Interview with Josh Stewart
Josh Stewart has been working in movies and television for quite some time, but the horror community knows him best as Arkin from the The Collector and The Collection films. You may also know him from his recurring character on Criminal Minds or, if you’re really hip, you may have seen his excellent film The Hunted which he wrote, directed and starred in. Mr. Stewart also stars in the upcoming film The Neighbor. From Marcus Dustan and Patrick Melton (Saw 4, 5, 6, 7, The Collector, The Collection), this film finds Stewart navigating his way out of yet another unexpected predicament. (Read my review here.) Despite his busy schedule, Mr. Stewart took time to chat with me about The Neighbor and a lot of other things. He’s every bit the laid back, charming southern gentleman that you imagine him to be. Enjoy.
Where are you working right now?
I’m in Los Angeles, for a change, working. That’s one good thing about working for Blumhouse:they shoot everything, well majority of everything, here in L.A., which is good.
Are you already working on Insidious 4?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, already cranking.
Oh cool. That’s very exciting.
Yeah, there’s always that added incentive of being able to sleep in your own bed at night, you know what I mean.
Right. So, you live in Los Angeles, though, not West Virginia?
Yes. I live in Los Angels and I was born and raised in West Virginia and I kept a farm in West Virginia for quite a while, but then it was becoming too much. Not a working farm, just a farmhouse and some property and it was just becoming a little too much to keep up with because there’s not a direct flight.
You always share beautiful photos from there: it’s really pretty.
Thank you very much, it’s a beautiful place.
Since we touched on it, is there anything you can say about Insidious 4?
No, there is absolutely nothing I can say.
I had to ask. O.K, I was introduced to you when I was watching the show Dirt.
Oh, ok, (laughter) I feel like I should apologize.
Well, I maybe was twisted up, not so good in everything in that show. Always half naked and bent out of my mind on something. Yeah, I’m sorry for that.
Well, you might want to apologize for Dirt, but that’s what kept me following you around.
Yeah, that show was a little crazy.
It was wackadoo.
I think that’s when tv started becoming racy.
Absolutely. You’ve gone back and forth between tv and movies. Is there one that you prefer?
You know, I’ve always enjoyed doing film and, mostly, over the last several years, I’ve mostly been doing film. There’s things that are compelling about both. There’s something special about going and making a film. That sort of magic will always be there in film, but the way tv is making a turn, or has been making a turn, there’s just something about being able to tell a story and explore character and explore different parts of the story over an elongated amount of time and not just be confined to an hour and a half to two hours of a film. I think that’s why you’re seeing more of the so-called film directors and film actors making their way to television. All it has done is create better content for tv. Not that it wasn’t good prior, but you just have all of these different mediums now for people to tell stories and to explore all of that sort of thing. You’ve got all of these different channels for that, you’ve got all of these different cable channels where everybody is looking for content, so everybody is looking to get into the game, you know? So, filmmakers are able to go (sic) where there’s a wide variety of places to choose from:these cable channels are tailoring what it is they’re putting out there to whatever it is these filmmakers want to do. So, I think it’s an exciting time for television and that’s the long answer. I just kind of go where the stories are and what attracts me and what grabs my attention.
That’s what I’ve noticed, looking at what you’ve worked on. You’ve worked with big directors (Fincher and Nolan), but then you do your own film, like The Hunted, and I know you were just back on Criminal Minds. You seem to work everywhere, which is nice.
Yeah, you know, and look, a lot of times too, part of it’s choice and part of it’s dictated to you by the business, you know. I love going and doing Criminal Minds just because I have a good time. They’re like family to me. I’ve known those people, a lot of those people running the show, the producers and what not, I knew from Third Watch in New York. So, every time I go back there, it’s catching up with people I’ve literally known since my first job in this business. I’ve become so close to a lot of the cast members and things like that. I wish I could go and do more of those because I just enjoy being around those people, but a lot of times my schedule doesn’t allow that to happen. And vice, versa because they’ve gotta write episodes pretty far in advance, so it’s a constant trying to get the schedule worked out and the story worked out. The business will dictate what I’m doing next, you know what I mean?
So, then where did you fit in the time to do The Hunted?
There’s the old saying that you do two for them and one for you. It was just like any other job. Sometimes, you gotta do a job for money because a lot of times, the passion project, a little, indie film you want to do, aren’t going to pay you anything. Sometimes, they’re going to cost you money to do them, but that’s the thing that really sort of gets your creative juices flowing and makes you want to do this thing. So, at a certain point, I was coming off of Batman (The Dark Knight Rises) and had just shot The Collection and we were in post for both of those and I was doing some other things and it was just the right time. I had a couple of big movies in the can that were going to come out and had everything taken care of, so it was just the right time to go about it. The right time to jump in and do it.
