there. The story is basically about a ghost town in Arizona where people keep disappearing. It's so cool to be working with Brian Pulido who wrote the script and also directed it. He's a well-known cartoon and comic book artist. He created a lot of characters, including Lady Death and some other fantastic characters. It was great working with him especially because of his expansive visual imagination. It was a lot of fun. I've got to say that Wickenburg, Arizona during the summer can get really hot. My scenes were all daytime scenes shot on-location. Where we filmed, the temperatures often reached 108 degrees.

    That's got to get you in the mood!

    Yeah, it definitely gets you in the mood. [Laughs] You're not stiffening up because of the cool breeze. The thing to do in a case like that is just to try to stay as hot as you can stand. A lot of the time, I just wanted to go to my trailer, counting on the A/C blasting; however, the A/C wasn't working too well, and it only got down to about 80 degrees. Believe it or not, that was actually helpful. It kept me cooler, but it didn't freeze me up. Brian's very excited about the film. He's really looking forward to getting it out there. I have another movie coming out too one of these days called Dead Air. That was directed by Corbin Bernsen from L.A. Law fame. That's kind of a 28 Days Later-type of movie. In Dead Air, I'm the lead, and I actually play a hero. I'm a radio DJ talk show host. I happen to be on the air when there's an incident that unleashes a flood of zombie-like people. That was a very intense production.

    That's got to be really fulfilling to branch out from playing another villain to being the hero and the central lead character in Dead Air. House also sounds pretty creepy.

    House is creepy. It's based on a Ted Dekker story. Ted's got his own shelf at Wal-Mart actually. He actually writes Christian books—faith-based books—but a lot of them are horror stories. Ted has ridden the wave of popularity that is this new market that's opened up since the success of The Passion of the Christ. There are a lot of faith-based people who want to see more than just the story of Daniel and The Lion's Den. They want to see horror movies and thrillers based on questions of faith, Christian, and philosophical themes.

    Those themes really transcend any one sect.

    Oh, absolutely. So House is one of those. It was actually the second one I did. The first was a movie that came out about a year-and-a-half ago called Thr3e. Both movies were directed by Robbie Henson, and both were shot in the town of Lodz, Poland. That was a lot of fun. I loved Poland. It was great working with the Polish crews.

    A few years ago when Devil's Rejects came out there was a campaign to get you a best supporting actor nomination for Otis. What'd you think of that?

    That was quite flattering. It shows that the horror genre doesn't get much respect. The chances of getting any kind of consideration for a character that drops the F-word 472 times in a brutally fantastic movie like that are slim. I remember Kathy Bates getting the Oscar for Misery, which was amazing. I decided it was not only amazing because it was an Oscar-caliber performance, but she really earned it. It was surprising that they would even nominate a horror movie. It was Stephen King. It had James Caan. It had a lot of respectability built into it.

    Devil's Rejects isn't a horror film, though. It's like a classic '70s action flick following the villains. There are more noir elements to it as well.

    I agree. It really is a violent crime movie. That's what's so brilliant about Rob Zombie. I don't think Rob's a big fan of traditional sequels. He was resisting the idea of making a sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses, but because it had exceeded expectations and made some money, Lionsgate was trying to get him to do a sequel. Somehow, what must've happened was Rob thought, "I'll do a sequel, but I want to continue to grow as a filmmaker. I want to test different genres. I don't want to be stuck in House of 1,000 Corpses 6: Otis Driftwood vs. Santa Claus. Instead, he actually came up with this amazing idea to make a sequel in a different genre. The principals all changed dramatically. I was no longer an albino. My eyes turned blue from the brown and red lenses I wore in House of 1,000 Corpses. I grew that beard. I had a ruddy complexion. Baby laughed her laugh once in Devil's Rejects. Most of the movie has Captain Spaulding out of makeup. He was like, "Let's peel away the more cartoonish aspects of the rejects and let's put them into something that's a lot more real and gritty and see how they fare." It was fun because it was a lot more challenging in terms of an acting part. It was ultimately, therefore, a lot more satisfying. Rob did a great job on House of 1,000 Corpses especially when you consider that we got dropped by Universal. We got picked up and dropped by MGM. I think a lot of editing material, scenes, and snippets got lost along the way. That's why it was so short. Just the fact that he persevered is huge. It was like wandering in the wilderness for those three years. I think the fact that he did The Devil's Rejects cemented his genius in my mind. House of 1,000 Corpses showed that he persevered. He wandered with the rest of us for those three years. Although, it's nice to have a hugely successful singing career to prop you up during those lean months. With Devil's Rejects, that's when I absolutely fell in love with Rob as a filmmaker and as a creative force. It's always a privilege working with Rob, who I consider a genius filmmaker.

    Otis is such a rich character. There were no boundaries on the film, just like in Repo!.

    Repo! is like that. That's been my great fortune: to work on occasion with filmmakers who don't have boundaries and really exort you to go for it. They aren't constantly trying to reel you in or curb your impulses. I love to work with filmmakers who have a vision into the collaborative moviemaking process. Certainly, the collaboration between director and actors can certainly make for richer performances. It's a great to have a director that encourages you to bring up ideas and talk about them. What's great is, sometimes those impulses are true. It's just about, "This works. This doesn't." I've been lucky to work with guys like Tobe Hooper, Rob Zombie, Tom Savini, Darren Lynn Bousman, and Brian Pulido. That's when it really becomes fun, when it feels like you're a part of the process as opposed to being a paid puppet.

    What's up with your musical project with Ogre from Skinny Puppy?

    When we were doing Repo!, we became close friends even though Pavi and Luigi are mortal enemies. When we returned from Repo!, he was working on his latest solo album. A couple of months ago he invited me to show up at the studio he was working at and bring anything I wanted. I brought a notebook, and it had some poems and poem fragments in it. We went over them. I recorded a handful of them. He's woven those into the fabric of his new release. It just sounds fantastic. I didn't really know Skinny Puppy that well before. His solo album is great! It's a concept album. So it's not just a bunch of chopped up songs. It has a whole flow. It's fantastic. I crank it in my car all the time.

    —Rick Florino

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    Tags: Bill Moseley, Rob Zombie, Darren Lynn Bousman

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