An interview with actor Graham Skipper (The Mind’s Eye)

Graham3Initially working primarily in the theater (including a highly-praised stage musical version of Re-Animator), actor Graham Skipper immediately impressed me when I saw him as the lead in director Joe Begos’ Almost Human. A low-budget alien abduction/slasher horror film, I first had the pleasure of seeing it when it arrived on VOD in early 2014. The film immediately stuck with me, with Skipper’s performance being a big part of why it’s so fun. Since then, Skipper has slowly become a mark of quality for a genre film. Working with directors like Neil Marshall, Mickey Keating and the aforementioned Joe Begos, among others, Skipper clearly has an eye for interesting material. When I see he’s in the cast of an upcoming film, it automatically has my attention.

His latest offering is another collaboration with Begos titled The Mind’s Eye. A “psychokinetic revenge thriller,” The Mind’s Eye feels like someone took David Cronenberg’s Scanners and Brian De Palma’s The Fury and gave them an adrenaline-laced shot of Ephemerol 3, sending it into a homicidal rage. At the center of it all is Skipper’s lead, Zack Connors, a drifter who also happens to be a be a powerful telekinetic. Conned into joining an institute that promises to help people with his abilities, Zack ends up finding out that — you guessed it — there’s something sinister going on behind the scenes. Lauren Ashley Carter (Darling), John Speredakos (The House of the Devil), Noah Segan (Looper) and Larry Fessenden (Habit) also star, and carnage candy ensues. The Mind’s Eye a wonderful slice of homemade sci-fi/horror.

I recently had a chance to speak with Skipper about it and more …

Graham4Daniel Baldwin: Beyond your character’s psychokinetic abilities and the chance to work with director Joe Begos again on another film, what excited you most about doing The Mind’s Eye?

Graham Skipper: On one level, as a horror fan myself, just getting the opportunity to be in a movie like this was a thrill. It was exciting to me. A telekinetic revenge thriller sounds like the perfect movie that I would want to see. As a big genre fan, I was thinking about how there aren’t that many movies like this that are out there and there certainly aren’t that many out there that come at it with the glee that Joe brings to all of his projects. It just was something that I was eager to jump into. Also, getting to have superpowers, who doesn’t want that?

DB: I ended up going back over the Scanners films last year, and, at the end of the run, I was a bit bummed that I ran out of them to watch. I was left craving more and there wasn’t really anything new out there that hit the same chord.  Much to my delight, The Mind’s Eye absolutely filled that void for me.

GS: That’s great! When Joe and I first sat down to talk about this film, that was one of the things we were talking about. Obviously Scanners is a classic, and, however you feel about the sequels, they’re all fun in their own way. I don’t know how you felt about it, but when I went back and watched them, especially the first one, even though obviously the powers are all there and everything, it’s not as action-packed as I remembered it being. That was part of the fun that we wanted to bring to this. Here’s a film that genre fans all love. Hell, Scanners is a Criterion movie, but now it has this cult quality to it. Let’s add this insanity of action and gore to this subgenre and make it super visceral and super violent. We felt that we fulfilled that, and I’m glad you felt that we were able to capture that.

Almost HumanDB: Well, you fulfilled it in spades. What was the most challenging aspect of making this film? At least for you, anyway.

GS: There was a physical aspect about it. It was freezing cold. When we started filming, it was during what I think was the worst blizzard that the East Coast had seen in a decade. One night when we filmed overnight outside, not counting wind chill, it was -27 degrees. It was so obscenely cold that it was a challenge, but it was also a gift because it totally informed everything. Especially with all the action stuff, you can’t overthink what you’re doing. You just have to do it, because it’s so cold that your brain starts to shut down. I think [the weather] really helped and almost plays a character in the movie.

It was also just a matter of filming on a lower budget and having all of these expensive dramatic set pieces. I’m sure with a lot of money and more personnel, you would have filmed them in a different way. We just had to be very smart in how we thought about it and where we put the money. How do we put it all on screen, and how do we achieve this grand vision with low resources? That’s what Joe is so great at. It’s amazing to see him go “I know how to do this!” Even when everyone around him says “No way, that’s impossible,” he manages to find a way to do it. There’s never compromise on Joe’s set, and that’s just really inspiring to watch. You have all of these challenges, and fortunately we had a leader who’s able to help us overcome them and make it all as awesome as he wanted it to be, despite lacking maybe the full resources to do it.

DB: I noticed you got to do some wirework in the film. How was that?

GS: Yeah, that was amazing. I trained to get in really good shape for it. I really wanted to make sure that it all looked right and I was able to play it well. We had an amazing stunt coordinator, Paul Marini (The Departed, Central Intelligence), who was able to guide us through it, even though we didn’t have any kind of specific stunt training for it. It was just fun.

It was great also to know in my mind’s eye, pardon the pun, what it was supposed to look like, because I know this type of movie. I knew what we were going for and then to suddenly be strapped up to a wire, hoisted, and swung around places and everything? It was so cool to get to embody that. I’ve got a huge grin on my face just thinking about it. It was a dream. I think back to being a little kid, watching these kinds of movies, and just hoping that I got to do it one day. Now here I am, floating in the air, bugging eyes out, and throwing stuff around the room with my mind!

