A key component of the original Don't Breathe is that the main character, Stephen Lang's "Blind Man," was a conflicted character who the audience somewhat rooted for, but had carried out some truly heinous acts, establishing a tone for the series that no characters we pure good or pure evil. With Don't Breathe 2 continuing to explore the adventures of this Blind Man, Brendan Sexton III joined the series as Raylan, another character with a mysterious past who the audience is left to wonder whether to root for or against. This marks only the latest complex character Sexton has played, as he has a history of delivering these compelling and complicated characters. Don't Breathe 2 is in theaters now.
ComicBook.com caught up with Sexton to talk his connection to horror, joining the franchise, and his resume full of morally ambiguous figures.
ComicBook.com: When it came to Don't Breathe 2, audiences were surprised that it got a sequel, but they were super excited because they enjoyed that first one so much. You have starred in a handful of horror movies over the years, are you a horror fan yourself or was it this specific story that excited you?
Brendan Sexton III: Great question. I've got to say, I'm not particularly a horror fan. I don't dislike it, it's just normally, usually not my thing. And I will say I'm a fan of the filmmakers themselves. Actually, I was a fan of theirs before I even knew I was a fan of theirs. I saw a short film they made in, I don't know 2008 or 2010, that's on YouTube with millions of hits and I didn't even know it was them.
Then I went and saw their remake of Evil Dead around the same time and I saw it on opening night and I just cracked up the whole 90 minutes of that film, I had stitches in my side. I thought the movie was incredible and hilarious. And me and my friend were the only people laughing in the whole theater and everyone thought we were idiots. So the fact they made Don't Breathe, which I loved, and then the script for Don't Breathe 2 came out, like, wow, and I read the script and I was like, this is definitely going to be special and I want to be a part of it.
Going back to when I first saw you in Empire Records and Welcome to the Dollhouse many years ago, I've always loved seeing you pop up and you are so good at playing these characters that audiences hate to love or love to hate. There's this charm that you bring to the most despicable or irritating characters and you get to further that reputation, but give more layers in Don't Breathe 2, of course. Do you ever feel typecast for playing that role or do you think of that as a gift of this thing you can tap into and you get to be this great character actor?
I think that's a compliment disguised as a question and I'll take it.
Yeah, absolutely take it.
I would say, for me, the answer is it's both. I've been very blessed with these memorable roles and key moments in memorable films for people. Maybe they're not widely seen, but the people who do see these movies love them, they become converts of sorts. These films become cult favorites and I've been very blessed to play these despicable and morally ambiguous characters. And yes, I used to get very upset about being typecast and all I wanted to do is, like, play a dad for 10 years. Just a normal dad.
And maybe that'll still happen for me and maybe not. I do find that if I can make a living playing these bad guys, some of them aren't terribly despicable. Some of them are morally ambiguous. I'll keep doing it and I do find the fun in finding the difference between the different characters. So I love working, I like to work and that's what's most important to me.
That totally makes sense. I can absolutely see why, at times you get frustrated, but then as you get older and realize how many contemporaries you have. Other character actors that pop up in a movie, you instantly recognize them and instantly love them. Even if it's a role similar to what they've done before.
I think there's also actors I admire who don't do the same thing, but they definitely play a villainous type of character and it's their bread and butter and they make a living out of it and I'm sure they can play dozens of millions of other roles. But I'm also sure that they're happy to make a living. And there is an advantage of being typecast because once you put that well-known, typecast actor on screen, the audience knows that's the bad guy, and they know who not to root for, so there is an advantage to it, in a way.
As someone who might not typically be as huge of a horror fan and being drawn into this character, how do you feel the intensity of this shoot or the vibe of this shoot compared to other productions that you've been on in recent years?
It was very intense. And I would say that in some ways [director] Rodo [Sayagues] and [producer] Fede [Alvarez] almost insisted this was an action movie, like an action movie disguised as a thriller and it does have this beautiful cinematography and this wonderful production design that has this aura. But they said it was an action film, they would hint that it's a bit of an action film and they were trying to bend the genre a bit, so it was pretty intense in the middle of the summer wearing a leather jacket and a wool beanie in the middle of a greenhouse doing an action sequence.
I would say it was pretty intense and just emotionally draining, my character Raylan is pretty calm and collected through most of the film until his plan starts to unravel but it was still an emotional roller coaster for me as an actor. And I got to show, at least at the time while we were filming, play with lots of different colors and emotional temperatures. I think that definitely took its toll eventually after three months of summer.
