For Holy Ghost People, co-writer/producer/star Joe Egender successfully donned many hats during production on the southern gothic thriller with long-time collaborator and the film’s director, Mitchell Altieri. The film premiered last year during the 2013 SXSW Film Festival and recently arrived in limited theaters and is also currently available on VOD and iTunes courtesy of XLrator Media.
Daily Dead recently chatted with Egender about his experiences working on the film and with Altieri, his thoughts on Brother Billy as a villain and much more.
Thanks so much for taking time to chat today. I really enjoyed Holy Ghost People last year at SXSW and I’m glad to see it getting released now.
Joe Egender: Thanks so much. We’ve done a lot with the film since Austin and we’ve been very fortunate to have had a lot of great responses to the film so far.
I know you’ve worked with Mitchell a few times now on various other projects. Can you talk about working with him and what it is you enjoy about working with him so much?
Joe Egender: Mitchell and I have been working together for a long time now- the first thing we did was this small comedy and it’s great to have been able to grow alongside him over the years. Each film we’ve done has been a little bigger and each time we both get a little better I think. It also gets easier as you continue to develop a kind of shorthand together, so working with Mitch has always been so easy for me.
Brother Billy is definitely the antagonist in Holy Ghost People, but he’s also extremely likable and charming. How did you approach a character like Billy that has that kind of duality to him where you know you shouldn’t trust him but somehow, you end up falling right into anything he says?
Joe Egender: From the onset, I pushed for a lot with this character, but the thing that was the most important to me was that Brother Billy didn’t come off like a straight-up bad guy. He still was trying to do good even if it was through means that most of us don’t agree with. In the end, Billy was just a man and there’s a reason men like that come into power. They have a gift. When I was preparing for the role, I watched a lot of videos of different preachers and they were all very charming, very warm people. It’s easy to see how people would want to follow them and that was very important to me. Billy didn’t win people over because they were afraid of him, Brother Billy won them over because they trusted him by letting him fill some void in their life that they needed filling.
Even if Holy Ghost People is an exaggerated version, the fact remains that places like these really exist and for a reason. Sometimes life just ends up being a lot harder than we expect it to be, especially in poorer communities, and that’s where people like Billy really thrive. Desperate people will cling to anything that gives them hope, including a guy like Brother Billy. There’s something almost intoxicating or seductive about him too, which was another facet to his personality.
Can you discuss working with Emma too? You guys share some really powerful scenes together in the film that seemed to require a lot of trust between you two as performers.
Joe Egender: Emma was great. She’s on Shameless and Holy Ghost People was her first feature. We all really worked well together on this and that wasn’t just what you see in the movie either. Sometimes your off-camera relationships with your fellow actors is just as important what happens between you on-camera. I think with Emma, part of her was a little overwhelmed, but there was also this strong-headed woman in there too so all of that really lent itself well to her character Charlotte.
Emma was a really hard worker and I thought we worked together really well. She had a tough role and wasn’t just another pure protagonist either. She has her own demons and her own guilt driving her and I think that’s what makes Charlotte so compelling to follow through this journey.
You also co-wrote and produced Holy Ghost People- how challenging was it handling all your responsibilities behind the camera while keeping focused on your character at the same time?
Joe Egender: I really had a blast actually being able to work on so many different aspects of the film. That level of involvement only heightened my performance because I was so invested on both sides. Sometimes when you’re an actor, all you can do on some projects is show up, do your part and just hope everything goes well after that. You lose control and, on something like this, I was able to have control the entire time which was great.
Because we had to rush to finish for SXSW, we had to deliver a cut that wasn’t wholly finished. What was great for me as a producer on Holy Ghost People was to hear the feedback from SXSW and that we were able to take all those criticisms and adjust things with the film afterwards. I loved having that kind of control and I think we were extremely lucky, especially since we had five co-producers, because we all collaborated together so incredibly well.
"HOLY GHOST PEOPLE is a Southern Gothic thriller about a teenager searching for her lost sister in the Appalachian Mountains, where she encounters a snake-handling religious cult and eventually learns the truth about her sister's fate."