Ever since his breakout role in 2004's Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Joel David Moore has been entertaining audience with his diverse array of talents that span several genres, from comedy (Grandma's Boy) to horror (Hatchet) to serious dramas (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt) to the biggest movie of all time (Avatar). He has even gone behind the camera to bring us the phenomenal indie Spiral, which he co-directed with Adam Green and he currently stars on the ABC drama series Forever. The actor goes back to his indie horror roots with the thriller Grace: The Possession, currently available on DVD and Digital HD, where he plays Luke, a young priest who helps the title character (Alexia Fast) with her "demons," literally.
I recently had the chance to speak with Joel David Moore about Grace: The Possession, the unique first-person/POV perspective the film was shot in, future projects and much more. Take a look at our conversation below.
I recently spoke with (director) Jeff Chan, and he talked about how much he appreciated collaborating with you, as a fellow director, on the set. Can you talk about forming that relationship with Jeff, and what you first thought of the script?
Joel David Moore: First of all, Jeff doesn't need a lot of help. He is a very, very talented guy, and what's great about him is that he is open to collaboration. It was helpful because of the fact that we were very open to create and if we had questions or concerns along the way, we would come together and try to figure out how to make the best possible version of whatever it was that we were working on. That's always important in filmmaking, and especially in progressive or experimental filmmaking, the way that Grace was shot. It was even more important, because you're going to have times where you're stuck. Even the biggest movies I've done, we get stuck because of technology, and you're catching up with what's going on, and a lot of the time, you don't have everything that you need. In a normal film, you're going to have everything you need, because they've been doing this for a long time. We're rigging a camera to a hockey helmet, and there's a lot going on, on the experimental side of things. Having somebody like Jeff to run that entire thing, was really important. The reason why I really loved this film, one, was because of the script, so I'm glad you asked about the script. The script was fabulous. The script allowed for an actor or a reader to really understand what they were going for, what the POV-type feel was going to be. It brought you in as an audience, just reading it, to realize, 'Oh, I'm going to go on a journey, where a young woman is going to be possessed, and she's going to go through the fear and anxiety of being possessed, and that's going to work up to a full-on possession and an exorcism. That is cool. That is the first time in history that this has been done from the POV perspective. That's why I'm interested in projects like this. That's why I'm a sucker for any type of experimental filmmaking. I always want to go back to my roots, and be a part of projects like this.
I was curious about how something like this was written. It sounds like it was very clear that you were following her journey, so was the format of the actual script a lot different than anything else you've seen?
Joel David Moore: It was. Well, the format, like the Final Draft format was the same, it looked the same, but the structure was very different. The biggest difference was everything was "We." "We pan across the room," or "We walked across the room," because it was really the audience that was feeling whatever it is. It's following the possession, and that's what I think is really cool about this movie. At the same time you're feeling all the emotions that Alexia (Fast)'s character Grace is going through, you're actually following the story line of the possession itself, the actual spirit that possesses her. That's what's cool. It shows that at the beginning, now this isn't a spoiler, but you can see the possession floating and coming into her body, like you see in the trailer. How fun is that for an audience? You sit there, have some popcorn, with some soda at your side, a bunch of other people, in a very safe, dimly-lit room, and yet every horror movie we go to, we're scared by, because we're caught up in the imagination of what's going on. What Jeff decided to do was to take that to the next level, and not only are you going to get caught up in the scares and the supernatural elements, but he's going to put you IN the lens of the person who is going through all of this. That's unique.
There are some scenes where Grace is getting pretty close to you, and that must be awkward for you, with this camera coming into your face. Was that a weird experience to wrap your head around?
Joel David Moore: It was, actually. That specific scene, to give you a little tidbit, was actually hard to shoot, because we had to figure out... you're not only dealing with a camera rig on her face, you're also dealing with how far do you have to stand back to even make this look cinematic? Do you put a new lens on it? Do you zoom in? There's a lot of technical aspects that go into something like that, when you're going in for a kiss to an actual camera. That's a funny thing to say, and I think in 14 years of doing this, I've ever said that before (Laughs). But, in 14 years of doing this, I've never done a film like this either, because us actors are trained to not look at the camera, and you have to in this entire film. It took a little bit of getting used to, having to look into the lens the entire time. Some of the interesting stuff, Brian, was actually when Alexia wasn't doing... she had a body double/stunt double/camera operator, and it was obviously a female so you could see her hands and everything. Alexia is such an incredible actor, she was there the entire time, shadowing whatever the move was, so, as an actor, I could still feel the emotion and get the acting side, instead of having like a script supervisor or producer read the lines. I had the character right there. The funny part about that is, sometimes you want to actually look over at the character (Laughs). We needed a few takes to get into things.
