Nick Damici is best known to horror fans for his work with director Jim Mickle. He co-wrote the films Mulberry Street, Stake Land, We Are What We Are and Cold in July with Mickle and starred in them as well. Damici’s newest film, Late Phases, is different from his previous work in a lot of ways. Only one of them being that he didn’t write it himself. His character in the picture is an old, blind man (named Ambrose). He is at the end of his life and being placed into a retirement home by his son. This place is also home to a werewolf. When the monster kills his dog, Ambrose decides to take matters into his own hands. We caught up with Nick to talk about the film, which opens Friday in a simultaneous VOD and limited theatrical release.
Wicked Horror: Right off the bat, I want to say that I loved the film and your performance was fantastic in it.
Nick Damici: Thank you, man, so much. That’s sweet.
WH: How did you get involved with Late Phases?
ND: Greg Newman from MPI, he produced Stake Land, he had called me up maybe a year and a half before this actually happened. He had a script for Late Phases and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing this and wanted me to play the lead. This seventy year old blind guy. And I went “what?” I was hooked right there. He sent me the script and I just fell in love with it. I thought the character was brilliant, I thought the structure was right on, as well. It was well written. And a year and a half later, I had kind of given up on it, I thought it was dead. That happens a lot. But he called me up and said “Well, we’re green lit, we’re going. We’re still on.”
WH: What was it about the character of Ambrose in particular that really appealed to you?
I just liked that it was a story, a horror story where… you know, horror stories they generally have a really young cast, which is fine. They’re aimed at a younger audience, I guess. But I found it really interesting that it was about an older guy, and it was just so well written, it was a character piece. Yeah, it was a werewolf story, but it was really about an old warrior facing his death and getting the chance to go out doing what he did best. Which was to be a warrior. I found that really appealing. It was kind of an homage to that generation, they call it the greatest generation, those guys. You know, John Wayne and those types of characters. I don’t know if he was like that in real life, but he played that type and I think that’s sort of unpopular today, those characters. Yet when they pop up, like Clint Eastwood in people fall in love with them. It was something that just appealed to me. I liked it.
WH: Those character types are becoming less popular and it’s unfortunate. As you mentioned, Ambrose is blind, what sort of preparation did you do for that?
ND: It ended up being just a technical, physical kind of thing. It wasn’t so much blindfolding myself. I’m not going to know what it is to be blind. Just closing my eyes or blindfolding myself wasn’t going to do that. I just burned my nose on a cigarette or spilled coffee on myself, but it wasn’t knowing what it was to be blind. You know, that would be a lie to convince people that I know that and actors should never lie. I realized it was about “how do I appear blind?” And then it was just applying the technical, physical way of appearing blind. It just took some research and practice, looking at blind people. People that are born blind, they don’t form eye muscles like we do, so their eyes float. That was not Ambrose. He could see at one point. And those people are like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. It’s a blank stare. It’s just “how do I learn to do that blank stare?” Where you know my eyes are open, I can see but you can’t see that I’m seeing it. So my eyes can’t react. And I learned to look at things peripherally, so I wouldn’t focus on anything. So if I’d be looking at you, I wouldn’t be looking at you. I’d see you, but I would also see that whole circle of peripheral vision around you. So it’s a very kind of technical. Once I did it, did a few tests for Adrian [Garcia Bogliano] in front of the camera, I explained what I was trying to do, he just loved it. He thought it worked. And it was a matter of trusting them when it didn’t work because sometimes my eyes would move, during action and a lot of moving around, or the light would catch my eyes. But they did a very good job of catching all that. So like I said, it wasn’t some great acting, it was just a technical thing in the end. Sometimes it’s the simplest thing that works.
WH: A bit of a similar question, but what was it like to play a character so much older than yourself?
ND: That was terrific. I love the physical stuff, I think physical stuff in acting is where it’s at. Ambrose having to walk differently, I mean, I’m not a young guy, I’m not an old guy, I’m right in the middle there. I’m in my mid-fifties and I’m pretty active. So it was kind of an interesting approach. What I realized was that it was quite funny in a way, that stumbly kind of walk, and I had a very good friend Victor Argo who I based a lot of his character on physically. He was a terrific actor. If you’ve seen Taxi Driver, he was the guy who beats the kid with the pipe. That’s Victor Argo. He was in a ton of Chris Walken movies, True Romance, he’s been in a ton of movies. But he died years ago, and he was a very good friend of mine, he was an amazing guy. He reminded me of a silverback gorilla, because he stood very straight and he had this strange walk like his ass muscles were fucking frozen, and I said “that’s great for Ambrose.” He had this stumbly kind of older thing that was funny, which I thought was good to bring to this, some kind of humor.
WH: Wow, I’m thinking of films I’ve seen him in and see that so clearly in your performance now.
ND: It happened a little bit in the dialogue, because I knew Victor that well. One line that just comes to mind when I see it is “I’d show you to the door, ladies, but I’m blind.” That’s how he would talk and that was his delivery. Not that I was trying to imitate Victor, but I was channeling him.
WH: The chemistry between you and Ethan Embry was great. Did you guys work on that a lot or did that all come out on the day?
ND: I don’t know if you would call it work, we had the luck and the scheduling… you know, Ethan didn’t work every day and we all got up there a little bit early in a way. We had a lot of downtime and we were staying in a hotel all together in a small town, so we did have a lot of time to hang out and bullshit and get to know each other and he and I hit it off right away. He’s a very sweet guy, very easy to get to know, so that saved us having to play that. I mean, in the film, there’s obviously trouble between them but we know they love each other. I wouldn’t speak that strongly for Ethan, I think we have love for each other, but we don’t know each other that well. But we did really like each other a lot and that was the basis of what we did on screen. And I felt that he saw I was really having a good time, and it was an acting thing for him as well, and he really gave me a lot of support. Never let me down at all. He fed me, which is an acting thing, and there’s nothing like actors who can feed you and make your performance better and I think he did that completely. I’m very grateful.
WH: So, films like Stake Land and We Are What We Are you wrote in addition to acting in. What are some of the differences between doing a film like that and a film where you’re only acting in it?
ND: Not really a big difference, I mean I separated those two jobs pretty much completely. I mean, I can’t as an actor not say what I think about the writing or dialogue and making it work for me, and I would do that as an actor whether I was writing or not. It really is a separation for me. I write something and then I stop to play the character. Jim Mickle always laughs at me because I write a lot of dialogue, I love dialogue and I think I have an ear for it. I’d write really funny, good dialogue and when I get to shooting, especially in Mickle’s and my stuff, I start cutting all my dialogue out. He says “Jesus Christ, you cut all your dialogue” and I’d say “Yeah, I didn’t have to say it.” I think that’s really important. A script is for reading and actors get a lot out of reading that, but why does the audience have to hear all this? You know what I mean? Sometimes you don’t have to say it and I think that works better, to some degree. Better to give them less than more.