At this year’s Film4 FrightFest, we had a chance to speak to Michael Cudlitz all about his latest film that’s still touring called Dark Tourist. It was lovely to chat to the man who’s always been in the public consciousness, whether sub or not. This sees him move into producing, getting the script by his friend, Frank John Hughes off the ground to make this indie project out of love and definitely not out of financial gain. Now he’s just been confirmed as a regular in The Walking Dead‘s fourth season and it’ll be interesting to see how his character is integrated into that. Below he speaks about Dark Tourist, promoting his love for the dark, psychological thriller that could unsettle more than any supernatural horror.
Can you tell us about a bit about your character in Dark Tourist?
The film is basically a psychological thriller which follows our main character Jim. It is the story of a man who is sort of running from his past. He has this interesting hobby where he retraces the steps of serial killers and he is what they call a ‘Grief Tourist’ [one of the titles that was tossed around until it was settled on Dark Tourist] and he’s using this hobby to process events that have happened in his life and he’s not really aware of it. It’s a very, very complicated layered character in a story. Basically, our main character has had a traumatic experience as a child and he didn’t get the help he needed. It’s a fictional recipe for what can happen to someone when they don’t get the help that they need when things go wrong when they’re young. Or, as I’ve said before, it’s the recipe for a monster.
It sounds a bit like your character is influenced a little bit by Will Graham in Red Dragon. Is that an influence on the character?
I think to a small degree. I think a lot of these serial killers are made the same way, if you will. Their inciting incidents are things that happened in the past that are processed in maybe not so healthy ways. The end result is what you read about in the news but, while it’s going on, you always have this story of people saying ‘Oh my gosh, I lived next door to that guy. He seemed so normal!’ or ‘He was always a nice guy! He played with the kids, he did this’ or, in fewer cases, ‘She did this’ – ’cause typically men are more prone to being serial killers. They excel more than the women [laughs] in the serial killers file.
You said it’s a psychological thriller but I always thought it had horror elements to it. Does it have horror within it?
Oh yes, absolutely. There’s a tremendous amount of horrendous things that happen throughout the course of the film but it is definitely not your traditional type of horror film.
What was it that attracted you to the role?
The script. My friend Frank John Hughes wrote the script, he passed it off to me, I read it and I could not stop thinking about it. All the characters are layered and so wonderfully explored in the script that I just felt that I had to do it. It’s one of those things where days later you’re still processing what you read and keep going back and reading it again and thinking about it and can’t get it out of your head. There was something inside that said I had to do this.
Is that how you became a producer on it as well?
Yes, it was. Friends of mine came to me with some funds. They wanted to produce a film and wanted to know if I had any projects that I was looking to produce. At the time I didn’t but I said I had a friend, a writer; I went to my friend ‘Do you have anything in this budget?’ and he said ‘Yes but I’m not selling it because I wrote it for you’ and I was like ‘Oh, interesting [laughs] because my friends want to do the film with me so it should work out fine’. Three months later we were in pre-production. Very, very fast development timeline.
Do you think you’re able to tell the influences of the story? Like earlier I mentioned Red Dragon as a potential one, as a producer, do you see influences in it more?
I would say the influences would be Taxi Driver and Monster.
This is your first horror thriller role as well. Was it a natural progression to move into that?
I think so because from my side of it, I don’t think as an actor you choose to be genre specific in the roles you choose. I think you go after good material and if it’s a well written character that speaks to you, I don’t think it matters what genre it’s in. It all – for me, personally – comes down to the material and everyone in our team thinks the same thing. I think the reason our director, Suri Krishnamma, came solely because of the material initially and then speaking with Frank about the material and the characters and everyone on our film, we got Pruitt Taylor Vince and Melanie Griffith and that was because of the material itself. I don’t think it was because anyone said ‘Oooh, I want to do a horror film!’ or a psychological thriller; they said ‘Oooh, I want to do good material!’
Was it more important to you – even though it is good material – that it was human horror rather than supernatural?
