An Interview with Rodney Gray – By Brian Morton

If you’re a regular reader of Rogue Cinema (and if you’re not, why the hell not?!?) then you might have noticed last month’s review of the new Shock-O-Rama movie, Skin Crawl. Now, while I liked the movie, I actually thought that one performance stood out above all the others, and I said so. Rodney Gray, who plays Demato, takes his part, which is largely without dialogue and imbues it with such life that no matter what else is going on, you’re eyes are just drawn to him. In fact, I’ve never seen a performance like this, Demato is a killer, but he’s not too bad a guy, he’s really just doing what he’s told and while Rodney’s playing it straight, you get the idea that if Demato were around nice people, he wouldn’t be that bad a guy…it’s that deep a performance and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in indie film. Well, it’s not that often that I find a performance that impressive, so I just had to look Rodney up to pick his brain about Skin Crawl, his time in the business and his documentary, A Tenant’s Action.

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 BM – How did you get started acting?

RG – I was working as a business manager for a non profit business in Philadelphia, PA in 1996, and I saw an ad for acting classes. I had always wanted to be an actor, and thought I should give it a shot. Well, the place giving acting classes was the oldest theater in the USA (Walnut Street Theatre), and a year and a half later I was on the main stage of that theatre in a 7 week run of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

BM – Do you prefer the stage or the screen and what are the differences in performing in both media?

RG – Working in live theater is probably the hardest job for any actor. You have to carry yourself for long periods of time in front of live audience and if something goes wrong in a scene, you have to fix it and stay in character the entire time. There’s not someone in front of you that is going to yell cut, if something goes wrong in the scene and give you the opportunity to try it again. Film acting also requires you to be in the moment, but film acting is more of subtle actions, what they say is true, less is more. Many times on stage the audience cannot zoom in on an actor’s face to see subtle actions, when the camera picks up everything. Like picking up an actor’s thought process on screen when they are not speaking, for example. I first watched LIVING IN OBLIVION years ago; a year after I saw that movie I was an extra in Steve Buscemi’s ANIMAL FACTORY. Then I started getting speaking roles in Comcast Commercials, then I started thinking, screen acting is for me.

BM – Was it hard going from Marine to actor?

RG – Not at all. Probably helped me.

BM – How do you feel that the Marines helped you when you got into acting?

RG – I would say the Marines helped me a lot with confidence. I feel that confidence allows me to not be self conscious in front of a camera.

BM – You’ve done your first documentary, A Tenant’s Action, could you tell us what it’s about?

RG – Basically, that short documentary was based on a situation I had gone through as a tenant being harassed and eventually illegally evicted by a slumlord in Philadelphia. I started the project on my landlord problem, but the project grew into exposing serious safety and fire code violations with residents in the City. I also covered some new pro tenant legislation that was introduced and approved in the City Hall of Philadelphia.

BM – Did you ever have any problem when filming A Tenant’s Action? Like threats from landlords or anything like that?

RG – The only trouble I ever had, was when Philadelphia City Hall gave me permission to put my cinematographer on a platform to cover a debate by city councilmen over landlord/tenant legislation; Mary Mason a radio DJ, bothered me and my camera person frequently and told us we weren’t allowed up there. She said that platform was only for networks and not for Temple University students doing documentaries (I was a Temple student at the time). Well, I didn’t budge and we got the shots we needed.

BM – Which do you prefer, being behind or in front of the camera?

RG – I love being in front of the camera the most. However, I also love sitting slightly behind the camera interviewing people for a documentary. Especially when the people I’m interviewing are being themselves and are coming across very naturally on camera.

BM – What are the challenges to being an actor in Texas?

RG – Big challenges, since I moved down here from Philadelphia almost 6 months ago. I’m originally from here, but I don’t know that many people in the business in this part of the country. I have never done any acting in this state and I’m currently in a full time MBA program and when I have time focusing my energy on expanding A TENANT’S ACTION into a full length feature.

BM – In Skin Crawl, you stole scenes (in my humble opinion) without saying a word. Is it harder acting with virtually no dialogue?

RG – Whether you are speaking or not saying a word; it’s all the same for me. I’m under the whole concept that less is more. I internalize the mood and the honest feeling of my character for that particular moment. So whether I’m talking or not saying anything; the feelings naturally come out on the surface. My two cents worth: Most of the time I hate "over the top," performance BS, whether it’s in a comedy, horror, or whatever type of movie. Some actors go over the top or are directed to use that method, because they think it makes their performance funnier or scarier. I believe most of the time, that approach makes them look phony.

BM – In 2002, you did 5 back to back movies with Debbie Rochon, tell us what Debbie is really like.

RG – Debbie is the type of actress that puts everything she has into her work.

BM – What kind of characters do you enjoy playing?

RG – I use to always like playing the crazy roles or the psychos and I still do, but nowadays I don’t care as much what the character is or what the genre is for that matter. I just like working with great scripts and great actors. I feel that story and acting are most important in the filmmaking process. If the story and/or the acting is bad, there will be some problems.

 BM – What kind of character would you refuse to play?

RG – I will never play a pedophile again. I played one in a Temple University student film about 7 years ago. Before I took that role, I had one requirement. That the mother of the child actor I would be working with, would be on the set beside the director during all shooting. Well, after this project was made there was a lot of controversy and some people said this project was very disturbing. Some professors at Temple U didn’t like it, but many students said this project was edited very well and they liked seeing it. Some said it was all for shock value. I found out later that Troma screened it at one of their Tromadance Film Festival’s in Park City, Utah. Although, the character I played in this role was very scary and quite disturbing, I am extremely sensitive about matters such as child abuse and child neglect. I hate to even hear about a child being mistreated in any way. I also have 2 nieces now, ages 2 & 6, and I even became more sensitive about this issue. I’m not judging anyone who has played this type of role, either. Kevin Bacon played one in SLEEPERS and THE WOODSMAN, but this is not for me. Not that I’m comparing myself to Kevin Bacon in any way.

BM – Dream job? What would it be?

RG – Playing a character like Hannibal Lecter, in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Another interesting type of character to play would be Patrick Bateman’s character in AMERICAN PSYCHO. I know I’m not a "leading man" type by any means. I never will be, but Christian Bale’s work in that movie was incredible. Actors are taught not to be self-conscious on camera, but what if the character you are playing is self conscious of everything. Bale pulled that one off very well. I would love to play a self-conscious type of character someday and I wouldn’t care about the type of genre. Another dream job would be to work in a movie that made a lot of money, won many awards, and had major distribution. Oh yes! 🙂

BM – Thanks for taking the time, and if you keep up the amazing work, I’m sure you’ll get there!

RG – Thank you.

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If you want to see Rodney (and he’s very talented, you really should) you can check him out as a scary clown in Willy Will or as the serial killer in Belial, as the obnoxious father in Robot Boy, his amazing role in Skin Crawl, or you can check out his documentary calledA Tenant’s Action, or, if all else fails you can always just become Rodney’s friend over at his MySpace Page. Any way you check him out, you really should. We here at Rogue Cinema will be keeping out eye on Rodney, he’s sure to become a big name and you can now join us in telling people, you met him here first!