Actor C.J. Thomason has come a long way in the last few years. From his debut in The Brotherhood 2: Young Warlocks (2001) to last year’s The Monkey’s Paw, he’s made his face one that’s recognizable & getting more & more familiar with each role he takes on. Currently he can be seen in the just released Aftermath, a truly dark and unforgiving tale of a group of people, from different walks of life, who find themselves holed up in a basement after the apparent start of world war 3. Directed by Peter Engert, the film doesn’t feature any mutated creatures or irradiated zombies that are threatening the cast. It’s more a character piece than anything else and unlike other similar films, it ain’t very pretty but it’s gripping. Mr. Thomason took a few minutes to speak with me about his career and the making of Aftermath.
Horrornews.net: What was it about the role of Hunter that appealed to you?
C.J. Thomason: I’m from Texas originally and I love camping out, roughing it – so I love survival stories. And this is definitely a situation where people find themselves in front of large mountains and sometimes they have no choice but to find a way to climb it. I think Hunter is one of those people who chooses to climb it even though it’s a impossible feat, it’s a real cool story of someone doing the best they can when faced with an impossible situation. I often wonder what I would do if I was faced with a situation like the one he faces in the film, I live in L.A. in the Marina Del Ray area and I’ve wondered what I would do if a tidal wave should suddenly appear so when I read this script, it was literally stuff that I’ve wondered about myself. What was really fun about it is that Hunter is equipped with a lot of survival smarts, he’s got a lot of knowledge that helps his character survive. And I personally didn’t know 80% of what he knew so I learned a lot as well!
HNN: I find it interesting that you’ve thought about surviving a catastrophic event in your real life. How do you think you would’ve fared if you were in Hunter’s shoes?
CJT: I think it’s one of those situations where you wouldn’t really know unless you were actually faced with it, but I do like to think I would survive well – I do. But this guy was so in the middle of nowhere, I think when you’re in the middle of a situation like that, something like looking for a basement is a pretty good call. One thing I never realized until I read this script is that diesel engines wouldn’t fry in a nuclear attack but unleaded fuel engines would. The idea of him looking for a diesel engine right from the get go was so awesome! I probably would’ve tried one car…2 tops, before I decided that no cars were working at all, then I would’ve started to run, and then I’d probably be dead 12 hours later! But Hunter knew all about the difference between engines and what would and wouldn’t work in that situation. He also knew enough to stock up on antibiotics as soon as he had a chance to, he knew that he’d be fighting off a lot of infections. I probably would’ve ignored the antibiotics and stocked up on food & water.
HNN: Did you have to audition for the role or was it just offered to you?
CJT: If I remember correctly, I auditioned for another role. But I had just come off of a pretty big TV series (Hunter’s Island) so my audition was on television for the last 9 months basically. I think I auditioned for Eddie Furlong’s role but I really did want to play Hunter. As fate would have it, the actor who was hired for that role couldn’t shoot over the holidays when we were filming and at the last minute I stepped into the role.
HNN: After watching the film, I must admit that I can’t see you in the role that Furlong played…
CJT: Furlong’s got that mental breakdown thing down pat! I watched his performance live on set & truthfully it was not a really fun performance to watch in person, it really comes across on screen so well.
HNN: Considering his past history, did you have any trepidation on working with him at all?
CJT: If you’re a doctor, do you start worrying about some patients being sicker than others? James Cameron discovered Eddie living on the street basically for Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and that was because he wanted a street kid in the role. His success has come about from his natural affinity for living life on the edge and he’s lived that lifestyle for so long now that that’s what he brings to the creative process of making films. If you’re a working actor then you get used to working with different types of people and I learn something new about the process of acting from every single actor I meet. Eddie Furlong was no different in that regard.
HNN: Your director (Peter Engert), was essentially tossed to the wolves for this project since he came into it as a replacement for another director very late into production. What was it like working with him after spending so much time with the previous director?
CJT: Peter was great! A very even keeled individual, he’s not gonna raise his voice or lose his temper. He had a vision and he was very collaborative and very open to interpretation & discussion and when it came down to it, he was also really good about just being the captain of the ship. When everyone had their own opinions about certain scenes, he’d listen but if he didn’t think they were better than his, he’d simply make the final call but he didn’t pull rank or be overtly judgmental about it. He’s a really easy guy to get along with and although I’m not very familiar with a lot of his previous directorial outings, I do know that I’d work with him again in a minute!
HNN: DO you know what the issues were with the previous director?
CJT: I think it was a writer/director situation where the writer wanted to direct the film as well. He had written a very wild & chaotic script that was definitely on the fringe and I think that when it came down to it, the producers weren’t comfortable with him in the director seat. It was a situation where the producers had a project they wanted to make & not a lot of money to do it so I think they just weren’t too comfortable with the idea of him directing. They needed a person they could trust with the project and that person was Peter. But to tell you the truth, this project had a “Little Engine That Could” mentality throughout production. It wasn’t a big project, didn’t have a big budget, didn’t have a big crew or a big sound stage to film it on but it literally wouldn’t take no for an answer – it was like it willed itself to get made. I think movies have a tendency to work out the way they’re supposed to work out, at the very least that’s been my experience over the last 13 years. Things just work out the way they’re supposed to in the end.
HNN: The vibe throughout the movie is very depressing, but I really dug that. It’s a real downer but it feels realistic…
CJT: I describe it as a film straight out of the 70’s. It’s a 70’s film, it really is.
HNN: Yes! You’re absolutely right about that. It feels like something from that decade
CJT: It really does! It doesn’t hinge on a classic story structure. It doesn’t hinge on effects. It doesn’t really hinge on anything other than being bleak for bleak’s sake and it is a bleak film, it’s not fun to watch at all but it’s engaging. I enjoyed working on it for that reason and I’m so glad that it turned out the way it did because there have been so many roadblocks making it. It was such a cool opportunity to work on something like this because although you really don’t want to make a lot of films like this one but the few times you end up doing it, I sincerely hope that its on a project like Aftermath, because when it comes down to it, it’s a “Dig your heels in” to watch movie. And it was a real “Dig your heels in” kind of movie to make. Every person I met on set had that mentality and its funny that that shared mentality carried a project that shouldn’t have made it through to distribution. What’s even more incredible is the fact that the people who carried this movie all the way to this point are not the same people who initiated the project years ago! We have a different executive producer than there was in the beginning. There’s a lot to the project and that’s one of my favorite aspects of working on it, it’s not pretty & there isn’t a beautiful story behind the making of it. It’s a beautiful story about filmmakers who refused to take no for an answer – and that’s cool.
HNN: You’ve made a few genre movies in the past few years. Is this a direction you want to continue in or are there other genres you want to tackle?
CJT: You know what? I think I’ve hit the horror genre as much as I want right now. Honesty, they were all I wanted to make for the last five years but I think I’m kind of done with being covered in syrup and stuff for now! I literally want nothing more than to figure out how to do some other genre and while I don’t know what that genre is just yet – I look forward to finding out. This little dance with horror films was a lot of fun but I look forward to finding out where my career takes me in the future.