For those of you that are unaware with Mr. Ellis, He is, what I would consider to be a rising cult-film superstar. He’s been in such films as “Monsturd”, as well as “Retardead”. Lately, Dan has been a regular in Plotdigger films, directed by Canadian sleaze king Ryan Nicholson. Despite being a minor character, Dan stole the show in “Gutterballs”. He just has that “bad-ass” quality that you don’t find in many actors today. Dan solidified his presence as a B-movie hero in Nicholson’s next film, “Hanger”. The new film from “Plotdigger”, now titled “Bleading Lady”, puts Dan at the center of the story, and he knocks it out of the park. Dan recently agreed to answer a few questions for us, so here it is.
TBS: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Dan-I know you’re a busy guy. It seems like you have a lot going on these days, with several upcoming films in the works. I wanted to start by asking you how you came to be hooked up with Ryan Nicholson, and what it’s like working with him on a film?
Dan: I always have time for you man, no problem! I first met Ryan in 2006 (I think) after I answered an add for an “Indie horror feature”. I had just moved up to Vancouver from San Francisco in 2004 and was trying to get back into acting after some “time off”. I didn’t really know anyone up here or where to start and I didn’t have an agent. Since I had just finished “Monsturd” and being a fan of horror since birth, I really wanted to get this audition so I sent my crappy headshot and meager resume and held my breath . I got an email with my audition time but I had a “real job” interview just before that (suit and tie) so I show up quite overdressed but super stoked! I walk in and this big dude walks up to me, he has a young woman with him (Michelle Grady) and this scraggly looking rocker dude in a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt with a brace on his knee (Jay Gavin) and right then I knew these were my kind of people. We introduced ourselves and he looks me up and down, gives me some sides and says “I want you to read for the Janitor, he’s an older guy and maybe he’s got a bum leg. Have a look and I’ll be back in like 15 minutes or so”. At first I was a little bummed “A Janitor” but I really wanted to be in the film (it was acting and horror the 2 things I love!) . After reading it I really liked the part and he (the Janitor) reminded me of a janitor from my high school that we used to make fun of and I did a good impersonation of him when I was younger so I used that for the audition. For once being an American in Canada worked in my favor, it was part of the reason I got the part (no Canadian accent) and Ryan liked what I did. I was cast and that’s when Ryan told me the Janitor was the killer, I almost pooped my slacks! I had no idea who Ryan was till we started filming and I checked his IMDB, I was blown away and really excited about working with him because I love effects so the chance to see them first hand, it was all a dream come true. We just developed a friendship, personal and professional from working on “Gutterballls” and here we are.
TBS: “Bleading Lady” is a different type of film than we’re used to seeing you in. Was this film harder for you as an actor than “Hanger”? Which film that you have appeared in has been the most fun to shoot? Most challenging?
Dan: This is a hard one to answer, there are so many different variables that apply here. I think “Gutterballs” was probably the most fun because of how excited I was to finally be working on something, I really loved that character, the story and the cast and crew were so much fun. The hours were long and weird but overall it was really sad when we wrapped, I think that’s a good way to judge how attaced you are to a production is by how sad you are when you wrap. I don’t mean to take anything away from the other films, they were ALL fun, “Hanger” was fun as hell! I love wearing prosthesis and the content was just so foul how could you not have fun making a movie like that!?! “Star Vehicle” (as it was known when we started filming) was quite different for me/us, we knew going in that it was a bit more “tame” than the other films and I found myself taking a different approach to the character. I was a more “method” approach, reading lines in the car, driving around to rehearse, being “Don” randomly to strangers and even my appearance.
I think the short answer would be: Most fun : “Gutterballs” Most challenging: “Star Vehicle/ Bleading Lady”
TBS: Ryan’s films are drenched in buckets of blood and nastiness. Do you enjoy being covered from head to toe in blood? What was it like to have an ass smeared in your face in that particular scene in “Hanger”?
Dan: Ya know man, I think back to that scene in “Hanger” and all I can say is “We all make sacrifices for our craft”! I have to save something to talk about over beers, right?
Honestly man I wonder at times if there is “something” wrong with me because I love it! I will say that it’s not all fun and games though! There are times it gets in your eye (ouch) or on “Hanger” I was wearing a sweater for the last few scenes that was covered in blood and there is quite a bit of sugar in the fake blood we used so it got really sticky and gross after a couple days.
