Even though he’s always put in memorable and enigmatic performances throughout his 20-year career, it was his breakout role in Hustle & Flow that, for this writer, solidified DJ Qualls as the real deal and an actor whose projects I will always seek out. Most recently, Qualls has been a part of some fantastic television and streaming series, including Supernatural, Z Nation, and The Man in the High Castle, and in September, he’s set to star in one of the episodes of the upcoming anthological Creepshow series, which premieres on Shudder on September 26th.
While at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, Daily Dead and several other journalists had an opportunity to briefly speak with Qualls about his involvement in Creepshow, and he talked about what we can expect from his story, “The Finger,” which was written by David J. Schow, his own experiences growing up with the Creepshow films as a kid, and why he decided to take on the challenging role for his episode.
Look for more on the Creepshow series later this week, right here on Daily Dead!
Can you tell us a little bit about your character and the story of “The Finger?”
DJ Qualls: So, my character is a guy who's at the end of his rope. He was married to a woman and it was a complete mismatch. And so he had the normal house and he had step-kids and the life that you're supposed to have, and he couldn't do it. He just couldn't. And I get it, because I am that guy. It reminded me of when I used to be in law and I worked as a paralegal for two years. Towards the end of it, I was closing my door and just crying at my desk. "I can't believe this is what my fu--ing life is." And so this guy goes out walking late at night, and he collects these things that he finds every night and he creates backstories about them. He's not nuts. He's just kind of pathetic.
And, one night he goes out walking and he finds this claw, this little half of a finger, and that finger winds up being a changing moment in his life. And it's up to you to decide whether it was for the better. But, I'm the only person in my story. I don't know if you guys know that. So, there's no other actor. Well, there's a man who says one line at my front door, but it was 39 pages of solo dialogue delivered either to a tennis ball or direct to the camera. So, it's all me. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done. So much so that when they sent it to me, I was this close to turning it down because it was such a quick turnaround. They sent it to me on Tuesday and they needed me to travel on Wednesday to work Friday. It had a lot of dialogue and they were like, "Don't worry, we'll get there and if you need to cut it up in segments, we'll give you all the time in the world."
And I was thinking that this was one of those scenarios where you'll get me down there and I won't know my lines and I'll look like a bad actor. I know this trick [laughs]. And I had them send me the one-liner so I could go through it and see if I can memorize those pages before I go to bed that night. If I could, then I would do it. And I got 12 pages in like three or four hours memorized, because it was so well written.
A guy named David J. Schow wrote this and it's usually easier to memorize dialogue when there's somebody talking to you because you have triggers. If you say, "How are you?" And my line is, "I'm fine," that's an easy thing to remember. But, this was easy to remember because it's good storytelling and I find that lines that I have problems with are when I'm like, "That's not a great story moment," or it's grammatically incorrect. Whenever that happens, it's really hard for me to get into my brain. But I was able to do it.
So, I showed up. The only problem that I had was that the end of this segment is a four-page monster-fu--ing monologue, delivered directly to camera and the emotional turns in it are so quick and so extreme. And I was shitting myself from the time that I saw it until the day that we shot it. Until two minutes before. And it reminded me of when I was on Fargo two years ago when they couldn't double me. So I had do all my own stunts and had to jump off the side of an overturned bus and land on my feet. My brain was like, "I can do this if I had on gloves." I thought, "If I had on gloves, I could do this." For no reason at all [laughs]. So it doesn't match continuity-wise, where all of a sudden I have on gloves and I jumped down and I don't have on gloves anymore. Actor-y bullshit makes me insane when other people do it, but when I do it, I'm like, "It makes sense, right? [laughs]."
Were you familiar with the Creepshow movies coming into this?
DJ Qualls: Oh, yeah. These films were right in my generation. I'm a child of the ’80s and there was one story I remember where like a lady picks up a hitchhiker and he won't die, and he keeps coming back. That was really hard for me as a child. And then there's one that's similar to the one that Adrienne Barbeau did, in the original, that is a similar segment to my segment, too. But I don't think that's too much of a giveaway because they are still very different.
So what was it about this opportunity that appealed to you?
DJ Qualls: Well, here's the thing. You know how you do these round tables with actors and everything seems planned out? They're like, "Well, you know I was in the mood to do this." Most of our careers are completely accidental. Like, everybody's careers. Both of my long-running shows had ended last year and when you do a pilot, you have to sign a seven-year contract and that's not for your benefit, it's for the producers. They can end your contract at any time, but you can be held for seven years. So, it's a big commitment and especially because I just got into my forties and I've been working for 20 years now, so I feel like the next thing I do, it should be important.
So, anyway, I was sitting at home and I was bored. I had been only reading bullshit for like six months. I was ready to work and I read this and it scared me so much and I proved to myself that I could memorize it really quickly. So, I really wanted to do it. And then I met Greg Nicotero. I've turned down like six things in a row and I should've turned those things down. A couple of them were playing racists and I get why those stories needed to be told, but I tend to internalize stuff and that gets into my dreams. So even if I cuss somebody out in a scene, I feel icky. You know how actors say, "I take it home with me." I don't really consciously do it, but I recreate those sort of feelings in dreams. If somebody's making fun of me, I feel really insecure in my dreams. I'm back in high school and people are making fun of me. I used to have cancer when I was a kid and I can't play somebody with cancer. I can't do it. Because I've completely compartmentalized that and I don't want to open that up again. People that do fu--ing LSD and all those drugs that open up your mind, for me, it's like the flying monkeys and talking trees up here. I do not want to open this up. Ever [laughs].
In case you missed it, visit our online hub to catch up on all of our San Diego Comic-Con coverage, including our roundtable interviews with Greg Nicotero and Giancarlo Esposito!
[Photo Credit: Above DJ Qualls photo by Heather Wixson / Daily Dead.]