ALL ABOUT EVIL: Interview With Thomas Dekker
At the time that I interviewed Thomas Dekker on the set of Joshua Grannell's All About Evil, the decision was still pending as to whether or not his TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles would be picked up for another season. Fox elected to cancel the series; but--livewire that he is--there are no flies on Thomas Dekker. No sooner did he return home to Los Angeles from the All About Evil shoot than he was cast as Jesse Braun in Samuel Bayer's remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street, which he recently promoted at WonderCon.
During down time on one of All About Evil's infamous night shoots, Dekker and I sat down to discuss his career to date, his involvement with Evil, and his plans to shift from acting to directing.
Michael Guillén: I was just reading an interview where you were complaining about night shoots on the set of Laid to Rest, and here you are going at it again!
Thomas Dekker: I know! It's difficult, but I don't actually dislike it. A lot of the other actors hated it; but, for me, it was just strange to adjust to. I'm a night person anyway. I would much rather shoot overnight than to have to be up early every day, that's for sure.
Guillén: I wanted to make sure to tell you, Thomas, that as one of core group of extras working here last weekend, I was impressed with your friendliness and kindness to the extras, coming over to talk to us while we were waiting to be called on set.
Dekker: We couldn't make the movie without you guys.
Guillén: I especially liked how you treated Annie. She's such a fan of yours and you made her feel like a million bucks.
Dekker: I love Annie; she's sweet. And she's a great supporter. She's been at every single thing I've done and I'm thankful. There are actors who are rude to the extras and rude to the crew but what the fuck's the point of that?
Guillén: I've been noticing you're a bit of a live wire on this set.
Dekker: Yeah. I tend to become the jokester on set. I mean, it feels like I'm making a movie with my friends, like I felt on Laid to Rest where I was friends with so many of the creative people and the actors in the cast. I don't feel I have to be "professional"--though I am professional about the performance--but, it's been great to be crazy and silly and have fun. It took me a while to get there on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles because I was being precise at first; but, both Lena Headey and I became terrible jokesters on that set. But there have been movies where--if I have a lot of emotion to play--I've needed to keep a lid on it; but, this is way more fun.
Guillén: How did you become involved in All About Evil? Did you know Joshua beforehand?
Dekker: This is how it went down: I knew the producer Darren Stein for years. I'd heard him talk about Peaches Christ but I didn't really know who Peaches was. We had just started filming the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles when Darren called me and said, "I have this friend Joshua; he's the one who does Peaches Christ and he's in town and wants to meet you." I said, "Okay, well come to the set." Joshua (not in Peaches drag) came to the set--which, comically, was made up to be a military academy that day of all things--and I spent about 20 minutes talking to him and really liked him immediately. I thought he was smart and cool. He told me, "I'm directing this movie All About Evil and Darren's producing it and I think there's a role I'd like you to do." He sent me the script but I had actually agreed to do it before even reading it because I really liked these two guys. Joshua didn't really know anything about me personally. I think he thought I was just another actor; but, when he was talking to me in my trailer on set, he noticed it was filled with John Waters films and horror films. Since then, he and I have talked at length about being major horror geeks--very close to the character Steven I'm playing in All About Evil--and cult geeks. Joshua's thing for cult and horror is totally my thing. That sealed the bond for sure.
Guillén: Tell me about your character Steven in All About Evil.
Dekker: Steven is a big ol' horror geek, which was the easy part for me, and he's also a visual artist, which I've also done my whole life. So I have a lot in common with the character of Steven. But he's been fun to play because he's naïve. In a way he has to be. Even though all this stuff is going on around him and even though he figures it out, being as close to it as he is you'd think he'd get a whiff of something being wrong. But, he's naïve, aloof, and I'm playing him very young. I knew a kid who was a big horror geek and he used to blink all the time so I've put that into the character. He has all these twitches and blinks and a funny slurred speech. It's been fun because I've been playing John Connor now since June of last year so finally getting to play someone else has been really liberating.
Dekker: No, I'd never worked with either of them before and I only got to meet Mink briefly because I didn't have any scenes with her. Cassandra is such a lovely woman. The only two people I knew from this cast previously were Anthony Fitzgerald who I worked with on Laid to Rest (he was the head that was cut off in the fridge) and he was in Whore, is a friend of mine, and helped me out a lot with getting that movie made. The problem was that I shot Whore while I was doing Terminator that first season so Anthony was the person who made everything happen because I couldn't get stuff ready. My time off was simply to shoot. And I've known Noah Segan for a long time.
Guillén: I was going to ask you what it was like to be directed by someone in drag; but, you've done so much genre work that you're probably used to collaborators in costume around you?
Dekker: Yeah, but, I've never had a director in drag, which has been interesting. It's funny, but I miss seeing Joshua sometimes when he's directing as Peaches. What's interesting, though, is that--even in drag--he's still on top of everything. He's a great director, no matter if he's in a dress or jeans.