And this movie, the story and the execution, was all your idea?
Yeah, the ghost story of that is actually based on a true story that happened to me and my roommate in college in West Virginia. Just as she’s depicted in the film, it was an auditory thing. She would scream and yell at us. Sometimes, she would cry. I mean, we were around her for the whole time we lived at this place, for about six months, but it taking place around the woods. I needed a good reason to set the film in the woods and growing up in West Virginia, I’m a hunter and a fisherman, so I just thought, two guys going into the woods filming a hunting show was a great avenue to get that story told. I was on the fence about whether shooting that from a point of view, the way we did, or as a traditional film. But to me, I just kept going back to the point of view and hunting aspect of it, that I thought it would be more effective and I thought it would be scarier if we were telling it, almost in real time from that specific point of view, which is how we ended up landing. So yeah, that was all in my brain.
Wow, I love that it was a true story. That movie legitimately scared the bejeezus out of me, so good job.
Thank you! And you know what? I was on the fence about shooting it in the quote/unquote found footage way or do I shoot this traditionally? To me, it just felt like it was going to be scarier if I shot it from that point of view. I think shooting that as a traditional film, I don’t think it would have had near the impact it did.
I don’t think so at all because being out in the woods is creepy enough as it is.
Well, let me tell you, where I grew up, everybody’s got a story. West Virginia is one of the bloodiest places ever, just from the civil wars, everything with the natives and the frontiersmen. So, everybody’s got a ghost story and everybody’s got something there that they can relate, directly or indirectly, to this type of thing and I very much wanted it to feel like if someone were going to sit around a campfire and tell a story, this would be the kind of story they would have told.
Yeah, it’s great. So, are you maybe, going to do more films in the future? On your own like that?
I’ve actually got a meeting this afternoon about the next thing that I’m going to direct. It’s already written. We’re already meeting with producers and we’re full steam ahead with that. But you know, I’m stepping away from the genre side of it. This is going to be a dark, dark character drama.
Wonderful! That kind of leads into the fact that The Neighbor isn’t really horror. I think it’s more of a thriller.
So, you are actively trying different genres?
Yeah, you know, look, I’m more of a… I studied acting in New York and started in theatre and that sort of thing. So, you know, drama and really intensive sort of character work is where my head and heart have always been. I kind of fell sideways into the whole horror side of it. Growing up, through high school and college years, I was not the guy who ran out and saw the horror films. Of course, I love The Shining, I love Firestarter, Carrie, anything Stephen King because my mom is a literature teacher and was always a big Stephen King nut, so that type of thing. But all this sort of modern horror, I had never watched. I fell sideways into The Collector, which kind of got it all going for me, you know?
Well yeah, that kind of made you a horror name and then you worked with Dunston and Melton again.
We did The Collector, which theatrically here in the states really wasn’t much, but it gained a lot of steam, in the foreign markets. So, that led on to the second one which did a little more here in the states than the first one did and, you know, foreign it did well again. I just love Marcus and Patrick. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever spoken to the guy (Marcus) or been around the guy or had the pleasure to, but he’s the best dude. He’s always smiling, he’s always happy. There’s no one more that you would want to go through this process with. A lot of times when you’re shooting these horror movies, it’s 3-4 weeks, maybe 5 weeks and it’s pretty intense shooting. There’s so many elements to horror. When it comes time to cover the scenes, it’s a lot of set ups, it’s a lot of angles because you need all of that sort of thing to tell the story. It’s not like two people sitting down at a coffee table, having a cup of coffee:there’s only three ways you’re going to shoot it. You’re gonna shoot it wide and then you’re gonna cover the two actors. But in a horror movie, there’s all this other stuff going on, so it’s a damn process. It’s long and it’s grueling and you’re either playing the person who’s scared or you’re playing the person who’s chasing the person or you’re playing the dude that’s gonna kick the guy in the dick. When the time comes, all of those characters are carrying a certain amount of tension with them, given the circumstances. So when you’re spending 12, 13 hours a day maintaining that tension and that intensity and that energy and on top of it, it’s physical to shoot so you’re constantly getting kicked in the shin or the dick or whatever it is. When it comes time to say yes to one of those films, you better like the people around you because it has the potential to get pretty miserable pretty quickly.
So, that’s why you were happy to work with them again on The Neighbor?
Yeah, Marcus is like a brother to me and he’s a dude that there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for; in any capacity of life. For me it was, schedule wise it worked out, I was coming back from the middle east from doing a movie. It was Marcus, so it was a no brainer and I’m just glad we had that window of opportunity to jump in there and get it done before my life got too crazy or his life got too crazy, or whatever the case was and we couldn’t get the two paths to line up, you know?
