By BRUCE DENNILL
Breakout movie star Jason Collett makes a statement in the upcoming star-packed gothic noir drama The Devil All The Time opposite Tom Holland, Haley Bennett, Robert Pattison, Bill Skarsgård, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough, written and directed by Antonio Campos, premiering on Netflix later this year. The Devil All The Time, based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, takes place in the 1960s after World War II in Southern Ohio, among a group of bizarre, compelling and disturbed people who suffer from the war’s psychological damages. Collett plays Gary Matthew Bryson, a naïve partner-in-crime to husband and wife team of serial killers, Carl and Sandy Henderson (played by Clarke and Keough, respectively), who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. A colourful array of delightfully nasty, dirty and chaotic characters awaits viewers, and while each person has their own story, characters are inexplicably linked in peculiar ways. Collett has been acting on film and stage for over 15 years and is also a stunt professional, trained in pole climbing, weapons, hand-to-hand fighting, prat falling, bungee harness, high falling and ATV riding. This experience has helped him not only in the acting industry, but has also seen him dressed up as Spider-Man to visit local children’s refugee camps outside of Atlanta, his current hometown, to help bring some simple joy to the children who need it most.
Can you distill what it is that you love about film or television acting particularly – over other types of performance such as theatre?
Film and TV acting is much more of a subtle art than theatre is for me. The camera lens can, in many ways, see things that you didn’t even know you were telegraphing, and even the slightest expression can read differently depending on different variables of how the actor is being shot: angle, lighting, lens, and so on. What I love most about film and TV, is how all the components of the film come together to truly transport the viewer anywhere the filmmakers choose, using sound, lighting, CGI, and locations. You are also getting a director’s unique vision of that narrative, seeing it exactly the way they intended. I feel as if a bit of that can be lost in theatre.
Are there aspects of the craft of acting that are different in front of a camera than when performing for a live audience?
In theatre, everything about your performance – physicality and movement, voice, makeup, costuming – all need to be seen and enjoyed from the front row all the way to the back row. You’re playing a much bigger character than you would for a camera. The choices that you would make in theatre would be way too much for a camera lens. The transition from stage to screen can be jarring at times. A live audience can also influence a performance in many ways. Anyone who has done theatre will be the first to tell you that if the audience is “off” that night, it impacts the overall mood and morale of the performers. Usually this is of no fault to the performers or the audience; it’s something that you just feel and have no control over. It then becomes your job as a performer to not allow this to affect you. You can also choose to embrace this feeling to give a performance uniquely affected by that feeling.
Film and television can involve an enormously lengthy creative process, with months or even years passing between coming on board via auditions and the premiere of the piece. What’s that like emotionally as a performer – investing heavily in something and then having to wait?
I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to put your heart and soul into a performance, building up an excitement and desire to show others your work, only to wait years in some cases before it’s released to the masses. The factors that determine when a project comes out is entirely out of your control, so I’ve found that its best to accept and trust the process, and trust that your work will be appreciated and viewed exactly when it’s meant to be. Its important not to lose that excitement, but don’t let it consume you in unhealthy ways, giving way to complaining and negativity.
How important is a message for you in terms of the types of stories you prefer to get involved with? Are you part activist (and if so, for what causes), do you want something that primarily presses artistic buttons, or is it a matter of simply working first and foremost? Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three…
I became an actor for one reason: to make others feel something. I choose roles that illicit a feeling within myself when reading a script. If I’m moved by a role or project on paper, then it then becomes my challenge as an artist to create that same feeling for the viewer. Otherwise there’s nothing in a role for me. If I myself am not moved by this character or story, then my performance won’t be inspired and wont serve me creatively. And most likely won’t go on to do the same in you either.
What do you need from a director? Conversely, what won’t you put up with from a director?
Every director and actor you work with creates a unique set of obstacles. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. I wouldn’t say it’s a need, because that implies that I’m unable to do my job if that specific need isn’t met, but If I’m working with a director who isn’t too keen on artist collaboration – the thing I hope for when working with a director – then that just presents an interesting, albeit frustrating, challenge for me. How can I use this frustration or situation to influence the choices I make within the character? Or how can I not allow it to affect me or my performance? If there was one thing I absolutely wouldn’t put up with from a director, it would be harassment of any form. I’ve worked with such directors before and I don’t think anything good has ever come from belittling, talking down to, or verbally abusing actors or crew members. I understand a director’s job is a stressful one, but there’s no excuse for that kind of behaviour.
Does the way a film or show is distributed make a difference to you – the impact of the big screen and epic sound in a cinema versus a film or series being watched on a laptop or phone? Please answer as both a performer and a fan.
As a viewer, I try my best to view a film in the way the filmmaker intended, because it’s part of their artistic vision. This usually means in a cinema with an audience, such as large tentpole films such as Marvel’s Avengers Endgame. Experiences like this are made all the better when it becomes like a group interaction: a narrative journey that everyone in the audience is on board for, together. You laugh together, you gasp, you cry, and you walk out of the theatre feeling closer than you did before the movie. And as a performer, that immediate audience response happens in real time and right before your eyes. And to see your work invoking a feeling within an audience is the reason I started pursuing this art. A lot of that gets lost when a film is directly sent to streaming. It’s still there, but it happens within the closed doors of the viewer’s home. If I had to choose, I vote for the cinematic experience ten out of ten times. However, I understand the importance of streaming because it allows more people to see the art. It’s much more widely accessible this way. And that can have tremendous benefits and value to it.
What is/are your current project/s? Who is your character and why were they satisfying to play?
I have been fortunate and lucky enough to have a career that at this point has been going on for over 10 years. I’ve had wonderful highs, challenging lows, and incredible experiences that I wouldn’t change even if I could. All these life experiences have molded me into the artist that I am today, and that’s exactly the person I want to be, because it’s unique to me. It’s not someone else’s story. It’s mine. And I love how it still continues to surprise me after all these years. One of the most important characters I’ve ever had the honor of playing was the character of the real life persona Jamie Nabozny, in the documentary Bullied: A Student, A School, and A Case That Made History. It tells the story of young man Jamie Nabozny, who went on to be one of the first cases in history where a student was suing his school for not protecting his rights as a homosexual. Jamie’s story is an incredible one; one that deserved to be told and deserves to be listened to. I’m proud of everything the film accomplished in the years since. The film has gone out to school around the nation to teach kids the dangers of bullying, and it also just so happened to be the very first audition I ever had in Los Angeles. It will always hold a special place in my heart. As for current projects, The Devil All The Time is a Netflix film that will be released later on this year. I play Gary Matthew Bryson, a young man drafted into Vietnam who heads out into the vast open world. Gary was a fun, interesting, and a times, extremely uncomfortable role to play, due to the film’s tone. However, this character and project represents a wonderful turning point in my career; one that I hope leads to many more collaborations and opportunities to come! I worked extremely hard on the film, and I hope that shines in the final product.