Ray Wise is an American actor best known for his darker roles. His work includes Jeepers Creepers 2, Star Trek Voyager, 24 and Twin Peaks. We caught up with him to talk about his latest role as Wenton Davis in the horror movie Dead Still.
STARBURST: Tell us about Dead Still.
Ray Wise: It’s an intriguing horror story. The young man in the story, Brandon Davis played by Ben Browder, is a wedding photographer and he inherits an antique camera from his great grandfather, and he uses the camera to photograph some subjects and they start dying horrible and bizarre deaths. It turns out that this antique camera is a soul destroying gateway to the netherworld. The character that I play, Wenton Davis, is a Victorian photographer of the dead. It was his camera originally. We see him in flashbacks during the movie taking pictures of his dead subjects, and it’s all done very stylishly. The Booth Brothers have great production values, the production design is great. I actually thought that I was in the Victorian world. We shot it in a very old house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and it was very spooky and it felt as if it was really haunted. They filled the set with all sorts of antiques from the turn of last century, furniture and other little props I could use. They had this great old camera. So I felt I was in this world.
You are wonderfully creepy and odd throughout it. How do you prepare for such a strange role?
The first thing I did was looking up the custom of photographing the dead, which apparently they did during the Victorian Era. It was fairly common in the United States. They would dress them up and sit them up in chairs as if they were alive. I looked through all the material I could find on photographing the dead. I grew a little Van Dyke moustache and grew my hair long. When we got to the location, I walked around the set in the costume and learned how to operate that camera and I was actually able to take a couple of pictures with it. All that preparation goes into playing a role like Wenton Davis. It’s not hard in your imagination to recreate that world.
What other projects are you currently involved with?
Out at the moment is Suburban Gothic, a ghost story directed by Richard Bates Jr. You should also go see Digging up the Marrow. It is a monster movie by Adam Green. I was drawn to both of them because they were just very funny scripts with two directors that I knew very well.
Ray in Dead Still
You are well known for your role in Twin Peaks. What can you tell us about the new series?
I really can’t say if I’ll be involved or not. No one is allowed to talk about that project who is involved in it. We’re still a couple of months away from starting the pre-production and shooting the next nine episodes of the third season of Twin Peaks. What I can say is that I would certainly love to be a part of it and I would love for the character of Leland Palmer to be a part of it and if it does it’ll be a great thing.
Victorian spookiness and Welcome to Night Vale/Twin Peaks-style weirdness seems to be back in vogue. Why have we fallen in love again with the surreal and horrible?
It gives us chills in the safety of our own living room, that little shiver up the spine. It gives us that little titillation of fear. For a few moments, at least, we can become lost in another world that makes us feel like we’re in another world. Something like Twin Peaks, with its strange characters and well written storyline full of twists and turns, is just a lot of fun. It’s that little shiver up the spine.
You played Alec Holland, the Swamp Thing, back in the ‘80s. Given that superhero movies are back, would you want to do that again?
Of course, I loved Swamp Thing. I love the character of Alec Holland. It’s a great, wonderful monster. A good monster, as well. We have certain areas of the United States, like the Louisiana Bayou, that are ghost-ridden; it’s last few hundred years history are filled with voodoo and santeria and slavery. I think all of that is fused into this country and it lends itself to ghost stories.
What would your dream project be?
Oh my. Dracula. As Bram Stoker wrote it. As faithful to the novel as possible. I’m a Dracula-phile and have been since I have been I was eight years old. I grew up on the Hammer Horror movies. I’m half-Romanian and have made movies in Romania. Dracula, definitely.
Ray in Twin Peaks
What advice would you give to a young person looking to get into acting?
Wherever you’re from, get to the local community theatre and enlist. Take roles and do whatever you can do. Try and get all the experience that you can possibly be. There are thousands and thousands of actors out there, so you have to be prepared. Be totally focussed and determined. If you don’t have that focus and drive, you won’t succeed. Just go anywhere and try and force your way in.
Simpsons or Futurama?
The Simpsons. I think they did a cartoon of me one time as Leland Palmer.
Ghosts or vampires?
I think I would tend toward ghosts. There are too many vampires, and zombies have become vampires, there’s too many vampires, so I’ll go with ghosts, unless it’s Dracula.
Truth of beauty?
Always truth.Dead Still is available on VOD in UK. Keep up with Ray’s projects by following him @therealraywise.
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