Not many contemporary actors have the privilege of saying they were screen tested by Academy Award-winning director Federico Fellini in Rome’s Cinecitta Studios. But Italian actor-producer-writer-director Domiziano Arcangeli, whose career was launched in the 1980s, was not only screen tested by the famed filmmaker, but also appeared in his Oscar-winning movie ‘Intervisa.’
Since his experiences with Fellini, Arcangeli has appeared in countless Italian and American films, television series and plays. Recently, he’s become noted for working in cult and genre horror films, particularly after founding his own production company in 2008, Empire Films.
Arcangeli’s upcoming projects include Lionsgate’s upcoming film ‘The Ghostmaker,’ which was directed by Mauro Borelli and is set to be released theatrically in the fall. Arcangeli will also appear in a movie he’s producing, ‘Frankenstein Rising,’ which was directed by Eric Swelstad.
Arcangeli recently took the time to discus with us, among other things, why he enjoys acting in horror films. He also spoke about what it’s like producing and directing movies he appears in, including the upcoming ‘Waiting for Dracula.’
ShockYa (SY): You have made a name for yourself acting in the horror genre, in such films as ‘Daughter of Fear’ and ‘Frankenstein Rising.’ What it is about the genre that you enjoy so much?
Domiziano Arcangeli (DA): I have always really loved cult films and art films; I’m not sure why, I guess it’s just personal taste. I love to be truly surprised or challenged, and when you see things that you could only ‘experience’ in a nightmare. I’m very fond of psychological twists. As a viewer, my favorite experience is when a very celebrated director, like Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick or Lars von Trier makes a horror film-then I’m really ecstatic. In fact, I love ‘Rosemary’s baby’ and ‘The Tenant,’ for example.
When I started acting in Europe in 1980, at about 11, the genre was strong. I had started making more of that type of art film, or more personal motion pictures. (Federico Fellini called me when he saw me on the cover of a magazine, in a portrait by Helmut Newton in Berlin, and directed my first screen test at the legendary Cinecitta studios! I eventually even got to work with him as well, in the film ‘Intervista,’ with people like Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and Nastassja Kinski.)
Back then, the giallos the horrors, the zombies, and all other clones, were huge. They’d make so many of them, one could not survive without making horror! Even against my agents’ opinion, who were fearing type casting, I did start accepting offer after offer. I just wanted to work, wanted to be independent.
Back then, the industry was golden: great pay checks, and five or six weeks all paid up in first class, in places like Rio de Janeiro, the Philippines, Thailand, Morocco, you name it. I travelled the world with some of those movies back then, and loved most of those crazy shoots. Once you start making them, then you keep on making them over and over.
Even when I decided to settle in L.A. (I have a U.S. and an Italian passport, and traveled all my life until then), back in 2000, I was immediately hired for a couple of years, for a TV drama series, the edgy ‘Zalman King’s Chromium Blue’ for Showtime networks (between 2001 and 2003), and then for some more TV, at first. But, at some point, obviously, people knew I had been in horror and had actually worked with quite a few of those euro masters of B exploitation flicks that had just became so hot, being rediscovered by Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth and many others.
All of a sudden, so many films, I thought I would never see anymore, were getting instead a new life, re-mastered and re-presented uncut and in glorious widescreen on DVD. So many horror directors here in L.A. noticed, and they started calling me again. Before I even knew it, I had done over a dozen already.
SY: You have served as a producer on several of the films that you have starred in, including ‘The Brides of Sodom’ and ‘The Ghostmaker.’ Why do you regularly produce films that you also act in?
DA: Producing gives you a lot of stress, especially these days, with the markets being so iffy. However, producing gives also great freedom. I think it’s almost a natural process. Someone who’s been raised making pictures, after so many years, cannot just keep waiting on your agents calling for a job.
Sometimes, even when you book a good role as an actor, you feel so marginal in a way. I know, it may sound strange to people, but, it is true. We go in for a read with the director/producers, if we book the job, we get a script, we do fittings, before we even know it, we are on set working over a few 14 hours a day, and then, they tell you you’re done.
Everything has got to happen all over again. At some point, I just wanted more control, especially over the type of material, and even over the role i was going to play. I wanted to be involved in the creation of a movie from the get go, since, at this point, after so many years, i consider myself a filmmaker of sort, and not just an actor. I believe that there’s so much time you can put up with only acting in films. At one point, especially if you are so fond, and passionate of the job, as i have always been, you want more.
