PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND Interview: Bill Moseley on Crafting Another Memorable Antagonist
Bill Moseley first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in Boston, Massachusetts, as part of a double feature with Enter the Dragon.
After watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre he “became afraid of rural America," revealed the actor in the documentary It Runs in the Family. Then, surely, Moseley didn’t imagine that in the next decade he would be an integral part of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the only sequel in the endless franchise directed by Tobe Hooper.
Without being a native of the rural South -- in fact, he was born in Connecticut, New England -- Moseley has embodied iconic characters precisely from this area. They’re classic antagonists who have committed some of the most "horrific and bizarre crimes in American history."
Moseley made and appeared in the amateur comedic short The Texas Chainsaw Manicure, a copy of which eventually found its way into Hooper's hands, who told the actor: “If I ever do a sequel I’ll keep you in mind.” When it came time to follow up on the film that changed horror, Hooper kept his word. Moseley, in his first major role, gave life to Chop-Top, a new member of the family, a madman unable to stop thinking about Vietnam. He has a metal plate on his head, visible when his brother Leatherface accidentally grazes him with the chainsaw.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 has a deliberately farcical approach, with a script by L.M. Kit Carson (Breathless, Paris, Texas) and a glorious Denis Hopper with chainsaws and a desire for revenge. Although this film was misunderstood in its time, today it’s genuinely a cult one. If Chop-Top hasn’t reappeared in the franchise, it’s due to a rights issue.
Moseley returned to the franchise in Texas Chainsaw 3D, but in the role of Drayton Sawyer, the older brother in the original film, because this production ignored the rest of the sequels. It’s a brief participation that doesn’t go beyond the violent opening sequence when a group of Texans decide to ignore the law and destroy the family.
Moseley's cameo in Texas Chainsaw 3D came when the actor had already conquered a whole new generation of horror aficionados. Evidently influenced by Hooper, musician Rob Zombie made his film debut with House of 1000 Corpses, featuring another crazy southern family and a story that begins in the late 1970s.
Here Moseley is Otis, one of the main brothers, who is a combination of Charles Manson, Tex Watson – in the superior second part, The Devil's Rejects, the dialogue “I'm the devil and I'm here to do the devil's work” is a clear reference – and Leatherface himself: he often uses the face of his victims as a mask. Zombie completed the trilogy about the Firefly Family in 2019, with the release of 3 from Hell.
Under the direction of the brilliant and chameleonic Japanese filmmaker Sono Sion, Moseley has built another villain to remember. In Prisoners of the Ghostland, Sono's English-language debut, Moseley plays the Governor, who controls Samurai Town, a place where the East blends with the West, samurais with cowboys, the modern with the ancient.
At the beginning of the film, the man with no name (Nicolas Cage giving another insanely fun performance) is a prisoner in said town. The supposed granddaughter of the Governor, Bernice (Sofia Boutella), escaped from there and if Cage’s character wants to be free again, he’ll have to find her and bring her back.
Not only this, referring to Escape from New York, the Governor gives him a very particular suit with explosives, which will destroy the protagonist if he hurts Bernice or doesn’t fulfill the mission on time. In an absolutely insane film – with a criminal destined to redeem himself (Cage); the Governor's samurai heavy, Yasujiro (Sakaguchi Tak); the ghosts of a nuclear incident and an extravagant and marginalized tribe – the Governor stands as the true antagonist.
I chatted with Moseley about this character and his experience filming in Japan with Sono and Cage… there was also time to remember the beloved Otis.
ScreenAnarchy: How did this collaboration with Sono Sion came to be?
Bill Moseley: The first movie I saw of his was Tag and that just blew me away. I was friends with Reza Sixo Safai, who was the co-writer of the screenplay and one of the producers of Prisoners of the Ghostland, we started to talk about the movie, he mentioned Sion and I knew Tag. So I started looking at his movies like Suicide Club, which was amazing, Antiporno, Why Don’t You Play In Hell?… my favorite was Cold Fish, I thought that was amazing.
