For the release of the horror film HEAD COUNT, I had the chance to speak with actor Isaac W. Jay about his role as Evan, a college freshman who accidentally releases a supernatural entity while on spring break. During our chat, we discussed everything from filming in Joshua Tree to researching Navajo Skinwalkers.
Hi Isaac, thank you so much for speaking with me today. To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about your character Evan?
Isaac W. Jay: Evan is the younger brother to Peyton (played by Cooper Rowe) and they have grown up together because their parents died when they were younger. Peyton has had to raise Evan, and how involved this is for him is the question. Evan starts the movie out when it’s his spring break in college. He’s a freshman and all his friends are going off to Cabo for spring break. Evan really wants to be a part of that, but he can’t because his brother has requested to spend time with him. He has to go visit his wild-child lame brother in the desert. He just really wants to be a part of a fun crowd and wants to get his spring break experience. When he goes to the desert and is on a hike with his brother, Evan meets this other group of people who are about his age and they are all having this spring break experience out in Joshua Tree. When he is given the opportunity to be a part of that, Evan goes for it and accidentally summons a demon and must deal with the consequences of that.
What was it about this role that got you interested in playing Evan?
Isaac W. Jay: I think the part that pulled me in the most was the relationship with Peyton, his older brother. It sort of bookends the film in a really great way – the relationship and all the good emotional stuff that comes with their strange connection. When I read their relationship, I was immediately sucked in and wanted to explore that so much. Then, when I got into the meat of the development of this monster in HEAD COUNT and what was going on with the friends I got so sucked in. I breezed through this script and I couldn’t put it down when I started reading it. I just so wanted to be a part of that world and the thrill of slowly watching people be in two places at once or doing things that they wouldn’t normally do. I started questioning, “why is this?”. There is a certain degree of “who done it?” and I always find that very interesting.
When we talked with director Elle Callahan (which you can read our interview here), she mentioned how remote the shoot was in Joshua Tree. What was it like filming there and what challenges did you face?
Isaac W. Jay: Filming in the actual Joshua Tree Park was interesting because occasionally we had to pause for other actual hikers as well as deal with the landscape. We had a couple of steady cam shots where the steady cam operator had a two hour set up because we had to navigate the map of where he exactly was going to walk. The landscape itself literally didn’t allow him to walk backwards, but I think the environment of this movie is so remote, which plays so well to the tone of the film as well as what is going on there. I thought it actually made acting easier because the space was built for the story and what was going on. It was great and I believe Elle said in that interview that there was no phone service so it really kept and pulled you into that world, there was no escaping it.
There is a heightened sense of paranoia and distrust that plays throughout the film. Was there any type of specific research that you did to get into Evan’s headspace?
Isaac W. Jay: I didn’t really do anything outside of research. I thought about monsters that I had seen in some horror movies that performed similarly. The one that immediately came to mind was It Follows, which I believe Elle cites as an inspiration for this film. I also did some research on Navajo Skinwalkers, which is one of the main inspirations for the monster. A lot of times the monster has some type of relationship in order to foil the actor’s emotional insecurities. It was really fun looking at this monster and trying to figure out how it tied in with Evan. In my process and what I explored a lot through my imagination was the relationship it included and what it means to be in a group versus outside of a group, who’s the strongest connection in the group and even if you are invited into a group, are you really included in it? Are you really a part of it? That ties right into the end where it comes to the actual life or death situation – it’s not this group of people that Evan wishes he was with, it’s his brother. Even with how estranged that family is, that is the connection he wants the most and holds onto the most. Again, the pain of the relationship was really what pulled me into this script and seeing that was really fun.
Last but not least, are there any additional projects you are working on that we should be keeping our eyes out for in the future?
Isaac W. Jay: I just finished up a couple of days ago on Elle Callahan‘s upcoming film WITCH HUNT, which I think will be an absolute blast for everybody. It’s a really fun look at modern day politics through a different lens. I also finished working on this web series called BODY OF WORK, which is a comedy web series that takes place in the art world of Santa Fe, New Mexico and deals with treasure hunters. Santa Fe is a really amazing place in and of itself, very bright, and shows a lot of different colors, which is very different from HEAD COUNT.