INTERVIEW WITH SEAN WHALEN
Being humble is one thing, being unaware of the affects you have had on the entertainment industry and your fans is a whole other bag of worms. Recently I had the privilege to conduct an interview with Sean Whalen over the phone.
Someone I not only have a lot of respect for, but one of the few actors that can still make me shriek with excitement like the child I was in 1991. His successful career in both horror and comedy is one that most people would die for (and he has, a number of times). Productions like People Under the Stairs, The FP, Twister, Laid to Rest, Bold and the Beautiful, Wizards of Waverly Place and Dorothy 50 Years Later have made Whalen a household name.
Not only is he extremely funny and down to earth, I learned he hasn’t really grasped what his contributions mean to his fans. This is a man who I view as a strong force and was dumbfounded to learn he views himself as an Average Joe.
For years, Whalen has entertained the masses with his own stylings of comedy, improv, and terror. Beyond being good at what he does, he takes his professionalism to heart. A man who is prepared for what is thrown at him and not scared to step up to the plate when given the chance. Through his upcoming workshop WORKING ACTORS FOR ACTORS, he and Christopher Darga are teaching just that. The two are offering up their knowledge of business to prepare fellow actors for what lies ahead of them in a new era, where people are famous for being famous and talent often takes a back seat.
Wes Craven‘s People Under the Stairs was most people’s introduction to Whalen, including mine. He took on the role of Roach, a delightful young man whose personality rose above the abuse of his caretakers. From the moment Whalen showed up on screen I was sold. His portrayal was not only enjoyable to watch but deeply moving to me as a young girl. There was something so expressive in the way he portrayed Roach, without the use of words he nailed the emotional side of the character. “That is a man with talent!” I thought after the credits rolled, and then went on to discuss our growing crushes with my friends.
Talking with Sean Whalen, I found him to be delightful, uniquely funny and really someone who I could relate to as a human. There is a special quality he has, sitting here wracking my brain for a way to describe it has become useless. Someone who knows Whalen well is BJ McDonnell (Director:Hatchet 3), when asked for his sentiments he replied kindly:
“Sean brings such a great vibe on set. My favorite part about working with Sean is that he’s just a fun guy to kick it with and always prepared. I was lucky enough to have him and Jason Trost together for a scene. They are two really good friends and I loved the banter between the two. The crew loved working with him and I can’t wait to finish up his scenes here in Los Angeles.“
Sean Whalen is revered for his professionalism, acting ability and the simple fact that he is a great person to be around. Through doing the interview with Whalen my respect level has grown, as did my fandom. He is an extraordinary Actor and man, someone I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to speak with:
Dorothy 50 Years Later is amazing! Painfully pitiful and hilarious. How did you come up with the concept, why Dorothy, and did you know while filming what a viral-hit it was going to be?
-No, I didn’t know it was going to be a viral hit. It was an originally a Groundlings Theater sketch that I did years ago, we would do monologues at the Groundlings meaning you would just have a spot-light on you and would do a comedic monologue. I had just seen Wizard of Oz, I thought it was completely depressing at the end, I thought that saying you want to come home to a dirt-farm was strange. She’s stuck in black in white, they never cleared up the dog thing… I mean, we knew that was still going to take place; that her dog would be killed. The main thing is everyone thought she was crazy. Everybody, because she said “You and you and you were there” and they all looked at each other and went “heh, heh, heh, heh” and nodded their heads like she’s a freak. So I thought she is going to be stuck in this horrible place and become the crazy lady that no one wants to deal with. I actually put it up at the Groundlings and it was actually a big hit at the Groundlings Theater for about 6/7 months…For years I just wanted to put it on film and my buddy Brandon Trost who VP’s all Rob Zombie’s movies, went up… an hour north of LA and he was looking around and he saw that broken down turkey shack. I stood in front of it and just did my monologue 3 or 4 times in about 40 minutes and that was it. It was very well received, but it was already well received at the Groundlings so I knew it wasn’t bad, but I certainly didn’t know people would respond to it so strongly. In fact at the last convention I sold several Dorothy 50 Years Later pictures.
