Jake Weber has a wide variety of film and television credits to his name, though he’s perhaps most recognizable to horror fans from his roles in the television series “Medium” and 2004’s Dawn of the Dead. He recently co-starred in THE BEACH HOUSE, a slow burn ecological horror film that examines the relationships of two couples vacationing at a remote beach house and how an environmental disaster affects their already strained lives. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Weber about his role in the film. We discussed his love for Westerns, how he finds small moments of grace in the horrific events of THE BEACH HOUSE, and what he loves about teaching the next generation of actors.
Obviously, you’ve had quite a lot of different roles in your career, but you have been in a lot of horror or horror-adjacent projects. Is there something that draws you to darker stories in general or that drew you to THE BEACH HOUSE in particular?
Jake Weber: THE BEACH HOUSE came to me through Andrew Corkin, who is the producer on the movie with whom I’m friendly. In terms of genre movies…there’s no particular rhyme or reason to why I pick one genre or another. It’s more about the script and the director and my availability at the time. I don’t think horror is necessarily a genre that I seek out. I do seek out Westerns, I’ll tell you that. But no, I just go where…if there’s a personal connection, as there was with Andrew, I’m going to look more closely at the project…and then it becomes just a balancing act. I kind of vary it up and not ever do something that I know is going to be bad. But sometimes I have to take smaller parts to pay the bills, in large movies. But no, it’s just kind of a feeling you have, and after 30 years of experience, you soon know if the script’s going to work and if the cast is up to it and if the director is going to be good. Which it was in this case.
What is it about Westerns in particular that you always seek out?
Jake Weber: This just goes back to being a kid. Westerns were, you know, they were just my jam, always. And they always have been. And I just love everything about Westerns. I guess it started as a kid watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I just always…I don’t know, these are questions you just can’t answer. I was the Englishman, and Westerns, that was how I played imaginatively. It was always a Western.
Coming back to THE BEACH HOUSE…Mitch really feels like the heart of the film since he’s tying together this global apocalypse that surrounds him with his own personal apocalypse of slowly losing his wife to an illness. What was it like getting into his headspace and kind of balancing the two tragedies that he was dealing with?
Jake Weber: Well, I think his tragedy is losing his wife. And the young folks, their potential tragedy is losing their young love and the difficulties they’re having in their own relationship. And whatever the eco-apocalypse is that is about to arrive is sort of an extension of those personal challenges. But it’s also, you know, about just that: an eco-apocalypse. And it’s a horror movie at the end of the day. But the eco-apocalypse is not really present for him, because it happens after a night of hallucinogens. So there’s uncertainty, I think, in his mind what actually happened. And I don’t think this guy’s particularly drug-savvy.
In terms of meeting Mitch and his wife, I don’t think it’s hard to get into the headspace of a man who’s about to lose his wife to mental illness or has been struggling with that her whole life, and their lives. And they’ve had challenges. And I think, you know, he’s got to love his wife and care about his wife and want her to be well. But they’re both very lonely, those two people, and they’re very happy to be around this young couple who are at the beginning of their journeys. And Mitch and his wife are at the end of theirs. Their vitality is something that is invigorating for them, and the old couple doesn’t know that the younger couple are having their own problems. Then this weird thing happens, and then life is over. Sometimes even after a moment of grace and joy and happiness and community with these four people, something tragic happens. And that’s all she wrote, folks.
As you mentioned, there is quite a sense of resignation and loneliness with your character and with Mitch’s wife Jane. And it’s quite an intimate movie, obviously, with such a small cast. What was it like working in that setting and working with Jeffrey A. Brown? I know this was his feature debut.
Jake Weber: Well, he’s very strong, very assured, as a director. He shot very efficiently. He had a terrific camera department. And the sort of sense of claustrophobia in the house, I think, was deliberate, but it was also mitigated to a certain extent by the very dynamic camerawork. So although there’s a weird sense of sort of dread and tension in the house — tension within the couples themselves — I think that the resourcefulness of the screenplay and the director was to make the house stuff feel not as static as it could have with a less accomplished crew. And I think he must have storyboarded it. I don’t know if he did, but, you know, I felt that the calm before the storm and our, hopefully, our investment in these characters and all these quiet moments and these weird sort of tense moments and odd moments, then, is offset rhythmically very well by all the sound and fury that comes later with the eco-disaster or invasion or whatever.
