DJ Qualls was at Comic-Con this past summer, to promote the episode of Creepshow he starred in. The actor, who also starred in Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and Z Nation, is always a great interview because of the stories he tells. And this one is no different!
Here he chats about Creepshow and how he learned 39 pages of dialogue in 4 days, why he thinks he’ll work “forever”, streaming services and one thing about acting that “scares” him.
You are becoming quite the horror icon with your work in the genre. Can you talk about why you’re drawn to it?
DJ Qualls: I don’t know… People don’t realize that most actor’s careers are basically accidental. You do the best that’s available to you at the time when you feel like you need to work. Both of my long running shows, Man in the High Castle and Z Nation ended at the same time. And so I took a period to sort of morn it. On Z Nation, I was ready to go. But you sort of mourn the loss of that day to day, because you love these people. And it’s usually somewhere where you don’t live because nothing shoots in Los Angeles anymore. So, I’ve been in Vancouver for four years.
So, I’m sitting home like reading a bunch of bullshit that I didn’t like, and then they called me up and offered me this like out of the blue. And I read it and… I don’t know if you guys know the synopsis of the episode, but like I’m the only person in my episode, so it’s 39 pages of solo dialogue delivered directly to a puppet or the camera.
DJ Qualls: Yeah. And so I read it and I was like, ‘this is too much.’ And it was like a Tuesday, and they were like, “We need you to travel tomorrow to work on Friday.” And I was like, ‘this is a lot.’ And they were like, “Don’t worry about it.” No, I know that trick. Because producers always say this, “Don’t worry, we’ll work with you.” You and get there and you’re not prepared and it makes you look like an asshole. So I turned it down.
Then I was like, “Let me think about it.” So I said, “Send me the schedule. If I get 12 pages of it tonight before I go to bed….” It was really well written. My friend David Schow wrote it. I was like, “This is really good material.” You know it’s good if you can memorize it easily. It was logical and really thoughtful and beautiful and there’s some really great writing in it. And then I met Greg Nicotero and fell in love with him. It was one of those things, where you sort of meet somebody and you’re like, ‘wow, this is really easy and fun with you.’ It’s like he’s a member of my tribe that I didn’t know I was missing. It was a really great experience overall.
But answering your question, I don’t know. Also, I think people… as they get older, my face is not going to age well. I have a lot of cartilage. So your ears and your nose are going to continue to grow. So unless I have that surgically altered, I’m probably going to be more and more in the horror genre. Like that’s where I’m sort of going and I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll probably work forever with this face.
How long did it take you to get the 39 pages memorized?
DJ Qualls: Dude, it was so easy. The only thing that was hard was that I had a scene at the end that was four pages of monologue that were like hairpin emotional turns because of what was happening to my character and it’s delivered directly to camera. There’s a camera move and I had to go from crouch position to a standing position. But in my mind I was in a chair the whole time and I just stood up. And just the delay from being on the floor and having to get up, it completely altered the delivery. And I was like, “If we don’t figure this out, we’re going to be on take 39.” The lines started to melt out of my ears. Like, they were leaking out of my brain through my years and I was like, “I’m getting scared.”
When I was on Fargo, the director made me do all my own stunts because I’m hard to double. And then I was in a fucking scene and stepped over somebody who was wearing a mask who was my same body type because motherfuckers…
Anyway, I had to do all these stunts all these and so sometimes like my brain will scramble when I’m afraid to do something. Like, you have to have a crutch a the scene. So like, I had to jump off an overturned bus wearing a pig mask and I was really scared because it was like 10 feet. And I had to land on my feet. And I kept thinking I was breaking my ankles or whatever. I was like, “If I had on gloves, I feel like I could do this.” For whatever reason, they brought me gloves and I was able to do it.
So it was the same with this. I was like, “I feel like if I was in a chair, I would know all these lines. On the floor, I don’t. What do I do about this?” And we figured it out. But that was the hardest part about learning lines.
Actors have this… and I’ve seen it happen to people and if you don’t shake it off… Like you could come in so prepared… It especially happens to actors as they like leave their thirties, mostly going into their forties. There’s that sort of insecurity because you’re aware of how hard it is. Like kids are so stupid. When I came out here, I was like, “Y’all need to move out here. Their giving away money!” I had a thick southern accent. I’m from rural Tennessee. I did 12 movies in like four years. It felt so easy because it was easy because you didn’t think about it.
So any way with actors, as you start to get a little older, there’ll be a day when you are completely prepared and you come in and the trust that you had in those lines and completely lets you down and you fail. And it happens to all of us. But the problem is if you don’t push it away, you can’t get rid of it and it starts to insect you. And I’ve seen actors completely ruined because of it.
So every time that happens, when I have a day when I just can’t fucking remember lines, I’m like, “Is this one of these times?” Five years from now, “Is this the beginning of the end?” That kind of shit starts to play with you.
That’s the other thing, even talking about this stuff, like, it scares me. But that was the hardest part. Just those last two days.
What do you think is about streaming platforms? Like Shudder and Hulu?
DJ Qualls: It’s a good thing. There’s more content than there’s ever been before. But the problem is it that I think it’s starting to fragment the audience. Like, I’ll see a friend that I haven’t in a couple of years. Like, “What have you been doing?” “Oh, I’m on this TV show.” “Oh, cool. Is that new?” “No, it’s five years old.” And, so there’s so much shit you can’t see anything anymore. And that’s hard. There’s more opportunities so, your stuff has to be really good. There’s so, there’s so much content. I think we’re kind of critical mass.
And also just from a practical standpoint, I know it’s sort of gauche to talk money, it’s easier to get a job than it’s ever been before, I think personally. Salaries, usually in television are advertising based and there’s none of that. How do you monetize residuals and that kind of stuff? Like, how do you know how much something’s played on Amazon? They don’t tell you. We’re in an interesting time. I hope we don’t end up going on strike over this cause somebody is making money.
Creepshow is currently streaming on Shudder TV.