The actor muses on reprising the Jim Halsey role from the 1986 film
Horror films are rare in that they don't need big stars. In fact, not having a big star can work to the film's benefit because we aren't ever sure what will happen. What I mean is, if Tom Cruise is being chased by a killer with a machete, chances are Tom will find some way to not only survive but to come out on top.
This is where Zachary Knighton fits in.
As the character of Jim Halsey in the remake of the 1986 film The Hitcher, Knighton has the benefit of sharing the screen with Sophia Bush and Sean Bean in his first major role. It is this ability to identify with the fresh faced Knighton that should quite easily draw viewers into this movie.
From producer/director Michael Bay comes a remake of the 1986 terror classic. Dave Meyers is directing the new film, which tracks the terrifying cross-country trajectory of Grace (Sophia Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton), two traveling college students who are tormented by the mysterious hitchhiker John Ryder, a.k.a. The Hitcher (Sean Bean).
Tell us about the character of Jim Halsey in The Hitcher?
Zachary Knighton: Jim is a local boy from Texas, where we shot the movie, and he's different from the C. Thomas Howell Jim Halsey, being that he's not driving from New York to the West Coast transporting a car. He's a good ole boy, living in Texas, going to school, and kind of your All American dude, I guess.
I'm glad you brought up C. Thomas Howell because were you a fan of the first film? How much did you draw on the original Hitcher for your performance?
Zachary Knighton: The original Hitcher is one of my favorite movies. It was hard because I'd never done a character, or done any work that was a remake. I kinda just tried to put it as far out of my head as possible. I tried to be in the moment for what this movie was which was a different movie. It is a remake and the movie itself draws a lot from the original, but I tried to play a completely different character than C. Thomas did, and just tried to be in the moment for what was happening in this version of the movie. It is one my favorite movies, I love that movie.
Do you think being in the moment was the best way to play Jim Halsey considering what he's going through in the film?
Zachary Knighton: Yeah, for sure. I think it's the best way to play it, in the moment. Fear and that stuff, to me, is just something you have to really be vulnerable to, and really be in the moment for to play it right. Otherwise, I don't think people are going to buy it. With the dynamic of the girl and the guy in this movie, I think it definitely gave each of us a lot more to play off of. To be able to have each other going through this ordeal, rather than being alone, man vs. man or woman vs. man, I think it definitely helped things a lot. It helped the dynamic and it helped the movie.
What was the shoot like? Did you find doing a horror movie to be different than the other things you've done in your career?
Zachary Knighton: Yeah. First of all, I've never had a lead role in a movie this size. That in itself was scary and fearful. I've mostly done Broadway and Off Broadway plays, there aren't many thriller theater pieces, so it was definitely new to me. I've just done mainly dramas and comedies and sitcom work, stuff like that on television. It was a completely new realm of acting for me, which is awesome because it was challenging. Just having a lead role opposite Sophia and Sean Bean, it was a lot to have on your plate. It was just an incredible experience and a total challenge.
What was it like working with Sean Bean and Sophia Bush?
Zachary Knighton: Sophia and I got to rehearse for a good week or two before we even started the movie. That was great, just to develop a great relationship with her. We have a real brother/sister relationship, it was great working with her. We just have a great connection. And Sean, watching him and working with him was like being at school. He's a great actor and the way he works sort of gave me new insight on film acting in general. It was perfect. It was amazing to work with him. I'd do it again in a second. I can see why he works so much in general.
What do you think is the key to pulling off horror and suspense in a movie like The Hitcher?
Zachary Knighton: Well, that's a tough question, I kind of leave it up to the editors, and the people who are doing the soundtrack, and the director Dave Meyers because for me it was just trying to be true and in the moment to what the situation was. Whether you're being stalked through the desert by this maniac, or you're just locked up in a jail cell in the dark. That's the only thing I could do. It's sort of like doing theater, you just do what you do, you do it in the moment. With film you've got all these guys to spice it up for you. Ultimately, a good performance and good editing come together to make a good scare.
Do you think that because everyone has taken a long drive in their life, driving is so prevalent in our culture, that that's why movies like The Hitcher continue to be so popular? You always wonder about these people that you see as you're driving...?
Zachary Knighton: I think driving is the American way. It's part of the American mystique. The lure of the highway... I agree. I think that people are fascinated with movies like this, thrillers, for one because people love being scared, they love being put in a situation they would never be in. I also think that the whole driving aspect to the film, the road aspect, the highways, deserts, the classic car, all that ties into the great American mystique. I feel like it will probably be appealing to people.
What do you have coming up next?
Zachary Knighton: Well, a couple of tentative things. I'm just trying to see what options there are for me. I'd love to do a real good comedy, right now. I can't answer definitely because nothing is official. Lets just say I'm choosing between another horror film, this time it's more of a ghost story, and a really funny comedy. I think a lot of it depends on people seeing me in The Hitcher, and seeing what it is that I'm all about. I'm sort of the wild card, the unknown factor in all of this.
A lot of times that seems to work in your favor, because people see you that way, it adds to the whole fear of the film because people can maybe identify with you more. As opposed to actors that might be more recognizable.
Zachary Knighton: I hope that does get people more involved. I think that's why they cast me. I'm no pretty boy. I'm more of an everyman. I think that people can relate to me in that way. So, hopefully we're both right, right?
The Hitcher opens January 19 in theaters everywhere from Rogue Pictures.