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If there isn’t actually a new AJ Bowen movie coming out
every month or so, it certainly seems that way. Ever since first attracting
attention in 2007’s THE SIGNAL, the actor has been all over the fright genre,
and this week sees the DVD release of his horror/crime-thriller hybrid RITES OF
SPRING, which he discusses in this exclusive interview.
Written and directed by Padraig Reynolds and out from IFC
Films, RITES casts Bowen, who has played pretty unsavory types in the likes of
Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and Adam Wingard’s A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, as
one of the more sympathetic characters—still a criminal, albeit a reluctant
one. His Ben Geringer gets roped into a kidnapping plot by his girlfriend and
brother—a scenario that puts them on a collision course with a bizarre
backwoods denizen who has kidnapped a couple of young women (one played by
fellow SIGNAL alumnus Anessa Ramsey, pictured below with Bowen). It’s one of several films Bowen has done
in rural locations, and his involvement began while he was in the midst of
FANGORIA: How did you become attached to RITES OF SPRING?
AJ BOWEN: I was in the middle of doing A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE
in Missouri when I got an e-mail from a friend of mine’s manager, saying that
he was producing a movie and asking if I would have any interest in taking a
look at it, and that ended up being RITES OF SPRING. When I got the script, it
was so different from what I was working on at the time, and such a distinct
part, and then having a bit of a relationship with one of the producers, made
me interested in hopping on board. I didn’t actually end up meeting Padraig
until I got down to Mississippi to shoot the movie, but we’d had a few
correspondences via phone and e-mail.
FANG: It is kind of a different part for you, as you’re one
of the more likable characters this time.
BOWEN: Yeah, it’s a change, I’m not choking women or
stabbing people [laughs]. Another thing that was interesting about it for me
was when I started hearing that Anessa might come on board. She’s a good friend
of mine, and it was very exciting to get to act together again at a pivotal
moment in the movie—being in one story and having another story collide with
it, and having that happen with a close friend. I was there about a week and a
half before Anessa, and once she got there, we would go to set every day
together and ended up filming together for probably a good half of the shoot,
about the same amount of time as we did on SIGNAL. And all of the crew and cast
stayed in the same hotel, right outside Canton, MS; we were the only people in
that place, except for when a biker gang showed up randomly. And I’m a set
nerd, so even when I’m not shooting, I’m down on set hanging out the whole
FANG: How was it shooting in real locations like the
BOWEN: For me, that’s always helpful as an actor, because
I’m lazy, so I don’t have to pretend things like if we’re on a soundstage with
a greenscreen. It was tricky in a couple of scenes; one of the main locations
we ended up at—actually the spot where Anessa’s character and mine end up
literally colliding with each other—was a very old, abandoned school. I think
it had been vacant since the ’50s, in rural Mississippi at that, so there were
a few tricky things. I’m kind of arrogant and like to do my own stunts if I
can, so I was talking a lot of crap, like, “No, I’ve got this, I can throw a
chair and dive out a window, it’s not a problem.” When it came time to actually
do it, it was in a room probably 60 feet off the ground, with holes in the
floor that in some places went down past the ground level and into the boiler
room. We had to tape those off and be very aware of missing them, or else we’d
get the picture wrapped immediately, permanently.
So when I went to do this one stunt, there was a hole like
that right in front of this window, and the deal was, I was supposed to get a
running start and jump up into this window frame and dive out onto the roof.
Well, it was 3 in the morning, it was raining, and the roof was about 8 feet
wide and I’m 6-foot-2, and it was at about a 45- or 60-degree tilt. So I had a
very small window, and suddenly I was like, “Oh God, I wish I wouldn’t have
told everyone I would do my own stunts, because I’m probably going to die doing
this, and it’s going to be really lame to die in this building all because I
have a big ego.”
So in that regard, it was tricky in some spots, but overall
it was really good. It was May, so it was like 195 degrees, 1,000 percent
humidity; it was nasty, but I think those things only helped both the acting
and the look of the production. That matched the tone of what Padraig had
written, because it’s this sweaty, pulpy story, and to have those elements just
helped. I think I lost like 15 pounds of water weight, just sweating.
FANG: By this point, you’ve had a lot of experience doing
horror films on rural locations…
BOWEN: Yeah, it’s funny; I came to LA to be an actor, and I
keep going back to places that are very similar to where I came from. I left
Athens, Georgia about a decade ago, and I keep saying, “I’m never going to go
back there!” but I keep traveling to all these other places. So I have a lot of
experience with places like Piggly Wigglys; that was really the only place to
hang out outside of Jackson, and I’m not even joking. Anessa and I would go
down there once a week and see what new Piggly Wiggly T-shirts they had; that
was our big fun thing to do.
FANG: What was Reynolds like as a director?
BOWEN: Very enthusiastic. I appreciated it. I’d been in kind
of a strange place, where for a couple of years I was in an art world, if you
will, and there were a lot of conversations about art and the movies I was
making—“What does this mean?” Which was great, and I was happy to be in that
world, but what I immediately liked about Padraig’s script, and that went
through into him as a person, was that it reminded me of movies I watched
growing up; it was very straightforward. And when I met Padraig, we immediately
started talking about films we liked, and then punk rock and other things we’d
grown up on, and it was really good for me to take sort of a left turn into a
project like that. Padraig was easily, easily the most enthusiastic person on
that set every day.
FANG: He’s said that he intended RITES OF SPRING as the first
film of a trilogy; did he share any of that information with you?
BOWEN: Oh yeah, yeah. There’s lots of time when you’re
lighting shots in backwoods Mississippi, and I’m pretty sure I received an oral
telling of a very detailed plot synopsis and breakdown for the second and third
films. So that’s not just a story; he has written and is prepping two other
films; he planned it that way.
FANG: So what do you have coming up next?
BOWEN: I’ve been doing a lot of writing; I’ve finished a
couple of scripts with my writing partner Susan Burke, and we’ve gotten some
interest in them, so we’re looking to shoot one of those soon. And I’m going to
be flying over to London and making a movie with [director] Paul Davis and Tom
Savini that I’m super-excited about, SILENT NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I’m going
to be playing the son of Savini’s character, so I’m very excited about that.
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