Actor Josh Stewart captured our horror loving-hearts as the unwitting hero Arkin in both The Collector and The Collection. He teams up again with director Marcus Dunstan for the upcoming release The Neighbor (review), in which he plays the film’s lead, badass ex-military John. Known for his quiet intensity, Josh Stewart also proves to have a very strong work ethic with an impressive ability to take a beating, as we chat with him on filming The Neighbor and what it’s like working with Marcus Dunstan.

You know, I actually think The Neighbor was written a long, long time ago. I’m not completely sure of the specifics of it all, but I believe The Neighbor was written a little while ago and it was optioned by someone, maybe, and maybe the option ran out after a while. You know, I don’t know the specifics of it, but yeah, you know doing The Collector and The Collection with Marcus, um, well, doing The Collector, the first film together, we just hit it off right away. There was just a shorthand that we both understood almost immediately, and it just worked. You know what I mean? So I think that anytime, and it doesn’t matter what the genre is, whether its horror or a character driven drama, I think that anytime that sort of comfort level rises to a high level with a filmmaker, it just becomes so easy to do. And a joy to do. And the joy aspect of it, is a big, big part of doing these types of films, because they’re not easy to do; they’re pretty physically demanding to do. You’re usually dealing with, you know, an 18-25 day shoot-day schedule, which means you’ve got to turn and burn, and anytime you’re doing a horror film, when you’re shooting a scene it becomes a lot of work because you have to shoot so many different angles, you’ve got to shoot so much coverage to make the scares, to build the tension, to do all of those things. So they become a pretty physically grueling shoot, so anytime you’re on the same wavelength as someone that becomes easier. Then the joy is easy to find.
You know, uh, look; I don’t view acting any differently than I do a professional athlete would view what it is they do. I mean, when it comes time to play, you’ve got to be ready to play. To be honest with you, there are no excuses and there’s no getting out of that. If you can’t deliver, then you’re not going to have a career in this business. There are people that have a lot of money riding on these films, which are investments to them. It’s a business to them. So, it’s really no different than an owner who’s invested in a professional athlete. When it comes time to play the game, you’re expected to deliver. And you’re either one of the guys that deliver, and you get to continue to do it, or you don’t. So I think on a certain level, you just have to sack up and make it happen. You know? And that’s what plays into it, it just becomes physically demanding. These films are not two people sitting in a diner having a cup of coffee. Just having 3-4 page dialogue scenes, there’s always a fair amount of action happening, so it is maintaining that energy, maintaining that tension. Which is physically taxing on you, to maintain that level from 5 in the evening to 5 or 6am.
Yeah, yeah. And you know, on top of it you have to deliver. You’ve got to sell it. You have to make people believe what you’re doing, because if they’re not believing what you’re doing, then they’re not going to go on that ride with you. And I don’t care if it’s action, or horror, of if it’s comedy, if you’re not buying the character, and you’re not buying into the story then it’s just not going to happen.
Yeah, the mental side you’ve got to. You know, a lot of times, too, just going back to that sports analogy, it’s just the way you’re made up. I do spend a lot of time leading up to these films with actual physical exercise. The Collection especially. I got so beat up on The Collector (laughs), you know, I came into that movie late; I was not the first choice for that. I didn’t even know about the film until a Tuesday. I auditioned on Wednesday. I got the job on Thursday. I was on a plane on Friday, and was shooting on Monday. So there was no time to physically prepare for it, there was no time to prepare anything really. So when The Collection came around, I had a trainer for two and a half months leading up to it, and went back and did a lot of the old boxing workouts that I used to do when I used to box some in college. Because you’re just going to get beat up and you know it. At a certain point in our workout, at the end of every workout I would literally take my shirt off, and my trainer would take a broomstick that he’d cut in half and would just slap me with it for three minutes.
Completely. We used to do it in boxing and I never really knew what the point of it was other than just some sicko liked to hit people with a broomstick (laughing). But yeah, I mean, it’s just like that thing where you’re used to getting smacked on the arm, the back, or the stomach with the broomstick, those little smacks and dings and bangs that you get on the set, you’re not really feeling them at that point. You know what I mean?
Yeah. I mean, on The Collection I dislocated a shoulder and blew my thumb out.
The Neighbor came about, well, it became more about selling the tension and letting that tension continue to build. There was less physicality in this one. You know, there was some running, there was some carrying people, and those sorts of things, but there was no sustained fight scenes. I think at one point, and I still have not seen the film, so I’m just basing this on shooting.
Yeah, there were a handful of scenes. I’m assuming you’re talking about when I was tied down to the bench? But you know a lot of times, that stuff, fighting with yourself, fighting tension with your own body is not as hard because you don’t have to worry about hurting someone else. In The Collection and The Collector, there were lots of fight scenes so you’re doing it with another actor, another stunt man, it’s just a choreographed dance. But just like in dance, if you’re dancing with someone, and you’re dancing for 10 hours, you’re going to step on someone’s toes a couple of times. So when you’re slinging fists at each other, it’s inevitable that someone’s going to get punched. There’s just no way around it. So I think on The Collector I had a stunt man’s knuckles bruised on my forehead for a few days. I had four little dots right on my forehead. Well, you know, John is a different character, who is a trained military man. He was a trained fighter. So there was a lot of times where, once it got to that point, it’s having someone who knows how to fight versus having someone who doesn’t know how to fight, that’s just a bad guy. Well, the fighter is going to get the upper hand pretty quickly. That was something that Marcus and I decided fairly early on that once it gets to that point, John’s going to win and he’s going to win fast. It’s not going to be a knock out, dragged out fight. Which made it easier from a physical standpoint because we’re not doing this fight scene 50 times, that’s really elongated and really involved. And really technical. From that aspect it was easier.
