Passionately documenting your investigation into a topic you have already hold preconceived doubt and questions about can initially prove to be redundant, as you’re not willing to explore, much less accept, new information and insights into the subject. But when thrillingly unexpected new evidence about the subject is presented, all those predetermined thoughts can instantly disappear. Actor Shane Johnson, who portrayed the title character in first-time feature film writer-director David Jung’s horror movie, ‘The Possession of Michael King,’ proved the troubled protagonist’s radical change of heart throughout the course of the independent found footage project.
‘The Possession of Michael King,’ which is now playing in select theaters and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and iTunes on Tuesday, follows the emotionally tortured title character, who initially doesn’t believe in religion, God or The Devil. Following the sudden death of his wife, Samantha (Cara Pifko), who is involved in an accident after taking advice from a psychic she visited, the Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker decides to make his next film about the search for the existence of the supernatural.
While Michael is now the sole parent for his young daughter, Ellie (Ella Anderson), he decides to forgo the safety of himself and child to become the center of what he believes to be as a brilliant experiment. Against the advice and better judgment of his sister, Beth (Julie McNiven), who has moved in with him to help care for Ellie, Michael posts an online ad about his documentary, and he receives an overwhelming response about the different subsets of occult. .
Michael begins to study various forms of the supernatural, including Satanism, Voodoo, necromancy and astral travel. He also allows demonologists, necromancers, and various practitioners of the occult to try the deepest and darkest spells and rituals on him. The title hopes that when they fail, he’ll finally be able to prove that religion, spiritualism and the paranormal aren’t real. But he soon begins to question if his wife was right about her thoughts on psychics and the supernatural, as an evil and horrifying force has begun to possess him.
Johnson generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Possession of Michael King’ over the phone from Los Angeles. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was attracted to the title role, in part because he found the prospect of showing Michael’s emotional and physical descent as he became possessed exciting; how he enjoyed working with Jung on the set, as the director pushed him to capture the best physical and emotional performances he could, beyond the depths the actor initially thought he could reach; and how he thinks the film is a funny comment on modern culture and society, as people are so willing to participate in dangerous activities, but the moment someone actually needs help, they aren’t so ready to help them.
ShockYa (SY): You play the title character of Michael King in the new horror film, ‘The Possession of Michael King.’ What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role?
Shane Johnson (SJ): Well, the most exciting part of this film for me was the ability to show that Michael was able to experience every facet of descent into madness. So it was a lot for me to sink my teeth into. I got to go from being a loving husband and father, who had a fairly picturesque life, to a guy who’s questioning the very foundation of his humanity.
SY: After he begins filming his documentary and exploring the supernatural, Michael eventually starts to believe that spirits and demons may actually be real. How did you go about showing Michael’s emotional descent in trying to prove he has become possessed?
SJ: Well, most of my preparation was concerned with exactly that question-how do I not show his descent, but also experience all of these things in as much of an authentic way as possible? How do I present the story accurately, so that the audience feels the experience, as well? So for me, it was really about being willing to look down the barrel of this movie and story, which was really frightening. I had to open that gate and cross that threshold, and ask the questions that I think most of us are pretty uncomfortable with asking.
Just as an example, I challenged the Devil to prove himself to me in the film. That’s the kind of thing that if I ask you to sit in a room by yourself and challenge the Devil, you’d be pretty uncomfortable doing it. Even if you’re a non-believer, playing with that kind of fire is never recommended.
SY: Besides the emotional descent, there are also a lot of physical elements to the role of Michael, particularly when he begins harming himself and those around him. What was the process of performing the stunts in the film?
SJ: Well, I had a couple of months to prepare for the shooting of the movie. I knew it was going to be very physically tasking, so I spent a lot of that time preparing myself physically. I made sure I was nice and limber, as well as healthy. I also wanted to be able to manipulate my body in such a way that I was in control enough that I could make it look as though I was out of control. I wanted to be so in tune with my instrument that I could make it seem as though I was a puppet.
I think that was wise, because I’m not 20-years-old anymore. I wanted to make sure that I was capable of withstanding such fast-paced, intense action. We shot the film in 19 days. I wanted to make sure I was mentally, emotionally and physically prepared for the fact that I was in pretty much every scene of the movie, and was continuously shooting throughout those 19 days.
SY: Speaking of the fact that you shot the movie independently over the course of 19 days, what was the experience of shooting on such a short schedule like overall? Did it help add to the creativity of your character and the story?
SJ: It was the kind of thing that was captured in the perfect time, and I don’t know I would do it differently if we had more time. But next time, I would love to have 40 days to shoot this type of a movie. Having such a short time to film limits the amount of footage you can shoot. Instead of doing 10 takes of something, so that we can get it just right, you have it get it just right in the first or second take. Then you have to move on.