DB: I have to imagine it is not easy being up in a harness. I watch a lot of films, and I know you do too. When it comes to wirework, sometimes people have it down pat and other times it just visibly looks like they are just sitting in a harness. I’m sure it’s not easy to act out the scene and still make sure that you are posturing yourself correctly so it doesn’t look like you’re just kind of just chilling up in the air.

GS: That was definitely the goal. It was a matter of really thinking with the mindset of my full body. You’ve got to think from your head down to your toes, so you’re not just dangling there in the air. It took a lot of foresight. It also gave me a lot more respect than I already had for stunt performers, circus performers, and other folks that do that stuff all the time. It’s really hard to do.

DB: So did you already have your “Scanners face” down pat from when you were a kid growing up watching it?

GS: [Laughs.] Kind of! You know, I’ve always had these big bug eyes, so they really worked as a strength in that regard. I’m also a big Star Wars fan, and you always kind of wonder, “Gosh, could I move that with my mind?” Once in a while, you’ve gotta give it a shot!

Graham1DB: Based on previous statements you’ve made, finding others to work with who are just as passionate about filmmaking as you are seems to be important to you. That said, given that we all have to pay bills in our daily lives, do you find it hard sometimes to work regularly and still manage to consistently star in intriguing films?

GS: Oh yeah! This is a hard business. I think it takes equal parts smart thinking, sacrifice and tenacity to consistently work and consistently do what you’re passionate about. I think what’s really beautiful about the indie movie world, especially indie horror and the indie genre world, is that everybody is very supportive of each other because we’re all sort of in this together. Everybody does this because they love it, not because it’s this huge moneymaking thing.

I think that’s why right now you’re seeing all of these really amazing genre films coming out. It’s because everyone’s working so hard to produce so much material and to make it as awesome as it possibly can be, because what’s the other option? It’s either keep doing that, bust your ass and find other people to be a part of the team and make your dreams come true or give up on it. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes you go, “Oh my god, it’s over. There’s no way. I’m never gonna get cast in a movie ever again.” And then you look for it, you work at it and then something else comes along. It’s just about feeling positive and never stopping. Always looking ahead to the next dream and the next dream and the next dream and working to make things happen for yourself.

DB: I know you’re kind of seguing into directing your own films now. Is there anything you’d like to tell me about Sequence Break or Space Clown?

GS: I’m really excited about Sequence Break. We just wrapped filming and are in post right now. I have really been blessed with a crew of amazing people who helped to make it happen and a cast of really amazing actors. We’ve got Chase Williamson from John Dies at the End and Fabianne Therese from Southbound and Starry Eyes. We’ve got Lyle Kanouse, Audrey Wasilewski, and this amazing actor named John Dinan. It’s a really cool cast, and it’s a really cool Cronenbergian/Lynchian sort of metaphysical sci-fi story. Yet again it’s a thing that’s just about … I sat down with my producers, we talked about it and said, “Let’s make it happen!” Now suddenly it’s a few months later, now it’s in the can, and hopefully it will be out in the world soon. I’m really excited about it, and I want everybody to keep their eyes open for it, because I think it’s going to be pretty special.

Beyond the GatesDB: I definitely will! Is there anything else you have coming up that you’d like to talk about before we wrap up here? I know you have Beyond the Gates coming out later this year

GS: Yes, Beyond the Gates is coming out soon, directed by Jackson Stewart. It’s a really fun ’80s throwback movie about a haunted VHS board game. You know, it’s just another perfect example of finding people that are my friends that have the total same mindset as me. Jackson comes to me and says, “Hey, we’re doing a movie that’s about a haunted VHS board game.” It sounds like exactly the kind of movie that I want to see!

DB: How could you NOT do it?!

GS: Right?! And then getting to work with Barbara Crampton on it. Oh my god. She’s a legend and a total sweetheart. We’ve also got original cast recording of Re-Animator: The Musical coming out, which I was in. I played Herbert West in that for several years. Stuart Gordon directed it. That was really an amazing experience, so finally that recording is coming out at some point. I’m not sure when.

DB: I’m really looking forward to hearing that. Given where I live, I never had the opportunity to see it, so I’m really looking forward to at least listening to it once it finally arrives.

GS: Yeah, it’s gonna be super cool. Carnage Park is also out right now, which was directed by Mickey Keating (Pod, Darling). Of course you kind find Almost Human everywhere, and I show up in Tales of Halloween. Lots of fun horror stuff to keep your eyes on and then hopefully soon, you will have The Mind’s Eye in your eyeballs and everything will melt!

DB: It was really nice talking to you! Hopefully I can speak to you when Sequence Break comes along.

GS: Yes! Absolutely! I’d love that. We’ll definitely send it your way once we get it all finished up. Thank you and thanks for your kind words about The Mind’s Eye and helping us get the word out. I’m really excited, because this world needs some more gooey, telekinetic fun in it.

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I’d once again like to thank Mr. Skipper for taking the time to speak to me about the film, as well as his other projects. The Mind’s Eye arrives on VOD, iTunes and a limited theatrical engagement on Aug. 5. That’s this Friday, so mark your calendars!

Beyond the Gates does not yet have an official release date, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if it arrived later this year. Carnage Park and Tales of Halloween are currently available on VOD. Dementia, another film starring Skipper, is currently streaming on Netflix. The above-mentioned Almost Human is, of course, out on Blu-ray and DVD. Long story short? You have no excuse to be skipping all of these films if you haven’t seen them yet.

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