Gavin Schmitt Interviews Actor Joel David More
Joel David Moore was kind enough to chat with me on October 15, 2014 regarding his role in the 2014 horror film Grace: The Possession (affiliate link), where he plays a deacon named Luke.
Moore is best known for portraying Owen Dittman in “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”, Dr. Norm Spellman in “Avatar”, Colin Fisher in “Bones”, JP in “Grandma’s Boy”, and Ben in “Hatchet”. Moore has occasionally also ventured into directing, and people will want to take notice of “Killing Winston Jones”, out in 2015, starring Richard Dreyfuss (among others).
GS: Apparently, people really identify with your character in “Grandma’s Boy”. How much ad libbing was involved to make that character yours?
JDM: I would be afraid of whoever is telling you they identify with my character in “Grandma’s Boy”, (affiliate link) because that dude is crazy. I had an incredible time doing that one. Nick Swardson is brilliant, he wrote the script and he was there most of the time. We actually did improv a lot, just messing around and finding things we thought would be the funniest to throw on camera. I owe a lot of that to Swardson just being able to create such a funny character in the script, but it was both of us who were able to branch out and find the funniest moments. And we did. When I’m on the wall, pretending I’m invisible, that’s just off the cuff. The entire thing was just made up on the spot. We had a lot of fun.
GS: You’ve worked with countless talented people, but what would you say was the best overall cast to be a part of?
JDM: I’ll answer that for both film and television. And for television, I have to do top two. One is “Bones”, and I worked with them for quite a while and couldn’t say enough wonderful stuff about all of them. We’re very good friends, and that journey is now wrapping up. But it was a successful procedural, and kept bringing audiences in, so they were doing something good.
The other cast is “Forever”, (affiliate link) the ABC show I’m on now, which you can see on Tuesdays, at 10pm, 9 central. The show is headed by Ioan Gruffudd and Alana De La Garza, so you can’t ask for better co-leads between the two of them. They’re absolutely fantastic and we all became such fast friends. We were almost a family by the time we were finishing the pilot episode. And then we went to New York for shooting, so we only knew each other. We didn’t have the people we knew in LA. Even the gaffers, key grips, sound guys we were used to weren’t with us. You’re dealing with a new set of people, so I think a certain level of intimacy came out of that. And we are just having a blast — we’re almost having too much fun. The creator basically told us to read the lines and then just basically make up whatever we want. I’m blessed to be part of such a cast, so I hope the show goes for a long time.
Oh, and then there’s movies. The best movie I ever did was “Grandma’s Boy”. (affiliate link) I’ve done a lot of great things in my career, like “Dodgeball”, but I was new at the time and had no idea what I was doing. Luckily I had a great man in Vince Vaughn to take me under his wing and show me the ropes. It was my first film — I hadn’t done anything before, and had to figure it out. But by “Grandma’s Boy” I was a few films in, and really able to spread my wings and find a character that was goofy, fun and ridiculous. We made something that was special. It tanked at the box office, but after that it exploded on DVD and went viral. People were sharing it all over the place, and it actually became a success in the long run because of DVD sales. So, that was probably the most fun.
But if we’re talking the most educational, now you’re talking “Avatar”. I was learning something new every day while walking on set. James Cameron is there before everybody, and he is the last one to leave at the end of the day. He’s the hardest working guy, and I was honored to do a film with him.
GS: I appreciate the thorough answer.
JDM: Well, it’s not very often you get to talk about casts and it’s not always the case you get along with them. So if I have time to mention some wonderful people, I will take that opportunity.
GS: Clearly you’re best known as an actor, but anyone who has seen “Spiral” knows you’re also a great director and writer. Will there be more of that in the future?
JDM: Yes. I’m actually in post-production right now for a film that will be out next year called “Killing Winston Jones”. I directed and executive produced that. It stars Richard Dreyfuss, Aly Michalka, Danny Masterson, Danny Glover, Jon Heder. An incredible cast of characters. It also has Lin Shaye, who also appeared in “Grace”, (affiliate link) as you know. It’s a wonderful movie, a dark, quirky comedy. I’ll be excited to talk to you next year when that premieres.