What are your thoughts on the finished product of Dorothy 50 years later?
–Brandon really helped me take it from a comedy monologue at a theater to a documentary-style, and here’s this crazy lady outside her house thing. He is just so talented… I think it looks awesome. We had trouble with the sound because the wind was blowing. Actually, when we heard it, we recorded a cleaner soundtrack without the wind but when we listened to it we thought the wind just sounds so great, it’s just so awful, it just makes it that much more depressing. So, I am very happy with it.
Danny Roebuck and you are working on a follow-up to Dorothy 50 Years Later, can you give any hints on the concept and will other characters from OZ be involved in the production?
-I will only say, I’m not going to give away too much, but I did post the title. It’s called Dorothy 50 years later: Bump and Run, if you know what that is in the monologue… that’s all I can say at this time.
That sounds excellent!
–Danny Roebuck is not only Directing but Acting with me in it as well, and there will be some jokes that didn’t make it into the final cut that were in the original piece.
The actors workshop WORKING ACTORS FOR ACTORS that you are providing across Country is about how to survive in the industry. Can you give more info on this and what exactly participants can expect? Also, whereabouts will these workshops be taking place and when?
-We hear a lot from acting classes it’s all about how good you are and if you are really good actor, the cream will rise sooner than later. As long as you’re really good and have a good agent everything will be okay. That’s just not true anymore, my Partner Chris Darga and I who worked at Groundlings 20 odd years ago, have been in the same journey. Horror, comedy, big movies, small movies, commercials, everything and we learned early on how to be professional and how people respond to that… it’s pretty amazing you know we’re surprised some people just don’t know how to be a professional, so we teach that. We do an audition boot-camp and if you can survive our audition boot-camp you can survive any audition. I don’t want to tell too much about it, but we throw things at you that have happened to us over our career, that people just don’t know. We do that, we do a whole section talking about our Survival Tips in Hollywood. Then we also do a section on stories we have learned from the sets, meaning we are going to give everybody a list of who we’ve worked with and what projects we’ve worked on and have people ask us specific questions about those projects. My Partner and I both worked with Jim Carrey, so someone could ask “What was it like to work with Jim Carey?”… We can both answer that, or work with Ang Lee, Tim Burton, or Wes Craven, so they can learn more insight… the main thing is what did you learn from that experience, and that Is what we try to impart on people. It’s not so much how to succeed, but how to be a professional so you know how to succeed. We are setting them up in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and are in talks about doing one in Denver, Reno, and in talks about doing one in LA as well.
Wet and Reckless is currently filming, can you give up any info on the plot and your character?
-Yeah, Wet and Reckless is either going to be a movie or a web series depending on how they cut it. It’s basically about the two guys from Jersey Shore sent to Thailand to get rid of them, and they have to find their way home. The way they think they find their way home is by going on a treasure hunt and getting gold. I play their manager who is so sick of their egos and BS for the last two or three seasons that I am behind sending them to Thailand to break their contract to kind of get rid of them. So I play their sleazy Manager. It also stars Lucas Till from X-MEN.
All Saints Eve, Directed by Gerry Lively (Hellraiser franchise) begins filming August of this year, with Lively at the helm it is said to be as a must watch. Who is your character Floyd, and what is the plot of the feature? Feel free to hand out any spoilers about the storyline.
-Right, it is kind of a horror movie/who-done-it–type-thing. My character is, there is a group of young kids and there’s a creepy guy on a Halloween… carnival night where crazy stuff happens. I am the creepy child-like guy from the local insane asylum who loves to be where the action is… and, they are nice to me. Oh gosh, I can’t tell much more than that or else there will be too many spoilers. It’s definitely going to be a fun movie and it was definitely a really fun character for me. I can assure you like in Halloween 2, I don’t show up for one scene and get killed or anything like that.
Now in post-production is Hatchet 3, which is, if you are unaware, part of a trilogy highly regarded by Slasher-Lover’s everywhere. It has to be intimidating coming into an already established franchise, especially one that has taken off so quickly like Hatchet. Did you find it difficult to settle into your role as a newcomer on set, and how was the overall experience working on Hatchet 3?
