In the Canadian psychological thriller-slash- cabin in the woods style horror film The Corridor (which played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival this past fall and is currently available on various VOD platforms throughout Canada from D Films and in limited theatrical release in the States through IFC), actor Stephen Chambers plays the exact opposite of what he appears to be in real life. Sitting in a Toronto area Starbucks with co-star Glen Matthews, Chambers is relaxed, joking, and fiercely passionate about his job, talking about everything from the latest releases, to working in different cities, to things he thinks should change with regard to the profession he so clearly loves.
On screen, however, Chambers gives a chilling and melancholy performance as Tyler Crawley, a potentially schizophrenic young man recently released from a mental hospital into the care of his four best friends (including Matthews, as slightly wimpy married man with personal issues of his own) for a weekend of male bonding at his mother’s old cottage that turns disturbing and violent after the discovery of a mysteriously contained forcefield in the middle of the woods with strange healing and telekinetic powers.
Halifax native Matthews also breaks the mould of his on-screen persona by being anything but passive regarding his work. Constantly taking to social media platforms and engaging with press types over work that he’s most proud of, Matthews shows a real drive for success that should help him well in the future.
Matthews and Chambers (who recently also just finished co-starring on stage in a Toronto production of Tom Walmsley’s The Nun’s Vacation) sat down with Dork Shelf over coffee to talk about crafting mentally ill characters, filming in the middle of a Nova Scotia winter, and the fine art of making male bonding believable on camera.
Dork Shelf: So what brought you guys brought you to this project?
Glen Matthews: Um, auditioning. (laughs) Yeah, we’re not A-listers, so we’re going to be doing what we can get, but I read the script when it was still being developed and I fell in love with it, which with my attention span was quite the feat. I wanted to be a part of it, but even though I was from Halifax and they were going to be shooting in Nova Scotia, I was sure they were going to go and pick someone from Toronto, which they did. They picked one guy from Toronto. (nodding to Stephen) But yeah, the script… holy shit. I wanted it more than I wanted the paycheque. I mean, a paycheque is nice, too, but…
Stephen Chambers: Yeah, Glen knew a lot of these people being from Halifax, and I kind of felt like an outsider because a lot of these people knew each other, and I hated that. (laughs) But like I’ve said before, that really suited the character. Then it got so creepy because I was doing this play at the time – another Tom Walmsley play, actually – and I got this call that I was on the short list for the part. “It’s you and one other guy! I can’t say who it is, but he’s, like, a minor celebrity.” And I’m just thinking that they are going to give it to him, anyway. And besides if I got the part it was going to cut into the play I was already doing. And I would’ve just said fuck the play, I’m gonna go, but finally they said that I got it, but not to worry because they weren’t even going to be shooting until the end of the play. Sweet! That was that, yeah. (laughs)
DS: The film kind of has this cool Stephen King style vibe to it with regards to male bonding and male psychology like in Stand by Me, The Shining, or Dreamcatcher if that last one wasn’t a piece of shit.
SC: It’s funny because I saw Dreamcatcher after we did this because everyone kept talking about it, but with the exception of the fact that (co-star) David Flemming kind of looks like Damien Lewis, it wasn’t really that similar. Man, I wasn’t really into that movie at all.
GM: Two movies with dudes in the middle of the woods in a snowy landscape really tend to stand out.
DS: Were you guys really intrigued by the bonding and character relationships at the heart of the story, and did you see this as more than just a standard horror movie?
GM: For me, that’s what gave the film its strength. You really believe in the characters. The film gives you time to meet these characters, so when the shit hits the fan you hopefully care about them all.
SC: I mean, I know I really loved the male bonding part of it all, and Glen knows that I’m just an idiot. When I was reading it, I didn’t even know it was a horror movie! I really didn’t. (laughs) Because I was doing that play and I was just stressed and I’d read it really quickly and I just didn’t get it. I was going through it so fast and looking for all of my lines and seeing how many I had and wondering how I was going to memorize this. “Hmmm, a lot about me and a bunch of guys. Why do I care about this guy so much? I don’t know.” Plus, I didn’t understand the ending. So once we were shooting and I saw this huge vat of blood and I asked what that was for and our makeup guy said “Oh! It’s for next week when you guys are gonna be all bloody!” And I’m just, like, “What the fuck are you talking about?!?”
