Tomorrow, August 31st Lionsgate will open their haunted dibbuk box when they release The Possession, the Sam Raimi/Ghost House Pictures produced supernatural chiller, in theaters everywhere. Directed by Ole Bornedal, the film stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick and Natasha Calis as a broken family that has a lot more than divorce to contend with when Calis’ character is possessed by a demon. At that point they turn to Tzadok, played by Matisyahu, for help.
I recently sat down with Matisyahu on a tour stop in Los Angeles. We discussed his transition from music to film, the role of demons in the Jewish religion, and the Evil Dead. It turns out he’s never seen any of the movies! Now, I’m including this because it’s a cool exchange. Matisyahu’s interests are likely different than yours or mine, which I respect. In fact, I was struck by his sense of ease and his genial nature. Never judge anyone for being new to horror, just turn them on to it! Which is hopefully what we did here!
The film, “is the terrifying story of how one family must unite in order to survive the wrath of an unspeakable evil. Clyde (Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Sedgwick) see little cause for alarm when their youngest daughter Em becomes oddly obsessed with an antique wooden box she purchased at a yard sale. But as Em’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, the couple fears the presence of a malevolent force in their midst, only to discover that the box was built to contain a dibbuk, a dislocated spirit that inhabits and ultimately devours its human host.”
BD: This is an interesting journey for you.You’re still very active in music, how did you segue into films?
I started out performing in musicals when I was a kid. And I loved it. Acting was something I was always into. As I got older, I moved to Oregon. I had a band out there and I did the lead in “Equus” and when I moved to New York I took a lot of acting classes. And then I became religious, stopped everything and moved to Brooklyn. That’s when my music career took off. And, with my look, there wasn’t really [a wide variety of] roles available.
I switched agencies a few years ago with the intention of doing some acting and this role was one of the first things that came along.
BD: The exorcism scene in the film is a fairly extended 15 or 20 minutes sequence in this hospital. What was the most intense part of that to shoot?
Physically, it was the yelling. I’m a singer so I have to be careful about my voice. There are ways to do it right, but I lost myself in the moment and I’ve never screamed like that in my entire life. So that was difficult. And getting into the authenticity, to get into the fear and lose myself in the fervor was hard.
There was a group I used to pray with that screamed, but that was somewhat melodic. With this I had to scream out the Hebrew. I tried to make it real for myself.
BD: You still observe the faith, right?
So the whole concept to the Dibbuk Box and the demons, is that present in the Jewish religion?
Yes. The Kabballah, Jewish mysticism, is filled with ideas about angels, demons and spirits. And Rabbis go back and forth about what the written interpretation of the old testament is. There’s talk of something called “shading”, which is something I have yet to experience. I’ve never come across a Dibbuk before, but it’s real. It comes from a real concept. Even though the story here is obviously embellished.
BD: With Sam Raimi involved, were you aware of his legacy and aesthetic?
No, I wasn’t.
BD: But you’ve seen Evil Dead at this point, right?
[shakes head]. No. I need to, but I’ve never been into scary movies. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
BD: It’s about 5 kids in their early 20’s and they go to this cabin in the woods. One of them opens a book called the Necronomicon and one by one, they get possessed. I think Sam was 19 or 20 when he made it. Super low budget.
How old is he now?
BD: That was in 81. And Evil Dead 2 is almost a comedy. Very out there and self conscious. And then there’s the third one, Army Of Darkness.
I think I’ve heard of that one. And that’s what he’s most known for, Evil Dead?
BD: I guess he’s most known for Spiderman.
Oh, he did Spiderman?
BD: Yeah. Drag Me To Hell was his most recent horror movie.
And he directs these movies?
Cool man! I’ll have to get some of them for the [tour] bus! Get some of the guys to watch it!