-Actually, no, because I had worked with BJ McDonnell on Halloween 2 we had spoken a lot, he’s a great guy and I also got to work with Jason Trost who is Co-Writing & Directing Wet and Reckless and did The FP. He and I for the first time, we were going to do a scene together where we weren’t in one of his projects. So I knew people going in there, everyone was really nice. I knew the project was really nice. The crew was great and being down in New Orléans where I had never been, never hurt either. It was not at all intimidating because I knew so many people involved… that helps a lot I think. and I had friends down in New Orléans, Brandon Trost who shot the Dorothy thing was down there with his brother Jason Trost, who was there shooting Seth Rogan‘s new movie and invited me to that set, so it was like going to work and going on a friends vacation at the same time. It was pretty great.
Was shooting in a swamp difficult to do and keep in sync with your role? How did you deal with the dangers of what lurks in the marshland?
-I am not one of these kind people who hangs out on their dressing room a lot, I like to go on set… hang out and visit the set and check things out, but seeing so many people dressed in heavy long clothes covered from bites and toxic poisoning from the bug sprays… I would walk out of my dressing room and my glasses would fog up from the muggy heat like you are walking into the steam shower. For that movie I stayed inside more than I ever have. Whenever I was working I was good, but whenever I was not I went straight to my dressing room because it was cooler. Even with long sleeve clothes, gloves, hats people were still getting bitten. They were getting bitten through their blue jeans. So for this one I thought I would wuss-out and stay in my dressing room, so I did.
What, if anything can you share about your character and how he fits into Victor Crowley’s universe?
-That is something I cannot answer at all. The story is, I was going to take some videos of the set and I was panning through and they all came over and said I can’t show anything… so I said “Okay“, the long and short is I can’t say anything. Sorry everybody!
Having worked with Hatchet 3 Director BJ McDonnell before on ’09′s Halloween 2 where he was employed as MK-V AR operator/Steadicam operator/camera operator, what if any was the difference between that experience and working under him as a Director?
-He really wanted to be prepared for this, he was down in New Orléans and it got pushed a week, and then pushed another week. So, he actually had tons of time to prepare so he really ran a very casual, cool (not cool~cold, it was burning hot) just a relaxed vibe, and because he did that and worked on the other Hatchets, he knew exactly what to do and what he wanted to do to try to make the franchise the best it could be. He was great… he was a blast, he made it really fun. I think if you were coming from the outside trying to be a Director it would have been harder, but because he had been involved in these things before and we had met before it just made it really easy, he trusted me emphatically.
Your character Steven in ’09′s Laid to Rest, was a smart, neurotic and witty guy. What was making that movie like for you? Having faced death in a number of gruesome ways what was it like having you head explode, and how does one even prepare for such a thing?
-It was shot in Maryland where I am from. I got to see family and friends while I was there. That’s where I met Jason and the Trost’s… on that shoot we have become friends. There is an emotional scene that didn’t make it on the film, it’s only on the extras where I talk about my mom and break down crying. I had to do that in the audition… as soon as I read it I understood who the guy was and how to work it, it was an easy fit for me and it went pretty quickly as soon as I got cast. Rob and I worked together a bit before we left for Maryland and when I flew in I flew in from my uncles funeral… they were shooting nights and I went straight to the set and I had to do that emotional scene, the very first thing I shot. So I flew in, sat in a corner prepared and did the emotional scene first… Kevin Gage was great, Rob is great, Bobby was fun, Nick is so fun! You kind of have to take it all seriously when you are getting scared and you have to be able to just go there. And you know, Nick was chasing me with a big knife and ChromeSkull mask on so that made it easy to be scared. I think I have a neurotic wimpy side, we all have, and I really drilled on that; for that guy. The death scene was very uncomfortable; I had to keep my head still for the special effects plate for when they were going to do the computer graphics. I literally was standing very awkwardly with my head still on that counter for an hour and a half. Everyone is working around you, you can’t move, they try to give you a drink and you can’t move so you choke on it. It was great though because when they started to shoot I was screaming because I was like; “Get me the hell out of here!!“. I can’t believe how gnarly it turned out; it’s on the list of never show to my daughters ever!
