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Oz Perkins!!!
FRIGHT fans, you're in for a treat! We caught up with actor Oz Perkins, most recently seen in the gory horror, slap-stick comedy 'DEAD & BREAKFAST'. He talked to us a bit about his experiences in both film & television. He also, mentions his brother Elvis - a musician who fronts the band Elvis Perkins in Dearland, and of course he shared with us a few stories about his father, the late, great Anthony Perkins. Read on & enjoy! - by Robg. 3/06

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What was the first film you remember really having an effect on you?

It's funny because, like most people I'm sure, there are a couple of horror films that worked their way pretty deep into my unconscious as a child. It's what they are built to do, after all, and I think that the genre's unique access to our subconscious, our secret fears and unspeakable desires, is largely the reason that horror films continue to attract such persistent audiences. Because of my dad's notoriety in the genre, we got a lot of things sent to our house. This was in the days before swag, so I'm talking about the occasional courtesy Fangoria subscription.

I never saw the film of The Exorcist until I was considerably older, but I did form a pretty developed obsession with a small color photograph of Linda Blair not looking so good. I guess I must have cut it out of one of the magazines. All I know for a fact is that the picture lived at the bottom of my toy chest in our summer house in Cape Cod. And every once in a while, and probably on a more compulsive schedule than I am able to recall here, I would dig down to the bottom, past the headless action figures, past the random puzzle pieces, past the jagged wood blocks, to where I knew this picture was. Looking at it freaked me out, disturbed my sleep, in turn disturbing my brother's sleep and everyone else's sleep, but I kept at it for quite a while.

A director who wanted to do something with my old man sent him a copy of "Cannibal Holocaust" which even my old man thought was too much and so he threw it into the outside garbage bin. My old man was often pretty disturbed by effective works of horror art. I know, for instance, that upon finishing the novel "Red Dragon", that he had to get it out of the house, had to physically walk it out of the house and get rid of it.

You come from a family with a background in the entertainment industry. Was it always a conscious choice that you would pursue a career in acting? Or was there something else that you thought about thru-out the years?

I think that, to some greater or lesser extent, all kids want to be seen and heard and felt and understood. Ultimately, the entertainment industry caters to that original, base desire. I have a great friend David Seltzer, who wrote among a great many other things, "The Omen" and what David thinks is that if all parents everywhere could somehow become experts at making their children feel loved and good about themselves, that there would be no entertainment industry. There would be no need.

My parents did a very fine job of making me feel good and loved, but even the most willing and capable adults are going to let some things slip through the cracks. And, of course, some adults in the industry are there in part because they didn't get everything they needed as children. Nobody really gets everything they need anyway, but in the case of my family, we all went looking for some of those missing pieces in the dreamy promise of the business. In the same way that a person can inherit high cholesterol from their folks, the desire to be magnified in the eyes of those who see them can also be a hereditary trait. I guess I have some of that.

Can you tell us a bit about your educational background? Is it true you majored in English? How'd this lead you back into acting?

As a senior in high school, I wanted to be Stanley Kubrick. More embarrassingly, I also wanted to be Tim Burton. I wanted to be a film director. Nothing impacted me as much as seeing "A Clockwork Orange" and the sudden realization that someone actually made this movie. Someone actually designed it. It happened on purpose.

Also, the moment at the beginning of "Beetlejuice" when the camera tracks over the whole town, finally settling on the little local church when a giant spider crawls over the roof and the camera pulls back to reveal that we are looking at a model of the town built by the Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis characters. That moment was also hugely impacting for me for the same reasons. I saw, in this case quite literally, the giant hand of the director reaching down and forming what we saw on the screen. I was very into that. So when it was time to apply for colleges, I tried for early acceptance to NYU film school and was lucky to be accepted. I did a year there, and then two non-consecutive semesters at USC film school but got thrown off when my dad died in 1992. As anyone who has ever lost a parent knows, and I've lost two, it's a uniquely mysterious and disorienting thing to have happen. For a million reasons. Fortunately for me, our family had a lot of great friends who were more than ready and willing to help move us all along. Among them was Mike Nichols who, in case anyone doesn't already know it, is perhaps the most intelligent man in the country, certainly among the funniest and absolutely in the top tier when it comes to unrestricted generosity. He recognized that I was a little lost and he offered me a job as his assistant on a film called "Wolf" that he was preparing to make. He already had a bevy of eager assistants, and so it was more like he was just bringing me along for the ride. I had nothing to do but watch one of the greatest American film director's work. After four months of that, I found that returning to a classroom setting was a little out of rhythm. I think I ultimately made a good decision when I chose to try for an English major instead of pursuing film school. I figured movies would always be there for me and that we could reunite sometime later. In the meantime, it seemed a better use of my youth to read a whole lot of all the great works of all the great authors, and to learn the very underrated art of writing a good paragraph.

