Trillbury, aka Onyx the Fortuitous, is struggling. He’s misunderstood at home and work, but his dreams for a new life seem to be answered when he lands a coveted invitation to the mansion of his idol Bartok the Great for a ritual to raise the spirit of an ancient demon. He excitedly joins Bartok and his fellow eclectic group of devotees as they prepare for the ceremony, but pretty quickly it becomes apparent everything is not as it seems. As Onyx and his new friends fight to keep their souls, he must decide what he’s willing to truly sacrifice in order to meet his destiny.
While at Sundance, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana spoke with writer/director/performer Andrew Bowser, co-producer/performer Olivia Taylor Dudley, and performer Barbara Crampton about ONYX THE FORTUITOUS AND THE TALISMAN OF SOULS. During the course of their conversation, they talked about how they all contributed to the creative flow of the feature film, balancing the horror with comedy so as to accurately keep to the tone of the ONYX character, and how Jeffrey Combs got involved in the film.
To start things off, Barbara, what drew you to ONYX THE FORTUITOUS AND THE TALISMAN OF SOULS?
Barbara Crampton: I’ve known Andrew for about five or more years. He had a podcast called Altered States that our mutual friend, Brea Grant, had been on and she said, “You got to do his podcast. He’s a really cool guy.” So I did it and we had fun, and we hit it off, and we became friends. In subsequent years, whenever he was doing a short or he did a commercial for Bruce Campbell’s Ash vs. Evil Dead, he asked me to be in that. I was in a bunch of his shorts, and then he did a short called House Mother, where I played the house mother and I was in some demon makeup, and I had such a good time with him. I read the script for ONYX and he asked me to be in it. I was like, anything you want me to do, man, I’ll do because I think you’re so cool.
Andrew, you’ve been making shorts. You’ve been on YouTube and TikTok. Why did you decide to make a movie at this point?
Andrew Bowser: Well, I have been directing and producing as long as I’ve been performing. So, ONYX was born out of really my performer side and my editor side because the initial sketches with ONYX were really edit jokes of me splicing him into existing videos. And, as those videos would spread over the internet, I was always hoping there might be a way to cross the streams, as it were, and bring him into my filmmaking sensibilities. To be honest, I had a hard time getting a proper feature off the ground. Crowdfunding was really my only way forward as a director to get a feature going, and in order to crowdfund, you need an audience, and you need to be able to leverage an audience onto platforms like Kickstarter, and ONYX is the one with the audience. So, over the pandemic, he was on TikTok and got about a million followers. At that point, I thought, well, now I think is the time to try to merge those two worlds, and see if the internet would help support an ONYX film, and they did which was a very good thing.
And Olivia, you play Farrah, and you also are co-producer on the film, I believe.
Olivia Taylor Dudley: Yeah. Andrew and I have been making things together and have [been] creative partners for about a decade now. We’re best friends and we kind of work on everything together. And so, we had another movie we were trying to get made right before the pandemic hit, but it was going to be one that took place at a horror convention. It would require a lot of people. That kind of went out the window once the pandemic hit, and then when we were trying to figure out what could be made [in] one location, ONYX just made sense. So, he started writing and when he wrote the Farrah character, [directed at Andrew] I don’t think you weren’t necessarily going to do Farrah right away, right? I think you had a different character in mind for me. I was going to play somebody in the movie regardless, and produce it alongside him the whole time. It was really fun to be there from the very beginning and to have it here at Sundance is mind-blowing. Farrah is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played.
It’s a very joyous film, and you guys seem like you’re having fun when you’re fighting. What was it like making the movie?
Andrew Bowser: Well, for me, it was incredibly fun, and it was joyous because the right people were involved. Having people that have been supportive of me over the years, and people that I’m inspired by, come alongside this project and give their time and talents to it, that was the most exciting part for me, and I think everybody was on the same page. Everybody wanted to make the set a good environment and everybody wanted to have fun and wanted it to be an expression of joy. I’m glad it comes through.
