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Interview: James Duval Unleashes His Inner “BEAST MODE”

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 | Exclusives

By DAKOTA DAHL

BEAST MODE is an 80s throwback horror comedy about washed-up producer Breen Nash (C. Thomas Howell) as he attempts to continue making a film after accidentally running over his star, Huckle Saxton, played by James Duval. Hiring a naïve, exact duplicate (also played by Duval) to dupe his studio execs, the film is full of scathing commentary on the nature of fame and Hollywood. There’s also a mystical cream that heals all wounds at the cost of transforming its users into bloodthirsty demons at night, which is a lot of fun. We got to chat with Duval about his dual roles, his history in horror, and upcoming projects.

What attracted you to the script for BEAST MODE?

It was a couple of factors. One of them was the opportunity to play a few different characters in this, so that was definitely one of the attractions for me. it was also just a completely outrageously funny and crazy script. Believe it or not, usually when I choose my projects, or I’m lucky enough to be chosen by the project, what really excites me is the people that I get the opportunity to work with. For example, on this movie, [I worked with] C. Thomas Howell, Leslie Easterbrook, and Carrie Finklea, and James Hong. And, although we didn’t have any scenes together, I’ve worked with Ray Wise before. So, I couldn’t be happier to work on a project like that.

Yeah, Ray Wise seems like a ton of fun to be around, he’s always so full of energy.

He really is, and he’s smart, he’s charming, he’s funny and he’s extremely talented. You really couldn’t ask for more, really, with anyone you work with, on any job, so that’s an extra bonus. I think it’s on the shelf, at the moment, in fact I’m sure it’s on the shelf, but we did a little project where he was the veteran hitman and I was sort of the up-and-coming, impatiently angry, upset, pent up hitman he’d taken under his wing, and that was quite a fun little job to do together. He had me in stitches the entire time.

That sounds cool. I’m happy to hear that he’s fun off-screen, too.

That man is a prince among men, a gentleman and a scholar to boot.

The film has a pretty nihilistic view of Hollywood, how much of it is accurate, in your experience?

That kind of stuff, to be honest, has been an essential – I don’t know if I should say essential – but a big part of Hollywood since the very beginning. Since even the silent film era, with Clara Bow and what-not. It’s interesting, if you’re familiar with old Hollywood history, how a lot of people got propelled when they created movie stars, in the early 20th century, it got to the point where they kind of had broken lives, so they were living these sort of personas that the studios needed to sell. Commercialism and using products used by actors to sell to the public was something that actually begun in the early 20th century.

So, this kind of thing has been going on for a very long time, and these actors put on this sort of persona, a mask for the public, and they sell these products, meanwhile, they’re lonely, in some ways more lonely than other people because they are so disconnected from reality whenever they meet somebody. Among other factors, I think there’s quite a bit of pressure being in the public limelight, having your life out for public consumption, it can cause a lot of problems on a personal level for people. [There are stories about] Montgomery Clift chewing his steak under a table because he was paranoid of people. Also, actors would do shit just to see if they could get away with it. The stories of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and Charleton Heston, I love them, they’re legendary, but they were also raging alcoholics. They were nuts while filming, but then they pushed it into the public limelight. In some ways, I think they were more nuts than they are now, but then I take that back, the only thing is that it’s changed. We’ve seen, time and time again, what fame does to people, fame is a monster, and so as funny and outrageous as the movie is, there is a real, poignant, center core foundation to the story. That you can’t take life that seriously, you kind of have to have fun with it, poke fun at it sometimes, and I think that’s what BEAST MODE is, and does.

I’ve mostly seen you play innocent, or at least good-natured characters in your career. What steps do you have to take to portray a convincing shithead in this film?

Just be myself. We all do it. I think, to some degree we’ve cheesed someone else throughout our lives. I don’t prefer to cheese good people, I prefer to cheese the people that deserve to be cheesed. Too bad they won’t learn any humility from it. It’s kind of that idea of those moments when you can talk to your friends and not offend anyone and you can take the extreme idea of what you think of somebodies behaviour, or it might as well be, it’s so blatant, by the things they say and the subtle things they do. Just taking that and really making it literal, that’s kind of a lot of fun to do. I do find, especially when you work in this business, that people can be extremely passive-aggressive. So it’s just like “No, don’t be subtle, don’t mince words, tell us what you really think.” Let’s just take this to the extreme and just really show it for what it is.