Do you remember anything about the Psycho 2 shoot or director Richard Franklin?

For me, the experience of Psycho 2 was mostly all about the world tour we took with the film when it opened over seas. We would go to all of these incredible foreign cities like Tokyo and Sydney and my dad would show up at the theater and smile and shake some hands. I remember that my brother and my mom and I would wait at the back of the aisle, and that I was always anxious that we would get out of there before the lights went down. They made a habit of showing the original shower scene at every premier and at the time I had never seen it. I just knew that I wasn't yet ready to do that, I guess.

A couple of times I did have to bear the beginning of the Hermann score, and the screeching of the violins before the doors swung shut behind us on our way out and that was more than enough for me.

Speaking of, when was the first time you had actually seen the original Psycho film? And what did you think of your father after seeing it?

It's funny because I really only have the recollection that I managed to avoid seeing it for so long. It seems like I should have a strong impression of when that all changed, but my guess is that by the time it actually happened, it just seemed like no big deal. It's probably the kind of thing where I was so surrounded by it all the time, with little bits and pieces crossing over into my consciousness that by the time it was all assembled as the actual movie, it was already mostly known to me.
I will say that I do try to get out and see it whenever they show it on the big screen in LA. It is a truly remarkable thing, and without relying on the obvious bias, what my old man managed to do in that picture is still, in my mind, one of the most dynamic performances of the era. And it always takes me by surprise. It's one of those things like Brando in "On the Waterfront" where he's in a totally different movie. There's that great bit where Brando is putting on the ladies' gloves in the scene with the girl, and it's like he's moved on from the scene he was playing with her and has ascended into his own little private heaven. I think the scene in Psycho in the parlor with the sandwiches is a little bit like that, too.

After Psycho 2, you didn't do any official acting until Six Degree's Of Separation & Wolf, both in the early 90's. How'd you come to be involved in those projects?

I really should get someone, maybe one of the minor gods at IMDB, to take "Wolf" off of my resume. That was just Mike saying, "hey, you have a SAG card, how would you like to make an extra seven hundred dollars today". I'm actually in there twice, once as a dude with one line (hilariously dubbed by some other twerp) at Jack's publisher's office, and then again at the end I'm one of the mounted policemen who arrives after the big showdown. They used my actual voice for that one, but not an angle of my actual face. "Six Degrees of Separation" was another nice little piece of nepotism in which the author of the play, John Guare (the other smartest guy in the world) was a friend of my old man's and had met me at my dad's last birthday party in New York a few months before he died. They couldn't cast this part so they sent me the sides and asked me to film myself doing the little monologue. I had never auditioned for anything before but got it together to videotape myself doing the pink shirt bit, sent it to the casting office in New York and, curiously, got the job.

After another short gap, you came back to do a few comedies including 'Not Another Teen Movie' & 'Legally Blonde'. From your experiences, what's it like working on a production for a "comedy". All fun & games or more difficult then it appears?

"Legally Blonde" was the first job I got under my own power, meaning that I auditioned like everyone else and got the job because they liked what I was doing. I'm proud of that film because, for whatever reasons, a whole lot of people loved it. I get more positive recognition from that than from anything else and it's always a good feeling to know that audiences liked what you did. I didn't really know much about what I was doing, and on pictures like that there isn't that much attention paid to you if your name isn't above the title. That was fine because I found a niche, or a groove, and really just let the needle spin on the record over and over again.

The director and producers kept liking it and kept calling me in to do more coverage, more reaction shots so I just kept giving them more of what they wanted. I guess they like it plenty because they ended up sticking me in the money shot of the film, the moment where the camera pans up from her feet to her face when she walks into the courtroom, the moment that really cements the conceit of the film. And there I am, every time they use that shot in a promo. It's actually kind of the shot that made Reese Witherspoon into the huge star she is. I wonder how she feels about having to share that particular frame with my goofy mug all the time.

