With the release of Dark Sky Films, STAKE LAND II: THE STAKELANDER, we sat down and spoke with actor Connor Paolo on revisiting his role of Martin and what audiences and fans can expect in this apocalyptic thriller!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Connor, thank you so much for speaking with us today. For those not familiar with your character Martin in STAKE LAND and THE STAKELANDER, can you tell us a little bit about him?
Connor Paolo: I play a character called Martin. In the first film he's just like everyone else, a young man about 15 or 16, at a time when there is a plague of vampirism, or something that seems similar to vampirism, that turns people into rabid blood hungry husks of their former self. They ravage the land turn most of the population into these creatures. On the eve of his family's murder by these creatures, he's saved by a hunter, known only as Mister. Mister takes Martin with him and over the course of the first film teaches him to survive and to live in this world and life. The world is basically just a day to day survival, which involves scavenging for food and killing most things that come near you. They run up against all types of threats, both human and vampire, and it ends with Martin growing up considerably from the boy that we first met. At this point, Mister feels that his tutorship has come to an end once Martin meets a young girl and he decides to go back into the Stake Land and continue killing vampires and leaves Martin alone with the girl to forge a new life in the supposed safety of Canada. That's kind of the general idea of the first film. Martin is kind of a willing pupil although he does have reservations about a certain level of violence but he ultimately gets more comfortable about it and really looks at Mister as a father figure and is fiercely protective and loyal to him.
Where we pick up in the second film is a number of years later. Martin has been living with this girl named Peggy for quite some time. They have a child together and they have found a small pioneer-esque community up North where there are less vampires because it's colder. In this world, the vampires are reptilian in the sense that they are cold-blooded so they don't like the cold temperatures in the North. It's much safer up there and they've created what some would describe as a normal life. Of course that is immediately shattered when the film begins by religious zealots named The Brotherhood who are vaguely white nationalists and are all kind of the wrong parts of Christianity. They believe that the vampires are the cleansing force sent from God to wipe the earth of the impure among us, so basically Richard Spencer. I have no doubt if we had a vampire plague, he would be up there with Steve Bannon saying, "this is a good thing, guys!" I'm sure they are planning on introducing that soon. So those guys, The Brotherhood, ruin everything like they like to do, and Martin, without giving too much away, goes in search of Mister. In the second film you are seeing Martin who is, because of things that have happened to him, much closer to the character of Mister, who we first met in the original film. He's a man largely motivated by seemingly offensive revenge and we aren't really sure for what, but there's certainly a lot of anger and hatred towards vampires and people he believes are cruel. Martin has very much taken that on in the second film as he is a much less reserved character, one that's far more comfortable with violence and even welcomes it.
NC: What made you want to reprise your role in THE STAKELANDER?
CP: I have developed a really close relationship with Nick Damici, the writer and also the actor who plays Mister, so we've been friends now since we've done the first film. So just on the surface, any opportunity to continue to work with him is one I'll take and then also because we never ended the story to begin with. Not that we went into the first film planning on doing a series of movies, but we also never said this is the end of these characters. We left it at an end of an era, what we left the first film at was the end of Martin's childhood. It was kind of up to us if we wanted to see what he is now as a man or not. When Nick said he wanted to continue the story because he thought there was more to explore there, I said absolutely.
NC: Have you always been a fan of the horror genre? If so, what do you think sets horror roles apart from other characters that you have played in other genres?
CP: I'm a fan of any well-told story, so genre is really unimportant to me. What I appreciate about the horror genre is a) as an audience member and b) as an actor, is the stakes. In drama's and comedies and really any type of genre you're always trying to make things kind of life and death. In horror, it literally is life or death. It's nice to be at that state of intensity all the time. I think as an audience member, it's a cathartic necessity, because thankfully our society has advanced to the point for a large amount of people, unfortunately not for everybody, but a large amount of people, where they don't need to be in a state of survival most of the time. In fact, most of them have never been in a situation where they might die imminently. We have spent far longer in our evolutionary chain dealing with that very real threat still encoded in our DNA and if we don't release that desire for fight or flight, we will seek it out in other ways. Horror gives us these abilities to feel these feelings of mortal terror without actually being in danger, and that's actually really beneficial to our psyche. I love that about horror films. I think our film is different because the primary desire is not to frighten people, the point of the film is not to scare people or shock people, but to take them on an emotional journey and if one of the emotions they feel on the journey is fear than great, that's a huge human emotion. What we really want is for people to feel things. The fact that it has a supernatural element or a readily identifiable mythological character being vampires is kind of part and parcel to the overall story which is about family and the bonds between people. The question seen throughout the film is what are you holding onto when the only purpose you can really find is living, what are you living for? Ultimately, that's the connection.
NC: You've touched on this subject, but in the first film you find your character transforming from a boy to a man and in the second film you are taking on the persona of your mentor, Mister. Did you have to do anything different to get into the character of Martin for the sequel?
CP: Yeah, absolutely. In the first film, it becomes harder and harder for me to remember what kind of mind-state I was in. Martin had joy in the first film, he had love in him, and there was also a kind of wonder even though the world was so horrible. There was a naivety about people and he largely trusted people. As horrible as the vampires were he had a certain amount of faith in humanity. When we meet him in the second film, that's largely gone. He has faith in Mister but that's about it. So Martin in the second film has lost that capacity for feeling joy - he can feel anger, he can feel sadness and he can feel fear, but he's kind of cut joy out because he's had to. He's also been alone for a long time. There's a period of time where Martin is by himself for quite a long time and that is new for him too. The world is a mess but since he was a little boy he's had someone: he had Mister, then he had Peggy who became his wife, and then his daughter. Now we are seeing him after he's been on his own in this world for a long time, and this world is pretty cruel even when you have a group around you, so we can only imagine what he's had to do in order to survive being all alone. He's really kind of lost his ability to rust and it's difficult to get into the head-space of a character who doesn't enjoy anything, who is confused about why they are alive and basically has a death wish. Martin in this film basically does what he can to get himself killed, he doesn't really want to be alive anymore, but he's been trained well enough by Mister that he won't just lay down and die, he's learned the lesson that he needs to go out fighting but he's constantly looking for the conflict that will kill him. It's tough to be angry all the time, it's exhausting, I don't know how Donald Trump does it. It's really really hard to carry that type of rage all the time.
NC: I don't know how Donald Trump does it either. Last but certainly not least, what can fans of yours expect from you in the future?
CP: There are a couple of things but I don't know when any of them will be viewable. I know there is a horror film that I did that's out in Europe, I don't know if it's out in the US yet, called FRIEND REQUEST. I have another film called LIKE LAMBS and another film that I just finished called FLOCK OF FOUR which will hopefully be out sometime this year.
NC: Wonderful! We will definitely keep an eye out for those! Thank you again for speaking with us and we look forward to seeing what you do in the future!
STAKE LAND II: THE STAKELANDER is now available on HD Digital Platforms