Adam Mason has been in the directors chair for a while now, starting out in the indie horror game with cult favorite films like Broken and the Devil’s Chair. With the release of his latest film, Junkie, Mason takes things into multiple directions and creates a genre bending flick that throws the rule book right out the window.
I talked to Adam about Junkie, the path that led him to it, and his transition into bigger things ahead.
Bill Howard: First off, thanks so much for this opportunity. I loved Junkie, it was such a unique and insane film, but fun as hell and full of great performances.
Adam Mason: No worries. Thanks a lot mate. It means a lot to me that you like it.
BH: Junkie, besides being a great film, is a unique animal in that it is so many different films in one. It is a horror, a comedy, a drama, a fantasy, a character study, a psychedelic trip, all wrapped up into one story that takes place in one setting. Was it a challenge when you and Simon Boyes were writing it or did it become all those things organically?
AM: It wasn’t a movie we really thought about much at all – it was just like one of those creative writing things you’d do back at school. We had no idea where it was going to go when we started writing. It was the exact opposite of our Hollywood studio stuff that we write these days. Instead of outlining meticulously – we just went wherever our imaginations took us. We were just trying to either shock one another or make each other laugh. Beyond that – there wasn’t much to it. It was great fun to write and quite cathartic actually. We took all the rules and threw them away, and just wrote from a totally base level.
BH: Before Junkie you were mainly known for work in horror and while Junkie is not horror, it definitely has horror elements. Is horror a genre you like to work in by choice or did you just happen into it?
AM: I grew up loving horror. I think in the past a lot of the imagination and talent in the film industry came out of the genre. It’s a great place to start. My personal sensibilities don’t probably lie there anymore, but a lot of my fav movies are from that world. The Wicker Man, Jacobs Ladder, Angel Heart, The Exorcist, etc…
But when you’re starting out from nothing, with no connections and no resources – horror is the only way to go. With no money and no access to actors – you really have to hit people with a sledgehammer to get noticed.
BH: Your two main leads in Junkie, Daniel Louis Rivas and Robert LaSardo, are phenomenal. While the film draws comparisons to Fight Club, I don’t think it does in a plagiaristic sort of way but more in a complimentary way. And I think your two actors equal Pitt and Norton in the calibre of their performances. What was your experience working with these two?
AM: Yeah they were both great. I really enjoyed working on this film, a lot more than other stuff I’ve done. I rehearsed it like a play… and demanded the actors were off book way in advance of shooting. This is very uncommon in the movie making world, and I could never really work out why… Rehearsal is essentially free. It doesn’t cost anything. This movie was blocked out and ready to go before I got a single camera or light out of the box. So when it came to shoot – it was like a well-oiled machine. That was a first for anything I’ve ever done. It made for a very creative experience. I’d always want to shoot like that from now on, given the choice.
Simon and I wrote the script for Danny. So it’s kind of how we see him in a lot of ways. Danny is just a really really nice guy. I always believe that casting is easy – you just basically typecast people. You find the most talented person who’s the most like the character you wrote. It’s like if you want to play opera music, you don’t ask Kerry king to get involved. But if you are putting together a metal band – look no further… And it’s the same with movies. You just look for aspects of the character you wrote in the actor. Skills and training are a different thing. Some actors have taken their education very seriously and others haven’t. It really is a craft like anything else. I’m very savvy when it comes to only using people I know know what they are doing. It’s like playing tennis – you have to have people who can play a good game or what’s the point?
Robert is ever such a good actor. He knows his craft and he’s totally dedicated. It was interesting watching his process – he’s an amazing mix of extremely prepared and extremely method. Which is my fav kind of actor.
BH: Anybody who knows action films knows Robert LaSardo’s face. I always associate him with King of New York and Leon, but the list goes on forever. But you did something different and gave him more than a tough guy role, you gave him what may be the role of his career so far and he knocked it out of the park with a genuine, nuanced and brilliantly layered performance. What made you decide to take this character actor and give him this role?