Right. I think anytime you can tell a story can very easily happen to anybody, at any time, it becomes much more thrilling because anybody can put themselves in that situation. We hear about stories like this; we read about stories like this on a weekly basis. I think anytime you can have something be set in some sort of reality that everyone can relate to, that’s grounded in reality, it becomes more tense, it becomes more thrilling, and it becomes more scary.
No, you know growing up I saw things like The Shining, Poltergeist, Firestarter, Carrie, things like that. Old school horror I was into growing up, though it wasn’t a genre I sought out, but I watched those movies and I dug those movies and they scared the hell out of me. But like modern horror? I’ve never been a person who runs out and would watch anything and everything that came out. That was never me. But to me, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing; whether I’m doing Batman, whether I’m playing the blind man in Transcendance, or whether I’m playing John; I don’t approach the characters any differently. Or Arkin, for that matter, in The Collector. I think if you go back and watch, even though that movie is a sort of heightened reality, I still played that straight, I still played it very much from a reality perspective. To me, I’m not the type of actor that’s this big theatrical person. That’s not the type of actor that I am. So I approach every role the same way, which is, I’m here to service the author’s words within the picture of the director. That’s my only job; I’m here to tell the story. That’s it. It’s not about me, it’s not about how I think it should go, or the way I think this is. I’m there to do a very specific job, and I approach all of them the same way. And as far as that’s concerned, that’s the very reason that I don’t watch a lot of television, and I don’t watch a lot of movies, to be honest with you. Because I think, for me personally, there are certain directors that I’ll watch everything they do. Certain actors that I’ll watch everything that they do. But, when we’re so inundated with content and visual stimulation all of the time, it can’t help but influence what I do. The last thing that I want to do is become a cheap knockoff. I don’t ever want to find myself “relying on my instincts” when really my instincts were something burned into me from the 57 movies I just watched. That becomes sprinkled in to what you’re doing unconsciously.
There’s probably half the movies I’ve done that I’ve never seen.
I’ll never see them. I would say 75%, or maybe even more of the television that I’ve done I’ve never seen. When you’re on set, a lot of actors like to watch playbacks, the takes that they just did. I’m just not that guy. I don’t want to watch what I’m doing because I think it’s very easy to become too critical of yourself. You start playing to try to correct the things you didn’t like, so to speak, through your eye. You’re making it about something that it’s not. You’re turning your performance into something that it’s not. When you’re on set and you’re an actor, the director is, in my opinion, my eyeballs. I’m there to tell the story within his vision. It’s not my vision. I’ve got thoughts and opinions about the character that I’d like to do, but it’s not up to me to judge that on certain levels. When I’m making a film, I’m having a certain experience while making that film. And a lot of times you’re having an experience while making the movie and then you watch it and you’re like, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t look anything like my experience.” You know, now I’ve got a different feeling about this film, and it can sort of taint the experience that I had. So a lot of times when I’m having a great experience on set I just leave it alone. I know from writing and directing a film myself, there’s the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you cut. Those three movies, they’re the same movie, but they’re very different movies. So from an acting standpoint, a lot of times I just like to leave it alone. But there are some films, like I’ve seen The Collector and The Collection. I haven’t seen The Neighbor. It’s not that I don’t want to see it, and I probably will see it at some point, just because I love Marcus so much and love everything that he does, so I’m sure eventually when life slows down a little bit, at midnight or 1 in the morning I’ll throw it in and watch it.
I say exactly what you just said; I don’t care if you’re talking about Marcus Dunstan or you’re talking about Christopher Nolan, or David Fincher, or anybody, any director that I’ve worked with. You’re going to find their life and their breath and their stamp on everything that they do. Just like me as an actor, everything that you see me in, whether it’s Batman, The Neighbor, The Collector, or whatever it is, there’s going to be those inevitable characteristics that I’m going to bring to every single character, because it’s me. I’m one of those people that believe my “you-ness” I guess you could say, what makes me me, is the only thing that really separates me from everybody else.
Yup, that is completely, completely air tight.
Thank you very much. Yeah, it’s good to get into the Blumhouse world. I’ve always been a fan of just what Jason Blumhouse has done, and what he’s done in the genre. I’ve seen the first Insidious a couple of years ago, I watched it on a plane, and like I said, I’m not the guy to watch all of the new stuff that comes out, but anybody that’s in the business knows what Jason has done in the genre, and he’s been very successful at it. So I’ve always been a big fan of their ability to continue to make good product time and time and time again. I think that anytime that is possible in this business to who they are as people and who they are as a company.
The Neighbor