Unpredictable events can surprisingly prove how surreal life can be, and how art and reality can imitate each other in the most shocking ways. That’s certainly the case for the new horror film, ‘Into the Dark: The Current Occupant,’ in which Barry Watson plays the conflicted protagonist, who’s become so distressed that he begins to believe he’s the subject of a diabolical political conspiracy. So he sets out to do whatever it takes to fight back against the authorities who he feels are oppressing him, in order to reclaim his life and power.
Producer Jason Blum‘s independent television studio, Blumhouse Television, crafted ‘Into the Dark,’ which is a monthly horror event series that’s inspired by different holidays. The feature-length installments include Blumhouse‘s signature genre-thriller spin in its stories.
‘The Current Occupant’ is the latest entry in the anthology series, and serves as ‘Into the Dark‘s Fourth of July episode. It was written by Alston Ramsay, who previously worked as a speechwriter in Washington, D.C. for such government officials as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General David Petraeus and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and the scribe’s experiences informed the creation of the thriller’s script. The movie, which was directed by his brother, Julius Ramsay, premiered on Hulu earlier this month, in celebration of Independence Day.
‘The Current Occupant’ follows a man who’s lost his memory, Henry Cameron (Watson), who finds himself rapped in a mysterious psychiatric ward. He soon comes to believe that he’s the President of the United States and the subject of a diabolical political conspiracy. As the asylum’s soul-crushing forces bear down on him, he fights to preserve his sanity and escape so that he can return to power.
Watson generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘The Current Occupant’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed that he was drawn to play the conflicted protagonist in the drama, as he was not only interested in reuniting with Blumhouse, after working with them on Showtime’s biographical television mini-series, ‘The Loudest Voice,’ but he was also intrigued to return to the horror genre for the ‘Into the Dark‘ franchise. He also expressed his gratitude to Julius Ramsay for offering him the creative freedom to fully explore Henry’s mysterious past within the confines of the psychiatric center.
The conversation began with Watson explaining what it was about the character of Henry, as well as the overall script, that convinced you to take on the role in the film. “I had read a few of the previous installments of the ‘Into the Dark‘ series. I’ve been a big fan of the horror and thriller genres since I was a kid,” he shared.
“I also had the chance to work with Blumhouse last year on ‘The Loudest Voice,’ and we were introduced to each other. So that’s when I read a few of the scripts for the other (‘Into the Dark‘) installments,” the performer continued. “I then read the script for this one, and thought, I’ve got to do this.
“Putting myself into that uncomfortable position that this character’s in-being trapped in this psychiatric ward without any memory of why or how he got there, and who he is, and who he starts to believe that he is-was a great opportunity that no actor should ever pass up,” Watson added with a laugh. “So I was grateful that they passed it my way, and offered the role to me.”
With Henry starting to believe that he’s the President of the United States, and is being held in the psychiatric ward against his will, the actor did some preparation work to develop the thriller’s conflicted protagonist, and showcase the deterioration of his mental state. “I didn’t have much time to prepare for it; I think I got it, and then had two weeks to prepare,” he revealed. “So I had to go into it believing that I was Mr. President. I thought that was the best way for me to approach it.
“I did all of my investigation work on amnesia, and the ups and downs of people who are trying to get their memories back, but are having struggles doing that,” the performer also divulged. “I also tried to throw in a little more emotion than what was in the original script, just because I feel like anyone who’s going through that would have these fluctuating emotional moments.
“I had done darker roles before, but what was different about this one was that you usually have a little bit more time to come out of the role. But with this one, since the pandemic happened the week after we wrapped, I haven’t completely had the chance to let go of Henry all the way like I normally would,” Watson admitted with a hint of a laugh. “But overall, I try to do as much work as I normally can, and then really jump into it.
“Also, the movie’s director, Julius, had a similar vision to what I wanted to bring to the role, which was to make it raw and gritty, even more so than some of the other ‘Into the Dark‘ installments that I’ve seen. We wanted to put our own stamp on it, and I think we accomplished that,” the actor also acknowledged. “I’m really proud of this movie, and I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done.”
Throughout ‘The Current Occupant’s story, there’s some conflicting doubt over whether or not Henry is truly the American President, and if his beliefs are real, or if his doctors’ persistence that he’s not really the governmental leader are true. Watson hopes that viewers will “go back and forth over that question, as that’s what we wanted to accomplish.
“But for me, I had to go into it believing the whole time that I’m the president. Once (Henry) starts to think that he’s the president, from there on out, I believed it. I didn’t want him to question it too much, as I wanted him to stay with the stand that there’s a political conspiracy against him by the possible vice president,” the performer continued.
“So I really had to play it as if he really were Mr. President, from the point that he’s told that he probably is, and I really had to run with that as an actor. Otherwise, if he starts going up and down, everyone else isn’t going to believe it. I felt like if I stayed with it, there would be that back and forth amongst the audience of is he or isn’t he, and what’s going on in this movie?!?,” Watson added with a laugh.