When you look back at production, do you remember what was both the most fun scene to shoot and then also what was the most challenging and most intense scene to shoot?
I would say one of the most fun, especially when it comes to the action, was the climactic scene, third or fifth act, depending on how you count. It took us five days to shoot, I got whacked with a machete by accident, and I got a scar from it on my hand.
Some actors get tattoos after they do a movie to commemorate the occasion, I get scars. I'm sure stunt performers get broken bones and that's how they remember that film, when you wake up in the morning and you feel something on your hips or something. I still have my scar and that scene took five days to shoot, but it was also beautiful and it just looks gorgeous, there's wonderful colors in it and some big emotional heaviness and there's wonderful makeup special effects and gory details to it. It was grueling and we did it at the end of the shoot. We shot it within the last week and a half of filming.
By then, I was physically taxed, emotionally taxed, mentally taxed, which means I was primed to shoot that scene. Just to make this short story longer, we didn't get a chance to rehearse any of the stunt choreography beforehand, like habits to seep into our body and our muscles and everything, we were only able to rehearse our stunt choreography on the day, for numerous reasons. So it was quite the challenge and I felt a little pissed off at the time because of that, but also willing to rise to the occasion. And I love fighting, that was intense and a whole lot of fun to shoot, the crew was so amazing that night. They were so supportive. They knew I was giving it my all and they gave their all, and then on the flip side of this shoot was my one-on-one with Phoenix on the bed when I'm sitting at my chair across from her. The scene was different than it was in the script, but it was one of my favorites. No doubt.
WARNING: Spoilers below for Don't Breathe 2
Speaking to the end of the film and your connection with Phoenix and how both of these Don't Breathe films are about very complicated characters that exist in a moral gray area, there's no real good guy, there's no real bad guy. They're all just shades of gray. Phoenix, what do you see happening for her in the future? Whether there's a sequel or not, but just you personally, how do you think having connected with this character, helping bring this story to life, what do you think the future would hold for her?
That's a great question and I'm glad you asked it because, I think to me, this script and film has always been about Phoenix, and I just thought there's beautiful, poetic metaphors pointing to that. Spoiler alert, she kills her biological parents, she kills her figurative parent and she becomes her own woman before someone should be a woman at that time. It's about a girl finding herself and you see at the end of the film when she names herself, she's asked what her name is and she declares her name is Phoenix. She makes that decision herself and no one else is making decisions for her. She's her own woman. And so I always saw it as a coming-of-age story and I think what the film is saying at the end is she's going to be all right.
I think if there was another film, if there was a sequel to this film, I think obviously you show that she's not all right, and she's being tortured and she has to fight for her life but at the end of this film it says she's going to be all right.
I can't help but bring up, since it's actually the 20th anniversary of Session 9 this year, which, I'm from Massachusetts so a horror movie set there, being familiar with Danvers, and the fact that it flew under folks' radar for quite a while, makes me excited that fans are finally finding it. Are you aware of the cult following that it now has, that it's getting out on Blu-ray and it's popping up on streaming sites and that people love this movie?
No, I am aware they did a Blu-ray and I believe I did an interview or something with a Blu-ray for Session 9. But it didn't compute in my head that there even was a Blu-ray because it's gotten so much, a cult following in its 20 years. In some ways, I think Brad Anderson, the director, is a magnificent director and his unique talent at building tension through the camera. I don't know if he's paralleled by anyone right now to build that kind of tension. I think he's a fantastic suspense and horror director.
I guess that wasn't even a question. It's more just, "Hey, I love Session 9. Tons of other people love this movie." And the scene of you with the lights going out in the tunnel as you're running has influenced a lot of other horror movies since.
It was my favorite to shoot. It was amazing. There was one moment shooting that where we were rehearsing. I think we were rehearsing like the half scene after that, and Brad asked me to run out of the house screaming my head off and I did, and people from the base camp, where all the movie trailers were, heard it, but couldn't communicate through the walkie. So they had no idea what was going on. They just heard this young man screaming his head off. So they ran from base camp to set to see what was happening and Brad's just like, "Hey, we're rehearsing, that's all" It was a blast to make that movie and to shoot that scene in particular, I just loved it.
My friend worked on it and, whenever Session 9 comes up, talks about wearing the white hazmat suits and sliding through the puddle of blood and then wearing those suits around town after the shoot and freaking people out.
Amazing. I want to see photos of that. I wish I had the smarts to do that at the time, because I would have.
Don't Breathe 2 is in theaters now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.