Guillén: I was impressed reviewing your career last night in preparation for our talk today. I had first seen you as Claire's friend Zach on Heroes and was somewhat disappointed that your character in that series wasn't really developed past the first season; but, then you got the gig as the young John Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which I watched in its entirety this last weekend.
Dekker: All of them?!
Guillén: Yeah, I did a marathon catch-up.
Dekker: Oh my God!
Guillén: It was fun.
Dekker: You liked them, though?
Guillén: Absolutely. Is the series going to be continued?
Dekker: We won't know until May 15. That's when all the shows, the up fronts, happen.
Guillén: Annie will be devastated if the show isn't renewed. Is there anything your fans can do to make sure it happens?
Dekker: Yeah, well, the fans of the show have been working their asses off. They're not the issue. They write to Fox every week; but, you can write all the letters you want and, unfortunately, it's an issue of having greater numbers overseas than here, which doesn't really please Fox. Who knows? I'd love it to come back and do another season; but, if it doesn't, we did a good show that I don't feel ever compromised its intelligence to be successful.
Guillén: Speaking of intelligence, IQ-145.
Dekker: IQ-145 is one of the strangest gigs of my career because I did it long before Heroes and Terminator. I didn't know what it was for. It was all green screen. I just auditioned and went and did this thing for a month. I didn't know if it was a pilot or an internet thing and then I never heard anything else about it, but then when I was working on Terminator suddenly it was out. It felt kind of odd because everyone thought it was this new thing I'd done but it had actually been sitting for a while, mainly because it took them so long to do the computer animation.
Guillén: Though you're a young actor, you began as a child actor and--in some ways--have more experience than most of the actors on this set.
Dekker: Look at you! Paying me compliments. Keep them coming.
Guillén: Which leads me to ask: by comparison, what is the atmosphere of this set like for you?
Dekker: It's a blast! One of my favorite moments was when Peaches--just in his makeup and regular clothes--walked past Martiny and went, "Third time to the cake table, Martiny?" We all get along and we all know each other and I've never worked on anything with quite this much blood. I came up to San Francisco wanting to do something fun with my friends, that was the feeling, and after the read through, even after a couple of days of filming, I realized, "Wow, this is going to be an amazing movie." It wasn't that I didn't believe in the film before I got here; but, once I was here, I really began to believe in it. But, honestly, that wasn't the reason I first came here. I just wanted to have fun. But All About Evil is blowing my mind. Joshua is directing like a pro. I was saying to Darren the other day that it has everything you want--which makes it difficult to describe--because if you want your tits, you've got your tits; if you want your murders, you got 'em; if you want culty stuff or comedy, you got 'em. Everything is in this movie. That's why when people ask me what the movie's about, I don't know whether to tell them it's a horror movie, a cult movie, or a black comedy, which is great.
Guillén: As a director yourself now, having directed Whore....
Dekker: And a couple of other things out there on the Internet....
Guillén: ...are you having any issues switching back to being an actor?
Dekker: The only time I have issues is when I get nervous for the director and nervous for the production and the movie that's being made because--when you're just an actor--you're oblivious to those concerns and you're focusing on your own performance. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that "innocence" again; but, I can't. Once you've directed, you see what's going wrong with a production and it becomes frustrating. You see the director running out of time, running out of money, which--when you're making an indie movie--you learn are both scarce. Then I get nervous.
Guillén: So tell me about these directorial efforts out on the Internet.
Dekker: You make them sound so scandalous talking about them like that. The very first I directed was when I was 16, almost 17, and it was a feature-length hand-held dogme '95 movie. This is the first time I've ever spoken about it in an interview. It was called Cotton Wool and it was an improvised piece. I did it mainly to learn. I funded it but it was majorly cheap. It's kind of funny when you don't watch something for a long time and then you go back to it? Whenever I thought of Cotton Wool I dismissed it as that piece of shit thing I did as a kid; but, I watched it again recently and it wasn't that bad. Then I did a 30-minute short called Arcane and that was my first time working with a crew. Arcane is what helped me get the money to make Whore.
Guillén: Is Whore going to be theatrically released?
Dekker: No. We took a long time to get it ready because I kept going back and re-editing and added greasy coloring to it, so it took a long time. The finished cut is on DVD and we're trying for the festival thing. It's a culty movie so it needs to find its niche. Some people love it. Some people hate it.
Dekker: Here's the thing. I might as well just come clean now and we'll call this the first interview. The main point of Whore--among the many points it's trying to make--is a hokey idea: about kids who come to L.A. who want to be actors, fail, and become prostitutes and drug addicts. I get that's been done a million times before; but, the reason for Whore is specific. You never see these young kids attempting to be actors; it's implied. It's more about the mental state these kids are in while in Los Angeles. Kids all over the world desperately want to be actors; but, actors--by the public--are often treated like whores, sometimes like shit. It wasn't until I got my own TV show and started going online and reading what people were saying, not just about me, but about the show in general that I realized that some person in Wisconsin was writing the most vile shit about people that they don't know for no reason other than that they're actors. That fascinated me. Why is there this need to rip apart people you don't even know?
