Interview by Chris Miller. Follow Chris on Twitter at @musiclover_8.
What’s for dinner this holiday season? In the upcoming film Mercy Christmas that is a very interesting question. There will be dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes, pies and an extra crispy human leg. This over the top horror comedy for which David Gemini of Dread Central calls, “One of the finest Christmas-based horror films out there” is being released by Gravitas Ventures November 28.
Mercy Christmas follows Michael Briskett (Steven Hubbell) as he meets the perfect woman and his ideal Christmas dream comes true when she invites him to her family’s holiday celebration led by her brother Andy (Cole Gleason). Dreams shattered, Michael struggles to survive once he realizes HE will be Christmas dinner. In this exclusive interview we decided to speak with Hubbell and Gleason about their roles in the upcoming film.
What attracted you to begin a career in acting?
STEVEN: I wasn’t actively pursuing a career in acting. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in so when this opportunity came up, I knew it was one I couldn’t pass on. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty cool seeing yourself on a big screen. It’s an adrenaline rush like I’ve never experienced before.
COLE: I have always been fascinated with the idea of an actor captivating an audience with one look or emotion and making the audience feel the same way. I remember, before I got into this business I would watch an actors every little smirk or eye movement and be so intrigued by the subtlety of it all. I still do that to this day.
STEVEN, This is your first feature film. How did you prepare for the role?
I read the script about 150 times and talked to Ryan and Beth about Michael Briskett on a regular basis. I was really nervous the first day. I felt like I was prepared but never having been in a movie before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect and luckily the entire cast was really accepting of me as a newcomer, which made the fact that I had so little experience much easier to manage. There were specific scenes, like the scene with Katherine in the basement and the scene in Michael’s apartment with Cindy that I spoke extensively with Ryan about. I knew those scenes were important, so I wanted to find and get a good understanding of the tone and direction of the scene and both Ryan and Beth were instrumental in the whole process. I wasn’t exactly sure how to prepare so having a good relationship with Ryan and Beth was really helpful.
COLE, In Mercy Christmas you play the evil boss Andy Robillard. What was the hardest part about playing your character? Did you take any inspiration from a previous boss?
I would say having to embody him physically. Emotionally, this character goes from zero to one hundred within two seconds; so because of that he is a very dominant presence. Ryan worked with me a lot on how to stand, oddly enough, because there was such an art to it. He never swayed back and forth and never looked away when he was talking to you; in his mind he was 7 feet tall. And if I had any bosses like this character to take inspiration from, I wouldn’t have lasted more than a day to tell about it…
BOTH: What are some of your favorite horror films?
STEVEN: One of my favorite horror movies is the original Halloween. Michael Meyers is and always will be to me the scariest killer in a horror movie. The amount of suspense combined with the incredible score, makes it one of the best ever. Another horror film that I really enjoy is The Strangers. I know there are mixed reviews about that, but the honest truth is, that movie just scares the shit out of me.
COLE: One that comes to mind immediately is The Shining. Going back to your first question, Jack Nicholson played so much into the subtlety of diving into insanity. It was an incredible sight to watch him go from a completely normal family man to an ax-wielding psychopath. But strictly for the horror/thriller aspect, Saw. I love twist endings and that had one of the best. Hopefully, that didn’t just ruin it for anyone. Spoiler alert, 13 years later…
STEVEN, In a lot of the film you are being tortured, did this start to take a toll on you by the end of the shoot?
YES! I found myself coming home most nights completely out of energy; physically and emotionally drained. I remember one specific night early on in the shoot where I came home and I just sat down on the couch, just kind of taking the whole day in. I’m not sure how long I was sitting there for but I do remember my wife saying to me, “Um…you don’t look so good” to which I replied, “I’m pretty sure I’ve never been this tired in my entire life”. I knew the role would be physically demanding but I didn’t realize how mentally exhausting it would be. But I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
COLE: What was your favorite scene to film? Why?
Without a doubt the scene with Steven and me in the kitchen. It was the first time my character had to explain to his character what was going on. I loved how it was such a contrast of what was being said to how it was being said. I mean, I am electrocuting him while I am casually preparing dinner; how much more of a contrast can you have? This movie has so much of that which I love. Completely original. And completely bizarre.
BOTH: What was your working relationship like with the film’s director, Ryan Nelson? Were you all free to improvise at all or did you pretty much stick to the script?
COLE: Ryan is someone that I have to work with again. I keep telling him and Beth, whether or not I am in their next movie, I am coming to set regardless. Ryan cares more about performances than he does strictly just getting the shot; that sums up how he runs his sets, and I completely believe it shows in this film. For the most part we stuck to the script. Maybe a couple of words here and there but the script really said all it needed to say. There wasn’t a whole lot else that we could have done because of how much Beth and Ryan maximized it.
STEVEN: The working relationship with Ryan was everything I could have hoped it would be. I’ve known Ryan for a long time, so it was helpful for me especially, to have someone directing me that I felt comfortable with. It was fun breaking a scene down and discussing each of our perspectives on it, how each of us interpreted it. We were totally free to improvise. Most times we didn’t need to because the script is so well written, but there were many occasions when we would figure out the scene organically. A good example of that is the scene where Michael and Eddie are outside and Michael decides he wants to go back and save Katherine. I struggled with that scene quite a bit so Ryan, being the amazing director he is, told me, “Forget the words, just convince Eddie that you have to go back in and save Katherine”. That’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie and we would have never got to that place without Ryan’s ability to adapt and motivate.
STEVEN: What’s interesting about Mercy Christmas is it’s both a horror and comedy. Your character is terrified at times but also humorous without meaning to be. Was it hard finding that balance?
It wasn’t hard finding the balance. I knew coming into it what kind of a movie this was. This is a dark comedy, you have to ride the line between funny and scary and execute both or the movie doesn’t work. The hard part for me, was going through this experience as an actor for the first time. I believed I could do it, I just had to fight through the nerves of the first couple of scenes.
COLE: You are in the upcoming film Book Club starring Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen. Can you tell us a little about that? Was it nerve racking working with such legends?
That was such a blast to shoot. I play Diane Keaton’s son-in-law and Alicia Silverstone’s husband…what a terrible thing to be, right? To be honest it really wasn’t nerve-racking at all; this is my job, and as exciting as it is to be sitting next to a legend in Diane, you realize that during the takes you are colleagues. One thing that I will never forget was how sweet Diane was. She treated everyone with so much respect and kindness. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes you run into egos in this business and people they can treat other people as beneath them. All I could think about was, if Diane Keaton can be that nice to people at her status, no one has any excuse to be any different. We are all there to do the same job…make something memorable.
You can find out more about Mercy Christmas on Twitter, or check out the trailer below.