Interviewed on September 17, 2014
Interviewed by Michael Juvinall
Josh Stewart is the quintessential everyman leading actor. He just has a face that most guys can relate to and an edgy, mysterious look that women find attractive. Only the most die-hard film fans will recognize his name, but most of you most certainly know his face. The 37 year old is not new to the business, his career started back in 2003 with an appearance in the TV movie Then Came Jones, but his big break came a year later as he landed a regular role in NBC’s Third Watch. After that, he made numerous high profile appearances in films and TV shows such as Dirt, ER, CSI: Miami, Southland, No Ordinary Family, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and more. He had a prominent role in the Christopher Nolan blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises in 2012.
Stewart came to the attention of genre fans with his turn in the film, The Haunting of Molly Hartley. But it was his starring role in the films, The Collector and its sequel The Collection that really raised his profile in the world of horror. He went on to star in The Walking Dead webisodes in 2012, and then an episode of NBC’s Grimm.
Most recently, Stewart wrote/produced/acted/directed his first horror film entitled The Hunted. The terrifying film is based on a real-life experience that actually happened to Stewart himself in the dark woods of West Virginia. So read on to find out more about The Hunted, why it’s a true story, why the accurate portrayal of hunters is so important, and if we’ll see Josh in another Collector film!
Read our review of The Hunted here!
Horror Society: Thank you for taking a little bit of time out to talk with me about your new film, The Hunted.
Josh Stewart: Yeah man. Me and my producers, we didn’t want to send out a bunch of press stuff. After talking, me and my two producers, we just thought we would reach out to some of the bigger names in the horror world and see if we could do some one-on-one stuff. Most films are just done with the standard release packets that everybody sends around.
HS: I appreciate you reaching out to me. I watched The Hunted last night and I have to say that I really enjoyed your film.
JS: Good brother, thank you very much man.
HS: In doing some research before watching the film yesterday, without giving away any spoilers, you have said that it’s based on a true story from your experiences. How much of the film was embellished and how much was based on fact?
JS: Every encounter in the movie, except obviously the last scene, is based on an actual experience that I and my roommate had with this lady.
JS: All of those were based on actual encounters that we had. Of course, for movie purposes, we had to add a little bit of a backstory and for movie purposes a little development. Maybe, just a little more dangerous than she was in real life.
HS: The Hunted is your directorial debut. At this time in your career, what made you want to tell this story while producing, writing, acting, and directing at the same time?
JS: I started writing this film during the last leg of filming Batman (The Dark Knight Rises). Batman was a $250 million dollar movie, we were traveling the world, it was just this massive movie army and it was the best experience of my life. But toward the end of that, I started to get hungry to go and do something that was completely the opposite. It was 15 guys; we were going to shoot it as fast as we can, within reason with little to no budget and just go do it that way. With it being my directorial debut, I kind of feel like I had to earn my stripes. I never went to film school to be a director; I never directed a short film. I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve always wanted to direct, I’ve shadowed a lot of directors, but I was always of the mindset that I need to earn my stripes. To me that means going to make a small movie with little to no budget and working my way up from there. So that’s pretty much where it came from.
Obviously, the story was very personal and close to me and growing up in West Virginia. West Virginia is a very bloody region of the country, given the revolutionary war. All the fighting that happened between the natives and the first settlers and the civil war especially, we grew up hearing ghost stories. That was all the stories we heard. We were always sitting around a campfire somewhere, along the river or in the woods somewhere and somebody was always telling a ghost story. You take all of those and that’s sort of how I ended up in that world.
HS: After you’ve directed this, what’s the biggest lesson you learned from doing it?
JS: Really, I’m a true believer that if you’re a storyteller, you’re a storyteller. It’s just another form of storytelling. There’s so many lessons that I learned from actually directing, just the process of directing. There are countless things you learn that way. It’s very much like hitting a baseball. Somebody can tell you how to hit a baseball over and over again, but until you get out there and start swinging a bat at a ball flying at you, you’re never going to know how to hit a baseball. Going out to make a movie is invaluable as far as learning the process of directing and making a movie. Just understanding the story more from a complete whole, from the total picture, I’ve always approached acting in that way.
