Interview By Paul Salfen
For Michael Abbott, Jr., coming to a pre-pandemic farm in Texas to film a horror movie about loneliness and isolation really set the tone for 2020. Previously seen in Loving and Mud from Texas native Jeff Nichols, Abbott found himself back in the pull of the Lone Star State, as this film was written and directed by local native Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) and shot on his DFW area family farm.
This dark tale follows a couple of siblings (Abbott and Marin Ireland) who come to their parents’ farm to help their mother say goodbye to their father, but something is wrong beyond the obvious – and it begins to affect them.
Somehow the spookiness of it all will resonate with audiences due to the times. “Well, I hope that’s the case,” Abbott says. “People are responding positively and I’m excited for even more people to see it.” Whether or not they see it in theaters or at home, some of the striking elements will stay with them long after the credits roll.
Here’s more from Abbott:
AMFM Magazine: In strange times in history, horror films have been a draw, but this one has a special connection to what we’re all going through now, don’t you think?
Michael Abbott, Jr.: You know, I really do. I think the reaction that audiences are going to have to this film are going to be incredibly different than they were a year ago, specifically post-pandemic, post-quarantine. At the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 as we start to find our footing and figure out this virus and once a vaccine hopefully becomes available, I think a lot of us are going to take a lot of things less for granted than we have in the past – most specifically our families. I think we take for granted that our families are always going to be there for us and that we love them and I think post-pandemic, we are more aware of the need to reach out to family. Obviously we can’t touch them or be in the same place as them but I think we’ve realized how beneficial it is to reach out to family, especially in times like this. I feel like this film does a masterful job of tackling loneliness, abandonment, and certainly through the last six to eight months, certainly a lot more times than I wished I had to feel but I think the film is really going to resonate with a post-pandemic audience.
AMFM: It couldn’t be more timely and it gets you thinking you might want to reach out to your family.
MA: Oh, yeah. And if it doesn’t, we haven’t done our job. If anyone walks out of the theater or turns off their TV and doesn’t think about it again then we have failed. According to what they’re telling us in the social media hooplah, I think it’s making people talk. It’s making people think for sure.
AMFM: A lot of people know Bryan’s work with The Strangers but were you a fan of his work before? I think his work is special.
MA: I do, too. But to be totally transparent, I have never gravitated towards the horror genre and for no other reason than they scare the shit out of me. As an individual, I have enough anxiety as it is and if I throw in an element of horror, they will haunt me in my dreams for as long as I live, so I have never gravitated towards the medium, so when the script came around, one of the things that turned me off in the past is that horror scripts can sometimes be written where the characters come off as caricatures of themselves and I certainly had no interest as an actor portraying someone being chased by the boogeyman with an icepick. When I read this script, I felt like this was the first horror script I read where the characters were real everyday people dealing with intense circumstances so the character of Michael I portray is an adamant family man and he is dedicated and loyal and doing everything he can to keep his family safe and we get to see Michael challenged for the first time by a force that overcomes him.
AMFM: What was it about working with Bryan that was special?
MA: Bryan is one of the sweetest guys – if not the sweetest guy I’ve ever met in my life. He wrote this film on the farm that we actually shot on. It was his childhood farm that he grew up on, so he had been mulling this story for some time and knew exactly what he wanted to see on screen so it was a very, very personal film for him. Marin and I had never done horror films before, so we were virgins and he knew exactly what he was getting into by inviting two people that had never been in a film like this and his ability to talk to an actor and get down and dirty with an actor and personalize it and basically explain the ins and outs of it. Marin and I were sitting around sometimes looking at our watches and thinking, “Why is this taking so long?” What we didn’t realize is how many more shots a horror film takes to set up for a lot of these scares, so being on the set with Bryan Bertino was like a master class in horror films with the teacher being the master himself.
AMFM: Did you see The Strangers?
MA: I did see The Strangers years ago when it first came out probably with a group of friends wanting to look cool and macho and then when I found out I was going to be in this film, I rewatched The Strangers and watched The Monster just to get back into Bryan’s headspace and feel where he was coming from. But The Strangers? One of those films that’s going to haunt me if I watch it for a long time and here I am in another Bertino film that’s haunting other people. I never thought it would take that turn.
AMFM: You shot this locally. Did you have a good time in our fine area?
MA: We did. We were in Tolar, Texas I believe and it was the perfect pandemic film. Had we waited and shot this during the pandemic, it would have been perfect. We were so isolated from everyone and no one had any idea we were there or what we were doing so we had really built ourselves our own safe little bubble. But I love the great state of Texas and my buddy Jeff Nichols lives in Austin, so Texas has a special place in my heart even though I’m a Tennessee native.
AMFM: You’ve had an interesting career working with masterful directors. What advice would you give to aspiring actors that want to follow your path?
MA: Well, to be honest, if someone was looking to have a career in acting, I would say, “Is there anything else you enjoy just as much or more? If there is, you should do that.” This is probably one of the hardest careers and industries to navigate. If you have the ability to wait it out and choose things that call out to you that your heart is drawn to, then you will eventually find success. It’s a waiting game and you have to be prepared to take on other jobs and have a side hustle but it is about perseverance. If you have the bite, if you have the bug, there’s no way around it and you’re going to find yourself coming back. Here I am 20 years in and I feel like I’m just now scraping the top of the bucket. Stick with it is what I’d say.
AMFM: What is next for you?
MA: Well, I’ve got a couple of projects in 2021 that have not been officially announced yet but I can tell you I’m incredibly excited and in 2021 I’m going to have the ability to work on a comedy, which I’m excited about because I feel like I’ve been immersed in family dramas for some time now, so I’m excited to stretch my comedy chops a little bit.
AMFM: We’ve been asking other people about their Hail Mary Moment and I’m curious as to what yours would be.
MA: My first job in New York City when I moved here in 2000, I was dressed as a toy soldier outside of FAO Schwarz. I had just come out of four years at a drama conservatory and there were days where I would catch a glimpse of myself in the window of FAO Schwarz dressed as a fucking toy soldier and I asked myself, “What in God’s name was I doing?” and there are so many of those moments, especially living in New York City – i call them “music video moments” where usually I’ll have headphones on and I’ll be playing the soundtrack of the highlight reel of my life and certainly the lows feed into the highs, but without the lows we never have the highs, so I think it all comes back to perseverance and then you choose projects that your heart is drawn to.
AMFM: Obviously this movie is very special and there are certainly moments that are burned into my mind just seeing it. What will always stand out to you?
MA: Working on this farm, the crew did a masterful job of working on the elements already there and building on them. It was lit naturally. I think the silence of being on this farm and 99% of this film was shot at night, so there would be moments at 3 or 4 in the morning and I would be standing in the middle of this livestock field and the sky would be pitch black dark and there would be this Texas wind blowing over me and it’s that sense of environment is what I’ll always remember about working on this film. I also remember thinking, “Wow, it’s almost like this farm is going to become a character in this script” and in the end, I think I was right. The ranch becomes one of the most important aspects of this movie.
THE DARK AND THE WICKED is currently available on VOD and digital and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray December 15, 2020.