The main reason Megan Fox and Rumer Willis--who are friends of mine--are in the film is a game with the audience. They don't even have dialogue. They're on screen for a total of 25 seconds to two minutes. They offered to play roles, but, the reason I did it like that was because I wanted to play with the fact that everybody--and this is exactly what has happened--is concerned with whether Megan shows her tits and "that Rumer girl is so ugly that I wonder what she does in it." I knew that would happen and my hope was that these idiots who would go to the movie to see Megan's tits and make fun of Rumer will find out neither of them are really in the movie. If you want to see the movie for the movie, you're not going to miss them; but, if you're coming to ogle over celebrity, I'm not going to give them to you.
Guillén: Do you want to direct more than act?
Dekker: Yes. I love acting and I've done it now for 16 years. Darren asked me the other day if I'd ever quit and I said, "Of course!" And then I went, "I dunno." I may do both.
Guillén: Well, there's nothing wrong with taking a hiatus, perhaps; but, I hope you don't quit acting altogether because--in reviewing your work this week--I'm struck by its promise. I'd like to see you older in more mature roles. I see you owning your craft at such a young age, that I'm curious to see what you'll give us with even more experience. It's interesting to watch you be such a livewire on the set because when it's time for you to play your scenes, you're actually much more subdued. Some of your roles call for you to be quite serious and emotional.
Dekker: And those are the roles I normally tend to get. I never get comedy or anything like that. I usually get dark, brooding roles, which is probably why I do a lot of horror. The greatest compliment I receive is when someone says, "Oh, you're nothing like your character." To me that's the whole point about creating a character: you have to find a voice and a walk and mannerisms.
Guillén: You're on the crest of a pop cultural wave with Heroes and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but talk to me about some of your upcoming projects, like From Within.
Dekker: From Within will come out in about a month. It's funny because people are asking me now if I'm choosing to do horror and science fiction films and I'm actually not. It just seems to keep happening that way. I did From Within, Heroes is sci-fi, Terminator is sci-fi, Laid to Rest is horror, this is horror, and the next film I'm doing is sort of horror.
Guillén: One of your early roles was as Picard's son in Star Trek: Generations, for God sake.
Dekker: I was, baby!
Guillén: And weren't you one of those damned children in John Carpenter's Village of the Damned?
Dekker: Which we shot here in San Fran. Yeah, so I've had a long line of that kind of stuff. From Within is actually a good film; I like it. Phedon Papamichael did a great job. It was, again, another exhausting night shoot in Maryland. And the next film I'm doing is a werewolf film.
Guillén: What about Laid to Rest, which made this month's cover of Fangoria?
Dekker: Laid to Rest was kind of like All About Evil in that I thought, "Oh, let me help my friend Robert Hall out. We'll all pitch in and do our thing." But, again, it turned out great.
Guillén: When I was talking to Aurora Bergere about her career, I told her she was reminding me of Robert Hall's Lightning Bug, which she didn't know anything about, and which you actually turned me onto in the Fangoria piece on Laid to Rest.
Dekker: I hope I turned a lot of people on to Lightning Bug.
Guillén: I understand you're a fan of Fangoria?
Dekker: I first started reading Fangoria because when I was 8 or 9 years old I saw an issue of that covered the film Species and Natasha Henstridge's tits were on it as she was coming out of the cocoon and I had to have the magazine. I had watched Species about a thousand times a day. My mother had to take the magazine away from me because was I so fucking in love with Natasha Henstridge.
Guillén: Though it's not a genre piece, tell me about My Sister's Keeper.
Dekker: I just saw the finished cut of it actually not too long ago and I was impressed. It's a story that could so easily be a Lifetime / Hallmark film; but, it isn't because Nick Cassavetes is a pretty tough guy and so--when you have a tough guy doing sensitive material--it works well. I got to shave my head and my eyebrows off for it, which was really fun.
Guillén: But they didn't touch your eyelashes.
Dekker: No! They're my meal ticket. But as an actor you rarely get to be paid to do something as drastic as shaving your head and eyebrows. It was awesome. It was right after the first season of Terminator had aired where I had emo hair and everyone was like, "Where did you hair go?!" It was a big hoopla.
Guillén: In that first season of Terminator, I was wondering if you got to work with Jesse Garcia, who is one of my favorite young Chicano actors?
Dekker: No. I never even got to meet him. We weren't in any scenes together; but, Lena loved him. She thought he was amazing. There were a lot of people that first season I never got to meet. I barely even saw Richard T. Jones. Everyone had their own shooting schedules.
Cross-published on The Evening Class.