Prosthesis is another thing I love to get applied, it’s fun and really brings something extra out in the character but the problem most people have with prosthesis is this 1) The life cast (It can get kind of claustrophobic and/or uncomfortable having life cast done) 2) Having the stuff removed (if the person removing is inexperienced or just rough it can be kinda painful). My mother took me to see “The Phantom of the Opera” when I was about 6 and it really made an impression on me, scared the shit outta me but made an impression non the less. I became obsessed with horror make-up and Lon Chaney and I would spend hours at the library reading about him and how he would get those looks. I started buying theatrical kits and doing some effects on myself and friends (gunshots and such) then we would run around acting like fools. After a summer of this it became clear to me that I really enjoyed wearing the stuff and acting crazy more than applying it so that’s when I decided I wanted to be an actor, a horror actor! So wearing prosthesis and being covered in blood and/or snot was really what got me into this in the first place. Luckily I had the best mom in the world, really man, she was so supportive. To this day loves horror movies so we talk about what shes seen, it’s cool. I love you mom and thank you!
TBS: I’ve asked Ryan this same question, and now I’m going to ask you. Would you be interested in doing a Plotdigger Spaghetti Western, with you starring as the “Man without a name” type of character? I think you have the perfect style for this type of role, and if any two people could pull it off, it would be you and Ryan.
Dan: Thanks man! You have no idea how much fun that would be for me! I grew up watching Sergio Leone films and idolized Clint Eastwood so I doubt there are two people on this Earth who would enjoy that more than us. Plus there needs to be a good West-sploitation flick for sure. I saw a trailer for “Cowboys Vs. Aliens” but it just looks too safe for me.
TBS: Who are your acting influences? Do you have any sort of ritual to get yourself into character? Or do you just go out there and do your thing?
Dan: I don’t really have any “ritual” but I used to smoke a lot before filming, I quit smoking about 5 months ago, so no more of that. I start to get into character to some extent while on my way to set and that might be very subtle or extreme. I guess I kind of just go and “do my thang” haha. I really liked the “tough guys” growing up but I also loved the old “Hammer Films” horror regulars. In no particular order Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Robert Blake (Baretta), Popeye (I know he’s a cartoon but he counts!), Boris Karloff, Bella Lugosi, Lon Chaney (Sr. and Jr.), Lee Van Cleef, Vincent Price, Evel Knievel (Just because he was so bad ass!), James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson etc. etc. etc. For real man this list is HUGE! I had the total T.V. For a babysitter as a kid. I would sit for hours and watch the classics, action and whatever horror films were on. Mom wasn’t a real jerk when it came to bedtime so I got to see all the late night stuff most kids my age missed. I shudder to think who I would have become if I never had Baretta or Kolchak: The Night Stalker!
TBS: Outside of the Plotdigger universe, what are some horror flicks you’ve seen recently that you dug on?
Dan: Honestly I don’t get to see many current releases, being a daddy and all, so I mostly get my viewings 6 months to a year late when they come out on DVD unless Ryan calls me up for a date. This is tough too because there are tons of indie films that I keep hearing about but never get to see. We should start a Facebook group for “Dads that don’t get to go to the movies” and people can send us DVDs. Haha!
I just re-watched Guillermo Del Toro’s “the Orphanage” last week and man is that a good flick! Besides that I liked “The Collector”, “Zombieland” (honestly I go back and forth with this one), “Dead Girl” and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on “Hobo with a shotgun” and really excited about “Monster Brawl”!
TBS: One of the things I’ve learned about you is that you are a family man. Recently, my first child was born, and I’ve found it’s harder for me to remain as prolific as I once was in my writing. Do you find it’s difficult to balance the time you spend on your career, and the time you spend with your family? Have your kids seen any of your films? And, if so, what was their reaction?
Dan: My wife and family have been great about altering schedules, babysitting and helping out in general when it come to filming. I don’t have “Brad Pitt” money so a nanny ain’t in the budget and I don’t do this for the cash man, so they understand that I do it because I love it and they really have been helpful. I remember I was watching a work print of “Gutterballs” and my oldest daughter, who was 3 or 4 at the time, walked in right as I was cutting Trevor’s throat in the last scene. There was blood spraying in my face and here she comes, I didn’t see her at fist and then I hear “Daddy, is that you?”. I almost shit my self man! I turned it off quickly and looked at her and said “honey uh, that was…” and she cut me off and said “That was just paint on you right? It’s not real” and I said “That’s right honey, it’s not real, it’s just a movie” and that was it. Both my kids know my movies on sight (they have never seen them) and can tell you from pictures of me what movie it was from. All my girls are awesome and I love them more than Skyline Chili and the Bengals put together!
TBS: As an actor, do you plan to continue to focus strictly on indie film, or branch out into more mainstream projects?
Dan: I’m just taking what I’m given and being thankful for every experience.
