Actor A.J. Bowen Talks Working on the Horror film Hatchet II and more
A.J. Bowen is an actor best known for his work in horror genre films. Here, we talk about how A.J. became an actor, what films have influenced him, what the future holds, and what it was like to work with the cast and director of Hatchet II.
Hatchet II (un-rated) was recently released on Blu-Ray and DVD. How did you fall into the role of Layton and what, if anything, attracted you to this project?
It’d been a long time since I’d done any work… I used to be a chef and was considering going back to that… Then my buddy Adam (Green) called me and asked if I’d be interested in doing Hatchet II; he’d write a part specifically for me. So it ended up working out.
What was it like working with horror icons like Tom Holland, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Danielle Harris, etc.?
It was a huge deal for me… I may be one of the few actors that works in genre primarily, and actually really loves genre stuff. I grew up watching horror movies, specifically watching horror movies of the people who acted in Hatchet II… and so, to get to be on set with them, to work with Dani Harris and Tom Holland, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder, was an out-of-body experience for me, cause I’ve been watching their movies for over 20 years.
Any particularly memorable experiences working on the film as a whole?
One thing with Adam, he has a very preternatural ability to pull the right people together that are gonna get along…
Every movie is sort of like summer camp… you go in and shoot it, and for two weeks you’re really tight, and you promise you’re gonna keep in contact, but you never talk again. But with Hatchet II, we all hung out and got along really well, and became really good friends. We shot it over a year ago, and we still hang out… we have barbeques all the time at Tom Holland’s house, hang out with Dani on a regular basis, and we’re all still friends. And that’s very rare working in film, cause most people just don’t keep up communication.
We sort of went through something that was very fun, and to have us all get on a plane together and fly to New Orleans, and spend a week in the Quarter shooting stuff… There are a lot of things I can’t talk about (laughs), but you haven’t lived until you’ve been to a strip club with Candyman.
Haha… The Big Easy is quite a fun place! So what made you first become interested in acting?
It’s a funny story actually, since it’s been almost 25 years… but when I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, and I was home with the chicken pox when I watched the Challenger explode, and it freaked me out. Then about 8 months later a movie came out called Space Camp, about a kid who went to space camp and ended up going into space… It was the first time at a young age that I realized I could pretend to be doing something and not put myself in peril. I’ve always loved movies, and really loved horror movies especially, so it was sort of a happy coincidence that the first couple of movies I made were in the genre and got a little bit of attention.
I know a lot of actors tend to think poorly of genre-filmmaking, but as a storyteller I love them, because they’re personally one of the last places where you can impart satire without being a “message film;” you can raise questions about society and talk about issues in a way that’s visceral and vital without being too on-the-nose about it. I’m going to do other projects that aren’t horror films, but they’ll always be my home base.
If you could choose your role in a film, would you prefer playing the hero or villain?
I’ve been lucky outside the studio system in independent film… Many times I’ve played the bad guy, and I really like playing complicated characters that others might judge harshly, and humanize them, or take something that might be viewed harshly on paper and create a role that people might be able to understand… So playing the villain has been good for me… Although I’d love to not hit girls anymore!
Do you think you’ll continue on with acting, or will you delve more into producing, or both?
I’ve gotten into the business through acting, but in terms of film-making, the story is really directed by the producers, the people making it, and I’m aware of that. So if I create content it’s going to be as a producer. I’ll always act, and I’ve been fortunate to get to act with close friends that are really talented filmmakers, like Ti West, Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg… but the only way to control a story or content is to produce it, especially on an independent level.
Are you working on any upcoming projects/films?
We shot a movie last year called A Horrible Way to Die, and we’re lucky… It got into the Toronto Film Festival as a Vanguard selection, and it got picked up immediately by Anchor Bay. I’m really happy with it. It’s gonna come out around Labor Day…
Can you name some of your all-time favorite movies?
My favorite horror film of all time is 1974 Black Christmas by Bob Clark, (who also made A Christmas Story,) so this movie predated Halloween, but like it, it created so many subgenres. A lot of the horror I’m into is atmospheric; I’m not into gore, which is funny based on what it is that I do. I like stuff that tells a story, I like atmospheric tension being scarier, I like leaving a bit a to the imagination.
If I were to tell you my favorite movies of all time, nobody would understand why I love them. Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Teen Wolf…A Third Man (a throwback to give me some street cred). I watch about 2-3 movies a day, and I find value in almost all of them.
I like being involved with a group of people who grew up watching these movies. I think the 80s decade for cinema is criminally underrated, and I think a lot of people didn’t realize they were fantasy films, and so it’s nice that there’s a group of us now that have grown up watching these films… Like my buddy Ti (West,) who did The House of the Devil, I can tell the movies he watched or was into based on the stories he tries to tell in his work. There’s sort of a niche for everybody.
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