Olivia Taylor Dudley: Every person that came on saw Andrew’s vision and he’s so wonderful to worth with and work beside and work for, and he’s really inspiring on set. I think it was really infectious, his love for the genre and for this character, for this movie, that every single person gave it their all and it was really the only way we were able to get this movie done on such a small budget in such a short amount of time. It was really the most joyous time I’ve ever had on a set. I hope we get to make a sequel because I would like to go back there.
What about you, Barbara? What was it like being on the set and making this film?
Barbara Crampton: I was on set just for a short time. But I’ve been a fan and a friend of Andrew for many years now, and I love to support filmmakers. This is his first really big feature and I love the script so much, and I love his sensibilities as an artist. I [have loved] the character that he has created, ONYX, over the years. So, when he asked me to play his mom, I was honored just to be on set with everybody and just see all the actors and how great they were in all their parts and the puppets and just the environment on set, as these guys were saying, was really supportive and kind, loving, and just really fun. So, it was really a pleasure. It felt like you were making a movie with your friends.
That’s the vibe that I got from watching it. Just, as I said, joy. It seems like you guys were really having fun and enjoying each other’s company. You can tell when it’s that kind of set when you’re watching
Barbara Crampton: Andrew is also really collaborative. Anytime anybody had anything they wanted to say, anybody on the set or an actor, he was just right there with you. It was a really pleasant environment all around.
Olivia and Andrew, with balancing the occult aspects and the more horror side of the story with the comedy, how did that work out for you?
Andrew Bowser: I think it was just a matter of listening to the heart of the character, of the ONYX character. I did initially think we maybe would make a gorier horror comedy with ONYX. But when I sat down to write the script and thought about his energy in the videos, he is a loner, and he doesn’t necessarily want to be. He makes a joke in one of the early videos that he likes standing in line at conventions, because you’re never alone if you’re in a line, and so, it’s in his DNA to want community. And, ultimately, even though we are dealing with the occult, and there are monsters, it is presented in a playful manner, because that’s I think, what makes the most sense for the character. The world of that playfulness is where ONYXfits. I don’t think he would fit in a really bleak…I mean, I’d love to see ONYX in the middle of Hereditary, but the DNA of the character doesn’t necessarily lend to too dark of an environment because he would probably just implode or lose his mind. And so, it just was an extension of his personality.
Olivia Taylor Dudley: I feel like Andrew wrote the darker sides of the movie still on a lighter side. Farrah and Bartok being the villains, they’re still really fun. But, in contrast to ONYX, Farrah makes a really good foil, and she’s the grounding one in the scene so he can be funny and she can still be the dark and scary one. He rode such a nice line of that not being too scary so that it didn’t seem out of the world of ONYX, but still made for some really good stakes.
I can see that. With your performance as Farrah, even in just the first moment, just looking into her face. I almost laughed because she’s so serious. And I think you have a lovely cast. The casting is really, really great. Obviously, Barbara, Olivia, and you Andrew, but everyone else, they’ve got great faces and just really wonderful energy that works really well together. That’s what you want from this type of horror-comedy.
Olivia Taylor Dudley: Dylan Jury, who was our casting director, found some amazing people, and everyone just brought their own ideas to it, even though [Andrew] wrote solid, complete characters. I think everyone came to the table knowing exactly who they were and it made for a seamless [process]. Everyone just jumped right in there.
Andrew Bowser: You could kind of feel the alchemy right away, and Barbara is actually who suggested Jeffery [Combs], even though I’ve been a fan of theirs forever. I think, just because I’ve never seen him bald and with a goatee, he wasn’t front of mind. But she suggested him and he also was perfect for our world.
Barbara Crampton: I was floored by Jeffrey’s performance. I have never seen him in a role like that. I know he’s good at playing characters, but I just didn’t know how he was going to be when I showed up on set the first day, I saw him and he was bald, and he said, I shaved my head and I have this mustache. He had already been working for a couple of days, and he says, I don’t know, what do you think? And I said I think it’s amazing. I think you look fantastic. But I think he was still nervous about it initially. But I loved his look. I thought it was just fantastic.
ONYX THE FORTUITOUS AND THE TALISMAN OF SOULS had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.