David Hayter (US - )
Daniel talks to the writer/actor/voice actor about his feature-length directorial debut.
You might recognize his name from his numerous writing credits, particularly in the superhero genre that he helped launch with Bryan Singer via the first two X-Men films and returned to later with Zach Snyder's Watchmen. Perhaps you are more familiar with his voicework as Solid Snake in the popular Metal Gear video game franchise or his turn as Arsene Lupin III in Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro. Or you might just go back as far as I do and remember his turn as lead Sean Barker in 1996's Guyver: Dark Hero, the jam-packed-with-fun sequel to the 1994 original.
No matter how or why you know him, what is clear is that David is a jack of all trades and has managed to remain a constant in an ever-shifting industry. Writing, acting, voicework, etc. He's done it all. Except for directing. Oh wait, he's done that too!
Released in theaters last August and then again on VOD services in November (where this writer first caught it), Wolves is the directorial debut of writer/director David Hayter. What is Wolves? A coming-of-age, contemporary western. Oh, and it's filled with werewolves! Not the easiest sub-genre to tackle, but Hayter and his crew are up to the task. So is his rather impressive cast, who include the likes of Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class), Stephen McHattie (Pontypool), Merritt Patterson, John Pyper-Ferguson, and even a cameo appearance from his Metal Gear vocal co-star, Jennifer Hale.
I was lucky enough to get to do a phone interview with Mr. Hayter recently about his film. While not my first rodeo on the interviewing front, it was my first time doing one over the phone. Lucky for me, David was a delight to talk to and the resulting conversation lies below...
DVDActive.com: The werewolf genre is one of my favorites in general, but it always seems to be a rather tough nut to crack for most filmmakers. Many have tried, but few have succeeded in making a good film with the concept. I was just wondering how hard was it for you to nail it with Wolves?
David Hayter: Well you know, to a certain extent, that’s a matter of interpretation. You know, I think that some people think I nailed it and some people don’t, but that’s the nature of this particular creature. As you say, it’s got some inherent traps. Turning people into canine-type creatures is difficult on film. You know, it’s not like vampires where you just put some pale makeup on them and some teeth and you’re on your way. It’s a more involved process and I think the underlying metaphor of it is tough to express as well in a new way. We tried to do a number of things to make the creatures a little different from what had come before and to tell the story in a different way; more of an action-oriented coming-of-age way that hasn’t been done too often. So my relative success or failure will be judged by the audience, I’m sure.
DVDActive.com: I was just about to comment on the fact that you actually went for a coming-of-age contemporary western feel with it. I was kinda wondering if the story evolved into that as you went along or if that was your intention from the get-go.
Hayter: I sort of discovered that it was a western as we went. I wanted to make it feel like an American film, despite the fact that it’s a Canadian film and due to certain budget constraints it became necessary to narrow down the story to the journey of this young man who traveled across the country to a small town to find where he’s from. Once I settled on the farm as a location, it really played up this western feel. So at that point I just decided no technology, no cellphones…just cars, tractors, teeth, and blood.
DVDActive.com: It definitely feels like a throwback to an older time. Obviously it feels modern, but it could have been made a long time ago as well and I really liked that about it. It’s not going to date it on down the line and it just made it feel a little fresher than some of the other similar films I have seen over the years.
Hayter: Well thanks! You know I’ve always been so impressed with how timeless Jaws feels. It just feels like it could be set any time and so we really worked to keep that feeling. If you noticed, the cars in the film are from all different eras. Tollerman’s truck is from the ‘40s and we’ve got another truck from the ‘60s and that was very purposefully done to make sure that it felt like this was a timeless event.
DVDActive.com: You definitely succeeded. It felt like it also helped make it feel like the town and some of these characters have been around for a long time.
Hayter: Well, thank you. Again, I just wanted it to feel like it had a sense of history. That these people, these creatures, had been with us as long as we’ve had this mythology for hundreds and hundreds of years. I just wanted it to feel like it was woven into the back corners of society.
DVDActive.com: All too often I come across films, particularly horror films or even occasionally werewolf films, that are half or almost completely filled with actors ill-suited for their roles. That isn’t the case with Wolves at all. How did you manage to assemble such a wonderful core cast?
Hayter: Well, thank you for saying that! Part of it was luck. I was luckily enough that the agents for Lucas Till and Jason Momoa came to me and pursued those roles, which was an incredible stroke of good fortune. And then because I grew up and started my career in Toronto, I know many, many Toronto and Canadian actors. So I pulled so good people from my friends and I was very, very lucky that Stephen McHattie, who is such a legendary Canadian character actor, was interested in doing it. He had been in my film, Watchmen, and I just thought he was amazing as Hollis Mason, the older Nite Owl. There’s John Pyper-Ferguson is also an incredible Canadian character actor. Then I discovered Merritt Patterson, who I thought did a beautiful job up against some really top-notch actors, so it’s just careful casting and good luck here and there.
DVDActive.com: Definitely. I’ve really enjoyed Lucas Till in some other films, but I felt like he really stood out here. You gave him a really good role to showcase himself with and he seemed more than up to the challenge.
