Whether it’s in written form or on the big screen, most would agree that the underlying story of PET SEMATARY centers around the notion of death and grief. No one better exemplifies that than Louis Creed, a character so filled with pain after the death of his child that he quite literally brings them back from the dead without so much as a passing thought towards the consequences that could, and would, follow.
During the SXSW Film Festival, I had the immense pleasure of speaking with esteemed actor Jason Clarke about his role as Louis Creed in the new adaptation of PET SEMATARY. With a warm demeanor and a surprisingly strong Australian accent, Clarke began our interview by chatting about the World Premiere of the film, which took place the day before, and the excitement that radiated in the air during the screening. Without wanting to waste any precious time I had with him, I quickly jumped into the interview, excited to learn more about his return to the horror genre and what it was like to take on such an iconic role.
Hi Jason, it’s such an honor to speak with you today! To start things off, what was it like to take on the iconic role of Louis?
Jason Clarke: I guess I didn’t think too much about it when I was doing it, ya know? I wanted to define Louis but not too clearly so that people would come with him and get to the same point of what you would do if this was your situation. You could come along with Louis and Rachel [played by Amy Seimetz] and just like [Stephen] King’s novel, you slowly move in deceptively and all of a sudden you are there and it’s on. I was always conscious of that – letting people come in with Louis, in bringing them in. It’s easy to forget with King just how big a reach [he has] and how many people have read and loved his books. I mean, so many of them over their entire lives, from childhood to adulthood. I love his audience and [his work] is in a world now of such quick consumption. People are really knowledgeable about his stuff. If I said to someone “Have you read this book?” and they say yes, they know it and can talk about it and discuss it and I love that too. To feel part of that group, that family and history, I feel honored. I really feel quite honored now that I’ve played Louis Creed.
Prior to filming PET SEMATARY had you read the book?
Jason Clarke: Of course! I read it before, like 10 times now. It’s a very good book structurally and it’s disturbing. When he’s digging up his son and he thinks the head is gone… The son also had that disease of the swelling of the brain and there was the chance he could be deformed, but if he was, would [Louis and Rachel] still love him. He knows that Gage is going to be different but if he was different would [they] still love him? And the fight with the father in the morgue, it’s just humiliation.
We’ve obviously touched on some of the darker themes within the book, which leads me to my next question. How do you even prepare for a role as dark as this? Your reactions to everything seemed so genuine.
Jason Clarke: Well they have to be. That is one rule I always give myself, I have to be believable. You want to be big enough that you are reaching the heights and going for what is required but then you have to be believable. I think the film found a great tone of absurdity in the situation. I’m lying in bed next to my daughter that I buried, you know it’s serious but then it’s like if it’s real you’re not also losing your mind, you know? There’s comedy in absurdity, you gotta really play something out. It’s gotta get serious but you also have to go for the emotions as well. That’s one of the great challenges. You couldn’t overdo it cause the themes are so big, like the loss of a child. Unless you are a complete moron it’s not difficult to feel those [emotions]. It then becomes about energy and trusting the people around. We had a great cast, I thought, and some great directors and some great producers that really backed up the story. It’s a fine line to walk so you need confidence on all levels of the community to really go for it and reach for it. Right up to the very end, even with that big ending, it works. Last night you saw it, it works.
On a personal note, the film hit me really hard because it reminded me of my relationship with my dad who passed away. Granted, the roles are switched in the movie [with the daughter dying and the dad alive], but it was heartbreaking nevertheless to watch and also quite beautiful.
Jason Clarke: It is, it actually is. The truck hitting the girl… you don’t need to dwell on that for too long because visually you get it. In the book, there are 2 or 3 chapters on it – it’s full on and it goes deeper and deeper into the psyche, that’s where it’s utterly disturbing. But you get it visually and then you move into the next section. You see [Louis] digging her up and carrying her up [to the house]. When you see me get out of the car with a shovel it’s like ‘Oh my God, he’s in the cemetery” and you see the crosses and it’s just ughhhh (laughs).
Speaking of father/daughter relationships, you worked closely with Jeté Laurence [who plays Ellie Creed] as well as the cat who portrays Church – you know, the two things they tell everyone not to work with (laughs). What was your experience like?
Jason Clarke: It was great! It keeps you on your toes because you don’t know when the cat is going to get it right so you have to be ready for that. I think what I love about Jeté was she wanted to have an experience as an actor not just as a child. It’s very easy for children – they just want to get it right – but she really enjoyed getting into her character and working her scene and molding the scene and getting more out of each other. She was wonderful and you see real play [in her performance] because she’s bringing stuff to this character. I saw some stuff last night that I wasn’t even aware of!
Aside from PET SEMATARY you also did the 2018 horror film WINCHESTER. How has it been transitioning into the horror genre?
Jason Clarke: It’s been good but it’s hard work, really hard work. I don’t know if they’ll hire me to do another one for a while. Dealing with grief and horror, I’m done, I’m exhausted (laughs). The people that love these genres are passionate people and they bring respect and thought to it which I really enjoyed. I really do. The world of Stephen King is wonderful and his fans have so much knowledge of his worlds and characters. I really enjoy that, it makes it easy to talk about it. It’s these types of films that when they work, they work really well.
While filming did you have a favorite moment on set? Or was there a moment that you were really excited to see unfold?
Jason Clarke: Watching last night [at the SXSW Film Festival] was the first time I saw the film and they kept a line in that I didn’t know if they would keep. It actually wasn’t Louis’ line in the book, it was Ellie’s line but I changed it. It’s the scene where I go up to Rachel with Ellie and I’m explaining that mommy is just in shock. It was always a tough scene and I was terrified about that scene because King doesn’t write about it in the book. It’s pretty hard to write because you can really lose everyone at that point. And so, we are fudging around and coming up with different things and different renditions and there’s this line where Ellie says, “Let God take his own cat” but instead I said, “Let God take his own fucking kid.” You just see Louis – he lost [Ellie] and doesn’t give a fuck, he just wants his kid. We can all understand that, fuck rationalization at the end of the day. I was really happy they went for it because it’s a very strong full-on moment, but bang you get it straight away. Rachel is watching her husband who’s just gone. You understand that Louis just wants his kid and that’s all it is – [he] just wants his fucking kid and that comes down to what King’s writing about.
PET SEMATARY arrives in theaters April 5th. Read more about the film in our review HERE.