'Secretary' was one of my fave films of the past few years. What's the one thing that stands out to you about working on that picture?

That was a cool film to be a part of. They didn't end up using a lot of what we shot mostly because they were smart enough to know that the film was about Maggie and James Spader, and not about the colorful but distracting supporting players. I had a lot of scenes to do but almost no dialogue to say which I took as a mini-challenge that no one but me needed to know about. I was really into Steve McQueen then, and I was hooked on how in movies like "Bullitt" he gave his dialogue to other actors so that he could just react with those eyes of his. So I just pretended like everyone else had my dialogue and went through the movie like that, sort of secretly summoning the ghost of McQueen whenever I felt like it.

Nobody knew anything about this and likely would not have given two shits if they found out, but it seems to me that little private games like that are part of what make acting interesting, especially when you have no lines and are going to be cut out of the final print anyway.

How'd you get involved with 'Dead and Breakfast'? Wasn't it originally titled something else when you first came on board?

I don't know that it ever had an alternate title. They brought me on when somebody else fell out for some reason. I knew a lot of the people involved so I think it was a relatively easy thing for them to think of me. During that time I still owned the house I grew up in near Woodrow Wilson in the Hollywood Hills and made a pretty regular point of throwing big, completely impersonal parties there. Supposedly, I met the director Matt Leutwyler there at one of those things. Of course it's possible, but those parties were like long Shakespearean plays with hundreds of extras, broken up by the occasional intimate scene with someone I actually knew by name.

'Dead and Breakfast' has a really interesting visual style, switching between comic book panels and actual film, and including musical numbers. Were you aware early on the vision that director Matthew Luetwyler had for the film?

I might be wrong about this but I want to say that the cartoon stuff was added pretty late in the game. I think Matt (the director) realized that Zach Selwyn's songs were so funny and clever that he had to use them somewhere. Films like that are fun because there is a no holds barred quality to everything so that everything that works ends up in the movie, no matter how far out. At the end of the day, everyone wants their little film to stand apart from everyone else's little film and when you are dealing with such a time-tested and re-tested genre like the zombie film, you want to make sure you really have something to add, component-wise. In this case, we had some cartoons and a dance number.

'Dead and Breakfast' features a pretty fantastic all-star cast - Ever & David Carradine, Gina Phillips, Jeremy Sisto, Erik Palladino. How'd the entire cast get along during the production and who caused the most trouble? Our bet's on Erik!

Almost everybody knew almost everybody else before the shooting began so the production kind of played itself out like a long, bleary-eyed paid vacation. We were all up to no good all the time. The whole cast and crew lived in a town about forty five minutes south of San Francisco, one of those American towns that has exactly one Panda Express, one Target, one In and Out Burger, you get the pictures. And we were all shacked up in one of those faceless Courtyard by Marriotts where every ashen-faced real life zombie corporate salesman hangs his hat for a night or two on his way to some other dead-end destination or conference or whatever.

Introduce a pack of Hollywood types with all of their booze and weed that we had driven down to us from Humboldt County, tied to a completely ass-backwards schedule (we shot all nights, so everything was reversed. eggs and bacon at 7am for dinner, that kind of thing) and you can begin to see what was going on. We were mostly just wrong all of the time and the second floor where most of us had rooms smelled like Trenchtown, Jamaica with visibility rarely exceeding three or four feet ahead of your nose. The hotel staff was into it. It was a good time.

You start out as the quiet, sympathetic character in 'Dead and Breakfast' and then become the lead zombie villian. How'd you go about created the character of Johnny?

On low budget movies like this, or on any fast-moving production like a weekly episodic television shoot, there is no time scheduled for rehearsals or for any exploration of character. There just isn't any time or money for that kind of thing.

It is rare in situations like this that an actor gets to ask the director anything and so it becomes up to the actor to figure it out the best he can and to make a strong choice about what they are going to do, one way or the other. A strong but bad take on a part is always preferable to having no take at all. With no take at all, you've got nothing to work with. So it then becomes about who to ask. In my experience, the deepest source for information about character comes from the wardrobe artist. The costume designer.
The wardrobe department has detailed conversations with the director about the characters so that they can weave who the character is into what he or she is going to wear. They have made time for this kind of conversation and meetings between the director and the various department heads are scheduled and budgeted events. Makes good sense. In the case of Johnny, Matt had told the costume designer that he saw him as the nerd who gets constantly picked on UNTIL he becomes a zombie and then all of a sudden it's like he's finally captain of the cool kids gang. I thought this was a great take and understood completely.

