Last year, in the reasonable cold of a Toronto winter, I attended the Blood in The Snow (BITS) film festival where, among other Canadian hits, I saw the small town twist on the zombie genre, DEADSIGHT. A few things made this take on the genre different, like having two leads, one pregnant and one who can’t see, but most notably, it took place in small-town Ontario. There were no frantic city dwellers, large apartment buildings turned into tenements or hordes of zombies swarming the streets. This one took place in a quiet little spot where you might expect some snow.
A fan of this film, I was really excited to chat with actor Adam Seybold, who plays Ben Neilson, who wakes up in the back of an ambulance, partially blind, in the midst of an outbreak.
So, I’m excited to talk about your movie. Tell me a little bit about Grey County. The movie takes place there. It’s a place I’m pretty familiar with. Why Grey County?
Adam Seybold: Are you from up there? We sort of shot it in the Rockford, Owen Sound area. You familiar with that territory up there?
I am. Yeah. I had a lot of friends there growing up, so I spent a lot of time there.
Adam Seybold: Yeah. It’s one of those places…[laughs] I have a lot of affection for the area, but a town like Owen Sound, it kind of, every time I go there, and I mean this with love and in no way a disrespectful way, but it reminds me of Derry in Stephen King’s mythology. It’s got the hill that goes down and I don’t know. Maybe it’s all the horror movies I’ve shot up there, but it feels like something has settled there when it’s late at night. There’s so many horror movies. There’s zombies running around. It always feels like this is the perfect place to shoot a horror movie. I think it’s my second or third up that way and we were kind of all over the place. Old graveyards and the house set off by itself. You know, owned by this really cool man who owns a lot of property in Owen Sound. There’s not a lot of acting required. You don’t have to use your imagination out there.
How do you think rural Ontario changed your interaction with the zombie outbreak? So, how do you think it changed the formula of the zombie film?
Adam Seybold: I think a lot of independent cinema in Canada is genre cinema and it’s horror cinema. And shooting in those rural places, you’re going to shoot there because a lot of it feels like it’s pretty untouched for a long time, so you can kind of mix periods. I think any kind of rural backdrop. A lonely, windswept cemetery in the middle of nowhere is kind of perfect for a zombie movie. And I think it’s kind of always been a part of the genre, that sort of rural vibe. Plus, it was early December too, so winter was coming. And it sort of hit while we were in the middle of shooting, so we were sort of forced to come back months later to wait for the snow to leave. But there was one scene that we were shooting where we started shooting the scene and before we could finish and turn around, the ground was already covered in snow. It was very much out in the elements. And I think out of the elements and at the edge of all that stuff is kind of where the genre lives anyway.
It’s a nice change from the city outbreak. So, your character couldn’t see. How did you prep for that? Could you see through your costume?
Adam Seybold: There was sort of these pads over my eyes and gauze wrapped around it and we kind of had to keep putting it on. The first day I was like, “Well, let’s see. I’m just going to go method act my way through this and what if I keep this on all day?” But I gave it up by lunch. I was like, I can’t. [laughs] I can’t do ten days of not seeing. But really between action and cut is enough. So, I would just have my eyes closed during takes. But then, a lot of times there was stunts and things like that, so I kind of had to be able to see. So, it’s a weird headspace where you are pretending that you can’t see, but you have to be able to see. You kind of have to reset your brain a little bit and that creates a lot of internal frustration for the actor. In this case, me. So, that actually fit the character pretty well because he’s just trying to survive. So, show me the situation he’s in, it’s a matter of literally feeling my way through each element.
So, when I was watching this movie, I saw a lot of Fargo in it. Did you feel Fargo when you were filming it? Or were there any other movies you were inspired by?
Adam Seybold: I don’t know. I mean, I think when you’re in something, you’re not referencing anything else because you’re in it. You can’t stand outside of it and it’s really, for me just playing Ben, it was more just playing the humanity of the thing. Because there’s so many different zombie movies and there’s so many different iterations of the genre and film and TV, you know, with “The Walking Dead”, obviously. So, all you could do was play your own version of it, which is whatever the truth is to you at that moment and sort of let everything else go. In terms of like the tone, yeah. For sure. Fargo is in there. And that sort of deadpan kind of thing, but it’s also like, as an actor, especially in a scene with zombies, with this movie having to be partially blind and visually impaired, it’s about playing the naturalism and making that more of the touchstone than anything else.
What was it like working with Liv Collins being that she was both a writer and one of the stars?
Adam Seybold: She’s great. She’s great. First of all, she’s one of my favorite people to work with. I worked on a movie with her called Creep Nation directed by John Geddes for the Foresight Features guys. So, we had worked together before and in that film, we played brother and sister. So, we had actually built a relationship over the time we spent shooting that. And on this one, she was super pregnant.
Was she really pregnant?
Adam Seybold: She was so pregnant. With her son, Hollis. It’s sort of like, I’m thinking of what they used to say about Ginger Rogers. She can do everything Fred Astaire could do, but backwards and in heels. It was like everything that I had to do, Liv did while carrying a human inside of her. She was a real trooper. And nothing phases her. She’s the best. She’s the best.
That’s so cool. What was it like, being that she wrote it and being on set, did you see her wanting to be tempted to direct?
Adam Seybold: I never really felt that. I think on any set you kind of interrogate the scene to make sure that what is written and what the situation will allow you to play, you’re kind of figuring out if those two things go together. I’ve never been on a set where it’s like the Aaron Sorkin thing where it’s like every comma and every period is accounted for. It’s more like, let’s see what this is about and let’s see if there are any other levels we can find to this based on kind of what we’ve learned about the story through what we’ve already shot. So, while they’d be setting up the camera, Liv and I would just be talking it back and forth, improvising, and just figuring what’s the point of the scene. What’s the objective of it and what is really the emotion that’s in it because I think that emotion and the things that connect the two characters is the thing that makes something like this work. Otherwise, it’s just zombies and people running around. So, if you carve some emotion within that, then you’ve got something. You’ve got a chance at least.
So, you are no stranger to zombie flicks. How different was this compared to Exit Humanity?
Adam Seybold: Yeah. Exit [Humanity] was really one of the first movies I had ever shot where we were, we were not in Grey County. But we were near Kimberley, which is sort of near Collingwood. Again, with the Foresight Features guys. That one, that one I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for because I feel like we all came together on that one. And we’re really just kind of in the mud and the muck making this really cool take on the zombie genre. Especially with the Civil War and stuff. That’s why the people that I worked with on that set are my best friends today. So, that’s always going to have a cool place on my shelf.
What else are you working on now? Where else can we find you?
Adam Seybold: I’m mostly a writer by trade. So, there’s a few projects that I’m cooking up right now. A few plays and whatnot that I’m writing, so stay tuned for this. I can’t really say too much about them because I don’t want to get in trouble with anybody. Yeah. They are really cool.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
Adam Seybold: You know, my favorite scary movie…That’s a really good question. You know, it’s funny. Because when I started acting in horror movies and writing horror movies, I never really watched them as a kid or anything like that. A movie I saw last year that really messed me up that was really inspired by too was Hereditary, which yeah. That one is going to stick with me for a while and he’s got a new one coming out here in another week or so. And, obviously, Get Out! Get Out was a big one for me too.
DEADSIGHTis available on DVD, VOD and Digital HD on July 2, 2019.