Starburst speaks to one of the stars of Ti West's excellent new horror flick, The Innkeepers (read our review HERE), out now in UK cinemas. Mild spoilers ahead if you've not caught it yet...
Starburst: So how did you come to be involved with the film?
Pat Healy: I acted in a film called Great World of Sound a few years ago and was at a film festival at the same time as Ti West who had a film there called Trigger Man. We met briefly, then a few years later I still hadn’t seen Trigger Man and a friend of mine who was a big horror fan said you had to see this film House of the Devil. So I went and saw it and was really knocked out. Right after that coincidentally a mutual friend of ours had sent me an email saying Ti West was making a new film and was interested in me for it. I was excited and ready to do the film right there without even having read it! That’s sort of how it happened.
SB: You and Sara Paxton have a very natural chemistry in the film. You really get the impression that these are characters that are close and have known each other for years, did you know Sara before the shoot?
PH: No, quite amazingly I had been cast early on and they took a bit of time trying to find the right woman for the part. She came on very late and we hadn’t had the chance to even meet until the day before shooting when we both arrived in Connecticut. So I suppose it was because the writing was very good, it was a very realistic relationship that two people who work that kind of job together would have. Ti shares the same off kilter sense of humour as us both and we just liked each other very much. Also the film was shot sequentially so the relationship was allowed to build. So what you see was that relationship building over time. It was really a happy accident that we liked each other and got on as well as we did.
SB: In the film you come across very convincingly as a person who is bored of their job and just going through the motions, do you have experience in that kind of work and what did you draw on for that?
PH: I first started working when I was a teenager, I worked in a movie theatre which I loved. As I got older I worked in a camera shop selling and repairing cameras and also worked selling shoes and electronics as well as a couple of telemarketing jobs and things. There was a lot of sitting around and staring at screens.
When I was doing those jobs there was no internet, so there was a lot of staring into space, but I think I am drawing very much from the boredom that results from being over qualified for these jobs that don’t require a lot of brain work. I think also what’s interesting is how you tend to develop these very intense relationships with people who you don’t know that well because of the boredom and because of the close proximity. You’re there trying to make the most of the situation and the relationship that develops in the film comes from that false sense of how you don’t hang out with that person anywhere else in the world but because you are thrown into that situation it seems a lot more intense than perhaps it actually is.
SB: The film is very funny without ever going into full on comedy; did you draw on your previous experience as part of a comedy sketch group at all?
PH: Well I’ve always sort of done comedy and as you’ve said I’ve been part of a sketch group but I don’t ever approach a role as being comedic or dramatic. I like to read the script a lot and just go for the reality or truth of what’s there. If it happens to be a funny situation or if my natural reaction to something is funny then I think it will be there, especially if I like to think of it more as a comedy than a horror or drama. With regard The Innkeepers I just try to approach it in terms of what the character is and the story. Having said that there are a lot of very funny lines and situations that Ti has written and I think once I stepped into that character I got the dry sense of humour that’s not too dissimilar to my own. There were several opportunities for me to improvise a few lines here and there that did make it funnier so I guess in a roundabout way some of that experience was brought over to this film.
SB: Your character Luke runs an amateur ghost hunting website in the film, have you ever had any experience with the supernatural and are you a believer?
PH: I haven’t and I’m not a believer. I would very much like to believe and see something but I’m just one of those people that like Ti, without speaking for him too much, share the same sensibility where my mind is very logical. If something happens that seems to have people immediately going to ghosts or the supernatural, my mind will very logically reason out “well this could be this or that”. Things that people experienced in the hotel we were in that is supposedly haunted, are all things that could very easily be explained, my mind doesn’t immediately go to hauntings. I’m very sceptical rather than a downright non-believer, I would love to see some evidence and believe in something like this but I’ll believe it when I see it.
SB: What is your favourite horror film?
PH: My personal favourite is probably Poltergeist. I saw it when I was ten years old and it terrified the hell out of me. At the time I was a young kid living in a suburbia not too dissimilar from the one in the film and it was the thought that something that terrifying could come into your home and there wasn’t anything your parents could do about it. Everyone was really powerless against it and that was a really scary idea for me. I had nightmares for a really long time after that.
SB: You have worked with the likes of Werner Herzog, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Gordon Green. How did this compare to working with someone like Ti West who is still very much an up and comer?
PH: Well I think that Ti has a similar respect and fondness for cinema and film history that those three have. I think he also has a real workman like spirit. When you have a real appreciation, fondness and respect for what you do then you put everything you have into it so all of those you mention are all very respectful and very skilled craftsmen. Ti is great with cinematography but especially with editing and sound design, he is meticulous about that. I would say that that is true of all of those men and that they share an affinity for and appreciation for actors. I think that if you are making these films that are not based on special effects or big set pieces then your biggest production value is going to be the performances. They are all very respectful and appreciative of the work that you do and all are very welcoming of working with actors. A lot of people want you to deliver the lines exactly as written but all those guys not only welcome, but get really excited by something that you might bring to it, whether that’s an improvised line or just an interpretation that they hadn’t thought of and it makes you want to work harder for them. So I would say they all share the love for the filmmaking craft but also realise that their greatest asset is their performers and relationship with the performers.
SB: The ending of The Innkeepers is ambiguous and doesn’t end the way you think it might, what was your interpretation of the ending?
PH: Well I would hesitate to give my flat out interpretation because I think that Ti would slap my wrist for that. I’d say that as the film deals with the central theme of whether or not hauntings are real, if supernatural occurences are real or just a product of our imagination and the emotion of fear and the things we imagine are happening around us. Our imagination gets stoked and we might just be creating this in our minds. Films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion deal with the idea as to whether or not things are actually happening or if characters are just losing their minds, that concept isn’t any less horrific than the supernatural to me. They are both really terrifying things and it’s sort of left up to the viewer to decide and I would like to leave it that way as well. I’ve already let you know what my leanings are with regards to the supernatural so you can probably figure out what my leanings are with regards to the ending, but it leaves some open ended questions that make it interesting.
THE INNKEEPERS is in selected UK cinemas now, and will be available on DVD/Blu-ray from June 28th.
For an extended version of the interview and a chat with director Ti West himself, check out our INNKEEPERS coverage in our next issue, released June 15th.