Hayter: I need somebody who was sort of on that bridge from being a teenager to being a man and we managed to get Lucas on board. He was around 21 years old and he was just at that moment in his life and he really stepped up and owned it. A lot of the film is about my younger years and my dealing with inner anger issues and rage and fury. He would ask me about that and what I had been going through as a young man and really brought a strong, well-rounded performance to it.
DVDActive.com: It definitely carried through. It also helps that he looks around the age that he’s supposed to be, instead of the old classic “35 year old playing an 18 year old”.
Hayter: We had some actors who were going up for it who were just already men. You know, back in the day when we thought we were going to make the film two years earlier, I talked to Taylor Kitsch, who is amazing and I love as an actor, but he’s already a man. There wasn’t as much of a threat to him there, whereas when Lucas is standing opposite Jason Momoa, who literally outweighs him by 100 pounds and it’s a pretty impressive match-up when they go toe-to-toe.
DVDActive.com: Yeah, it’s really no wonder that he’s been cast as barbarians in the past and I guess again with Aquaman coming up, he practically screams it in general. The man looks like he just stepped out of a Frank Frazetta painting and it definitely carried over here.
Hayter: Yeah, he’s a very imposing character and in person he’s 6’5” and was about 250 pounds of straight-up muscle in Wolves. Yeah, he’s an intimating character.
DVDActive.com: He’s extremely striking and in addition to his performance, there were the little details to the character as well. For instance, the permanent “wolf eyes”, the skull pipe, the bone throne…
Hayter: (laughs) Well, a lot of that was Jason, you know. I showed him how I wanted all the “wolf eyes” to be very beautiful in the way that wolves’ eyes are. I showed him the contacts for the full wolf transformation and he said, “Okay, well then I wanna wear that color contact lens even when I’m human.” Very few actors volunteer to do more contact lens work than they have to and he just jumped into it. He also needed to be older than he was by about five or six years, so he recommended the white streaks in his beard and his hair. The pipe he is smoking is an actual 18th century carved bone pipe that he owns and brought it. A lot of the wardrobe is his as well and it was all old vintage clothing, so he played a huge role in creating his look for the film and his character for the film.
DVDActive.com: I was just about to joke and ask if he brought the skull pipe and the bone throne from his trailer, but obviously he pretty much did.
Hayter: (laughs) He did! Yes, absolutely. And you know that crazy bowler hat that he wears? That’s his. He wears a coat made out of a bear that he probably killed and skinned himself with bare hands. All those things go to making an actor feel comfortable and feel like they are living their character though.
DVDActive.com: Just moving on to Stephen McHatte, I have a friend who sometimes calls him as “The Canadian Lance Henriksen”. I can see the comparison that my friend has, but Stephen definitely has a very different kind of intensity to his work and I feel like he can disappear into his roles a bit more than a lot of other characters actors both his age and a lot younger than him. I just love seeing him pop up in stuff, no matter what it is.
Hayter: They’re similar, but I think Stephen is a better actor. He’s just an incredible chameleon. He brings an enormous amount of gravitas and reality to everything he does. You know, he is much, much smaller in person Jason, and yet when they were standing toe-to-toe, I was like “Oh my god, this guy isn’t intimidated by anybody.” A lot of people are scared of Stephen on the set and he’s a very quiet, intense dude, but when you get to know him, he’s extremely nice.
DVDActive.com: Merrit Patterson stood out for me as well and I also really liked John Pyper-Ferguson’s character, Wild Joe. He’s not in the film much, but he leaves a large presence behind.
Hayter: Yeah, John is another one of those chameleon-like character actors who just disappears into a role and this one is obviously meant to be literally chewed up with your teeth and he did. He jumped in with both feet and made a meal out of that role. And Merritt, man, I love Merritt. You know, again, it was a hard situation for her. We needed to cast a young girl because Lucas is so young and it’s very hard to find an actress who is 21/22 years old who can act off of Stephen McHattie or Jason Momoa or even Lucas. I think she acquitted herself beautifully and, of course she is a very beautiful girl and a very capable actress.
DVDActive.com: There’s a maturity to her performance in the film that I think is lacking in a lot of other actresses her age and I was very impressed by that.
Hayter: You know, we worked on that. Her character is an orphan and she has to run this bar and her sister is totally irresponsible and she has to have a lot of responsibility. In the film, she acts as sort of a mentor to Lucas that, in a way, most female love interests don’t have to do. She was very aware that she had to be extra mature in part. In Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson asked Liv Tyler to lower her voice to give Arwyn more gravitas and so we did that as well with Merritt. I just asked her to pitch it down a little bit and that gives it a weight of experience that you might not otherwise have.
DVDActive.com: Another thing that impressed me was the fight scenes. A lot times nowadays, no matter what kind of film you are watching, everything is too shaky, too close, and there’s no geography to the sequence. You can’t tell what’s happening, you can’t tell who is hitting who, or just anything that’s going on. I love that you just pulled it back and just let it play out. It’s a rarity these days and I’m ever-thankful that you went that route.