So preparedness becomes key for all angles of shooting. The director and I had to be point, as did the lighting and the rest of the crew. We couldn’t loose time, so it was a really tight schedule. There was very little room for mistakes. But it was an awesome experience.
SY: Speaking of the director, David Jung both wrote and helmed the film. What was the process of working with him as both the scribe and director, especially since this was the first movie he made?
SJ: I love David Jung, and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. I think he’s going to blow up and do a lot with his career. Working with him on this was fantastic.
When I would show up to a scene, I would give every ounce of passion, energy and physicality I had. When he would call “Cut,” I’d be sweating and panting, and would think I needed a stretcher. But he would pull me aside and say, “So listen. That was about a six, and I need you at about an 11.” He would really push me to find new levels. I appreciate that, because I feel like it showed up on the screen.
SY: ‘The Possession of Michael King’ is different from other supernatural horror films in the fact that Michael is the main character who becomes possessed, as opposed to Sam or Ellie. What was it about Michael that you feel made him susceptible to becoming possessed? Do you think the fact that he was the one who was possessed, instead of a woman or child, is helping to revitalize this subgenre?
SJ: I do, as I’m learning that that’s not being done all that often. I didn’t really consider that aspect going into shooting. The one thing that occurred to me is that when you see a documentary filmmaker who’s really asking questions and willingly delving into this world, he goes into it with his eyes open. A lot of times in genre movies, possessions just happen to people, and there’s no reason for it. They move into a house or town and befriend somebody, and their possession is just circumstantial; there isn’t a cause-and-effect.
With this movie, he’s the one who opens that door, and when he becomes haunted, he has to take that ride. So that was exciting to me, as it’s not just an accident.
SY: ‘The Possession of Michael King’ is also unique in the supernatural horror subgenre the fact that the demonologists, priests and doctor who were willing to help Michael when he was first starting his documentary. However, they refused to help him once he was possessed, which led to him having to try to perform an exorcism on himself on his own. Do you feel that adds a fresh, unique dynamic to the subgenre, and reflects people’s current disbelief over the idea of possessions?
SJ: Yes, I think it’s a funny comment on our culture and society. People often ask, “Hey, do you want to go do something stupid?” Then you can find a bunch of people who are willing to do that. You can also pay people to mess you up. But the second you actually need help, it’s a problem. People say, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
In the movie, I put out an Internet ad, like on Craigslist, saying I’m looking for (information on demons and the supernatural). People came out of the woodwork to mess me up. But the second I need a little care or understanding, they’re nowhere to be seen. That’s a comment on our society.
SY: While Michael is driven to take some drastic measures the more he becomes possessed, he tries to protect his daughter, Ellie, from his increasingly dangerous actions. As a father yourself in real life, did that make it easier to portray his motivations in protecting Ellie?
SJ: I think being a husband and father myself really helped me find the reality of Michael’s struggle. He’s facing a struggle between his humanity and this force that’s pushing him further down this road of being possessed. So his humanity is what’s trying to come out.
It’s funny-at a certain point in the film, I feel like the demon possession takes over Michael. By the end of the story, it’s Michael who’s trying to take over the demon. So that battle between the human spirit and demon spirit, which are both living in the same host, was an interesting battle for me. It was fun to portray, but also very scary and physically challenging.
SY: What was the experience of working with your co-stars, including Ella Anderson, who played Ellie, and Julie McNiven, who portrayed Michael’s sister, Beth, on the film?
SJ: It was really easy. They’re both lovely people and great actors. So I just built a rapport with them on set. I treated Ella very much like she would be my own kid. I have a son about her age, and another little guy, as well. So it was easy for me to understand that paternal relationship of being a caregiver to a daughter, and she was easy to be around. She was really open, as kids that age usually are. Kids that age are ready to play, and they don’t have any doubt, and they dive right in.
I loved having Julie on set to play my sister. She grounded that household while I was a mess. She basically became the parent to my daughter while I’m going down this rabbit hole. So she was more than a sister. I enjoyed working with Julie very much.
SY: The movie had several screenings across America, including in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Austin, before its official release. Were you able to attend any of the screenings? How have audiences reacted to the movie so far?
SJ: Everything has been really positive, and anything that isn’t positive, I just disregard, because that’s how I roll. The only screening I’ve been to was the one here in Los Angeles, because my schedule didn’t allow me to go to New York, Chicago or Austin.
But it was well received here (in L.A.). I did a Q & A with David after the screening, and I think pretty much the entire audience stayed. People were really interested, and believed in, the film. Most of the questions were about why the movie isn’t getting a huge theatrical release, because it deserves it. That’s been the typical response, and it’s been very rewarding. I really want this movie to be exposed to audiences, because I think it’s a very worthy project, and certainly the best ride of my career so far.
Written by: Karen Benardello