If you’re a horror fan, then you probably don’t require an introduction to Mr. AJ Bowen. He’s graced our screens in The Sacrament, You’re Next, The House of the Devil, A Horrible Way to Die, Rites of Spring, Hatchet II… we could keep going here, but your time is better spent reading this interview. Mr. Bowen is exactly the humble, hard working actor/writer/director/craft services guy that you thought he was. AJ can be seen in Jacob Gentry’s newest film Synchronicity out January 22 in theaters and on VOD.
You are really proud of being in this film, which you should be. You’ve worked with Mr. Gentry in the past a few times, but what really drew you to this project?
Well, that’s it to be perfectly honest. Jacob and I, the reason we work together, and by extension everyone on this crew and on The Signal crew, is we’re the reason we get to make movies in the first place. We grew up together and we grew up watching movies and loving movies. We started trying to make them together as we were growing up. Looking on the shy side of 40, we’ve been friends for 20+ years. So, for over half of our lives and almost all of that, our common language was movies. So, he called me and said that he had a new script, which is funny because we’re friends and we live less than a mile from each other in LA and usually end up on each other’s porch. He called me and said, hey I’ve got this script and would you like to read it. I thought that he wanted me to read it for notes. As an actor, when someone asks you to take a look at a script, I never ask if there’s a part for me in it because I have a writer’s brain anyway. So, I think I’m reading a script to give someone notes or to tell them what I think about it and the second that it got to a character named Chuck, and he was talking to a guy named Matty, I knew immediately that he wanted me to play Chuck and Scott to play Matty. Scott (Poythress) is Matthew Scott Poythress, Matty is short for Scott. My full name is Alfred Charles Bowen Junior. Charles being my middle name. Chuck and Matty/Scott and AJ. Got it.
It had been a few years since we had worked together. We see each other five days a week, we’re family, but we all made a movie together so we could go off and make movies, but that didn’t necessarily translate to us continuing to make movies together. The whole film industry changed. VOD, which I think is a beautiful thing, showed up and just sort of changed the way independent films survive and make them and there’s a career building that doesn’t really happen in the same way that it used to. We were thinking about that and Jacob wanted to go off and make another low budget movie and retain creative control and not have anyone tell him he can’t cast somebody or tell him what he can and can’t do. It’s only limited by our resources, our skill set, our talent level or our sensibilities. So, when I heard about it, all I’m asking is when am I getting on a plane for Atlanta? Honestly, the short version of the long winded answer I just gave you is, to get back to basics, working with my family. Get ambitious again on high concepts, sort of lo-fi, you know?
You guys seem to really excel at that. Between this and The Signal, they’re both similar, but they’re definitely their own, individual movies. I don’t know that a non-family function could have brought them both together so seamlessly.
I don’t think that it would have been possible. Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to make a few movies at this point and I’m luckier than most because I get to make movies with people I consider friends and family and I’ve had very few experiences where I didn’t know the people when I went in to make something. And typically, that’s not the norm. Typically, you start making a movie with new people and you try to figure out how to communicate and, if you’re lucky, at the end of the shoot, you’re ready to go back in and shoot the thing proper. With us, it’s a pretty different experience because there’s none of this getting to know you shit. We’ve been there for each other with high school sweetheart level stuff, having your heart broken having your first kid, getting divorced, getting married, having family die, we’ve been through all of that on a personal level together and we’ve also been creatively conspiring for so long, that we have such a short hand, that we start in a place of being able to be really honest about stuff and not having to bullshit each other. We also understand what each other wants. With Jacob, I’m the actor guy and same with Scott. We already understand the way that he writes, which is really beneficial because a lot of times you don’t. Like, it took me a hot minute to figure out how Simon Barrett writes. I didn’t understand it at first and that’s pretty common because everybody has their own voice when it comes to writing. Jacob, I’ve always understood because I was there when he was developing it and same with Scott. We know exactly what he wants and we know how gifted he is technically, so we know that we can get the ambition of the project. As to weather or not people dig it, that’s totally cool. I hope people do, but if we got what we wanted, then for better or worse, if it’s not your thing, no big deal. If we got what we were trying to do, then we’re really happy with it. Such is the case with Synchronicity. We’re happy with what we were able to get for the resources that we had and the amount of time that we had trying to blend some things that we wanted to do. Trying to blend a sci-fi movie with a noir film, trying to make a movie from the perspective of filmmakers in 1982, making a movie of what they think the future might look like, but making that in the present. It’s a little bit of a head scratcher to try and make a movie where we have both the past and the future and the only thing missing is the present, which is a little daunting, but we had a lot of charts for that. I’m not even kidding. We had lots of charts and graphs to be able to refer to. “O.K., in this one Jim’s wearing a vest, in this one Jim’s not wearing a vest. Chuck’s suspenders are up with a blazer, no blazer/suspenders down.” I had the same thing happen on a movie called A Horrible Way to Die. Sometimes, we would have to refer to my facial hair as it changed over the course of the movie. Because we’d be like, “I don’t remember what part I’m in right now. Is it ok to cut my hair yet?”
So, your level of awfulness was based on your facial hair basically.
Yeah, more or less.
I loved that film, by the way.