AM: I had only really seen Robert in nip tuck. My ex used to watch it and although it’s not at all my kind of thing – every time this one guy would come on screen, he’d mesmerize me. He just had the intensity of DeNiro in taxi driver to me. He has an energy you can feel coming through the screen, and that’s pretty much all I look for in an actor. Then I reached out to him and we met in a diner he likes in Venice and it became immediately apparent we had a lot in common besides wanting to work together. And from that moment we became great friends too. Robert’s a good guy. Complicated and dark, but he’s also devastatingly smart. If I ever went to war – I’d want Robert on my side put it that way. He’s also surprisingly sensitive and vulnerable in his own way. And if you think about it – I just pretty much described the character of Nicky in those words. I see those characters of Nicky and Danny very much as the two sides that make up my own personality. And I think Danny and Robert both personify them too…. And I mean that as a compliment to both of them. They are both great actors and have become dear friends.
BH: What were the challenges of working with such a complex story on such a limited budget? Do limitations help with the creative process or were there elements of the story you think you could have done better with or expanded on if you had a larger budget?
AM: It was actually a really simple and easy shoot. We did the bulk of it in seven days. The very end stuff was a half day we did months later, but that was it. Seven and a half days! Something like blood river or devils chair was incomparably more difficult and challenging. But Junkie was tailored around a decades worth of low budget filmmaking experience on Simon’s and my behalf, and we just knew what we could do and what we couldn’t. There’s been a million times we’ve been over ambitious on movies or music videos and it’s backfired, awfully sometimes! But this time we just scaled it all back and made it all about the script and the acting and little else. It was a really really good experience all round – and what’s more… I didn’t have anyone telling me what I could or couldn’t do. It was Danny and Charisse’s money and they trusted me implicitly and let me get on with my job. That’s pretty rare – and I think the purity of motive comes across really strongly in the finished thing. It’s the only thing I’ve made that I can watch from start to finish and not feel hugely anxious in the process. I’m really very happy with it, it just does exactly what it says on the tin, and everyone involved didn’t let me down. I’m sure it’s not for everyone by any means, but I made it really for myself and it’s as close as I’ve come to do myself proud.
BH: What is in store for the future? Are you going to stay within horror or do you have plans outside of the genre?
AM: Writing wise Simon and I are flying now. We’re writing really huge stuff for the studios – so that’s been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. There’s been many times in our careers where something’s happened – whether it was landing a huge music video back in the day, or having the Weinstein’s pick up our first movie , or Devils Chair getting into Toronto, or signing with huge agents, or Joe Johnston deciding to direct one of our scripts or whatever… And we’ve felt like we made it, only to realize that nothing had really changed… But recently – in terms of writing at least – it feels like we actually have. Financially we’re doing really well for the first time ever, and we’re writing for some of the biggest people, companies and studios in Hollywood. Every week now we get to meet and work with people that we used to hero worship back in the day, and that is hugely gratifying and satisfying. But in terms of me directing – Simon and I made a conscious decision about four years ago after the miserable experience that was ‘Luster’ to get out of that indie world and do everything we could to break into the studio system. Which, quite frankly, we did. I lost my love for doing those kinds of movies. It’s just too much work and the waters are full of sharks at that level. I never made a penny out of the success of any of my movies. Since I had a kid and got married, the back slapping and praise means less and less to me. I can’t justify slogging my guts out for two years to make nothing. It’s not worth it, in all honesty. It makes it a hobby really, and I’m not sure I’d choose to do it as a hobby. I’d much rather play music or something that doesn’t bring with it a mountain load of stress of unhappiness. I’m a control freak – and the energy I put into directing really fucks with me. A few years ago I got in a pretty dark place as a result of it – realizing I was approaching 40 fast and had almost nothing to show for my entire life other than a few DVDs of movies I’d made that I wasn’t particularly proud of. That was a pretty sobering realization (although I was far from sober at the time).
Junkie was purposefully the last film I decided to make in that world. It’s the swan song of a deeply unhappy person (me), who like Danny in the movie – let go of his past and went on to find contentment elsewhere.
I really feel like Junkie’s a happy ending for me personally as well as professionally.
Junkie is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.