What’s your favorite scene in the film, and why?

There’s a couple that I really, really enjoyed. One of my favorite scenes is where I go to meet Leslie Easterbrook, and she has to put the cream on me, and that’s really the beginning of it all. So this magic cream he’s using is going to heal his scars and make him beautiful like the movie star he resembles, but at the same time, there’s a price to pay for that. To be honest, your moments with other actors aren’t really done in the dialogue so much as in the eyes, when you really lock eyes with the other actor and you are performing together. I felt like, with Leslie, you just have these moments, these intimate moments, and you’re hoping it plays really well on screen because what you experience as an actor is profound. Believe it or not, in this completely weirdly, strangely, outrageously crazy movie, I had a couple of profound moments with the actors.

It seems like a fun role to play, because you essentially go from being a dickhead, to an innocent person who slowly becomes a dickhead as well.

Yeah, that was a lot of fun. It’s almost like, playing that kind of innocent character, obviously a bit more exaggerated and a bit more over the top, which was kind of the point, you know? I wanted to give him a bigger, larger than life persona so that when there was this change, it would be much more extreme.

You had a very memorable part in one of my favorite horror movies, May. What are some of your favorite horror roles?

May is one of them, certainly one of them. That was a lot of fun, and Lucky, I hope to work with him again someday, I love working with him. And of course, Angela Bettis, who is a gem. There was this movie, believe it or not, and I don’t even think it turned out wonderfully good, but it was a lot of fun to work on, and it was my first horror movie. I did a film called The Clown at Midnight in Canada with Christopher Plummer and Margot Kidder. There was a clown murderer in that, kind of based on the opera play Pagliacci and people weren’t sure if I was the clown murderer or Christopher Plummer, like “Who is the clown murderer?” and nobody really knew who it was. Judging by the way the billing was, you can kind of guess who it was. That was a lot of fun, it was a lot of fun to shoot in an old theatre in Winnipeg that was over 100 years old. It had all these secret passages, and things you just don’t see anymore in architecture, they don’t build things like that anymore.

Yeah, when’s the last time you saw a secret passage?

It’s been some time. What’s interesting is that it hasn’t really been since back then, really. I used to be a butler for Heff at the Playboy Mansion, back in the early ’90s, and there were hidden passageways all over that mansion that would take you to all sort of different places on the grounds. It was insane, and you would never know.

You were a butler for Hugh Heffner?!

Yeah, for about six months there. And then I quit, I just didn’t have the time. He was kind of particular, to earn a permanent place there, and I was looking to become an actor, you didn’t get the greatest shifts or the greatest hours, and he didn’t bring you on full time until after a certain amount of time. I couldn’t stay on that long, I was moving around, trying to make this acting career happen.

What do you find unique about working in horror as opposed to other genres?

A lot of blood, a lot of fake blood. A lot of other genres, they’re afraid of blood, and in my experience in horror, it’s just like “buckets of blood!” That’s probably the biggest one, I think it’s also dependent on your work ethic and the work ethic of the director and the environment he creates on set. I do find most sets to be extremely fun, most people realize we could be doing anything else and we are here with the opportunity to make a film. And if you have a fun script, well that’s even better. Better than ripping tickets as a movie usher as a kid, which is what I used to do.

What future projects of yours can we look forward to?

I have a movie which recently got finished, all completed, called I, Challenger, and I play a 40 something-year-old gamer, who sells marijuana to underage kids who can’t get it at the dispensary to make ends meet. By chance, he makes friends with another gamer online, and that guy convinces him to find his luck, which he, after perusing many Youtube videos, decides that he is going do one of these supervised, self-burial, 24-hour challenges, where he is going to bury himself underground and live stream it. And he wants you to stay tuned, folks, ‘cuz anything can happen, and anything does. So this movie I’m very excited about, and hopefully, you get to see it in the next six months when it’ll be out or at least playing around the festival circuit. And on another, completely different genre, I just shot a dramatic television pilot, that we are waiting to hear if it gets picked up, with Michael Madsen and Robert LaSardo and Daniel Baldwin called For Nothing. I play an undercover cop in the seedy underbelly of Buffalo in the mafia that runs that city.

BEAST MODE is now available of VOD and Digital. 

Dakota Dahl
Dakota Dahl has no idea what he is doing, but people seem fine with paying him to do it.