While he’s recognized for a variety of roles, Marshal Hilton is becoming somewhat of a popular staple in today’s horror movies. And with the upcoming release of the well-received Echoes of Fear, the star of such films as Primal Rage, The Bunnyman Massacre and I Am Alone, will no doubt find more genre pieces come his way.
Echoes of Fear, which kicked off its North American theatrical run last week in L.A, is a creepfest about a young woman who must confront the mystery surrounding her grandfather’s death after she inherits his house. It is written and co-directed by genre regular Brian Avenet-Bradley.
Alysa inherits her grandfather’s house following his sudden death from an apparent heart attack. She cannot keep the house so travels there to prepare it for sale. While she is packing away her grandfather’s belongings some strange and unexplained events inside the house start to spook her and she soon comes to the conclusion that she is not alone there. Even her pet mouse senses a presence. Something supernatural lurks in the house and she begins to believe that her grandfather was trying to find something before he died. When her friend Steph arrives they attempt to solve the mystery and what they uncover together forces them to confront the diabolical truth and the evil that hides inside.
It’s not exactly fair to call you a ‘horror guy’, but you definitely like to keep your toe dipped into the genre pool. Is that simply down to the type of roles and films being offered to you, or are you consciously chasing films in solid horror films?
It really is a function of what comes my way. In Hollywood you very rarely get what you want, you get what you’re offered. I don’t specify lean into one genre. I’ve done a few, so other filmmakers that like my work and like the genre will call. I’ve actually done less of them over the last few years. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been getting more rural type characters coming my way. I do love cowboys.
Is there a part that you believe helped cement your career as a go-to guy for quality genre films?
Not one in particular, but this character may shake some things up. Without giving away too much info, David is a deeply layered, complex character. I think the decision to present myself with this type of physicality and look will surprise folks. I know people that have seen the film and they literally didn’t recognize me. I attended the world premier of the film last year at Shriekfest and I was talking to people face to face and they had no idea they were talking to “David”. It was really interesting to feel as though I melted away in a character to that extent. I’m proud of that. It was risky and took a lot of work. There will be some surprises with him, that’s all I can say.
Ironically, you achieved fame on a FOX kids series though, didn’t you?
Indeed. You’ve been doing some sleuthing. The Series shot right around one hundred episodes from 1997 through 1998 before it went into syndication. At its peak it was airing in approximately 14 million homes, six days a week. That’s a lot of eyeballs. Fox sold it as part of the Fox Kids line-up to Disney where it disappeared for a while. The Internet brought it back to life. It was digitized and given a sort of re-birth. It’s still floating around out there.
What did you learn working on the series that would help you later on?
Any time you have the opportunity to climb into the Network TV workflow there is a lot to absorb. There are so many moving parts. You learn very quickly that although you may be the tip of the spear, it is a team environment. One hundred and fifty plus people, multiple departments, all working crazy hours to meet deadlines to create an environment for you to do your best work, is humbling. It truly turns into a family and you feel responsible to do not only your best work, but do your best work for all the people working their asses off to make you look good. And as with any family there will be ups and downs, but the goal is the same. It’s the essence of true creative collaboration.
You also learn very quickly that this business is a “We Game” not a “Me Game”. You are an asset, a commodity, and one that can be disposed of, or embraced. The fairy- tale we actors have in our brain, the fantasy of what we think its like to be contracted on a Series, is very different than the reality. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and a wake up call for most. You can tell very quickly who’s ready, who’s with the team, and who’s stuck in their ego. There really is no room for pompous bullshit.
When the show finished, was it a conscious decision to play roles as different as Les Fortunes as possible?
Absolutely, although to bring back an adult uncensored version of Les in the right situation would be epic!
Actually, after the show ended I took a seven-year hiatus from acting. I literally disappeared to re-charge my battery. I ended up focusing on my music interests. I’ve been a guitar player and drummer since I was eight years old. Music was my first love. I did a lot or playing, touring and studio work over the years. I started a little independent label, learned digital recording technology and began producing. It was an amazing few years. It ran its course and I felt the urge to step back into the acting arena in 2006 and I’ve been working ever since.
And, I think it’s fair to say, they have been very different. Just as Sheriff Clint Baxter in The Bunnyman Massacre is very different to Vitale in Assassin X and BD in Primal Rage. You’re determined not to repeat yourself?
It’s a delicate balance for sure. Over the years this business will “type” you. A Filmmaker, Casting Director or Producer will see you in a film and they will say, “…That’s the character we need in our film…” So you end up getting inquires along the same type of character; I’ve already done the grizzled desert hunter, the grizzled forest hunter, and the grizzled Sheriff, the list keeps growing. So there needs to be something unique with the story, the genre, or the character, otherwise you end up repeating yourself. If I can’t get excited about the character and its not unique, I generally will pass on the project. It doesn’t mean that it’s a bad script, its just needs to excite my imagination. If it does, then I’m all in.
