One of my favorite films of 2010 was William Kaufman's Sinners & Saints, and even though it is only April, I already know that his new film Daylight’s End, an exciting thriller set in the post-apocalyptic world, will be on my list of favorite films at the end of this year. Both are low-budget but great-looking action films that star amazing actor Johnny Strong.
It was with great pleasure that I spoke with Johnny about Daylight’s End, independent filmmaking and his upcoming film projects.
Hugo Ozman: DAYLIGHT’S END is set in a world where humans become bloodthirsty creatures. What made you want to be in a post-apocalyptic thriller?
Johnny Strong: William Kaufman, the director, called me and pitched me the film. I'm always interested in working on projects with subject matter I haven't done, or explored yet. I've never done a "horror" type film; and when Kaufman explained it, my only concern was I wanted to play it serious. Like what would things be like if this really happened, and by watching the film, you can see the desolation that takes over. Life really changes under those circumstances. Also any chance I get to work on a William Kaufman film, I make the time to do so.
This is the second time you have collaborated with William Kaufman. How was your experience working on DAYLIGHT’S END different from that of SINNERS & SAINTS?
I received the script for Daylight's earlier in the process, so I was able to really contribute as a creative collaborator on the story and the characters with William and the writer Chad Law. Both were very open to my ideas. I was also able to add to Rourke's back story which plays out in the flash back sequences in the film. William was very open to my collaboration and allowed me to direct, shoot and edit the flashback sequences myself. I also designed the "Rourke" costume, built some of the pieces of it and hand made the custom knives that he carries in the film.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when making DAYLIGHT’S END?
There are so many obstacles when making an independent film. Especially when the filmmakers are attempting to make it look like a big budget film. One of the more mentionable challenges was the late-July, mid-August temps in Dallas, Texas. We shot a large portion of the film in the old Dallas PD building, where Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered. There was no air conditioning while filming there because the building was under renovation. The temps got in excess of 110 degrees, and it got really intense. But honestly, it’s movie making. So with the right mindset, it was all fun and enjoyable. It could definitely be worse - we could be getting shot at and looking for IEDs.
Since there are many more of those creatures out there, will there be another DAYLIGHT’S END film?
That's deceiving, if you are basing it on one of Rourke's last lines. Rourke's line at the end of the film, is more of a subtle redirection. He is actually trying to hide the realization that he has come to the end of his journey, from Sam, and himself. The last few years of his life have been so focused on one goal; and with his specific mission now being over, he doesn't want to admit his journey is over. He is realizing that the retribution he was in search of, can never be fulfilled, because what is eternally lost can never be returned. Although his Daylight's mission is over, it’s possible we could see Rourke return.
What was it like working with a screen legend like Lance Henriksen?
Amazing. Lance is a great guy. The two best parts were, the first meeting him and I had, we sat and talked about the set, and how it should change based on the character he was playing. It was so great to see that a guy like him, who's been around the block a few times, still care enough to really participate and get into the creative aspects of the film. He also has a shop, like I do, where he builds his art. So he and I really clicked on that side of the house.
Are there any actors that you really want to work with in the future?
I don't really look at my work in films in context of working with other actors. I'm a "living in the now" kind of human being, so I deal with things as they appear. There are so many interesting, talented individuals in this industry. I keep the option of enjoying working with any of them open.
It's been six years between DAYLIGHT’S END and SINNERS & SAINTS, which was your last feature film. What have you been up to in the past few years?
Most of my time consists of training, strength conditioning, martial arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA. Other than that, I make time to build custom knives, sculpt, write and develop future film projects. I've produced and recorded three albums since: The War of Art, Close to Extinction and Warhorse. But truly, most of my time is just spent living and enjoying life. I've always found it interesting that most people base their lives on working, rather than focus on actually just living. I make time to go hunting, hiking, climbing, etc...
You’ve had an interesting career path, going from playing in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and BLACK HAWK DOWN to making independent films with limited resources. Why have you chosen to do that?
My true desire is to be a part of the creative process, deeper than just "acting" in the films I work on. In the studio system, it was very difficult because there were so many opinions, from the executives on down and the actors end up being the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to creative decision making. It's a bit repressive, for someone like me who is really creative. The independent world is a different animal. Since there is less money involved, there is more passion on the creative side. So it is much more fulfilling as an artist to work in that type of environment. Fortunately, I've been able to work with a director like William, who is ultra-talented, and confident enough to allow me to collaborate with him, with the goal of making the best film we can make.
So will you go back to acting in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters?
Anything is possible, but the studio movie business is very political. I don't really find much enjoyment playing the political game. I'm also not the most desirable individual when it comes to studio films, because I'm opinionated and artistic - two things that tend to rub executives the wrong way.
In our last interview, you mentioned that you might one day direct. Have you got any plans to do that in the near future?
Yes, there is a project in the works that will be surfacing in the near future. I'm in no hurry to push it. When it happens, it will happen and be amazing.
Another thing you mentioned when we last spoke was that you can pilot a helicopter. Is that one of your hobbies and are you hoping to use the skill in one of your future films?
I don't have enough hours to solo pilot one yet. It’s possible, but I usually am asked to shoot from them, or jump out of them, in my films.
Many of our readers are big fans of SINNERS & SAINTS and have been asking about its sequel. Could you please share with us any news about SINNERS 2?
As of right now, things are moving forward with a standalone film based on the same character. William Kaufman and I are working with producer Marc Clebanoff on putting it together, slated to film later this year. The film will find Sean Riley on a "new mission".