Yes, yes, it needed to be based in reality because to me, personally, it’s more horrific when you can’t disconnect from it, when you can’t say ‘That would never happen’ or ‘I know I’m watching fantasy’ because with supernatural you can choose to believe it or not. So if I don’t believe in witchcraft or paranormal I can still watch a movie like that and get the crap scared out of me but still be able to disconnect. That film is going to have a completely different effect on someone who is deeply embedded in the occult and believes those things and lives their life as those things have meaning. They’re going to be horrifying or exciting in a different way. For me, I think that the one thing you can’t escape from are based in reality, based in characters and everyone knows ‘Holy shit! This could happen!’ That to me is more terrifying that anything.
Yes, that’s what I find personally scary too which is why I find the film Se7en so terrifying and one of the best films ever because it’s so realistic in its horror even though it’s not a traditional horror film.
This is your first feature as a producer. How was it moving into producing?
It was fantastic. I had paid my way through school, through university, building scenery and I don’t know what the equivalent is out here but it was basically a construction co-ordinator; someone who’s in charge of all the construction on sets. I was involved with that when I was paying my way through school and I started out on Beverly Hills 90210 – the first one – so I had a very good understanding of film production and I’ve always had a really good knack for putting the right people in the right place. I believe people should do what they say they’re going to do and when they say they’re going to do something , I hold them to it. Don’t lie to me, tell me the truth even if I don’t like the truth because I can fix that. If something’s going on that’s not good and you don’t tell me, we can’t do anything. If something’s going on and nobody likes it, I’m still not going to like it but then I can move forward. I’ve always had that ability, I enjoy working with people, so for me transitioning into producing was very natural and I think it suits me. I think there’s a lot of bullshit out there with a lot of producers out there. When you talk honestly to people, people will jump over the moon for you if they know they’re being dealt with fairly.
They’ll gravitate more towards you because of your sincerity.
Yeah, exactly. When you do these projects, there’s no money in them, everybody knows there’s no money going in and it has to be about doing the project together, as a group, because of the material and no one is getting any money so you have to treat them fairly.
How was it collaborating with the director, Suri Krishnamma, as well?
Fantastic. That’s the one thing I will say about this project that everyone warned us about ‘Oh when you get into post-production. Oh when you get onto set it’ll be different than in pre-production. Oh when you get into post-production it’ll be different than on set’ but we were always on the same page and we wanted to tell the same story from day one. We did. Even in the editing room there were things that each of us felt or wanted things to go in certain ways but when it came down to it, nobody was asking for something that everyone couldn’t get behind and support. If you felt extremely strong about something, it tended to go their way because nothing anyone was asking for was out of line.
It sounds like a personal and passionate project to you.
Yeah, absolutely. I think they all are passion projects when you fall in love with the material. It doesn’t matter what the budget is. That’s why I got into this in the first place. There are very few jobs that I want to do just for money; I think that’s a horrible reason to be making films. If it’s just for money, then trust me, there’s plenty of money to be made in other areas and I think if you can find the thing you love to do and also find a way to capitalise on it then that’s fantastic. You can’t do this if you hate doing it.
Back to you starring in the role. Were you ever nervous in portraying such a complicated character?
No, no, not at all. That’s what we do, you know? I thought it was a wonderful challenge. We always hope we’re up for the challenge, that’s a part of it, that’s part of the excitement. The excitement is knowing you can fail. A buddy of mine said a long time ago [laughs] ‘Just as much hard work goes into a shitty movie as goes into a good movie’. Nobody sets out saying ‘I’m gonna make a crappy movie!’ [laughs] But sometimes it happens so I think, yes, nervous in a good way. More excited than nervous.
When is it being fully released? I know it’s been touring festivals but has it gained any distribution yet?
Yes, we have distribution in the States, we were actually released in the States on the 23rd of August. We’re also on video on demand. We’re looking right now at expanding to European markets as we speak.
Is it video on demand rental like iTunes or on Netflix and streaming services?
Yes, it’s on iTunes and Netflix, DVD and all that will come much later, after we have our European release as well.
Dark Tourist still has no word on a European distribution that we know of but it should be gaining some soon. In the meantime, you can watch Michael Cudlitz as the new tough-guy character, Abraham in this season’s The Walking Dead or you can catch him in his illustrious career and especially as the classic character Bull from HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers. We’ll leave you with a trailer for Dark Tourist.