Understand the picture and then you can learn how to place the puzzle piece of your character within that picture to help form the picture. I was taking that idea and putting it on steroids of just knowing the entire story, knowing what the final picture you want to look like. At the same time, you have to be willing to know there’s the movie you write, there’s the movie you shoot, and then there’s the movie you end up with in the cutting room. I think the biggest thing is probably letting go of that thing that was inside of my head. Again, it was a personal experience that happened to me. I wrote it, and then directing and acting in it. I just had to know that things weren’t going to match up to the way they were in my head. You have to be okay with it and you have to move on from it.
HS: Do you think directing has made you a better actor?
JS: I think it’s made me a better storyteller for sure, from a whole standpoint. There’s no question about it. It has opened up a can of worms inside of me. I’ve already got another script that’s written and I’m just trying to decide when it’s going to happen based on my schedule.
HS: That was going to be my next question, do you see yourself directing again in the future?
JS: Yeah, most definitely. It’s kind of like learning how to play the guitar. You’re always playing someone else’s tunes. You’re always playing somebody else’s songs and music. Then when you go to direct, writing and directing to me is like making my own music. I want to continue to do it sort of the way I did it with The Hunted. Obviously, I’d like to take it another step up with a little bit more money, write a story that’s a little more complex and make a more complex movie.
HS: For you, using the found footage POV approach for The Hunted, did that make the most sense for the story as compared to traditional photography and filming?
JS: You know what, for me, it really did. For the longest time, I was thinking I was going to shoot this traditionally. I was going to shoot it handheld, I was going to keep it very fluid and keep the energy in the camera, but then I started thinking, I know there’s something I’m probably going to miss out on. From that perspective, you can’t deny when you’re looking out into the woods from the perspective of these guys, it’s sort of like you can see to the edge of the darkness and you have no idea what’s on the other side of it.
JS: To me, it just made more sense story wise to do it. To commit to that point of view and just make the movie that way. But I’ve got to say, it was definitely more of a challenge. I knew the first day of shooting, shooting it from a point of view like that, it becomes so much harder. The camera has to be motivated in any sort of situation in a normal narrative. You take the found footage sort of perspective; the camera completely has to be motivated to the point there has to be a person there. There has to be a reason that camera was put there for story purposes. It goes beyond motivation for just storytelling to how could that thing have been there, could’ve gotten there and why is this guy still operating a camera when the shit is hitting the fan. Anybody who’s ever done it knows it’s so much harder once you’ve painted yourself into that box of shooting from a point of view like that.
HS: A lot of people now are saying the found footage sub-genre is fizzling out, but I’ve always enjoyed found footage movies if they’re done properly and if it makes sense for the story. For The Hunted, I feel that you did a great job with the POV footage. It made sense to me, it was the perfect project to use found footage on. It made a lot of sense. You’re probably going to get unfortunate comparisons to The Blair Witch Project. In my opinion, The Hunted is a totally different premise and has a totally different feel than Blair Witch did. The only comparison between the two is they both take place in the woods and that’s really about it.
JS: Right. Well, you know look, I knew when I decided to make the movie in this fashion; I knew the barrel I was staring down. My response has always been, everybody bags on found footage, everybody says they’re all terrible and everybody hates it. I can sit here and say the same thing about traditionally shot movies.
HS: Of course.
JS: I’ve watched plenty of movies that are shot traditionally that are just terrible. They’re so bad. So to me, when I hear that from someone, I kind of shut off and really don’t listen to anything else they have to say because if you watch the movie and you don’t like it and you think it’s bad, you’re completely free to have that opinion. To me, making a movie is no different than painting a picture and hanging it on the wall and asking a hundred people what you thought about it. They’re all going to say something different. I know no matter what it is, there are going to be some people who love it, some people that hate it and some people in the middle. I’m fine with that, but people who just completely dismiss something out of hand because it’s found footage, it’s like, I’m not even interested in hearing it. If a movie is made well, if the way you decide to use the camera fits the story, then to me, it just is what it is. I get that some people might not like found footage and all that sort of thing and that’s completely valid, but to just bag on it as a whole without watching it, to me is like you can have that opinion but I don’t really feel like having a conversation with you about it because you already have your mind made up.
HS: Another aspect of The Hunted that I thought was different was the hunting part of it. Did you try to make the hunting aspect of the film as accurate as possible?