Can you talk about how long you actually had to shoot this? The director was talking about how technically challenging this was, especially with the mirror sequences, but it didn't seem like you had a whole lot of time to pull this off either.
Joel David Moore: We didn't. A good director is also a good First A.D. as well, and by that I mean, a good scheduler. You can be as visual and as artistic as you want, and you can woo an audience and even the actors into how amazing the visuals are going to be in this film, but if you don't stay on schedule, you can't get those visuals. So, Jeff plays a good hand at doing both at the same time, and you need that, especially in something that has a smaller budget and a very progressive shooting schedule. We did this in a month and a half. This is a film that should have probably taken double that time. But, also, in doing that, and in everybody knowing, 'Hey, we only have this amount of time to be able to do this,' it becomes a team. We were already a family. I've worked with Alan Dale before. He's an incredible actor. I've worked with Lin Shaye, who I actually cast in one of my films, a feature that I directed, so we kind of showed up knowing each other. Alexia, there was a fast friendship there because she's about the sweetest person you can find, and she's so incredibly talented. I couldn't see anybody else in that role.
Jeff said that he actually talked to an exorcist. He didn't mention if he was on the set or not, but did you talk to any priests? Especially when we get to the end, with the technical aspects of what needs to be said?
Joel David Moore: You know, I'm a big horror film fan. I love them, I love getting scared, I love even the ridiculousness about that, the fact that we do get scared from this fake imaginary thing on screen that is edited together, and there's tomato juice for blood, depending on the era you're in, but I love that we all fall for that. I actually went back and watched one movie a few times, and that was The Exorcist. That was really the one I wanted to focus in on. I think what The Exorcist dealt with so well, and why it's still arguably one of the best horror films of all time, and one of the better films of all time, is how it treats your priests. The fact that you're getting into their minds, and their frustrations, about wanting to save this little girl, that's as important a story in The Exorcist as the girl is. I mirrored a lot of emotional qualities of these great actors from The Exorcist. I took those, and I borrowed what I needed to borrow, and I brought it to this role, and the vulnerability. I think their passion for her in that role, I had that same passion for Alexia in this role, and I was able to be confused, as far as being her priest and maybe being a romantic interest. I think that's what really struck me about that character.
You mentioned another feature that you directed. Can you talk more about that?
Joel David Moore: I directed a feature called Killing Winston Jones, with Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Glover, Danny Masterson, Jon Heder, Alyson Michalka an amazing cast, Joely Fisher and the incredible Tyler Labine. His new show on Hulu is wonderful, and he's just an incredible actor. So it's a great cast of characters. Lin Shaye is playing Richard Dreyfuss' wife, and I couldn't actually see anybody else doing this, because this character is a mute. So, Lin has to create this very important character that has this entire story line, without saying a word the entire time. That's pretty fascinating, and Lin is such a class act. She shows up to every role with such fervor and passions for every role she's playing.
Are you in post-production on that?
Joel David Moore: Yeah, we're in post, and that will be out next year. I signed on to do another film called Youth in Oregon, for Sundial Pictures. They're an incredible company. They've been to Sundance for the last five years and have had a bunch of theatrical releases, most recently, Obvious Child. If you haven't seen that, it's a great film. Have you seen that, Brian?
That's on my list, my catch-up list.
Joel David Moore: Good, I like to put you on the spot (Laughs). So, they're great filmmakers as a production company, so I'm excited to get into this space, which is personal for me, because it's about my hometown, Portland, Oregon. It's about the whole Kevorkian law, and assisted suicide, and that's something that's close to my heart, because when I was growing up, my parents were voting on those laws, and that's something I was very involved with as a kid, not politically, but emotionally, and I think we tell a very beautiful story, which is based on a true story, that the writer wrote about his grandfather, an 80-year-old man who decides he's a burden on his family and he wants to go back to Oregon, where he was born and raised, and die. He can do that, because of his eligibility. It's a beautiful journey, and I'm really excited to get behind the camera again and start that up.
On the directing side, are you looking to get back into the horror genre at all, possibly something like Spiral? Do you have any scripts you're working on?
Joel David Moore: I'm actually working with an incredible writer, Ronnie Christensen, right now, who has written a lot of things. He and I are working on a cool contained horror-thriller, that will probably be done early next year, and we'll be taking it out to get made. I don't know if I'll have time to direct it, but I will be a part of the production and producing the film and make sure it has whatever vision we wrote it with. So, yes, the answer is yes, and I'm always looking for things to do with (Spiral co-director) Adam Green. He's one of my best friends and we've collaborated on six or seven things at this point. We'll continue to move forward and do some more stuff together.
That's my time. Thanks so much, Joel.
Joel David Moore: Thank you, man. It was good to talk to you again. I always appreciate your support from Spiral. I really appreciate that. We should do this more.