Once you have one clear idea, the rest falls into place. Knowing what I now knew, I could make educated guesses what his reactions would be to given situations. Being picked on was nothing new to him and at the same time, plenty of the offending people were going to get theirs.

So Johnny lives in that kind of "just about to snap" place because that is ultimately where the story is going to take him. In the opening scene, I'm driving the RV and I'm supposed to give Jeremy Sisto a look in the rearview mirror. And it's the kind of thing where some of the takes were just too much and you don't want the audience, four minutes in, to be saying "oh, he's the villain". That's when an actor starts asking for more takes, or starts begging the director to "not use take three, please, I don't want the audience saying 'I bet he's the bad guy' in the first reel".

You recorded a DVD commentary with Matthew and members of the cast. What was it like to revisit the film again for a commentary?

For me, it's always nearly impossible to watch any film I'm in with anything approaching objectivity. I just can't see it for what it is and constantly remind myself that I didn't act in this movie for my own entertainment. Invariably, I see things I don't want to see, things that didn't play right or don't sound right. By the time I'm seeing it, though, it's far too late to do anything so I have to just eat some of it. Watching it to do a commentary is then sort of just doubly odd because you find yourself talking about the film in a very sort of distant way, as if it's all of a sudden interesting, and yet you yourself are having a hard time believing that any of it's even vaguely interesting at all anyway.

I kind of think that unless it's Walter Murch or something, or someone like Robert Altman, it's not that fascinating to hear people talking about their films. The films, especially the best ones, are perfect versions of themselves and don't need any extra footage or snappy explanations. Maybe I'm alone in this kind of thinking.

Your younger brother Elvis is an accomplished musician. What can you tell us about his musical background & have you both always been supportive of each other's careers?

My brother is a great artist. He's a singer song writer (check him and his band Elvis Perkins In Dearland out on his myspace page) and he recently finished an album which is, I think, is deeply great. I was lucky to play some drums for him on that album, and it is a great kind of unspoken way to communicate with someone, to play music with them. Elvis' music is something everyone's going to hear, and I bet it will be soon.

You've done a lot of recurring roles in television. ("Alias", "Close to Home", "She Spies") What are the major differences in your experiences between work in films and television?

Making a film, especially if you have a good part in something and work a lot of days on like I did with "Dead and Breakfast", is a very fulfilling thing and if you choose to be friendly, it goes a long way. I'm a naturally friendly guy and on most movie sets, unless there is some palpable fucked up vibe, a kind of spontaneous family forms around you and being friendly makes work very nice. The process of making a film is something that everyone on board approaches as a shared product, a communal experience with a beginning, middle and end.

Television, if you do these guest star things like I have, is less personalized, somehow less intimate, especially because you are in and out of there in a week and the regulars practically live together.

People just don't like to make temporary friends, and there is usually an unspoken sense that a regular is, in a way, not someone you can really become friends with. They're friends are all the other regulars, when it comes to being at work, and there is almost an impenetrable membrane around them. And that's not to say it should be otherwise, by the way; these people are invested in their work and in the characters' relationships and they kind of have to be the serious and professionals , no time for being too cute, you know? Now, I have made some great friends working on television shows, but they were all short-timers like me.

For me, and I know it's a useless point of view to have in this day and age, television still feels disposable. I know that it isn't, but the work feels a little disposable, like a single-serving razorblade or something, and that I just did it because someone had to and why shouldn't it be me who gets paid to perform this service, to be the serial killer of the week or the defendant of the week, or both, or whatever the script calls for. TV feels like a business to me, a little impersonal or something, and that most television is made just to fill in the spots between the commercials. That's extreme, I know. I probably sound like a real asshole. I just feel a permanence in making a film, like it's an actual experience, like it's actually something I'm creating.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?

It's such a relief to have an answer for that. I'm supposed to shoot a movie this summer called "The Utah Murder Project" with Amy Smart in which I play a dirty LAPD detective who gets wrapped up in his soap-star girlfriend's disappearance and possible murder. Sounds like a lot of fun and I'm excited about that. Also, I'm developing a coming of age slasher film set in the 1960s (developing means bleeding out of my forehead writing the thing) which I hope to shoot some time next year. It's actually going to be something pretty special, I think. I hope.

Thanks for talking with us Oz!

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