Roach from ’91′s The People Under the Stairs, was a stellar fitting with you as the Actor. Off-hand there is no one that could have brought so much life to the sad young man and make him so enjoyable. What was it like to hear you were cast as a head character in a film Written and Directed by Wes Craven, who was very much established in the horror genre at that time?
-That was my very first film, so, it was pretty great. The real exciting part was, I worked with my acting coach to get the emotion of it. It’s very easy to crawl around, scream and yell and jump up and down like Roach did, but to get the emotion of it I worked pretty hard to get the sweet side of him. I will never forget the call back, me sitting there with a bunch of guys in shabby torn up t-shirts and crawling around Wes Craven’s floor laughing, screaming and crying behind his office furniture. I wasn’t a horror fan before that, I knew who he was but I wasn’t awe-struck, I was a comedy fan so if it was Monty Python or Steve Martin or someone like that I would have been freaked out. I didn’t know horror that much, of course I knew it was a real movie and he was a good Director. If I was a huge horror fan I think I would have been more freaked out. But he was so relaxing, nurturing and friendly, it made it all very, very easy, the whole experience. He never had that air of “I’m a successful Director and you’re all lucky to be here!” type thing… he knew we were all in it together and he wanted to make me as comfortable as possible.
Being that Roach is so notable in today’s pop-culture, and that you are unmistakably recognized as him, looking back, how do you feel about your performance, and are you still enjoying the notoriety today?
-The first time I have seen it in 16 years was like 2 weeks ago, I was up late and they showed it and I thought “God I want to see this again” I hadn’t seen it in so long. I think I did what I was supposed to do. It’s hard to say I was great, but I remember the work I did, I really took it seriously, I remember taking the death scene seriously. I have always had a childlike quality, what a lot of people don’t know is I was playing a 15 year old when I was 27… I always had a goofy quality and I pulled on that to do the fun stuff. The fun stuff was really exciting, Roach is excited because he is running through the walls and beating the bad guy. Me as Sean, as an Actor, was running around on a huge movie set getting to shoot stuff and yell and scream and shoot a slingshot… and run around with dogs and stuff, it was awesome. It was fun to draw on that excitement. But you know, I think I did okay, I’m not the type, there’s nothing I look at and go “God I’m awesome.” as part of an actor I never do that.
You have acted in a multitude of movies and on the tele, which do you prefer doing? Do you find that working on movies gives you more time to get to know your character, or do you enjoy the fast paced world of Soap Operas/Sitcoms/Children’s Shows?
-It depends on the character really; it depends on the character and the show. If it’s something I can completely understand and grab and know I can do real well that is always a blast because you get to do in front of a live audience… When it’s a comedy you get to make the crew laugh which is really great, which is what I did on the soap operas. The soap operas are great because you’re gone at 9 and you are home by 3:30 in the afternoon and you’ve shot like four episodes. On a movie you don’t get that luxury but you get to spend more time with the character as well. To say I like one, I prefer the one with the character that I can just nail, that I know I can do really well having prepared really hard for it or not. So, if I know I can do it well or I need a lot of preparation, that is part of the fun, preparing for that character. Like in All Saints Eve coming up, but then I just did a thing on Nick Cannon’s comedy show last week which was like a wacky prospector which I only got the day before I shot, but I knew I could kick its butt.
What was it like for you working on Bold and the Beautiful, did you find it difficult, and how did you deal working with the scripts and everything being so fast paced? If you had the opportunity for a long term role would you take it on a Soap Opera?
-Yes, in an instant. Especially if it’s one in LA. I would go in at 9 in the morning and would be done the latest 5 at night. They all know each other so well, it’s a well-oiled machine, you know what your character is, you know what you are doing, its written in a way its easy to memorize. Most of the time. Especially when you are doing a character for a long time you know who that character is, so you literally go to work, do your stuff quickly and nail it, move forward and come home. Which is amazing in this industry to have a 9 to 5 job in any way or form.