I’m a big fan of “Asian Extreme”, I Saw the Devil and the Miike (Takashi) movies, so I was very excited just to see new stuff. I was overjoyed when I got the part of the Governor.
How was your approach to this character?
Every morning I walked up and down the shores of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. I would walk up and down pounding those Governor lines, because as the Governor I had to explain the intricacies of Nic’s suit. In the pounding of the lines, the voice of the Governor started to come to me.
When I did the wardrobe sitting, once I had the hat on I was pretty close to the character, but then they gave me the red gloves and I realized that I was the embodiment of all that’s wrong in capitalism: with the white suit but then the blood on my hands. Once I understood that, the voice came in because I was full of bluster, larger-than-life, yet very trippy and evil.
Coronel Sanders was one of my inspirations and also the cartoon character named Foghorn Leghorn, the big, fat rooster with a big, blustery and southern voice.
What did you think of Samurai Town?
It was a perfect marriage between East and West, that was one of the excitements of being on that set. The town really did feel like an old, wild Western town, especially with dirt streets. Obviously with all of the cherry blossoms, the beautiful geishas, the ninjas and the samurais, it was very Japanese. I loved it, I thought it was just fantastic.
Also I got to go out and visit the ghost plant set with the giant clock and all of the extras dressed in wild costumes. I was overwhelmed on one hand, but on the other I felt right at home.
How was your experience working with Nicolas Cage?
I was very excited ‘cause I’m a big fan of his. Recently I loved Color Out of Space and Mandy. I also love a lot of his older movies.
My wife, Lucinda Jenney, is an actress who actually worked with Nic on Peggy Sue Got Married, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. We’ve both been big Nic Cage fans.
I was a little nervous that he wouldn’t like working with me or not like my style or my character that I'd chosen, but he was just great, he was really a friendly guy. We spent Thanksgiving in Japan and he took us all out to dinner.
Nic goes for it but he’s a professional. That’s the way I like to work: I like to go for it but I like to get there on time, I like to know my lines. In terms of going for a character, however extreme it might seem, he’s wonderful, I got a lot of encouragement and inspiration from him.
What can you tell us of Sono’s process?
It was interesting. The language barrier is certainly a big one, especially when you’re trying to get very specific about emotions, movements or character notes. If I was doing something and he was smiling or clapping his hands, he was happy about it.
There was a translator, so if there was a problem or a change the translator would attempt to translate it, but for the most part we just communicated through smiles. That’s a way to describe it.
Not long ago, you returned to the character Otis.
That was actually a challenge because Otis was 14 years older and that whole time he had been in jail, so the question was: how much did living in a cell for 14 years affect his personality? Not to mention getting older.
I was worried about that and the first day we were shooting I had a little monologue to deliver. I remember being concerned about the lines, in the first take I said something wrong so they cut. Then I took a breath and tried it again, dropped the line and we cut. Rob kind of looked at me like “dude, what’s up?” and I said “give me a minute.”
I remember sitting down by myself, taking a deep breath, and then I heard this voice in my head that said: “relax Bill, I’ve got this, just get out of the way.” It was the voice of Otis telling me “get out of here, Mr. actor who can’t remember his lines or is maybe conscious about what’s my better side,” all the Hollywood stuff. As soon as I heard that, I got out of the way and I didn’t get in trouble after that.
Characters like Chop-Top and Otis are still remembered by the fans many years later. I think the Governor is another of your memorable roles.
Well, thank you. It really just comes down to not trying to control the character. I read the script a bunch of times and then just let the character happen naturally, no matter how crazy the character might seem. If it’s a crazy character, I always play it like I’m the only sane one in the room.
I think that story about Otis saying “get out of the way, Bill,” if you do that, then the characters make themselves exciting and real. I think that’s an actor’s job: get out of the way!
Prisoners of the Ghostland is now in theaters, VOD and Digital.
A version in Spanish of this interview was also published at Cinema Inferno