Q&A: Nick Damici on “LATE PHASES”Features/Interviews,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
If you’re a fan of indie horror (and we surely hope you are), the name “Nick Damici” should be familiar. After all, Damici has been turning in memorable roles for years in truly haunting terror tales such as IN THE CUT, STAKE LAND and WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, the latter two with longtime collaborator Jim Mickle. However, Damici’s latest venture, Adrian Bogliano’s LATE PHASES, brings the actor into new genre territory, giving him one of the most challenging roles of his career while squaring off against fully realized, practical werewolves. Damici recently spoke to FANGORIA about LATE PHASES, acting blind and butting heads with a FANGORIA Hall of Famer…
FANGORIA: How did you initially become involved in LATE PHASES?
NICK DAMICI: LATE PHASES was produced by MPI and Greg Newman, who produced STAKE LAND. a movie Jim Mickle and I did a while back. So Greg had the script and called me up, saying he had something he thought I’d be right for, so we talked and we worked it out. The age thing was a consideration but we talked about it and we felt that with some make-up effects, we could do something there. But I liked the script and I’m glad I did the film.
FANG: In your past major roles, frequently with Jim Mickle behind the camera, you’ve also been a part of the screenwriting process. Was there a specific attraction to taking this role simply as an actor rather than as an active creative collaborator?
DAMICI: Well, I’ve always been an actor, and I was an actor around the time I met Jim [Mickle]; he was actually working on his student film when I met him and I acted in that. But I’ve always kept my hat in the ring as an actor. I just did a film called MAN WITH VAN over the summer, so once in a while, I’ll get an offer and I’ll take it if I like the part. Jim and I do our own thing when we work together, but as an actor, I do whatever comes up.
FANG: Larry Fessenden and Glass Eye Pix also produced LATE PHASES, with Fessenden himself appearing in the film. Considering he also put together LATE PHASES, was that a factor at all in your casting?
DAMICI: That might have been why they came to me, but Greg was the impetus of that. I’ve known Larry for a few years, and I know those guys really well. So having those guys on board, it’s a little bit like having family there, so that made it a very easy choice.
FANGO: You play a blind character in LATE PHASES; did you do research into that aspect of the character or did you just act with the proper adjustments in mind?
DAMICI: The blind thing was weird. I did the method acting thing and went, “Okay, I’ll blindfold myself for a few days and see how that goes.” After doing that for a few days and doing things “blind,” like making coffee, but after a few times of spilling coffee and burning myself, I said, “It’s not working. I’ll never know what it is to be blind if I can see, and closing my eyes isn’t going to do it.” You know what I mean?
So what I did was I watched a lot of other people who have played blind and then watched whatever videos I could find of actual blind people. What I didn’t know, though, was that there were different types of blind. People who are born blind don’t focus on anything, and their eyes seem to bounce around all the time. They always seem to point themselves upwards and they’re more inclined to wear sunglasses because it’s disconcerting to look at.
People who had vision and later went blind generally tend to have a calmer eye, so they look like as if they have a blank stare. So what I did was worked on trying to do things peripherally, in that I’d look at something, unfocus my vision, stare above it and work from the peripheral vision I had to give the appearance that I’m blind. Then I showed it to Adrian, who bought it and so from there on, it was a matter of them watching me on camera and making sure the light didn’t hit certain places, since your eyes will react to light naturally.
The action scenes were the hardest part, since I had to do action without being able to look at anything. That was pretty weird but it actually worked out pretty well, I think. It was more like a trick instead of a talent thing.
FANG: One of the best parts of LATE PHASES is that it’s a werewolf film, but more of a character study with a genre framework to it all. Do you think the lack of constriction to the genre gave you more freedom to explore Ambrose as a character?
DAMICI: Definitely. I think that great film is always character based, regardless of the genre. If the characters are not there, I’m personally not interested. If it’s a bunch of teenagers getting slaughtered in the woods, I’m out of there. I like horror, I like special effects and I like gore, but I also like having people on screen that I like to watch, get into and be involved in.
