In the offbeat comedy John Dies in the End, two slackers played by Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes investigate strange, paranormal activities springing up around town. While they can normally handle the odd zombie or meat monster, the pair stumbles across something on an inter-dimensional scale that threatens to destroy their lives as they know it. Director Don Coscarelli, who is responsible for the cult hit Bubba Ho-Tep, as well as Williamson, Mayes and Paul Giamatti shared some of their thoughts on working together and on the film, as well as some insights on the industry at large.
“The whole thing spoke to me frankly,” Paul Giamatti said, regarding how and why he got involved in the project in the first place. “I’ve wanted to work with [Coscarelli] for a while – big fan of his…. So I was just eager to do something with him.” Giamatti explained how the “twisty aspects” reminded him of Philip K. Dick, and he highlighted a speech early on in the film that had him hooked. “If I can be in a movie where that is gonna be on screen…I wanna do this.” Giamatti is also credited as an executive producer, but he laughs off the title with, “I didn’t do any real producing.”
“Paul is really too modest,” Don Coscarelli said, jumping in, “because…producing isn’t just about the shooting, but the entire making of a movie.” He related how the film had an inherent structural problem, and it was Giamatti and his producing partner who were able to put Coscarelli on the path to solving it since it was their one big criticism of the film at that stage. “[Giamatti] did have an impact in a lot of respects.”
Chase Williamson was a fresh face in the room, but also in the film industry. John Dies in the End is his first feature after only having acted in two short films before this project. “It was crazy,” he said about landing this role, “hard to believe, still, to this day. I kind of expected to be where I am now, just sort of grinding away, when I’m not getting to do cool festivals and stuff, as soon as I got out of college and for years after that. So to be able to have this opportunity right out of school – fresh out of hearing people talk about acting every day for four years – to be able to just do it and watch [Giamatti] do it and work, actually work, was an invaluable experience.” Regarding working with such a big talent as Giamatti, however, Williamson said, “It was weird.” When the panel laughed, Williamson was quick to explain that Giamatti wasn’t weird. “I was nervous, sure, but when I met Paul he was so cool….”
Williamson’s chemistry with Rob Mayes, however, seemed to have avoided any of these awkward stumbles. “We hung out a little bit before, but once we were shooting we just spent so much time together that I think it did develop a little bit over time,” Williamson said.
“I think it was pretty immediate,” Mayes added. “I remember Chase in the audition and thinking ‘this guy’s full of shit.’” The panel laughed in agreement. Mayes was also reluctant to pick out the most memorable part of the film for him. “That’s a tough question,” he said. Ultimately, he settled on “the whole thing”, explaining how the separate aspects of the film came together to create something unique and unforgettable, but he was also just glad to be able to play an actual character and not just a “football player”.
Sadly, the interview ended on a sober note as Coscarelli explained the plight of filmmakers in his position. “It’s never been harder for independent filmmakers, I’ll tell you, in terms of the release aspects. I look back and the glory years of when VHS and DVD came out…wow, there was a lot of money to be made back then, and those have evaporated. And we’re in this period of transition where we’re waiting for the digital world to catch up. Or maybe it won’t catch up and everybody’s going to have to make micro-budget movies from here on out. Because there’s just been an attrition. I’m meeting a lot of people who are fleeing the business on every level, from studios to agents. There’s just not as much money flowing into Hollywood anymore.” But on a brighter note he added, “That can also be a good thing, because it’s going to maybe make things a little more democratic.”
John Dies in the End opens theatrically on January 25, 2013.