It’s just not done. Everybody I’ve talked to like Jack Wagner says it’s the greatest job in the world. A lot of days they work 4 days a week and then 3 days off and do that for 3/4 weeks and then have a week or 2 off. It was awesome. To be fair, I’m not saying it’s easy. You have to be prepared and you have to know what you are doing. But that is easier to do as the character developed.
Working with stars like Craven, Zombie, Burton, Barrymore, Lee and Hanks must be intimidating. How do you deal with auditioning, first day jitters, and in general keeping your cool.
-You find out that the bigger the Director like Tim Burton, Tom Hanks, Carl Reiner, Ang Lee, Wes Craven, the bigger they are the more chill they are, they are very relaxed. They know what to do to get an actor relaxed to give a good audition. It’s not really that intimidating, I guess it’s like seeing American Idol and those judges; they always make everybody feel so comfortable. They are huge Super-Stars and that’s the way that these huge Directors are. They make it very mellow, they make it very friendly. They have been in the business long enough to know what you are going through to come into an audition. And they know it’s not easy and they know it’s hard. So they make you feel extra comfortable and that carries over on the set. They know sometimes how intimidating it’s to be there and we know how lucky we are to be there. But they take that out and say you know what, you’re fine, you’re great, we’ll make this comfortable for you. It’s funny at every wrap-party I think I hung out with Tim Burton for like 45 minutes, Tom Hanks for an hour, they were always so nice and relaxed, again I think it’s only because they understand how hard it is to come in and audition.
What advice do you have for someone coming into the entertainment industry?
-Come to LA, come to New York and give it two years of your life 100%, or any big acting center, you know Chicago has a strong acting center now and London, and go there and give it two years of your life and give it 100%… get a job that supports that, take a bunch of classes, shoot videos with your friends, network on Facebook and Twitter, go on a set audition for everything and anything you can to get in front of as many people and be a professional. That is what my working for Actors Workshop is about try to teach people the truth about the business and how it’s different now.
What features, in your eyes, have you been in that you think stand out in your career, and why?
-I have never been in an Oscar nominated movie, I did really like Never Been Kissed because that’s hung around, That Thing You Do with Tom Hanks because that’s hung around, People under the Stairs, movies that have lasted. Twister, obviously…. the movies that people see on HBO and people think oh I have to keep watching it, that’s my favourite.
I think the biggest victory for me which I saw a few nights ago was Never Been Kissed. Because that was only supposed to be one line. I was really proactive about getting to know Drew and her partner Nancy Juvonen who produced it. A friend of mine told my wife who was working at a production company that they had a picture of me on their wall. So I sent them a thing of milk and cookies, “Hey, I heard you had my picture on your wall I just wanted to introduce myself and say Sean Whalen.” They were so excited they said come on down here and introduce yourself and I did. We all became good friends creatively. So Never Been Kissed came up, Nancy Juvonen and Drew said what do you want to do with this, and I said well, I think its funnier if the guy is cocky and kind of a jerk and thinks he is like the greatest guy in the world, but he is an Assistant to a Copy Editor. That’s what I did. I started to improve my lines and make funny lines for myself and they just kept telling me, write more stuff, run it by us and keep coming back. My part was supposed to be like one line, and got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and ended up coming through the entire movie. That was really fun.
In many movies do they allow you to take that kind of control over your role?
-Yeah, it depends on what they need from you. Luckily a lot of the stuff I do, that’s why a lot of people hire me because they know I can bring something a little extra.
Having a accomplished career and full plate in front of you, what if anything can you tell us about your plans for the future beyond the next few years?
-I am working on some reality programs with Felissa Rose who played Angela from
Sleepaway Camp, working a couple more comedy shorts, another Dorothy, I’m working on producing movies as well. a movie called the Tales of the Zombie Superhero which I am Producing. I am working on… gosh a bunch of fun things… conventions, just went a dance party with Felissa and some guy named DJ Tray we’re doing dance party convention because we went to Days of the Dead and had a blast and we are packing that as well. A lot of different things, throwing a lot at the wall and getting out and meeting people.
Any last words to your fans?
