AN INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR MATT McALLISTER

conducted by Robert Long II ©2018

The movie TERRIFIER has been out for a few weeks now and is a resounding success for director Damien Leone and company. I have already interviewed the incredibly talented David Howard Thornton and Jenna Kanell from the movie. However, there was an unsung hero – a male protagonist if you will – that appeared in the film as well. I wanted to find out what his experience on TERRIFIER was like. Therefore, Smash or Trash is very proud to bring you my interview with the multi-talented Matt McAllister.

Robert: When did you start acting?

Matt: I first acted in elementary school, and did theater off and on through college. I pretty much knew it was the only thing I wanted to do, but I also really revered stand up as a teenage goofball who came of age during the advent of Comedy Central. Comedy Central use to be predominantly stand up, and that was what I probably watched the most at that time.  So, when i got back east from going to college in Ohio, I ended up trying that out for a number of years. The first 2 years or so, I tried pretty hard to crack it and got nowhere, and it took me a couple of years to realize I really just wanted to perform. I backed into doing some Way-off Broadway theater in my late 20’s, and have been slowly but surely trying to find my way towards making a living at acting ever since. That was about 13 years ago. 
Robert: How long have you known Damien Leone?
Matt: I first met Damien at the audition for the role of Mike, who, if memory serves, was originally supposed to be a janitor. That was in the spring of 2015, I think. Anyway, I remember the audition went well, and I really wanted the part. I kept emailing him, which I normally don’t do. But he hadn’t completely decided, yet made it clear I was in the running. Damien’s such a nice guy, that I felt comfortable bothering him a little bit. 

 Then I finally got the role, and I remember I went to this house Phil Falcone (the Producer) was rehabbing. It was so we could do my head cast for the face smashing scene. It was pretty funny, here I am, traipsing out to the middle of Staten Island, in this random house, with Phil’s son running around painting it. Then there’s me, Damien, some paper mache’ in the middle of an empty room on the first floor.  It all felt good somehow though. There was something about Damien’s self-possessed attitude about the whole thing. You could just tell he knew what he wanted to create, and was confident he could pull it off. 
Robert: The production of TERRIFIER began in 2015. At what point did you become involved?

Matt: Like I said above, I auditioned that Spring. I wasn’t really involved until I actually showed up on set. Which was the the middle of November, I think. To show you how peripheral I was, I showed up with a completely shaved head. Damien took one look at me, and was like “Crap”. See, I thought it would make it easier for him to construct the skull with out my wisps of side hair. But he had already added the hair. The problem was, we were shooting that day and I couldn’t grow my hair back in  an instant. But, like I said, Damien is confident about this stuff. He was like, “Ah well, I’ll just have to meticulously take it out. It’ll be fine.” He really is a super chill dude. 

Robert: You play the character of Mike Serling of Serling Bros. Pest Exterminators. I like how you portrayed Mike. He’s competent and kind; he’s not a leering, creepy jackass to Vickie and Tara. Was that written into the script, or did you bring that to the character?  Were you trying to resist being a stereotypical character in a horror movie?

Matt: I think it’s actually written that I be a little creepy. Pretty Sure that line Catherine says, “he’s creepier than the clown,”, when the audience first meets me outside the warehouse, that line was in the script. Maybe Catherine just thinks I’m creepy! Anyway, it became pretty clear that was just supposed to be a minor head fake. 

I know that because I remember we were first shooting, and we were just doing to some transition shots and I definitely tried to look a little menacing. I probably laid it on too thick. Damien really let us do what ever we wanted, because he, Phil and I think George, did a great job with casting. But this one take was an exception. He pulled me aside, and  I’m almost positive he literally said, “What are you doing?” I was like, “Well, I’m thinking maybe we trick the audience a little bit. Ya’ know, into thinking, I’m the bad guy. Or part of the bad stuff that’s gonna happen.” He just kind of looked at me, and was like, “Yeah, don’t do that.” I got the direction, and then pretty much just played it straight. 

I’m pretty sure I said, “So, just play it straight from here on in?” And Damien definitely answered in the affirmative. That was the thing. Damien had such a clear eyed script, and although I thickened up my New York accent (I’m from Westchester, just north of the Bronx, but I’m really a preppy kid from affluence, which means I normally sound like I’m from Connecticut) and that was that. Mike is just a blue collar guy. A solid guy. Which I find really cool. He’s not a hero, he’s just a good guy. We see that right away when offers to wait for Tara outside the bathroom. That was all in the script.   
Robert: Damien mentioned in the commentary that he might have had you react too harshly to the homeless women (Pooya Mohseni) and pushing her to the ground. Do you agree, or do you feel it was in character?