Done any sequels, where you’ve had to repeat a role though?
Yup, sheriff Clint Baxter in the Bunnyman franchise. I did him twice. The reason I did him twice is that he was supposed to die in the first film but the footage was unusable because we had lost the sunlight. So when they edited the film they decided to leave his demise open. Several years later I got a call from the Director Carl Lindberg saying that they loved the character and wanted to bring him back to “..kill him right…”.
And how do you make sure it’s not boring for you, when you have to play a character you haven’t played before?
Playing a new character is NEVER boring if you’re doing the work respectfully and you care about the craft. It should be a joy and a challenge to dig into the psychological layers. If its “boring” then its time to find some other profession because your work will be uninspired and cheat those who have become fans of your work.
Keeping spoilers at bay, what can you tell us about Echoes of Fear.
There’s not much that I can divulge other than this film leads you down a familiar path, then smacks you upside the head. And its not a mild gentile slap. It’s more like an emotionally dark visceral haymaker that is completely unexpected. It twists you up in a creepy uncomfortable way. It gets pretty intense.
It’s definitely not your standard horror movie is it?
Without a doubt, the slight of hand is stunning. Things are not always as they appear. Although it feels somewhat familiar, this film sneaks up on you in ways completely unexpected. That’s also a great challenge as a storyteller. Keeping your cards close and constantly bluffing while not giving away the secrets is fun ;)
How did you find that character?
It was challenging for sure. I’ve never done anyone like him. This is the most difficult part about this film. We just can’t really go into much detail. After reading the script it was a no brainer. As an actor you dream about the subtext, the story going on in the head of a character behind their eyes. Everyone has a story, and everyone has secrets. Humans are very protective of themselves. Finding those layers is where the craft comes to light; the imagination, the peeling of the onion, the digging for the physical and psychological nuances that are buried and hidden inside the character, not spoken, just felt. There are just so many layers to this story. But on the surface, what’s not to be fascinated by a guy that uses a cane to walk, an oxygen tank to help him breath, and yet he still smokes cigarettes?
And the look – who can we attribute to that?
God, and the random gifts that the universe presents.
As far as the character, I was busy shooting other films and had the script for a while. Up until about a week before shooting I still didn’t know what I was going to do with David physically. I was starting to worry about what to do with him. I was at my chiropractors office one day and one of his patients had an oxygen tank to assist his breathing. He was an older gentleman, hunched over, and balding. It was like a beam of angelic light filled to room the moment I saw him. It was like God said, ” Here you go”. When I heard the man’s voice and watched how he struggled to speak with a shortness of breath I was mesmerized. I had been watching You Tube videos of people with emphysema speaking, but this guy was the real deal. I bent that man’s ear for about thirty minutes, soaking in every nuance of his essence. It was a miracle. I rushed home and called Brian and said “I got Him!”, and then spoke to him in my “David voice”. He was kind of speechless as I recall. We also agreed that I might look a bit too young and too clean for the character he had envisioned. I knew that David needed to be created correctly, the script and story called for it. I tossed out the idea of going with a semi bald look to age myself and I went several weeks without shaving. It was a big risk to head down that path. My ego felt scared and uncomfortable. The Artist in me said, “…That’s perfect, you need to face the fear, break the mold and go for it”. Thankfully Brian liked the idea so we went with it, and the world got David.
Did you find it hard to switch on and off every day, after playing what one imagines was such an emotionally-draining part?
It was terrifying for so many reasons. To present myself to the world is such a naked manner was very difficult to square. I’ve never had a character that provided such psychological width, so I had never gone that far with a character. The nuances were off the chart. I was physically uncomfortable every moment we shot. Not only with the physical presentation, but the David’s psychological side. Without giving away too much that’s about all I can give you.
What kind of direction did Brian and Lo offer? And were they open to your suggestions?
Brian and Lo are wonderful people. They really care about the work, and it shows in Echoes. The script was very specifically crafted. Brian and Lo knew all the nuances they wanted to see. It was all there. The layers, deception and discovery were all written. There really wasn’t any reason for improve or ad-libbing. They are very diligent with each moment, each frame. They were very well prepared with the storyboard and very specific with the treads and layers. They needed too be because this was a very small production. They wore many hats. When you have that much going on preparation is the key. Because it was such a small team there were some difficulties, but there are difficulties on every film shoot. But you realize what it is that you’re taking on and know that going in. I think that we all understood the constraints. But the bottom line is the final product, and Echoes delivers their vision.
Do you feel, though an entertaining movie, there’s also a message to the movie?
Yes. Things are not always as they appear. Don’t fix up Grandpa’s old house. Sell the dam thing… lol
It’s been a pleasure and thank you for reaching out. Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew, I just want to say thank you for supporting this film. It was a passion project for everyone involved. I hope you and your readers enjoy the film.
Echoes of Fear is in select theaters around the country now.