Thank you so much.
You guys hit the nail on the head. I feel like, if a noir film and an 80’s sci-fi movie had a baby, it’s Synchronicity and it all just came together really perfectly.
That’s awesome, thank you.
You said something about writing and you do have actor, writer and producer on your resume. Is there one that you want to explore further or one that you prefer?
You know, it’s sort of like, honestly, it sounds pretentious, but it’s something I have to think about. An actor will always tell you, don’t subjugate me, i’m more than that. Just like, when I was younger, I hated the term artist, but now that I’m pretty much 40, I’m like, no, there’s value in that. I’m comfortable with that. I’ve reached an age where I’m allowed to be a little pretentious I guess. I care less about what labels people are going to have, but I think it goes back to the idea of, like, I can give you my opinion on what type of movie any of the movies I’ve been in are, I could define some things based on me, but this other part that happens when people watch the movie, it would be a disservice to that really fundamental process. I really, really think that an audience watching a movie and what they take away from it is, ultimately, the most important element of films and that it is the thing. For example, this movie I did called The Sacrament, we knew people were going to call it found footage and we didn’t personally think that it was, but we had a lot of conversations about that and how to approach that topic and ultimately decided, you know what? It is whatever the specific person who watched it thinks it is because it has to be personalized for them and, in a selfish way, I guess I am whatever somebody is familiar with the stuff that I do for a modest living. Whatever they think of first, that’s the thing. I’ve always been a writer. I was a writer before I was an actor. The next movie that we have coming out, I wrote that and acted in, Jacob directed it and Scott acted in with me as well. We finally finished that movie and that’s a super, super indie movie and, again, it’s another sci-fi movie and we’ve started submitting to festivals, we’re waiting to hear back on that and that’ just sort of the next thing. Alright, if we’re not going to make, necessarily, money, we’ll keep the overhead low enough so we can have creative freedom so we can make a movie that, ostensibly, has 6 cast and crew working on it. It’s a little tricky to be like, nobody is just an actor or just a director or just a sound guy because we all have to haul cable and drive picture car and we all have to do catering. I was the crew cook for that movie. We wear a lot of hats, so whatever hat is recognized the most and that’s the thing I have to be called, I’m fine with that.
No, you’re awesome.
You recently tweeted something very amusing about the fact that you wanted to do more movies like The Family Stone. You definitely have a horror crowd following at this point because of all of the things you’ve done with Simon Barrett and Ti West. So, do you feel like you want to pull away from horror for a little bit, or in general, or were you just being really sassy that evening?
I’m the worst at Twitter. I’ll tweet something and I get very concerned that I might have made somebody feel isolated or think I was an asshole or say something mean, so I have very few tweets that survive the cut of the following day. But, I am one of those lucky people that my favorite thing growing up was horror. I wasn’t one of these people that wanted to make Dances With Wolves and then had to do horror. It’s my first love and it will always be my first love. That being said, I looked up and realized I hadn’t made a horror movie in four years. You start to get a little creatively stagnant. The other thing that happens, and I mean this in the best way possible, if you’re a genre actor, you tend to work with a lot of first time writers or directors. A lot of times, you believe in their vision or you believe in their script and the best way you can advocate for them is to work for them and hopefully that movie does well. And if you do your job well as an actor, that movie gets critically well received or some people watch it, then what happens is those filmmakers get to move on and do bigger movies which require them to hire actors of financial value. So, basically, you try to shepherd people’s careers and as you get older, you watch them go off that. So, I reached a point where all of my friends are making movies that are really big right now. Also, I had felt really fortunate to be involved with some of these genre movies that I thought were articulate and well-made and were complex and that said some things that I found personally interesting and I kind of reached the point where I was like, I’m really lucky and I’m not just going to go off and make a horror movie to make a horror movie. In my mind, if The Sacrament is the last horror film I make, I’m comfortable with that because I thought it was the best movie that I had gotten to work on up to that point and things also just sort of started changing. I became friends with someone who was making a noir, I made a western, I made an Emily Huggings movie, I made a family comedy and I just started doing things that seemed interesting to me at the time; that sort of creative freedom that you have when you’re not bound to a really high budget or have to do somebody else’s stuff, so Synchronicity is a sci-fi movie and our new movie coming out called Night Sky is a sci-fi/thriller, sort of like a sci-fi road picture had a baby with No Country For Old Men and that baby watched Starman.
Whaattt?? That’s crazy.
Haha, that’s the one that we wrote and just shot. Jacob directed with Scott and myself. What comes after that? I’m not sure. I got sent a script from a long time friend who I’m a fan of, but I’ve never worked with. He’s been making wonderful genre films for three years and he’s producing a genre film, I liked the script and if things work out, I’ll be doing that. It will be my first horror film in four years. I’m still hoping to make my Family Stone movie someday.
Well, I look forward to it. I really appreciate you taking the time and I’ve really enjoyed watching your career. I think you’ve set a great standard for how it can be done independently.
Thank you so much. That’s more my talented fiends than me.
I don’t know. I mean, you seem to be in all of these groups of talented friends, so you’re going to have to take some of the responsibility.
That’s because I’m cheap. I work for sandwiches.