JS: Yeah, that was really, really important to me. I’m a lifelong hunter/outdoorsman. I grew up in the woods in West Virginia like I said. I’ve been hunting and fishing my entire life. To me, that’s something that’s always bothered me on a personal level the way hunters are always portrayed in movies. They’re always just the idiot, they’re always just the redneck, they’re always just the dumb guy that’s running around and are subpar compared to everyone else. I also knew if I shot this like these two guys were out there shooting a TV show for the outdoor channel and they did it by the book and I did it by the book, I could get all of these major hunting companies behind me. I also knew I could service an entire demographic of people that are poorly represented 99 out of a 100 times in every movie to get behind something that portrays them in the light they should be portrayed in. In doing that, we’ve got an unbelievable amount of support from the hunting industry that is blowing us away. I knew we would have to do it by the book. I knew we would have to portray them in the best possible light for that to happen and that’s why we did it.
HS: I don’t think I have ever seen a horror film reviewed by outdoor magazines or outdoor online sites before. That really blew me away. I was reading some of those reviews and I was like “what the hell?” I’ve never seen this before. That shows how well you did your job in reaching out to that demographic.
JS: Thank you very much for that and yeah, you’re right. When has Field and Stream ever reviewed a horror movie?
JS: When have they reviewed any film, or Bowhunter magazine or Archery 360 or any of these companies. To me, that’s why I had to make it authentic. That is the exact reason I had to make it feel like you were turning on the outdoor channel and you were watching any one of the TV hunting shows. Watch any one of those that went bad and that was The Hunted. That was the goal, that’s what I wanted to make. Look, we got support from that side of the world. We couldn’t even account for how great that has been.
HS: The characters in your film are very believable and seem to be very authentic to me.
JS: Right. Again, I wanted them to be portrayed the way we are. That’s the way hunters are.
HS: Can you talk a bit about how it was for you to get back to your old stomping ground where you grew up in West Virginia?
JS: Yeah. That was always really important to me, looking at it from the same perspective that I looked at the hunting industry. West Virginia is not a state that’s really portrayed very well in a lot of different ways. It’s such a beautiful state. The mountains, the rivers and the scenery are unbelievable and I really wanted to show West Virginia for what it was.
Also, to show just a piece of it for what it was from my perspective. I wanted this movie to feel like this is one of those campfire stories I heard when I was twelve years old. This is the story that I tell around the campfire when I go back there on a fishing trip or a hunting trip. That river we were in, I’ve been fly fishing that river forever, and I’ve hunted those mountains where we were forever. It was a nostalgic sort of thing to go back there. It sort of put me right back into it. We had discussions about shooting it in Big Bear, California, two hours outside of Los Angeles. It would’ve been a hell of a lot easier to do that then pack up everything and fly to West Virginia and then what we didn’t fly out, we drove down from Pittsburgh. It’s that grit and texture of those mountains and that river, then just the air and the fog. You can’t recreate that stuff that’s just what it is. To me, to go back there, you can’t recreate that richness.
HS: Exactly, it makes the film so authentic looking. I don’t want to hold you up too long. What’s up next for you? Do you have any genre projects in the future or will we possibly see you in the third Collector film?
JS: Laughing. I just did a pilot for Amazon called Hysteria. It’s out right now, you can check out on Amazon.com. I’m shooting a movie right now called The Finest Hours up in Boston with Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster and a bunch of other dudes. The third Collector film has been written. We have not got the go ahead, the green light to shoot it or anything like that, but I know it’s on paper. That’s always a possibility out there.
HS: I know a lot of fans would love to see you back for a third film.
JS: Yeah, I finally have healed up physically from the second one and I’m ready to get going on the next one. The script that I wrote is another genre piece. If everything works out schedule wise, I’d like to be shooting that first quarter of next year. Regardless, I’ll be back in the genre world with that and it’s something I wrote and will direct and star in as well.
HS: Awesome! Josh, I really want to thank you for talking with me. I really enjoyed The Hunted. I’ve always enjoyed your work in the past and have been a fan. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
JS: I really appreciate that brother; I really, really appreciate it.
HS: I know we would all love to see you in more horror films in the future.
JS: It’s coming, it’s coming.
HS: Thank you so much Josh, I appreciate it.
JS: Hey brother, thank you so much too. Stay in touch. Go easy man.
Watch the trailer for The Hunted here,