Jeff Fahey’s career goes back over 30 years to a lengthy stint on One Life to Life. His movie career began with a bang, earning strong notices amid a crowded cast in Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado. He’s rarely been idle since them, with numerous projects both good and bad. Prominent roles include White Hunter, Black Heart, Wyatt Earp, Body Parts, The Lawnmower Man, Grindhouse and Lost. He returns to genre filmmaking with Beneath, available on VOD and this Friday in theaters. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about the project and the secret to long-term success.
Question: What made you interested in doing this movie?
Jeff Fahey: I got it from my manager, who told me they were interested in me. I wasn’t having it, at least at first. A horror movie wasn’t what I was interested in at the time. But my manager said, “just read the script.” I did, and I thought it was a really nice piece, with a lot more going on than I thought. There was a lot more psychological horror in this one than in most horror movies. You really got a chance to delve into the characters and their emotions, instead of just running around getting chased by monsters. I met with Ben Ketai, the director, and he really impressed me with what he wanted to do with this. So I was in!
Q: How hard is it to get into the mindset of these characters underground?
JF: Easier than you’d think. They shipped us in our own coal miner! He came and spoke to us at length, and it was really solid information. Then we got onto the sets, and believe me, they were the most claustrophobic spaces I’d ever been in. One of the dustiest too. My character has spent years in the mines and he has physical ailments from it. It wasn’t hard to find that place where these characters would be, and to inhabit it during the shoot.
Q: I’ll bet the shoot was on a tight schedule to.
JF: Very tight. It was a small film with a small budget. But you know, when the chemistry is right – with the right cast and the right people behind the camera – those are some of the most rewarding experiences you can have as an actor. You get to spend a lot of time together as a cast. There’s nowhere else to go on a small shoot, there’s no money for trailers or things like that. And if you get along the way we did, you do a lot of talking. That kind of camaraderie can be really powerful with a movie like this, where we’re all in tight quarters and have to bounce off against each other. You get that in theater too. I just got done doing a production of Twelve Angry Men in London, and the energy with this cast on Beneath felt very similar to that experience.
Q: Who’d you play in Twelve Angry Men?
JF: I was Juror #3. The Lee J. Cobb role.
Q: I love that movie!
JF: I did too. It was great doing it on stage.
Q: What kinds of differences do you find between stage acting and film acting?
JF: In terms of my job, there’s not a lot of difference. You need to show up ready to work, you need to do your homework and learn your lines, and you need to establish a good rapport with the people you’re working with. The stage can be gratifying because you’re taking the piece in a single gulp instead of being broken up like the movies. The rehearsal time is great too. You get four weeks of rehearsals in theater, and I can’t think of a single film I’ve heard of that gives its actors that much rehearsal time. But I love both kinds of acting, and I’ve been very lucky to have some success at both.
Q: Speaking of which, you’ve been successful at this game for a long time. Is there a magic bullet out there for making it as an actor?
JF: No magic bullet, brother. You look for good scripts, you look for good roles, you take each project one at a time. I think it helps to challenge yourself a little bit every time you go out there. Push your comfort zone, try something you haven’t tried before. If you do that and you’re really lucky to work with the right people, then you get some films that maybe audiences will remember. And if you get enough of those, if you prove yourself in different ways, then you can keep finding the parts that let you keep going. I’ve been very, very lucky in my career. I don’t look too far ahead, I take things one project at a time. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be working more and more with people who I enjoy and people who I respect.