I’ve executive produced 12 films with my company empire Films, Inc. in about four years. At times, I couldn’t even sleep at night. But now, I am very happy to know that, for example, ‘The Ghostmaker’ will come out in September through Lionsgate and theatrically all over Europe. ‘The Brides of Sodom’ should open in July, and be distributed by Media-Blasters. Despite all the efforts, and hyperventilations, I must say that these are personal achievement that I am really proud of!
SY: You co-wrote and directed one of the upcoming films that you also produced and are starring in, ‘Waiting for Dracula,’ with Steve Oakley. Where did you come up with the idea for the film?
DA: We just wanted to make something light that would wink at the Euro classic exploitation films of the 1960’s/1970’s. So, after a few, very intense films, I wanted to make something light, and when they asked me to direct, I was excited. I wanted to tell a story about diverse characters who are waiting for Dracula in a big mansion, over a night of debaucheries, and they don’t know whether it’s all a game, or if actually, they will get to meet the king of vampires for real.
It’s really funny and very light, with a very handsome cast of young actresses and actors I loved directing. I just wanted to be humble and started to direct something not too extremely complicated, as other films I had worked on more recently. I think we did have so much fun at the end.
Now the film is about to be presented at the international sales markets of the imminent Cannes Film Festival: real sweet! Well, i guess, it will be even sweeter once, they tell me that it’s been sold in a great deal of foreign countries and making its money back!
SY: What was your working relationship with Steve like in both your writing and directing duties?
DA: Steve has his vision, and I have mine. He’s very cool, and even being older, he was not being paternal at all! He actually encouraged my extravagant, visionary way to see and stage a scene. He’s more traditional, I was providing all the odd angles, all the more risqué material.
I love playing with genres, mixing horror with erotica, and vampires and Goth with comedy. All of this might have worried many other directors from different generations, but I am so glad Steve embraced my creativity, and gave me total freedom!
SY: ‘Waiting for Dracula’ marks your feature film directorial debut. How did you become involved in directing the movie-were you always interested in directing?
DA: I have been always interested in directing! After a life in the movies, I was encouraged to direct. I was just told: “We are sure you may be able to conceive something wilder, newer, just based on the type of films you have produced, or on the quality of some performances you had given.”
I didn’t let them think it over, and however a bit frightened already, I immediately said “Oh sure! Why not? Of course, I can do it!” But I was not sure whatsoever, and for a few days, felt almost sick anytime I was thinking about it. What if I weren’t able to direct anyone?”
But once we were on set, with my crew, and my actors, I felt very at ease! Everything happened very naturally. I can only say that I discovered that I had very clear ideas, and that I gave, more than once, lots of challenging work to my camera department, in order to obtain the type of shots I wanted.
SY: While you were helming the movie, did you draw on your experiences as an actor to help you with your directorial duties?
DA: No, they are two very different things, at least for me! When I act, I always try to forget myself, and to live through the character. As a director, my ideas were very clear, and I wanted what I wanted. It is sort of an opposite feeling.
For me, acting is like losing myself in the character I’m playing. When I was directing, I was very much focused on the reality of the moment.
SY: ‘Waiting for Dracula’ reportedly had a budget of $500,000. Did having such a small budget limit what you could include in the film as a director?
DA: I didn’t even know what we had! I had what I needed for the story, but it is the time limitation that influences my style more than anything else. The lack of time, only few days of shooting, instead of 30 or 40 or 50. I believe that when the budget is low, you must get creative and invent things from scratch, and I enjoy that. I love to invent. But the time’s restrictions can be a really taxing, especially for the type of filmmaking I like and that I’d like to achieve, which is very stylish.
SY: You’re also set to star as Klaus Herzog in the upcoming thriller ‘Gotterdammerung,’ which you’re also producing. What was the process of starring in, and also producing, that film like?
DA: ‘Gotterdammerung’ has been post-poned for 2013. So, I’d like to talk about a way more imminent project (which is not yet listed on IMDB, but soon! We start principal photography on July 9th.). This new project is called ‘El Toro’ and it’s truly been a labor of love. In fact, the idea came out so strong, that it made me post-pone other films for later!
I was talking to Mauro Borrelli, who’s been the story board artist and production designer for exceptional films with directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton, just to name a few) and directed ‘The Ghostmaker.’ Both of us, after having sold the movie to Lionsgate, felt like creating a new film together, but we wanted even more freedom-a real work of art, if you would.
‘El Toro’ is the modernization of the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur, transported in an extremely visual, post-modern, world, in downtown L.A., today. The story of the Minotaur, according to the script, has become almost like an urban legend. However, despite everyone’s disbelief, something really mysterious, really shocking, really horrific is truly happening!