Hayter: The fights were designed by myself and Brad Allen, who worked with Jackie Chan for many years, and Paul Rapovsky, our stunt coordinator. I made it clear in the very beginning that I didn’t want that shaky cam, handheld feel to it. I wanted to feel the old school geography to, exactly as you say, to know who is hitting who. I wanted to know what impact each strike, each bite, each slash had, and than also eliminate too many flips or martial arts moves. And to make sure this was a battle of wolf-hybrids who fight with their body weights, slashing moves, hard punches, and just brutal fight experience. I wanted to make sure we felt every move and the effect of every strike in there and Brad really stepped up to that challenge and delivered beautifully.
DVDActive.com: I think I might have seen a little bit of Guyver: Dark Hero in there.
Hayter: (laughs) Yeah, there are a couple of strikes in there. Again, Brad comes from the Hong Kong style of fight coordination and I worked very hard to eliminate the feeling of martials arts, but a lot of these guys are kung fu experts and so you still get a little bit of that feel. That’s okay though, I mean I feel like it’s a nice nod to my filmic history.
DVDActive.com: Even if you don’t use the martial arts moves, just them having that training brings a kind of fluidity to everything and it just looks better.
Hayter: Yeah, well there’s a definite beauty to kung fu, even if you’re not doing classic movies. There’s wide sweeping punches and rapid strikes; things that just come out of that training that look great on film.
DVDActive.com: The werewolf effects were great as well. You definitely landed a good team for that. A lot of films falter in that or make the mistake of going partially or all CGI and it just takes you out of the film when you hit those sequences. That wasn’t a problem here at all.
Hayter: Well, thanks. I wanted it to all be practical because I think that CG werewolves very rarely work and I love practical effects. I made sure that nobody had long snouts on their noses, that the ears were angled back instead of pointing up, and a lot of other things to avoid some of the traps that are inherent in this creature. We really put a huge amount of the budget into the wolves; a lot more than you normally would for a film of this size. I wanted them to feel like they were done in an A-list fashion and certainly Dave & Lou Elsey and their team delivered that.
DVDActive.com: It definitely paid off and I like how each of them are personalized to the actor, especially their hair.
Hayter: You know, we figured human beings have hair and that should be incorporated and woven into what they become when they’re wolves. And again, to keep them from just being generic monsters, it was important to make them feel like individual characters. Particularly when they’re werewolves, I mean that’s part of the point of the whole movie.
DVDActive.com: Absolutely and even when they’re not talking, you can still tell them apart. Momoa has his top knot, Till has his sandy hair, and even Merritt seemed to have a bit of highlights in her fur, which was fun.
Hayter: I had originally envisioned that character to turn all white. Because Merritt has dark hair, however, we sort of moved away from that, but those white highlights still remain. It’s just a process of evolution. Rapid evolution.
DVDActive.com: I’m understanding that you worked on this for 6 years from conception to release?
Hayter: Yes, that’s how long it took to get it up and running. I did other things in the meantime, but it takes a long time usually to raise the money for an independent film. Between 5 to 10 years is about average.
DVDActive.com: I’m sure it’s hard to keep the enthusiasm up, but you kind of have to with that to kind of see it through to the end and for it to turn out well.
Hayter: Yeah, well very often you get discouraged and you just say, “Well, let’s walk away”, and I’ve done that with movies where I feel like I shouldn’t have. Like Black Widow, for example. Here I just said I’m never going to walk away from a film like that again, I’m just going to see it through come hell or high water, so that’s what we did.
DVDActive.com: Well, I’m glad you did! It’s actually one of my favorite genre films from last year and I ended up watching it twice while it was on demand back. You caught yourself on the phone with a fan!
Hayter: Thank you, sir. You have exceptional taste!
DVDActive.com: Do you have anything else on the horizon that you’d like to talk about?
Hayter: Well, I can say…and I think this is an exclusive…I’m working on a movie about Paul Revere which is being produced by Johnny Depp for Disney right now.
Interviewer's note: This project was announced a few years back under the title Midnight Ride. With Hayter now on board, it seems to be alive and kicking again. Woohoo!
DVDActive.com: Really? Well, congratulations. Hopefully that goes through. I can’t wait to see it when it does!
Hayter: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. And then I’m attached to direct a horror/thriller film called Winter at the end of this year.
DVDActive.com: Is there anything you’d like to tell us about that? Or are you just keeping that close to the vest right now?
Hayter: Oh yeah, I can’t. There are some great twists and surprises in that and I don’t want to tip anything just yet. Plus it’s early days, so I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s a pretty cool script.
DVDActive.com: Is there anything else about Wolves that you’d like to touch upon before you go?
Hayter: I guess I’d just like to say that I hope people enjoy the movie and have a good time watching it, but also maybe find some bits of their own humanity in there that takes it beyond just your standard action film. I’d like to thank you for your support and DVD Active for their support!
DVDActive.com: Well, thank you! It was an absolute pleasure!
Hayter: (Solid Snake voice) Well, thank you! Be well!
David Hayter's Wolves is currently available for purchase and rental on both DVD and on demand.
Editorial by Daniel Baldwin
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