-Contact me and tell me about their projects, and inquiring about the workshop and you know, I do script writing, I love working in people’s projects. As long as it makes sense for me to leave LA I love to work with anybody on anything. I love to do what I do and want to do as much as possible. Thank you so much for supporting me over the years. I had no idea I could go to a horror convention and people would even care. I had a fan who said “You need to come to a convention!”… no one would care that I was at a horror convention, no one would come to my table. I was very surprised that they appreciated my work.
How can you be so unaware?
-When you are Suburban-Dad every once in a while you lose sight of it. When you are doing the laundry, making the dinner and taking the kids to school you’re just an ordinary guy. All of a sudden you get on the net-world, it’s really FaceBook that changed everything. You know; you think they want to see people much bigger then you. Like they want to see Robert Englund, not me. I feel like I haven’t accomplished that major in years and people don’t really care, but that’s not really true, they do care. They care that you took the risk and tried it anyway. That’s what I never really understood.
I hope you do understand that now.
-I do now, I actually do now, it’s very nice, very nice to be appreciated, Hollywood is a tough place and they don’t make you feel very appreciated very much, very often so to have fan’s appreciate it makes it worth it.
QUESTIONS FROM FANS
TAVISH, 9 years old: Did your kids like you being in Wizards of Waverly Place? Did they see you, and do you like to play creepy characters?
-They loved me being on Wizards of Waverly Place because they knew they could visit the set and meet all their favorite Disney Stars… they also liked me being a creepy character… they liked that all their friends watch the show, and they could say “That’s my Dad!”
“Way to scare Justin on the show!” –Tavish
-That was really fun and he was really, really scared!
SARI: You have worked on everything from children’s shows to horror, how hard is it to change gears between, and get into the mindset of characters that are so far from each other?
-In acting class they tell you “It takes you a couple years to train to be an actor, but twenty years to become an actor.” What they mean is you have to have enough life experience to understand the stuff you read. Now, when I look at a script, I can relate to anything you can throw at me because I have lived enough life to know… I’ve done enough comedy shows to know what I think is funny… you have to know what the project is, what they are trying to do and where you fit in. I did Friends, and they didn’t want me to be funnier than the friends, they wanted me to be funny, but not funnier than the Leads. In People Under the Stairs I would have loved to be in the whole movie until the end. But that wasn’t who Roach was, he wasn’t there to do that, he was there to help the two leads. So, you have to know who you are in a project and then it’s easy to approach it from there. I think writing and knowing productions and seeing a lot of movies myself I understand what people are looking for in a character, and you either make it serious or funny.
HUGH: What was like to be directed by Wes Craven, and what are your thoughts of Wes’s earlier work such as Last House on the Left, Hills Have Eyes, etc. ?
-I talked about working with Wes as a Director, he was nurturing kind and knew it was my first movie, I didn’t really know a lot of his earlier work, I wasn’t a horror fan, I never really seen it, I was studying comedy.
Have you seen any since?
-No, I haven’t. Because then after that I was getting married and having kids, my wife was never really a horror fan so, because she wasn’t that always hinders that too. The real answer is, I like to act in them more than I do seeing them. When I see them I get creeped out or grossed out. The Exorcist messed me up for so long it was incredible, it was crazy, when you think about it; it makes sense actors are supposed to be sensitive and so, when I saw, like Paranormal Activity, it really scared me, The Ring really scared me. When I see them I go “What am I doing, this is really scary?”… and then the gory stuff, now that I have little kids it’s a little hard to stomach.
My over all feelings about Sean Whalen as an Actor is that he is a professional, someone prepared and ready to do his work. He knows what he is doing and has been in the industry long enough to capture his roles with ease and leave his fans wanting more. Whether he is making us laugh in Never Been Kissed, or breaking our hearts in People Under the Stairs, Whalen is always well received and someone whose career will stand strong for many years to come. With anticipated projects like Hatchet 3, Dorothy 50 Years Later: Bump and Grind or the recently announced pilot for Waffle Hut on their way, there is no doubt that Whalen is assuring a newer generation that he will continue to be a household name and forever looked upon as one of Hollywood’s greats.
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