Following up on the fact that ‘The Current Occupant’ was directed by Julius Ramsay, the actor further delved into what the process of collaborating with him on developing Henry’s arc throughout the movie was like throughout the shoot. “We talked as much as possible before we started shooting. That way, he could know what I wanted to bring. He also did his best to explain his vision,” he shared with a hint of a laugh. “While you watch the film, and see how some of it was shot, it was kind of hard to verbally explain to not only the actors, but also the crew.
“Also, with the short amount of time that we had to shoot the movie, we had some bumps during the first week” of production, Watson further admitted. “But there was never anything that couldn’t be fixed with proper communication. After that first week, I feel like we got into such a groove that (Julius) didn’t really have to explain anything to me, and I didn’t really have to explain what I wanted to do to him.
“That good groove was also true with the other actors and the crew. It’s the same crew for all of the ‘Into the Dark‘ episodes, so I felt like we all got into a really good groove,” the performer added with a hint of a laugh. “We were all trying to make a really cool, gritty and raw installment for ‘Into the Dark.’
“But it was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. I know people always say they put their blood, sweat and tears into their projects, but I really did,” Watson continued with a laugh. “I threw as much as I could into this guy as I could.”
Following up on the experience of working with his co-stars, the drama also features Sonita Henry, Marvin Jones III, Lilli Birdsell, Kate Cobb, Ezra Buzzington and Joshua Burge. Watson enjoyed the experience of working with the rest of the cast while they were shooting the film.
“Everybody’s so good in this movie, including Sonita, Marvin, Lilli, Kate, Ezra and Joshua, are so solid. Also, all of the background actors, who Julius hand picked, were all this other character, as well. But everyone made my job a lot easier,” the actor gushed. “I mainly worked with Marvin, since he plays (Henry’s) orderly, and is obviously with him all the time now. So he and I got to know each other.
“There were probably times that I wasn’t so fun to be around, as I was in my own little headspace,” Watson admitted. “But I really enjoyed working with every single one of them. Depending on which role they were playing, each actor made my job so much easier, as I was able to play off of them.
“For Sonita, it got to the point that I was like, I don’t like her character,” Dr. Larson, who treats Henry in the psychiatric facility. “Not that I don’t like Sonita, because she’s a lovely person!,” the performer assured with a laugh. “But for Henry, it was Sonita and Ezra’s character, the doctor and the administrator, who he didn’t like. They all made my job so much easier.”
Watson then delved into what the process of crafting the action sequences for the film was like during the production. He shared that he likes the experience of creating stunts for his roles that require them. But he also admitted with a laugh that “It’s different now that I’m 46-years-old, because I feel it a lot more. When I was younger and doing movies like ‘Boogeyman,’ on which I was doing stuff like wire work to cross a room, I showed my bruises, but didn’t feel like I do now.
“But I really get into those kinds of things, and like working with the stunt coordinators, and being a part of creating what that kind of sequence is going to look like,” the actor shared. “I’m an actor who doesn’t just get called to set, and then starts working; I really like to be involved, and creatively come up with new stunt work on set. I don’t want to just go by what the script says; I want to create more, and something that might work better. So those times with the stunt coordinators are creative for me, and allow me to come up with more interesting things to do.”
With the story being set in the psychiatric ward, Watson also enjoyed the experience of shooting the thriller on location. “What’s interesting is that we shot the movie in this old, abandoned mental facility, and it played this whole other character in the story. On the first day I walked in, I thought, woah, this is going to be amazing,” he enthusiastically recalled. “Being in that sort of environment is amazing, as it helps you out as an actor.
“I was talking to some of the people at Blumhouse a few weeks ago about how the production value that we got from that location is phenomenal. It looks so good because it’s real,” the performer gushed.
Further speaking of Blumhouse, with ‘The Current Occupant’ serving as this month’s installment of the ‘Into the Dark‘ series, Watson enjoyed the experience of working with them, as well as Hulu, on the franchise. “This was my first job with Hulu, and my second job with Blumhouse, the first being ‘The Loudest Voice.’ My experience with them, especially with Blumhouse, who gave me the chance to play Lachlan Murdoch on ‘The Loudest Voice’ and Henry Cameron in ‘The Current Occupant,’ was great,” he enthusiastically shared.
“They’ve really given me the opportunity to spread my wings as an actor,” the performer gushed. “They’ve given me the opportunity to play characters that people didn’t always consider em for in the past. So I’m super grateful for Blumhouse doing that.” He added that “Obviously, I’m also really grateful for Hulu for having this wonderful series. It’s been good working with them, and I hope to continue working with them.
“I also think the timing of this installment, which is aimed towards the Fourth of July, and with everything going on in the world right, is sort of creepy, in a way,” the actor also admitted with a laugh. He continued discussing how the political conspiracy aspect of the story truly is relevant and similar to Anerica’s current political climate. He added with a laugh, “I can’t think of anything else that I’ve done that its timing worked out better in such a creepy way. So I think this will be an interesting one to watch, especially with the whole political conspiracy side of it.”