Matt: That’s funny, because I respectfully disagree. I thought we played it perfectly. The thing is, if you listen to what Pooya’s saying, she’s making perfect sense, but she’s frantic and her thoughts are jumping around. Maybe if Mike spotted her coming down the hall or something, he could have calmed her down to make more sense. But that opening salvo, where she is creeping right behind me is my personal favorite scene. I said fuck the same way every time, because I knew I said it right the first time. 

The reason I think it works is because of the sequencing, which again, is a credit to Damien’s vision. First, she freaks me out, and a handful of times I think it makes sense for me to tell her to back off. Then, when I actually do throw her to the ground, I think it’s pretty clear I’m upset about the whole thing. Including the fat that I just threw a strange woman to the floor. But it gives me the impetus to move out of the room and figure out what’s going on. 
Robert: I really hope that was a rubber claw hammer David hit you with in that stair scene. Ouch!

Matt: I have no recollection. Either way, he didn’t touch me. We were very concerned about safety. They had a whole setup with plywood and a mattress I was supposed to fall back on. I was pretty much willing to make a go of it, but when it was time to shoot, Damien took one look at it and was like, “No.” He was right, it wasn’t constructed properly. 

Robert: While the movie focuses on the murderous clown and his tortured female victims, you in fact were the male protagonist of the film. How did it feel to play the hero?

Matt: It’s funny, a bunch of friends have seen it obviously, but only one of ’em (a fellow actor), said, I was, “kind of the hero.” I didn’t really think about it like that, and I didn’t realize it was the case until I saw my first screening. I kept bothering Damien during post, which was a long time, to tell me if I ended up on the cutting room floor. You just never know. They shot for 30 days, and I was there for a total of 6. I was really in and out. I always felt welcome, and part of the family. But David and the ladies were all there for such long stretches, I certainly felt peripheral. Not like a protagonist at all. Damien kept answering, “Dude, no, you are not on the cutting room floor.” In hindsight, I realized how integral I was to the plot. But like I said, you just never know. He told me he was adding some shots, and that got me really nervous. But I see now why he was always telling me to chill out. 

I actually think Tara is the closest thing to a protagonist because she’s the character that really stands up to him. Me and her sister fight back too, but Tara’s the only one who’s like, “Bring it on Motherfucker.” 
 
 But this is the thing, in a perverse way, I feel like it’s hard not to root for Art. I mean, do you really want to watch that movie and not see him kill as many people as possible?!

I really enjoy David’s humor as a person. He is a very colorful cat, and we spent a lot of long nights cracking each other up in holding. In the two screenings I went to I had to cover my mouth a lot. There’s these harrowing scenes, and everything David does just cracks me up. I really had to work at not ruining it for my fellow audience members. 
Robert: Mike gets a horrific death scene toward the end. How many times and how many different expressions did you have to do for your head cast?

Matt: You literally just sit there as Damien does it. I am pretty sure we picked one expression of “Oh shit, something’s about to break my face”, and that was it. I am not sure I had to hold the look. I am pretty sure he had to do the teeth mold separately. Then for a full hour or so, I had to sit in complete darkness as he essentially paper-mached’ my head. I was fine most of the way through. But towards the end I started to feel claustrophobic. It was pretty intense. I remember just telling myself, “Well, if  you really can’t handle it, just rip the damn thing off.” That would  have totally ruined Damien’s work! But I just needed to tell myself that to mentally get through the last 15 minutes or so. Luckily, I did. 

Robert: During the Battle Royal with Art, he hits Mike with a compressed air tank. Was the tank real or a prop? What steps did you and David do as far as blocking the fight for safety?

Matt: Man, that is movie magic. As you’ll note, me and David pretty much whacked each other the same way. The truth of the matter is, we are several feet away from each other. It’s all the camera angle. I’ve done a lot more theater then film, so I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t look super phony. I was so satisfied to see how well it worked. It really empowered my character when I do it. Even if I blindside him! But Arts a frekkin’ psycho, so definitely take no chances with the likes of him!
Robert: Mike gets curb stomped pretty bad. The effects were gruesome. How did you react when you saw the finished pieces?
Matt: From my point of view it wasn’t enough! I had my head encased for an hour, and that final stomp is really a flash. I was like, THAT’S IT!? Upon a more recent viewing I took a good look at how well it worked. In regard to these kinds of gruesome scenes, it’s just perfect, like the rest of Terrifier is.  
Robert: In hindsight, do you think Mike and Vickie should have waited for the police?
Matt: Not really, no. I think it was pretty clear Art was unstoppable and their best shot was to keep moving. Don’t ask me or Samantha, if I recall a talk balk from one the screenings correctly, about Vicky running back into the warehouse though! 

