Whether it’s cast or crew, Writer/Director Rob Zombie loves to stick to a core group. Like Quentin Tarantino, he enjoys casting some long forgotten talent from the genre titles he grew up on and admired. Zombie cleverly goes against our expectations and previous experiences with a certain actor and uses him or her in a refreshingly unexpected way. His wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie is the one constant in every picture he has made. Her involvement in his work has always caused a stir among genre fans. This doesn’t seem to faze Zombie a bit since Sheri is lead in his latest, The Lords of Salem.
She plays local DJ Heidi Hawthorne. Along with her co-hosts Herman Whitey Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree), they play a mysterious vinyl on air by a band called The Lords which will soon put the town and its inhabitants on a collision course with its disturbing past.
At TIFF ’12, I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the film with actors Sheri and Jeff.
BLOODY DISGUSTING: How early on were you brought into the creative process?
SHERI MOON ZOMBIE: I try not to read the script until he thinks it’s done. If I read my character, I’ll get stuck on something that’ll inevitably get cut out and I’ll be like: “Why did you take that out?! I felt it was important”. It’s his vision not mine so I sort of don’t get involved until he’s pretty much done with the script.
JEFF DANIEL PHILLIPS: It’s funny cause he first told me it was actually at Sheri’s birthday party. It was just like a one line: “Hey, it’s a story about witches, Salem, they come back. Sounds good.” Then the next thing; we get the script, we read it together then we ended up rehearsing it for like three or four weeks and the thing completely took shape. That’s such a rarity just to have that time to work up this chemistry, to work out our situations. Then you think you’re there but quite frankly when we got on set he would be changing it the night before anyways. There was an excitement about it. You had to stay on your toes.
Bloody Disgusting: Rob seems like the type to follow his instincts more than most.
SMZ: I certainly think there’s the instinctual thing that has to happen for a director because you’re put every day for the most part on a new set, you have new atmosphere. How you’re going to work with this especially on a low budget film? The time constraints, the money constraints so really it’s organic every day. Going in does he have a vision? Sure and he tries to get what he has but then you work with things on a day to day, even when you walk on set as an actor.
JDP: He has extreme confidence in making those choices right there on the spur of the moment. I’m not going to say he doesn’t waver but he definitely goes: “No, this isn’t how we’re going to do it”. It puts everyone at ease then we all kind of jump on board between the crew, cast, everybody.
Bloody Disgusting: How much of your work in the radio station sequences was improvised?
SMZ: That sort of lends itself to improv. We were afforded the luxury of rehearsing before we started shooting. We actually came up without a lot of stuff that was put into the script.
Bloody Disgusting: What kind of research did you do for those specific scenes?
SMZ: I actually went to broadcasting school so I had that experience.
JDP: Well, la-di-da. (Everyone laughs)
SMZ: Also Rob and I did do a radio show in INDIE 103.1 in Los Angeles for about a year once a week and the three of us, Ken, Jeff and I went to 95.5 KLOS. We got some little tidbits that we used.
JDP: Yeah and I got to talk to the tech people. I went with some of the guys in the back and learned how they worked on the boards.
Bloody Disgusting: One aspect of the film that I really enjoyed was the poignant relationship between your characters. Was that something you developed or was it in the script?
SMZ: That actually came out of rehearsals because that was not in the script initially. The chemistry we had during rehearsals, it just sort of went that way. Rob was like: “This is great. This is really going to add some depth to the characters” and not have the radio team become a throwaway. It really meant something.
JDP: It definitely gave her some stability, a real life outside of what’s happening in the film, a history that was needed. Between the way we shot it close to chronologically and by the time we finished, we were all wrecked, emotionally drained, tired. It’s like we went through the whole relationship downfall and everything that would happen in the situation. It was really effective.
Bloody Disgusting: Lastly, since this film is much about mood and atmosphere, what did Rob do to tune everyone into that mode?
SMZ: I’m glad you recognized that. It was really interesting because when we were shooting a lot of scenes, Rob would play music while we were shooting to kind of set the tone. Not for everything but a lot of stuff in the theatre. It was really beneficial to set the tone. Music totally does that for people. For me, that really worked.
JDP: He has this core group of people that he’s really loyal to. It just provides this insular group that he relies on. He doesn’t have to think twice. He has this shorthand with the DP Brandon (Trost) to the VTR guy to the sound guy to everybody he’s used for years. It just makes it so much smoother to get in that zone and mood.