I recently got the chance to talk to Jeff Mash about his role in Johnny Depp’s new film, ‘Dark Shadows’. Here, Jeff talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set and how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Jeff. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘Dark Shadows’.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for asking me!
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film? I understand it’s a remake of sorts…way before my time…
Yeah, the film is inspired by a unique and groundbreaking TV series, ‘Dark Shadows’, which was a gothic-supernatural daytime soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971. The show counted Tim Burton and Johnny Depp among its cult following. If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t be talking now! What’s the plotline? Imagine scripting a two-hour film from a series that ran for 1,225 episodes. All you can do is have fun with it and that’s exactly what Tim Burton and company have done. Spoiler alert…the story begins in 1760. The young heir to a fishing fortune, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), chooses one woman over another. One problem. The rejected lover happens to be a witch and is hell-bent on proving the old adage that: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”. And since the witch, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), was a maid, there’s also a “class warfare” element at play. So, Angelique kills the other woman, turns Barnabas into a vampire and then buries him alive (er undead?) in a locked coffin. End of story? Well the plan would have worked had it not been for…wait for it…me and some fellow construction workers…
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
Jump to 1972. That’s me at the start of these trailers discovering the coffin - (“We hit something” – http://youtu.be/ghKvxQoEZjg) and taking an ill-advised closer look – (“What the hell is this?” – http://youtu.be/f4X9jQQzk90). Oops. Let’s just say the hard hat didn’t help. The plotline really kicks off from here. You’ve got Barnabas as a blood-thirsty Rip Van Winkle, the witchy Angelique now ruling the fishing industry and still pining for Barnabas, and the odd-ball Collins family in serious decline. It becomes Barnabas’ mission to fend off Angelique, restore the family to its former glory, and reclaim love lost…
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I really don’t know! There was no audition for the part. I got a phone call from my agent, took a few minutes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and still can’t believe my luck.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Well, vampires always seem on top of their game, comfortable in whatever time period. But Johnny Depp is a fish-out-of-water Dracula clearly out of his depth. Hilarious. Also, I think the film walks an impressive line with its soap opera source material. It manages to be playful without being satirical. And it manages to have fun with intertextuality without becoming a spoof. There are so many connections to be made: Michelle Pfeiffer and ‘The Witches Of Eastwick’, Christopher Lee and Hammer Horror, Chloë Grace Moretz and ‘Let The Right One In’. And speaking of Chloë, a friend of mine swears she re-created Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Bark At The Moon’ album cover in her climactic scene. I’m a big Ozzy freak.
The film stars Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Chloe Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath – with Tim Burton onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
When I first arrived on set I was asked to wait in a makeshift green room tent. There were three chairs set out for the actors expected: one chair for me, one for another construction worker and one unmistakably marked for Johnny Depp. Having never met him before, I was of course nervous. I really needed to focus on the upcoming scene but all I could think about was “What will I say?” and “How will I not sound like an idiot?”. My survival instinct kicked in and I left the tent to go focus. When I returned, his chair was gone. So, my near brush with greatness was really just a brush with chairness. Tim Burton is the one I spent my time with. Awesome. A master. You’d never know it was 3 AM!
Let’s talk a bit about you Jeff. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
My wife! My life was all work and no play. She was already acting and improvising and she encouraged me to get into it. Like many, I’m really just a kid who wants to play and make-believe. So I did improv for years in Chicago (pure joy) but I had script-phobia. I eventually realized I was missing out. We moved to London and trained intensively with acting coaches Mike Bernardin, Liana Nyquist and Giles Foreman. Giles opened up many opportunities for me to do stage work and between that and doing some independent films, I was able to get an agent – the one you emailed to ask for this interview!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Don’t think of it as a career! Do it because you love it, and you’ll find there’s nothing to stop you. Drama school not an option? Simple. Seek out acting studios and coaches like I did. But don’t get stuck in training thinking you’re “not ready”. The best way to learn is to do. Jump in. Don’t have an agent? Don’t worry. There is a mind-boggling number of independent films and stage productions for which you can submit yourself via numerous casting sites. Not having any luck? Do your own thing. There are so many talented, creative people out there to collaborate with. Just never lose sight of why you’re doing it. Like so many industries, the quest for money and fame can twist things up and when that happens it’s not fun anymore.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV projects – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with so far and why? Any good stories?
Standouts for me are actors Matt Smith, Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Peter Firth, Saoirse Ronan, Harry Shearer and directors Tim Burton, Neil Jordan and Roger Michell. I’ve been inspired by how much fun they’re having and how focused they are not only on their craft but on the people around them. From such people I’ve learned a lot about staying loose and having fun. Yes, it’s essential to work hard when preparing for a role, but I’ve learned from these artists that there’s no life in my performance if I don’t stay true to my playful nature and get connected with the people around me.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Henry David Thoreau – to blow my mind. Ken Kesey – to really blow my mind. And my ancestor George Mash – to blow all our minds. Thoreau and Kesey both took some legendary trips. George risked everything on a trip in 1635 when he took his family from Ipswich to Massachusetts Bay. Thoreau and Kesey might also enjoy the fact that George and his wife named the first Mash born in the new world Onesiphorus. And no, Jeff is not short for Onesiphorus.
What is your favourite word?
Onesiphorus. No, that’s a lie. Actually it’s “simulacrum.”
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
I have no clue! But that’s the life of an actor. There are, however, several films I worked on which are still to be released in 2012. I’m looking forward to that. Actually part of me isn’t. Watching myself on-screen seems to put a lot of stress on my cardiovascular system. Anyway, the films still to be released are ‘Byzantium’ (more vampires, this time the Neil Jordan way), ‘Red Lights’ (De Niro!), ‘Common People’ (call me Mr. Wright), and ‘Hyde Park On Hudson’ (Bill Murray!).
Thanks for the interview!