It feels…not like two different movies, but there’s quite a tonal shift, particularly after your final scene, between almost like a home invasion, kind of a marital drama in the beginning. And the dread slowly builds until things kind of snap and turn for your final scene. Was it difficult to film the final one? Because, as you said, there aren’t a lot of quick cuts. There’s dynamic camerawork, but there are a lot of shots where we’re on someone for quite a long time. Was it difficult filming that way?
Jake Weber: No, it’s very nice filming that way. It’s always lovely when an editor holds on actors and keeps actors in two shots. It’s a device that builds tension as a filmmaker. Because we are used to quick cuts. We feel it in our bodies. We’re so accustomed to directors jumping back and forth, in and out of close-ups and fast cutting, so that when a filmmaker actually holds on actors, there’s a tension that builds and you’re not quite sure what it is. Something feels unsettled and you want a little release, but you’re not getting it just yet. And then finally, you do get it. And the cumulative effect of that is that you’re building a sort of tension in the audience, which I think is very effective. Those are the films that I like. Billy Bob Thornton did it very effectively in Sling Blade, which I just watched recently. But in terms of the two different movies…there is an argument to be made that they are two different movies. But I would maintain that what is going on psychologically for these couples before the storm arrives is a microcosm for that storm. I don’t mean to sound overly intellectual about it, but I think he is establishing relationships in crisis and lives that are not on the right track. And after this moment of grace, there’s a terrible thing that happens. And whether or not there is redemption for these characters in terms of peace, well, there really isn’t. Sometimes you don’t get that in life. And sometimes life is over like that, but they did have a moment of grace, all of them, the four of them together. And then it’s over. It sounds sort of bleak, but it is also, you know, it’s entertaining and poignant. And I think the last image of the movies is quite inspired. I think Liana in the water is one of the best endings I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time.
I would agree. I really love this movie, but the ending especially has stuck with me. I’ve watched it a few times over the past several months, and that has stuck with me so much. That leads me into another question I had regarding this bleak but also really beautiful ending. You mentioned, with as much experience as you have, being able to see the script and know what’s going to work and know how it will be perceived, perhaps. When you’re making a film or doing a television show, are you expecting or hoping for a specific response from the audience, whether it’s intellectual or emotional?
Jake Weber: No, I think it’s very hard to second guess what an audience is looking for or is willing to accept. And I think you just hope that when you watch it, it’s a movie that you would want to show to your son and that he would dig, or a movie that your friends would enjoy. You can’t really think about everyone but you can think about the people that you respect. And I’m happy to be able to say that I enjoyed the movie. I’ve seen movies that I’ve been in that I haven’t enjoyed and that have actually been very well received publicly, but I didn’t like them. But this one, this is my kind of a horror movie, a horror movie that is about something completely different. And it really is about the human condition. And it’s just not, you know, girls getting stabbed with chainsaws or whatever. I hate those uber-violent, you know…I call it violence porn. You know, I don’t like that. So this is the kind of horror movie that speaks to me.
According to your website, you teach an acting masterclass. Obviously, you are very philosophical about approaching projects and about acting. What makes you so passionate about teaching and working with upcoming actors in the class that you teach?
Jake Weber: I’ll tell you what I love about teaching young actors: it’s because if you get them young enough, they aren’t allowed to bullshit. A lot of actors have been through sort of high school acting, or even some training and smaller studios, and they’re taught a lot of kind of show-offy stuff, so it’s the opposite of performance. It’s really just about living. And if you can get to an actor early enough and get them into the same register when they’re acting as they are when they’re conversing or in their private moments, that will sink in very early. And then you have helped an actor become genuine and authentic. Also, it’s really about…they say you can’t teach presence and I disagree with that. I think presence is about getting the audience on your time. This is something that Marlon Brando said: get the audience on your own time. And if an actor has the courage to do that, that’s what makes them watchable. I don’t know if that makes sense and it sounds very sort of intellectual, but I believe that if you can teach actors to have the courage to take the time and to vary it, vary their moments rhythmically? That is compelling for an audience, along with authenticity and truthfulness in really who you are at that moment. There’s no wrong way to do it, there’s only a dishonest way to do it. There’s only a fake way to do it.
THE BEACH HOUSE is now available on VOD, Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD. For more on the film, check out our review here.