Were you at all concerned about the similarities of it being another movie with people trapped in tiny rooms?
Yeah, look, it was definitely a conversation because on paper, script wise, there were plenty of things that differentiated the two. Circumstance, character, story, but there were those similarities that were obvious and I think anybody that’s seen The Collector or The Collection and sees this, the similarities are going to be pretty obvious, but I think some of that has to do with the type of movie Marcus makes. Every filmmaker has their thumbprint that’s fairly obvious in a lot of ways. You watch a Nolan movie, there are certain things you’re going to see in any Nolan movie; same with Fincher, same with anyone really. But to me, the conversations I had with Marcus about it was, it comes down to the character. It comes down to the way he deals with the situation. It comes down to the way everything unfolds for him and, granted, I still have not seen the movie.
I still have not seen the movie. Of course, I think it’s going to draw the comparisons. Of course people are going to say there’s the similarities because it is Marcus, because it is people inside of a house and it’s me playing a character going in to kick someone in the dick, you know what I mean? But to me, at the end of it… the way I approach every movie, it’s not up for me to decide what people take from it or to tell people what to take from it or that they shouldn’t see this movie in it; they should see it for what it is. I never really like to talk about, when I’m doing panels or interviews, about the scenes or what I was doing or what I was going through with this character or that character because to me, it really doesn’t matter. It mattered to me when I was doing it, but once I do it, it’s completely out of my hands. What was going on for me and what I take from it, may or may not be what you take from it. So I think, it doesn’t matter if you’re a painter, if you're a sculptor, a filmmaker, an actor, whatever you are, you do what you do and it’s up for the world to decide and it’s going to be everything from love it to hate it and everything in between and there’s nothing you can really do about it. So it’s never been so much a concern of mine about that. It was just, when we’re going through this process and when we’re filming, there are certain things I want to avoid and there are certain things that I want to hit that just are true to the story that’s on the paper that you wrote. I think if you start getting to caught up in “I don’t want to make this The Collector”, well, it’s not The Collector, it’s called The Neighbor. This is happening, it’s a different character, it’s a different story. Let’s just focus on telling this story and do it the justice that it deserves.
I think it stands alone. The similarities are there, but as you said, he’s made a lot of films that could be connected that way. I enjoyed this movie and I’m not just saying that. It felt more mature than what he’s done previously and I think people will be pleasantly surprised. And Bill Engvall? I didn’t know he was so scary.
(Laughter) I know, it’s a pretty genius idea to have him come in and do that. I guess when you just see the name associated with it, it’s a big misdirect and it’s kind of out of left field, but when you think about it, it’s completely unassuming, the dude pulls it off. I mean, Bill was great. He was great to work with, easy to work with. There was no bringing anything in to set. It was just, here’s a guy who loves to act. He’s a great comedian who loves to act and he was thrilled to have the opportunity to come in and do something that he hasn’t been doing for the last ten, fifteen years. It’s so easy in this business, once you do something well, that’s really the only thing they want to see you do. I understand it on a lot of levels, especially a business level. If somebody’s going to give you ten, fifteen twenty, thirty million dollars to go make a movie, they want to stack the chips in their favor in the most possible ways and ok, you’re good at that sort of thing, so that’s what you’re going to do. They’re not so eager to take chances and roll the dice and let’s see if you can do this type of thing. I think for Bill, I know that he was super happy that he had the opportunity to do that and I know we all had a good tim with him, on and off set, in every way. I mean, he came ready to work and willing and he dove in and did it.
Yeah, he did!
I know there was one scene we shot, where he was on top of me, giving it to me. I think he may have punched me and put me out. I was like, alright dude, this guy, I’m just not going to move because this guy is cranking and I might catch one to the jaw. I mean, he was ready to go.
But you had a good time doing this?
Yeah, of course. We had a really good time and Ronnie Blevins, the cat with the long hair who played Bill’s son, is a dear, dear friend of mine. You know him from The Hunted, but Ronnie is one of my oldest friends in Hollywood. I’ve known him since I moved out here. This is our third movie together, so anytime you can have dear dear friends, Skipp Sudduth as well, the guy who played my uncle, he was also in The Hunted and we did Third Watch together in New York. Anytime you know the people you’re going to go pick a fight with, you just want guys that have been there with you before. I know the way Skipp works, I know the way Ronnie works, I know the way Marcus works:it’s like stacking the chips in your favor.
The Neighbor is available on DVD, iTunes and On Demand September 6, 2016