The film will have the same type of visuals of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Leonardo di Caprio. It would also be like if David Lynch was to meet the ancient myth and re-tell it, as an extremely disturbing, unsettling, extravagant film noir.
While writing this incredible script, we were a little concerned on about who would have wanted to invest in such a controversial project. But instead the buzz is already out there, and people like the great Joe Johnston, and many great artists (for the visual references), rappers and hip hop artists (for the music score), have jumped on board with great enthusiasm. This has brought in investors, and, at the end, with the help of my new partner, and co-executive producer, Stephen Hansen, and of a few international pre-sales, we were able to make this dream project come true.
We have already found some of the most extreme and visually daring sets you could ever think of, and I will play, along with some name actors, one of the main lead-the mysterious, two faced, Zabriskie. It’s a role I can dream of at this point, since this brave and unique project is about to start lensing in a few weeks.
I think it’s the proof that in order to keep making more films, we must leave the formula behind, and start again. Like in the past, we have to take risks, and try to tell something new and with an even newer, groundbreaking style!
SY: Another upcoming horror film you’re set to appear in is ‘Scary or Die,’ in which you play the clown. What was it about the script and the character that convinced you to appear in the movie?
DA: Even that story, however less personal, was somewhat so unsettling-playing this ambiguous clown, someone who looks vaguely familiar, and starts showing up at your home. You know its bad news, and when you find out, it’s too late. This clown will change your life and will infect. It will connect you with a world of darkness you would have never even expected in a million years.
It’s what happens to Corbin Bleu, the great young star from the Disney Channel. First, he sort of puts up with the clown, but, then, within a series of extremely scary circumstances, he will start realizing that there might be only one way out.
When I read all this, I was truly almost upside down. Plus the real challenge of playing this evil, unusual, frightening clown, who, at the same time, is such a mystery, that’s truly linked to a heart of darkness, how would you ever not want to take on a movie like that one? Especially if you are an actor who likes to change as much as I do. In all the movies I have done lately, it’s almost impossible almost to recognize me! I did work a lot on playing with different looks, in any new movie, as well as understanding and living the feelings and odd sensations of all of these diverse characters.
SY: You started your acting career such Italian films as ‘Una di Troppo’ and ‘L’inconnue.’ What was the transition like switching to appearing in American movies later in your career?
DA: I started in a moment when Italian or European co-productions were mostly films thought and produced for international markets, so they were often shot in English. But I also acted in French, Italian and Spanish! I think back then cinema was different, but then again, the world was very different, too. Making a movie did not change so much substantially; it’s just all quicker, more planned lately. Especially in the U.S., where it’s well known movies are more of an industry than an art form, like they are thought of in Europe.
However, I was disciplined by old fashioned directors, who were really very demanding, and I can’t even imagine how they could deal with today’s sets, full of cell phones, people talking, and so on. Back then, it was a whole different training, and once you went through that or worked with some of those old guys, I can tell you, I just only had to adapt, a little, but never too traumatically. It was never a jump.
With Zalman King (I owe a lot to that man, he was the first us director to give me a major and steady job in L.A., and helped me over the years as well) and the Showtime TV series ‘Chromiumblue,’I found myself at home. Then, slowly, I tried to improve my English, to come close to lose a dialect and to accept a time transition. I mean, if I’d played the pretty teen ager or trouble youth back then in Europe, after 2000, I had to re-invent myself. I think I would have been quite pathetic to keep on trying for those same old roles!
I did realize the need of a change, and the antagonist, or the villains, (which I so often play) came to knock on my door. I did embrace them with enthusiasm. I think I can consider myself lucky to be able to say that I grew up with the movies, through the roles. It’s true, and it’s been necessary, as well.
SY: You have also appeared in several television series and movies, including ‘1000 Ways to Die’ and ‘Momma’s Redemption.’ Do you have a preference of acting in television over movies, or vice versa
DA: I love to act, no matter what! What about stage? I did a lot of that, too, and sometimes for very little pay, just because I loved it.
I also enjoyed recently doing a recurring role in Cinemax’s new hip TV series ‘Femme Fatales,’ during the second season. I played Chaka, a Latin gangster working for the Russian mob. But everything was so quickly. It was professional, and extremely well done, but so quick.
I am definitely more of a movie kind of of guy, if I have to be honest, of course! Movies leave still more space to creativity, I believe, and risks, also.
Written by: Karen Benardello