The other one I’m directing is for Sundial Pictures and called “Youth in Oregon”. That will be my junior director’s gig. It’s an incredible company, and I’ll begin shooting that once “Forever” wraps up for the year.
GS: The general public probably associates you with comedies, but in “Grace” there’s nothing funny at all. Is drama or comedy a harder thing to slide into?
JDM: Comedy is actually probably the harder one. Comedy requires a variety of skills and not everyone posseses them naturally, it’s something you have to learn. Drama is much more natural. People are dramatic and drawn to drama, maybe addicted to drama. It’s normal to get emotional or hot-headed and as an actor I can dig into those feelings. But there’s maybe not a universal funny bone gene. So I love comedy, but I also love stepping outside of that. My roles on television have been dramatic roles; I like the roles because it allows me to expand as an actor, but it also allows the audience to see something different from me.
In this business, you’re working non-stop, and my training comes from in front of a camera. Every movie I do, I get to learn something different. So these dramatic roles? I love them. They’re vulnerable, they’re interesting, and a lot of the roles on the drama side I’ll do are more vulnerable. They’ll have layers. And then, for “Grace”, (affiliate link) I’m working with Lin Shaye, who is amazing. And Alexia Fast — I couldn’t see anyone else in that role. She’s a phenomenal young actress. You’ll be seeing a lot from her in the future, and we’re already starting to. In fact, it’s interesting that she is in every shot of this movie even though you don’t always see her. She’s known as “that beautiful girl from Jack Reacher”, but she’s a lot more than that and she’ll be working a long time. She stepped right into that role, donned the technology — something she wasn’t trained to do — she wore that weird camera rig in front of her face and could only see through a two-dimensional screen in order to make out the world around her… that kind of instinct to just step in there and kick butt? That’s really awesome. I don’t know if it’s something that another actress — especially at her age — could have done, so hats off to her.
GS: You say that you learn new things on each set. According to director Jeff Chan, you also served as his teacher, helping him with advice, too.
JDM: Absolutely. Jeff didn’t say he wanted my input, although he knew I had done a bit of directing. But he did approach the whole thing collaboratively from all of us, and there were meetings where we would talk about issues that we were dealing with — sometimes technical, sometimes how to approach a scene emotionally. Jeff didn’t need a lot of help, he’s a fantastic filmmaker. He can now say he’s made the first fully-POV horror movie, which is something that makes a mark in the history of film. Jeff came in with a strong vision and didn’t need a lot of help on it. But one thing he does well, which will help him be successful in the future, is his willingness and desire to collaborate. We make a team, a little family, and go on an adventure for six weeks. It ended up working, and that’s why the film works.
GS: It really does work, and when the big reveal comes, it is just so clever.
JDM: It really is. And that’s why I’m excited for people to see it. The thing that happens, it plays really well, it brings all the emotions of all the characters into a fold, and then it crashes and explodes like fireworks. It’s fun, it’s like an hour and a half cinematic sexual encounter.
GS: What sort of research or soul-searching is involved in playing a deacon, assuming that it doesn’t come naturally?
JDM: The deacon was a very interesting role. What I ended up doing to prepare was just watching “The Exorcist” two or three times to just get into the feeling. And “The Exorcist” (affiliate link) was a great choice, because we were making an Exorcist-style movie. A young woman who was being possessed. What I found as to why “The Exorcist” has held up through time — it is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest horror film ever made — is because everybody cares. You follow the priests and see the anxiety and commitment they have to heal that young woman. So I took what I needed from that to make my own character. Luke, the deacon, is very vulnerable and there is that romantic side to him… is he or is he not a romantic interest, and viewers can make that decision for themselves. There is something there, though, and it’s interesting to see how he cares for Alexia’s character, Grace.
GS: Looks like we’re out of time…
JDM: Well, then, thanks, and tell everyone to tune in to “Forever” (affiliate link) on ABC!