GM: I would’ve been so scared if I had known that when we were actually doing this. Holy fuck.
SC: Even when we were doing the practical effects, I was just thinking that this was just a violent part in a drama. It wasn’t until our producer Mike Masters showed me the movie that it really hit me how well paced it was to sort of hide the horror elements. Because to me horror isn’t really like Friday the 13th or anything. This still isn’t much of a horror movie to me. It’s more sci-fi and drama. To me, it’s not a horror film just because it has a lot of blood in it.
DS: Now when you’re playing a character that’s as mentally damaged as Tyler, you have to walk a fine line between being realistic and being a potential caricature.
SC: You know, a lot of it is kind of like the play we’re doing now. I’ll often think after we shoot and wonder if I did enough character work. Then I remember that a lot of it’s actually in the dialog already. A lot of the shit, I’m saying is the character. And another thing is that I never thought of Tyler as someone who was still crazy, since everyone around him is. I never really thought a lot about it, but you know every once in a while something would happen and the director would tell me to dial it back a bit because it was a little fucked up and I would just end up doing something Kramer-esque (laughs).
I forget now, but there’s a pill that I keep taking throughout the film that was in the script. It was named in there, but we never say the name of it in the movie, we just refer to it as a blocker, but it’s a real thing. I had looked that up to see what it treated, because again, the script never gave me a really specific ailment to play. It was some sort of schizophrenic thing, and I started thinking about what the side effects of this drug would be. There wasn’t any that you could really see, so I just said I wasn’t going to Dustin Hoffman this one. The character was in the dialog and their reactions to me. To me, Tyler was just always being outed by everyone around him.
And I mean, a lot of that is credit to the writer and director, as well. Josh (MacDonald), the writer he never did anything obvious.
GM: And I’ll give them both credit because they wrote all these characters… you have the jock, the nerd, the playboy, and you have hints of those archetypes, but they all have a little more to them.
SC: I think Evan (Kelly), the director, said it best to me in interviews that he had done that he’s not too much of a genre guy. He’s really not a horror guy. He’s more of a sci-fi guy. And I could feel that. When it got time to do some bloody effect, he would treat it like a drama. He would make us think first about what exactly we were doing. If I was going to throw and axe in someone’s face, he would make me ask myself why I was going to do that before we went ahead to make sure I got it. It was always about the personality of the characters, and he was drawn to it the same way we both were. Just as a male bonding drama. We were all drawn to The Big Chill element to it than The Thing part of it.
DS: Who on the set was the most intense person when it came to getting into character once everyone starts to go a little crazy?
GM: Oh, man, definitely Jim Gilbert, who plays Ev in the movie. He’s sort of the alpha male of the bunch, and he assumed that role off screen in a great way. The story I always tell is that this was my first feature film, and we had about a week of rehearsals before, and I was kinda shitting my pants and I was really nervous, because I felt like this was my chance and that I had to get it right. And we went out for drinks and Jim just told me not to worry about it and to just take it easy. He was intense and he was that sort of alpha male, but he did it in such a way that he really helped me get through this and helped me with my character. It was really fun working with him, because studying what he did allowed me to go some deeper places on my own, which is really cool.
DS: It looks like it was a really cold and potentially uncomfortable movie to shoot in the middle of winter in the Maritimes. What was it like to be shooting this heavy movie in the middle of that environment?
GM: It was fun, actually, because the cold wasn’t always too bad, and in most of the scenes we’re dressed appropriately.
SC: It wasn’t necessarily that cold, but there were times where you just weren’t able to warm up at all. I remember there was a little hut where you were supposed to be able to warm up but it didn’t really work at all, so the cold would just keep getting into your bones. With the snow, it was unseasonably warm, and it all started to melt. They had these entire fenced off portions of good snow, and when we went to do a take I would be told that I could only walk through it once. And I remember riding a snowmobile towards the end of the film, and it was just grass and mud and there was just one strip of snow and if the camera just went slightly in either direction, all you would see is mud. Sometimes where I would hit it and be afraid I fucked up the shot.