I love acting and the thing I love most about it is the diversity of characters, emotions, stories and genres. If I believe in the script, the part feels right and I think I can do it justice then it doesn’t matter if it’s outside the indie or horror world. Now, if all I were to ever do was horror and/or indie films… that’s fanfuckintastic too man!
TBS: If a big studio offered you the lead role in a remake of one of your favorite classic horror films, would you accept the gig? And if so, what classic horror film would you wish to participate in the re-imagining?
Dan: I have written and rewritten this answer about 50 times trying to be too fucking political so here goes…. Would I work on a remake? You bet your ass I would!
I am not a fan of remakes, I don’t believe that many are done for the pure love of the original and I don’t think owning the rights to a film should give you the right to piss all over a classic but still I’d do it and here’s why…. For me, this early in the game, I’m so happy just to be doing what I love that I can’t afford to be too picky right now. If I were to turn down a part it would be because I didn’t think I was right for the part, the part wasn’t right for me or I just don’t believe in the story. I was madder than a wet hen when I heard they were going to remake “The Mechanic” but would I have worked on it? Hell yes! I’m pissed now that I hear they are going to remake “Westworld” but I would still work on it. Most of these films were good because of how they were made the first time and you can’t usually “improve” that. I think it funny to see a lot of horror films being remade but don’t hold your breath waiting for a “Casablanca” or “Gone With the Wind” to be remade! I’m not saying all remakes are bad (The Thing, The Fly, Last house on the left…) I just wish the powers that be would tap into the new ideas coming out of the indie scene for projects instead.
So, if I were to pick what remake I would love to do, it would be “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” with out a doubt! I’d love to play the lead and base it in “Modern day America” and really make it brutal, gory and dark man! I’m getting all goose bumpy thinking about it! Mwaaaa Haaa Haa!
TBS: If you can’t answer the following question, I will understand, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. Do you know the reason for the last minute name change to “Bleading Lady”? I was a huge fan of the previous cover-art, I thought it looked amazing, so I have to admit to being a tad disappointed when the new cover-art was revealed. Which did you prefer?
Dan: It’s pretty common for the distributor to want to rework or, in this case, redo the DVD/poster art. I don’t mind the new one because I’m on the cover now (Haha! Just kidding. Or am I?).
To tell the truth man, the new name doesn’t bother me, sure I liked the old name better, but it is what it is. I’ve gotten messages from people asking the same thing and most of them are unhappy about the name change, some don’t like the art also and I guess it’s just because the hype was built around that name and we all got used to it. As far as I’m concerned the movie is still the same and I never got a clear answer on it anyway so I’m just gonna stay out of it. Haha
TBS: I wanted to express our thanks to you, Dan. You definitely have a few fans here at The Blood Sprayer, and we’ll be watching for your next film. Do you have any closing words for our readers? What will be your next film to be released? Any juicy projects in-the-works that you can tease us with?
Dan: I just finished 2 films with Vince D’Amato and the good people at Creepy Six Films, “The Hard Cut” and “I woke up screaming the day I died” as well as a web series called “The Renfield Syndrome”. We just had the screening a couple weeks ago and they did a killer job! Ryan and I have been trying to get “The Murder Mack” up and running but it seems we keep getting bamboozled by schedule conflicts, funding, locations etc. etc. etc. We are trying to fund this ourselves but we might have to look to investors so, if ya know anyone…. But seriously, we hope to start production this Spring (fingers crossed) and this one is really going to be something! Ryan and I have talked about wanting to do something “Brutal and dark as hell!” and go back to the “More is more” mentality but also more serious. We have a solid cast in place and we are really looking forward to getting them involved and see what they got! “Gutterballs II” is always a hot topic but nothing definite yet (sorry)… More news and info is always available at plotdigger.com and the forum there is a good place also to check in on the happenings or just shoot tha poo.
There are 3 people I need to thank:
You, Bloodsprayer and Co., have been awesome, all the press and support for our films has just been stellar man, so thank you very much!
Ryan, thank you sir for being a friend,for having faith and seeing enough in me to give me a chance. If it wasn’t for you I might not be where I am today!
The fans of our stuff, I cannot express how much I appreciate you and all your support! Without you we could not do what we do and to be recognized for the hard work you put into something, there really are no words to say how much that means to me. Thank you so much!
So now that you’ve heard what the man has to say, go and seek a few of his flicks out if you’ve yet to catch any of them. Dan has that B-movie superstar quality you won’t find in any other actor outside of Bruce Campbell. He has an uncanny ability to deliver corny dialog in a way that makes it cooler than it should be. Thanks Dan, for doing this for us.