Robert: All indie productions have some sort of wacky behind-the-scenes things happen. Did you encounter anything wild or weird the days you were on the set.

Matt: Totally. The warehouse we shot in Trenton was insane. NONE of that is set dressing. I think the guy’s were pretty sure it was a chop shop, but it also had some more reasonable office function at some point. Either way, it was a complete mess. There had been half-hearted attempts at renovation that were obviously done in fits and starts. I worked construction, and was pretty bad at most of it. There was this room where someone had attempted drywall, it’s right next to where I was listening on my headphones when Tara screams out for me. As we were shooting it, I kept looking it at, just  marveling at how bad they screwed up the skim-coating. For the life of me, I could not figure out how it ended up looking the way it did. Even I couldn’t have messed it up that bad. 

The most appropriate thing though was that the very first day I was there, I was just wandering around the room we hung out in. I kept finding funeral cards. Evidently, some secretary or whomever went to a lot of funerals. It was so weird though, like, I’d look out a window, and I’d find a funeral card just sitting in the window jam. It got me kind of fired up actually. I tend to believe in signs, and that made me think that this project was meant to be. 
Robert: Have you seen the movie with an audience? If so, what was their reaction, and what was your reaction to that?

Matt: I’ve seen it twice with audiences, and all I can say is that if you can manage to – definitely see it with one. Even if it’s in your buddy’s basement with some friends. Like all slasher flicks, it’s meant to be seen with audible reactions. The first screening I went to, me and my girlfriend sat next to a jumper/yelper, that was awesome. She did it so much, Angela thought it was a little phony, but I didn’t care. I thought it added to the experience. Both audiences really liked the movie, and I think it’s in part because it’s such an event, that movie. 

 Art is iconic, and David really delivers. I got the sense audiences were really responding to that. 
Robert: You played a part on the HBO show VINYL. What was that experience like? 

Matt: That was great for a guy like me. It was just one day, right? We were at the Hammerstien ballroom for, like 12 hours. It was really fun, I had a tiny room in a trailer. I was on what’s called first team with Ray Romano. Who I really enjoy, and he was completely unassuming. We all had to introduce ourselves, and say our character’s name. He did, and said his characters full name, Zak Yankovich, and then he was like, in such a Ray Romano way-“Ahhh… nobody cares.” 

It was such a cool day. It was right around the time Bowie died, and Ray Romano’s character, along with Anna Parise’s, show up to his sound check to pitch him something. Noah Been, who played Bowie, was on point, which really made the day go smoothly. He had to do his job after we did retake after retake, and he set me up with my one line every time. I must have said, “I’ll bump up Ronno,” 85 times. At the sound check, they’re practicing suffragette city, which is the first song of Bowie’s that I really, really liked. I remember the band that backed him up were these young kids with some hipster band in Brooklyn.  Anyway, the guy who played Mick Ronson said that was actually his favorite guitar player. Inspired him to pick up the instrument. For me, it was a magical day, even if the show didn’t do as well as hoped. 
Robert: What have you been working on lately? What does the future hold for Matt McAllister? 

Matt: This summer I’m waiting to see what happens with a mob movie called ‘On the Arm’, which is slated to hit the film festival’s this year. Honestly, I need to have a day job and I am working on saving money. Really. Me and my girl want to get married, and she’s put up with A LOT. I was sort of waiting for Terrifier to come out to start back on some self promoting. I did a play last fall on the lower east side with this lovely theater company called Metropolitan playhouse, but that was a lot of man hours for no money. I drive an Uber, so if I’m not in the car, it costs me money. I have a lovely manager who gets me auditions for roles like the 1 liner in Vinyl, but I’m really aiming to target more substantial roles.

 Kind of like the one David got in Gotham, did you see it? He was great. It’s a bit part, but it has a handful of lines and he got to really play a character. 
 
 My goal is to spend the 2nd half of the year getting a new reel up, a new website(I let my last one lapse, because it was atrocious) and putting myself out there. Unfortunately, in this day and age if you don’t have an established career you really have to pay to play. Meaning you go to the seminars, meet and greets, showcase type things to meet casting directors, producers, etc. Hence some of the saving.

That may sound bad, but I feel really good actually. Terrifier has given me a kind of confidence I haven’t had in a while, and the truth is, I’m probably going to submit for a lot of low budget horror flicks, hoping to ride on the wave of popularity Terrifier has rightfully received.

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