This past weekend saw the release of Sean Byrne's horror/metal film THE DEVIL'S CANDY, starring Ethan Embry and Shiri Appleby. The film centers around a family who move into a new house with a grisly history and a former resident who is here to the Devil's bidding. In preparation for the film's release we had the chance to speak with Ethan Embry about his latest role and his love for the horror genre.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Ethan! It's such a pleasure to speak with you today. We had a chance to check out THE DEVIL'S CANDY and we absolutely loved it! To start things off, could you tell us a little bit about the film and your character Jesse?
Ethan Embry: I remember when I first read the script, about five years ago, it was sent to me by the same people who ended up buying CHEAP THRILLS. I was up somewhere shooting something and I remember thinking when I get back, maybe I could go in on it. When I read it, I immediately emailed them and said this is amazing to which they replied great, we would love you to do it. To remember what I saw the first time I read it, I wrote on top of my script "THIS IS A LOVE STORY" because for me, the most important part which would trigger any sort of unease in the audience was the stuff at the beginning of the film with Jesse, his wife, and his daughter - the family bond that they have.
Unfortunately, some of that was trimmed out which made it even more important to emphasize the emotions that were there, to show that Jesse loves his wife and his daughter. My character screws up, as we all do, but his daughter is his most important thing, period. For things that happen later, to have the full impact, the possible loss of his daughter had to be the most unthinkable thing in the world to him. I think that's where I was coming from, I mean Jesse's so emo man, he's so emo (laughs). He's very gentle emotionally, but apparently he can get a little agro. The other thing I was trying to pull out with the movie was to convey that population as genuinely as possible which I don't think gets done a lot. Most of the time it becomes almost satirical - the characters that come from the death metal/hardcore scene, and I wanted Jesse to be more like the guys that I grew up with and more like me, a dad who loves metal with his kid (laughs).
NC: Was that what initially attracted you to the role? Did you see parallels between your life and Jesse's life?
EE: Yeah, I mean I always try to draw parallels. This one was probably easier than some, but that's one of the things when I first meet a character I see what is familiar and how I can manipulate it to work in my life and with this role it was super easy in that respect. I saw who he was as a dad pretty quick. Really the only thing I would have to tone down that director Sean Byrne would get on me about is that I'm far more aggressive than Jesse. I'm more like Jesse's character at the end (laughs), so Sean was always softening me and some of that may be because I have a boy. I also saw the parallel between my relationship with my son, which is just as close as the relationship between Jesse and his daughter Zoe.
NC: How did you go about preparing for you role?
EE: I got the script at least a year before we started shooting it and the first thing I wanted to focus on was the physicality of Jesse. Those dudes don't eat, man, they just don't eat (laughs). Also, my character is struggling, he probably holds back even if he does want to eat, he's probably splitting everything with his wife and daughter because he's kind of broke. I wanted to depict him as a rail.
I also read the Satanic Bible. There was stuff that was taken out of the film, like Jesse's backstory in which he was molested when he was a kid, so I would sit up watching LiveLeak videos, which is basically the bottom pit of the world but like YouTube, in other words, it's like YouTube's scum. So I didn't let myself get more than 3 hours of sleep at night, I read the Satanic Bible, and I would watch LiveLeaks non-stop (laughs). I was trying to trigger some form of mania. My normal operating is to avoid triggering my mania - I like to sleep, I eat, I take good care of myself and in this case I did the complete opposite.
NC: Having grown up in the 90's, I was a big fan of the films you were in such as EMPIRE RECORDS and CAN'T HARDLY WAIT. As of late you have had a resurgence within the horror genre with films like CHEAP THRILLS, THE GUEST, and LATE PHASES. What is it about the horror genre that you have come to love?
EE: I like the people. I like the community in the genre, they're my people. We watched the same films growing up, we were usually in the same tax bracket, we enjoy the same music and they are my people. I think some of the most interesting storylines are coming out of the genre. Taking something like THE BABADOOK, that idea of possession has been told before but they are telling it in a completely new way. IT FOLLOWS, same sort of idea, using the possession angle but telling it in a new way. CHEAP THRILLS was basically an extended version of the last story in the film FOUR ROOMS that came out in the 90s. In the thriller/horror genre, I think people are really trying different things or paying homage to things that have worked in the past. It's rare that a studio can pull of what some of these genre filmmakers are doing, it's not impossible, but it's rare.
NC: In doing a film such as THE DEVIL'S CANDY, which has very intense and triggering themes, how do you separate that after a scene is over? Do you and the cast try to do anything to lighten the mood in-between takes?
EE: For me, I've been there, so I just leave, meaning there's home and there's work. With something like THE DEVIL'S CANDY, I would just say I'll see you in a little bit and leave and then come back later. Some of these themes stuck with me more than it normally would and I would find them coming up in the morning while I was taking a shower and I would get anxiety. I knew I could handle it but what I was more worried about was Kiara Glasco (Zoe), so we would go to the arcade and out to dinner and just hang out. A couple of moths before we started shooting I would email her playlists and she couldn't hate metal music more (laughs). All she wanted to do was sing the theme song from FROZEN and that's it. I fought that for like a week and then I realized okay, let her sing FROZEN, she's going to need it (laughs). My biggest concern was her because her character goes through so much, she gets put through the ringer.
NC: Now that THE DEVIL'S CANDY has been released, what can fans of yours expect from you next?
EE: You'll see me again in "Grace and Frankie" which I believe comes out Mother's Day. I did a film last summer that isn't for everybody, you either get it or it really pisses you off, that's called FASHIONISTA, directed by Simon Rumley, which stars Amanda Fuller. The characters are just horrible people and body image is a big theme throughout it. My character is just a fucking asshole (laughs). Right now the film is doing the festival circuit.
For more information on Ethan and to stay up-to-date with his projects, follow him on Twitter @EmbryEthan. THE DEVIL'S CANDY is now available in select theaters and on VOD from IFC Midnight.