Exclusive Interview: 'Stake Land' Actor and Co-Writer Nick Damici on the Vampire Apocalypse
Critically acclaimed vampire-apocalypse horror-thriller Stake Land came out on DVD, Blu-ray, and two-disc special edition DVD on Tuesday. The film is set after a vampiric scourge has swept the nation, turning bloodsuckers against human and even human against human; it follows a young boy (played by Connor Paolo) who joins a mysterious traveller known only as Mister (played by Nick Damici) heading to New Eden. Enter here for your chance to win one of five copies of the special-edition DVD of the movie, and read below Revolver's recent chat with actor--and co-writer--Damici.
REVOLVER What was the initial inspiration for the Stake Land script? What was your biggest goal for the script?
NICK DAMICI [Co-writer] Jim Mickle and I wanted to make a movie. That's it. Nobody was giving us the money so we brainstormed and decided we could try a web series, something we could do cheap and on weekends. We came up with [the characters] Mister and Martin, basically a man teaching a boy how to kill vampires. Each webisode would be a different type of vampire. We wrote about 40 eight-minute scripts and brought them to [director] Larry Fessenden who loved the idea but thought it would be better as a movie. He brought the funding to us and we turned those webisodes into Stake Land, mostly by condensing and creating the apocalyptic world. My biggest goal was to take a very overused and cliché-ridden concept and bring it back to where we felt a vampire-apocalypse movie worked best. Dirty, gritty, and definitely not pretty.
How did you and Jim go about working together on the script? What did each of you bring to it, in particular?
Jim and I have been doing this for about 10 years now together so we've developed a pretty organic system of working together. We brainstorm. I do most of the hands-on writing and then Jim pulls it into place. We do that over and over until we feel it’s right. Jim brings himself, his comparative youth--to me, that is--and his artful cinematic eye and intelligence and unwavering sense of truth. I bring my balls and my hack writing skills, spit it out with passion, and let Jim do the rest.
Did you always plan to play the character of Mister?
Yep. And I've taken some critical flack for writing myself starring roles in movies that I write. I'm fine with that. It's either play bit parts on tired television show as cops or hoods or pick up the pen and write something I want to do. I've been lucky enough to pull it off a couple of times.
Tell us about Mister.
His name says it all. He's an enigma. We don't know where he comes from or who he is. His character is developed by his actions…period. I based him essentially on John Wayne's character, Ethan, from [the John Ford-directed Western] The Searchers. Love him or hate him, you want him on your side when the shit hits the fan.
What did you relate to the most in your character? What did you relate to the least?
His sense of hatred most, but also his sense of hatred least. That's what makes him an enigma.
In the beginning of the movie, there's pretty gruesome scene involving a vampire in the rafter and a baby. Tell us about how that scene came to be and what it was like filming it.
That was the opening scene in the webisodes. We didn't want Martin to become sympathetic and just a victim. By demonstrating a willingness to kill off his whole family in front of him and to have him basically be helpless. Nailing that in by killing a baby seemed effective. Nothing is sacred and anyone who isn't strong enough or is unlucky enough becomes fodder. You know right off the bat you are not in Kansas anymore.
What was the most fun scene for you to film?
There's a bit where Connor and I are in the trunk of the car all snuggled up close. It's a dramatic moment, but when I looked down at him and lit the lighter, he was all smirks and cutey pie and it just busted me up. I still laugh about it. He's a terrific person and the most fun I had was working with him.
What was the most challenging scene?
Opening the barn scene, Jim Mickle had cold water pour down the crack of my leather pants for an hour. Mister was not a happy cowboy.
What was the craziest thing to happen on set?
Danielle Harris, in the scene where I pick her up, she was so good, and when I looked down at her and her eyes all misty, it brought tears to my eyes, too. It was unexpected but somehow delightful to discover that Mister--and I--had that in me. I don't think I ever thanked her for it so I will now. Thank you, Danielle.
When you saw the finished film, what surprised you most about it?
That after writing it and filming it and living it for almost two years and being so inside of it, the film grabbed me and held on. I found myself along for the ride with these characters in this world.
What are you most proud of about the film?
I don't know if proud is the right word, but I feel good that all these people it takes to make a movie came together and got it done. I guess a little proud that Jim and I came up with an idea that moved people to action.
Finally, Revolver is a hard-rock and metal magazine. Are you a fan of that kind of music at all?
Well, I'm over 50 so I'm an [doo-wop band] Ink Spots kinda guy… I guess the closest I get to hard rock or metal is Queen. Van Halen, Def Leppard…. Does Elvis count?