Till death do you part is a statement that has haunted storytelling for generations. The power of those words and the foundation of marriage is both daunting, incredible and terrifying. Do we ever really know our partner? The one that we share our life with, bare children with, grow old with, sleep with and more… THE DARK BELOW offers a profile of marriage and the truly uneasy and disturbing thought that that feelings you shared could be true or not. Actor David G.B. Brown plays Ben, husband, father and monster opposite actress Lauren Mae Shafer who is his on-screen wife Rachel. Over the 75 minute running time, we see the depths that Ben is willing to go to remove his family in one of the most vicious, cold-blooded and smart performances against the canvas of the merciless winter. Powerful… insidious… charming… David took some time out to speak with Jay Kay of Cinema Chords about his fears, Ben’s compulsions, no dialogue as a performance tool, Veronica Cartwright and more.
CC: Thank you David for taking the time to talk with me and Cinema Chords about THE DARK BELOW. What was it like working with the team of Douglas Schulze and Robert Skates again?
David Brown: It’s always great re-teaming with incredibly talented professionals like Doug and Rob. Already being familiar with Doug’s style of directing, which continually evolves and improves, made it easy to get right to work. Rob is simply one of the best – he and his team worked seamlessly and endured more of the elements on this project than we did.
CC: What was it like to work with a legend like Veronica Cartwright? What were the conversations and time spent like on set?
DB: Veronica was fantastic. Very laid-back and amazingly talented, it was a real treat working a few scenes with her, especially the one in the hospital when we “faced off” – being able to see her perform with such intensity, from just a few inches away, was a bit daunting. I’d like to think that I speak for everyone in that she brought the project to a higher level and brought out our best. Our time on set was focused and productive, but we had the pleasure to go out one night in a small group and hang out, and she was funny, entertaining, and relaxed. I have a great picture of us drinking Jameson together.
CC: We see the life of a family gone horribly wrong in THE DARK BELOW. You truly never know someone completely. It’s so scary. Talk with me about working again with Lauren Mae Shafer and how you two built that relationship on and off screen between Ben and Rachel in the different stages of the film? How was the relationship also with your on-screen daughter playing a human monster?
BP: Having already worked with Lauren made it very comfortable for us, given the subject matter. We spent a lot of down time together, talking about our characters and the film. We even went so far as, with Jon, not just building our backstories, but also what the subsequent events could be. We always made sure Lauren was comfortable with the more physical scenes – Doug and Kathryn were aggressive with safety, especially given the snow, the sub-zero temperatures, and underwater work. Seraphina was great as our daughter – very mature for her age, always ready to go, and I think she may have taken direction better than me.
CC: In THE DARK BELOW, we never truly see the origins of Ben’s compulsion and evil actions. We see bits and pieces that leads us to the present conflict. What was the back-story for Ben like? Did you do much research into that? What made Ben such a scary, effective and dangerous figure? How did you cope with that evil within the character?
BP: I approached Ben as a serial killer who married Rachel for a cover – there was no “longing for normalcy” involved. I read up on serial killers and, though not a serial killer, I rewatched “Breaking Bad” for Walter White’s vacant detachment. I did some animal work, attempting to liken Ben’s movements to that of a wolf patiently stalking his prey. I’ve always enjoyed delving into the darker areas.
CC: Was it difficult to create the character of Ben with no dialogue? Did this enhance the emotion, drama and empowerment of the character?
BP: It was certainly a challenge trying to create a three-dimensional character without dialogue, especially one who is very even throughout the film. Lauren’s character has a lot of ups and downs throughout, so it was important to counter that – the real challenge, for me, was to try not to come off as boring or bland, or stereotypical.
CC: One of the most terrifying aspects of the overall performance is your eyes. How did you finally decide that Ben would have that certain intense evil in his glare? Where did it come from?
BP: I worked not on having an intense evil glare, but a complete lack of emotion, which I think is tougher to accomplish, but is more intimidating than trying to be intensely evil. The marriage to Rachel was a cover, nothing more, and when it was no longer tenable it simply had to be eliminated. To Ben, Rachel was no more important than discarding a piece of clothing that had used up its usefulness.
CC: David, you are a built figure; powerful. When choreographing the various struggles, battles as well as cat and mouse tension on the iced pond with Rachel, how much did you have to hold back strength wise?
BP: I hit the gym to put on some mass for the film so Ben would have a more physically imposing figure and make the physical acts throughout the film easily believable. There were three scenes where I had to be particularly careful – the first, I think, is one of the opening shots where I “slam” Rachel into a wall. This was practiced several times, and in reality, Lauren grasped my hand, which I held as loose as I could around her neck, and let her throw herself into the wall, which gave the appearance we wanted. The other is a scene when I’m “beating” Veronica’s character in the house – for this I landed punches six inches to the left of her head, and had to be very careful. We practiced it and she felt comfortable, so we went with it. The third is when I was holding a girl under the water at the swimming pools – close to the same thing, as the female actor had full control of the situation, it only looked as if I was holding her under water. As I said, Doug and Kathryn were all about safety on this film.
CC: Talk to me about winter shoot and preparing for the elements? Did the layers of clothing affect your performance? What was the hardest scene to get through overall?
BP: We really got perfect weather for the film – it was pretty consistent, which is rare when filming outside for any duration in the winter. It was certainly colder than we would have liked! Lauren really had the hardest go of it – the suit she wore through most of the film wasn’t incredibly insulated and she spent a lot of time on the ground. We had a warmup tent at location and ready transportation to the clubhouse. My two hardest scenes were first the scene where I come back out of the water, drenched and without a coat – we did this scene on one of the coldest nights, and as soon as we started the scene the water I’d doused myself with started freezing up. By the end of that I was probably colder than I should have gotten. The other was the scene where I go under the lake. I actually have a pretty intense fear of drowning, but wanted to be in the film so bad I neglected to tell that to Doug ahead of time. I had to mentally prepare myself before we shot those scenes, and got through it just fine.
CC: The genre of horror offer range as a performer. What is it about horror that draws you in?
BP: Part of me loves horror movies because there really are no rules – you can do a horror movie with any other genre. You can continually find new ways to surprise the audience. They also unforgivingly delve into the darkest parts of ourselves, giving the audience the chance to live vicariously in situations they might not otherwise allow themselves to think about.
CC: What is next for you and where can we find out more?
BP: The project I did after “Dark Below” is called “The Wind Walker”, a film that I not only got to star in, but also help write and produce. It’s still in post-production but we should be seeing something this year. I got married recently and have taken a step back from acting, but I’m always on the lookout for a fun, challenging film like “The Dark Below” to sink my teeth into.
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