I thought LATE PHASES had that character work. Even though Ambrose fought in Vietnam, this was kind of a throwback to the greatest generation, like a love letter to our grandparents and what it meant to be a man back then. You know, like what John Wayne personified and what his archetype was, that’s what Ambrose was, and I knew that’s what the writer was trying to say with that. LATE PHASES felt like an homage to those kinds of guys, and this is one of those guy’s last battles, like, “It’s a good day to die.” That was an interesting element and something that attracted me to the script.
FANG: How was it like “working blind” in terms of working off other actors?
DAMICI: It was a very weird process because normally, the actors you are working with can play off your eyes. But when you play blind, you’re mostly listening to them and I couldn’t look at anybody. So that was very strange but I think that worked out pretty well.
One of the good things, in terms of the personal relationships of the people in the script that I worked with, was when Tom Noonan came aboard. I’ve known Tom Noonan for years, but we’re not good friends. Tom never remembers who I am, although after this movie he will. But I’ve met Tom Noonan over 50 times, and I was like, “This motherfucker doesn’t know who I am!” It makes me laugh, you know? He’d always say, “Hi,” but he didn’t know who I was or where he remembered me from.
But on LATE PHASES, he and I hit it off because I realized Tom loves bad jokes, and my old man was a bartender so I know a million bad jokes. So we would just exchange bad jokes back and forth, and we built a relationship that way, and I think that shows in the film because Tom’s character was the only guy Ambrose would open up to. He doesn’t open up to his son or anybody else, but to the priest, he opens up a little bit.
FANG: Considering how different this role was for you and how LATE PHASES was Adrian Bogliano’s first English Language feature, were these experiences complimentary to your working relationship or was the role more challenging considering the circumstances?
DAMICI: There was a language barrier, to a degree. Adrian speaks good English, but it is not his first language as far as dialogue and American-isms, and he was very gracious in trusting the actors to say, “No, no, no, it would be said this way.” So that was interesting, and something that was interesting for him too, but there was definitely some communication issues, though it was a fun thing to work around.
Adrian is a terrific, terrific director and one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever met, but he was too nice; directors should be a little bit of a prick, you know? We got into it and bumped heads at a couple of points in the script, because I didn’t agree with some of the script stuff in there. But we worked it out, and he’s a very passionate director. In fact, in the middle of our arguments, he’d go, “I love this! This is passion! This is what art is about!” And I’d go, “Art? We’re making a fuckin’ movie!”
FANG: What was your first reaction when you saw the werewolf costumes that were designed by Robert Kurtzman?
DAMICI: They were pretty wild, you know what I mean? They were hidden most of the time on set so that no one could take pictures of them, but when I finally got a look at them up close, I was like, “Holy Shit.” I mean, being the kind of guy that I am, knowing it’s a guy in an animal suit, I think that’s kind of campy and fun, but that didn’t bother me at all; I actually liked that element of it.
I’m sick of CGI, so it has to be a guy in a werewolf suit, and no matter how good the suit is, it’s always going to look like a guy in a werewolf suit. I didn’t think they were particularly scary myself, and I actually found them kind of cute. I think it was just one guy in a werewolf costume, doing all the werewolf stuff, but they pulled it off pretty well.
FANG: Considering your background as a screenwriter, did you touch up Ambrose’s dialogue for LATE PHASES?
DAMICI: I changed a lot of my dialogue. Nothing major in terms of scene work; I liked the script and thought the structure was really good. But with my dialogue, I changed a lot to suit it to me and paraphrased a lot of it. Jim Mickle makes fun of me because I write a lot of dialogue, and then when I get on set, I cut all of my own dialogue [laughs]. I just find it better to be terse, and I think scripts are written for reading first so that actors can get a feel for the character and the story. When you get to the set, though, rather than edit yourself in the writing process, ask what really needs to be said in this scene and get rid of all the extra shit. It’s easier on the actor because it’s less to remember and it moves the film better.
FANG: Do you have anything else coming up at the moment?
DAMICI: Right now, I’m working on a TV series for the Sundance Channel with Jim Mickle called HAP AND LEONARD, based on a series of books from Joe Lansdale, who wrote COLD IN JULY, which Jim and I adapted. We’re currently working on that as we speak.
LATE PHASES, starring Nick Damici and Tom Noonan, is now in select theaters and on VOD from Dark Sky Films.