GM: There was only really rough scene due to the cold that was all that bad, and it’s this scene with me and Matt Amyotte, who plays Bob, have to be sort of zombie sort of things, and his shirt is ripped wide open and it was fucking cold out that night.
SC: I remember that night. I was inside, and I remembered thinking that I was going to watch them do this and I was outside for a few seconds and then I said, “nope!”
GM: It was really windy and really late.
SC: It was during the last week or two of shooting, because we shot mostly everything more or less in sequence, and by that point I was just really tired because at that point we were doing a lot of night shoots.
GM: Yeah, I basically was a zombie at that point.
SC: I mean aside from a bunch of exteriors that we shot in the first week and the opening scene which we shot at the very end of the shoot, it was all pretty much in order. We would be picking up right where we left off for the most part when we ended one night and picked up the next day.
GM: And Evan I remember said in a recent interview that it was for his own benefit. That benefited me, too. I mean, I think I have it easiest out of any of the characters, because I only have one scene where he’s actually going through something negative because he’s going through a trance a lot of the time, and for the most part I’m just have a great time and full of all this confidence that I didn’t have before. It was just that one day towards the end where it was different.
SC: And for me it was like the exact opposite, where I would ask the director if I could just have the one day where I actually get to smile. (laughs) Everyone else gets to have a fun scene, but I only have one moment, and I think its in the trailer where I grin when everyone’s playing guitar, and that’s it! That’s my one moment of happiness!
DS: Which is funny because the whole point of the story is for these guys to take you to the cabin to cheer you up…
SC: I know! It’s strange how it works out!
DS: …but they also all seem to be going there for their own different personal reasons.
SC: Yeah! That’s how I always kind of saw it, too. They all had their own shit to deal with.
GM: We’re all going through something when we get there, and Stephen’s character has pretty much gone through the worst of it already. We still all have our own shit to work out.
SC: That’s it, and that’s why I never played him as crazy. And the whole time, not one character even asks me about how I’m doing! Watch it again! (laughs) It’s just me babysitting all of you fucking weirdos! And I’m supposed to be this big, creepy villain at first!
GM: It’s funny because all the guys are quite a bit older than me in real life. So a lot of the things in here I didn’t really understand, like the friends and losing contact and stuff, and only now a couple of years later am I starting to really see that getting reflected in my own life and my own work.
DS: Well, you’ve also moved to a new city in that time, as well.
GM: True, true. So now I feel like I’m finally catching up with the life experience of The Corridor and who I’m portraying.
DS: Originally being from Nova Scota, which has a really tight knit, up and coming filmmaking community, what was it like for you to work in that environment and how much does that mean to you? And Stephen, what was it like for you going out there compared to working at home in Toronto?
GM: Well, every time you go onto a film set in Nova Scotia as an actor from there, you know at least 50% of the crew. You acquire a real sense of community. There’s a real safety that I enjoy. Everyone there is really my friend, we all go out for beers and there’s a real supportive sense of community there. Everybody was so on board with Hobo with a Shotgun and everything that (Jason) Eisener has been doing there, and now Eisener’s supporting us, too. It’s not just because we’re Nova Scotian’s helping out their neighbours, it’s genuinely because the work is getting better and we want to continue to make it better. Eisener helped with the script, or at least he gave notes on the script and on the editing, as well. There’s just such a sense of collaboration. There isn’t nearly as much competition. I’m going back there next month to do a short film, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s actually with a director I actually haven’t worked with yet, so I’m really excited about that, and it surprising that they’re from Halifax and I haven’t worked with them yet (laughs), and its from John Davies, the writer of Hobo, so that’s something I’m really looking forward to.
SC: It was really amazing. Initially it’s scary because I didn’t know anyone and they all knew each other or had at least heard of each other. But that went away within minutes. I’m from here, but it’s so much harder to work here. I don’t think an ensemble piece like this would work as well if it was set here. On The Corridor, it was totally different because I wasn’t accustomed to how nice everyone was going to be. I kept away from everyone at first because I just didn’t get how genuinely nice it was going to be. A lot of the people from our movie were going on to do Hobo with a Shotgun next, and even in the credits for that one, I think now I can pick out about 50% of the names on there that also worked on our film in some way. I just love it there.