Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Douglas Smith leads the cast of THE BYE BYE MAN, a horror film that will assuredly be making you sleep with the lights on. In the film, he plays introvert Elliot, a young man who’s just about to start a new life with his sweet girlfriend (Cressida Bonas) and best friend John (Lucien Laviscount) when they become terrorized by the titular malevolent, shadowy spirit.
At the film’s recent press day in Los Angeles, I spoke with the affable actor about everything from the most difficult part of his job, to the film’s stunts, to what homework Title sent him home to study.
Being that you are a prepared actor, did they ever try to really scare you on set? Like catch you off guard to capture a genuine reaction on film?
Not really a practical scare. Sometimes more of an emotional… to get more emotional stuff out of us. Doug Jones was there – not just when he was on camera. He was there whenever something weird was happening in the house. Like I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s just a shirt hanging. It’s not really him, but Stacy said she really wanted his energy to really infect the whole experience of being in that house. Rather than having him come down for the ten days that he was actually on camera, he came for the whole two week rehearsal process. He was there for the whole five-six weeks we shot the film. So when I was scared of something, it was him. I thought that was a great amount of foresight on the director’s part and coolness on his for being game.
Did you stay away from him when he was there?
No. When he was in makeup, he couldn’t speak because the way the makeup and prosthetic was, he couldn’t talk. In that situation, he sat there quietly. He goes into a meditative space. When they’d call for him, they’d put contacts on his eyes and he can’t really see either. When he was the creature, you just sorta stayed away from him because you don’t want to frustrate the guy when he can’t speak.
How do come out of these dark, emotionally-charged scenes?
It was exhausting. It was one of the things that drew me to it, as well. That’s a really big challenge as an actor. I love old movies where the character is losing his mind and has to keep it together. I welcomed the challenge. You just go home and take a shower and do it all again.
Were there things you had to do to get yourself to relax again after it was done?
I did a play – an off Broadway thing – where I shoot up a school and that you actually have to make it look realistic every night, because it’s a play. That was harder because you’re feeling the gun powder and seeing it happen with your own eye. But with film, the mood keeps getting interrupted. The hard thing was getting in it constantly.
How was working with someone as iconic as Faye Dunaway?
Yeah. She’s a true cameo, but it’s a cool thing to tell yourself, ‘Wow! I got to spend the day working with an icon.’
Like, tell me all of your stories…
I didn’t! I made it all about the work. I took a film class ten years ago and I had to write a paper on BONNIE AND CLYDE.
Tell me about Stacy as a director.
She’s very passionate and very, very smart.
Did she give you any kind of homework to do?
From the moment I got the part, the first thing was an email about different horror films to watch so we can start geeking out about that. We watched IT FOLLOWS, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE SHINING and EYES WITHOUT A FACE. Then we tried to get to Cleveland as early as possible so we could get to the house we filmed at. We were at the house while the art department was building sets. Inside the house, we were occupying different wings of the house, rehearsing, talking about character backstory. She viewed this more of a Greek tragedy than a horror film.
Was there enough time between you and the other actors to bond to make the character’s friendship seem authentic?
We really hit it off. We all come from different backgrounds; Cress comes from a posh London background. Lucien comes from a working-class, near Manchester background. I was raised primarily in Canada and went to high school in a suburb of Los Angeles. We all have one thing in common which is we all love theater and acting. Most of us are social butterflies. We watched movies, went out to the bowling alley in Cleveland. We definitely spent a good amount of time building the trust.
Was there a lot of stuntwork to do on your part? How’d you handle it?
There was a bit of tussle – me throwing Lucien. I think I rolled over my right shoulder. It was a little stage fight. At the time, he had an injured shoulder so I was worried about him. It wasn’t too intense. Now that I’m remembering, there was firearms. And there was a baseball bat – I crack him over the head with a baseball bat. There was the swapping of the right fake bat. But it’s still you gotta hit him in the right way.
What scares you in real life?
Sounds in the middle of the night. I’m a bit of a watchdog. I patrol. Most nights, I get up and I walk around with a baseball bat. I’m of the mindset that the Roman Empire folded when they started closing their doors – when they’d rather meet the trouble out in the fields than barricade themselves up. I still hold that philosophy. I don’t wanna be a sitting duck.
THE BYE BYE MAN opens on January 13.
Feature Photo: Douglas Smith in THE BYE BYE MAN. Courtesy of STX Entertainment.