The 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival is currently underway in Montreal, and one of this writer’s most anticipated films out of this year’s lineup is Ted Geoghegan’s Mohawk, which is his second time at the helm after crafting his stunning supernatural debut, We Are Still Here, which was released in 2015.

During Fantasia 2017, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Geoghegan, as well as with several Mohawk cast members including Kaniehtiio Horn (who plays the film’s fierce protagonist), Jon Huber (who is also known as Luke Harper to millions of WWE fans everywhere), and Justin Rain (Defiance, Fear the Walking Dead). During our interview, they discussed everything from what inspired the story of Mohawk, their experiences making the film in the wilderness of Upstate New York, and Horn also discussed her feelings on being able to represent both her fellow Mohawks, but also women in general.

Great to speak with you all today, and congrats on the world premiere at Fantasia. I would love to start with you, Ted, and hear from you about the story of Mohawk, and why you felt like this was the perfect story to tell as your next feature film?

Ted Geoghegan: Well, after We Are Still Here, I've now been working in horror for 17 years, so I wanted to do something that felt a little bit out of left field, something that wasn't really expected, and the idea of something that was historical drama that has hints of action and hints of horror in it sounded really exciting. Growing up in rural Montana, I was regularly surrounded by Native Americans, both in my personal and professional life. So when I moved to New York, I was really surprised that there were so few of them in the city. I think it just came from coming from middle America to the big city, where you kind of assume that the demographics are going to be the same, and they end up being completely different.

It was just always on my mind for a few years while I was there, and I want to say that maybe five years ago or so, I started noticing the word "Mohawk" was written all over New York City. So I looked it up because I was curious, and all I honestly really knew of Mohawk when I was growing up was the hairstyle. That's what I immediately thought of when I heard that word.

I started looking it up, and I learned about the Mohawk people, and where they lived in association to the city. And I discovered that they were actually very well-known for having built the majority of the skyscrapers in Manhattan. I thought that was just this amazing fact, so I started reading up on them. I read a few books, and I just fell in love with the culture, and the idea behind these amazing marginalized people who just never gave up hope. They've been just these relentless ass-kickers for hundreds and hundreds—if not thousands—of years. I just think that's incredible. I wanted to tell a story in my own way where I could address my reverence for that.

I'd love to hear from the cast in terms of what it was that you guys recognized in this script when you decided to come on board, whether there was something in particular about your character, or the opportunity to work with Ted, or just making a movie that's something totally different than a lot of other films?

Kaniehtiio Horn: So, my name is Kaniehtiio Horn, and I am actually a Mohawk. I hadn't really heard of Ted exactly, but I had heard of We Are Still Here. But I got a call from my reps who were contacted by Ted and they presented the film to me. And I was like, “Okay, well, that's pretty heavy,” you know? Because it’s a heavy-ass subject and a heavy responsibility to be a Mohawk woman and be in a movie called Mohawk written by a non-Mohawk. But what made me want to do it was having that chance to be able to represent my people, and women. Not only Native women, just women in general, as being a lead of something and being a character that’s so kick-ass. So it kinda felt like if they didn't ask me, I would have been like, “What the hell?” [laughs].

Also, I'd worked with [DP] Karim Hussain before. So, marrying that along with being able to play a Mohawk woman in this really interesting time period, where I never thought a light-skinned Mohawk would ever play anything other than a modern-day Indian, basically. So, having the chance to play a mixed-race person from a couple hundred years ago was also a great opportunity. I hope that I make my people proud when they watch it, because I tried my best.

Jon Huber: I don't think mine will be nearly as interesting. I actually got the call from WWE that people were interested in using me for a movie. I didn't believe them. Then we talked to Ted, and I still didn't believe them. Then, I was actually on the movie set and I started to finally believe it. That's when I understood what the story was and what it was becoming. It was a very intense thing for me, and I just was happy to be a part of it.

For my character, I thought I was a bad guy, but with a good heart. That made me a little bit more comfortable with the subject matter. It passed WWE’s approval, which I also thought might be an issue. But it was a really great experience and the story is deeper than it appears on the surface, so I hope everyone understands that.

Justin Rain: Well, I'm a good character with a good heart [laughs]. You know, Jon Huber hurt me one day, on set. He squeezed my face pretty hard and yeah, I'll never forget that [laughs]. But really, I'd never done a period film before and have always wanted to. This project just came around, and I read the script and I loved it. I was familiar with Ted's work and also [producer] Travis Stevens. I'm a fan of one of his films called Cheap Thrills, so I was happy to meet them both.

I showed up to Upstate New York and we sat down and we chatted about the character. They shaved my head for the first time, which has never been done before. Then, during production, we battled the heat of Upstate New York in the middle of nowhere. I had a blast. I had a good time. I hope people love it.

In relation to that, what were the challenges of making this film for you, Ted? We Are Still Here was pretty contained, but this seems to be a total 180 for you because of the film’s wilderness setting.

Ted Geoghegan: Yes. It was a really, really long trip to get up into the mountains. We were in the middle of nowhere. We had made it a point to try to go to the most remote areas we could possibly find. We wanted the film to feel like it was shot in the middle of nowhere, because we really were in the middle of nowhere.

It was insanely hot and insanely cold, and when you're working with an ensemble cast of something like 11 people and you're all up in the woods together, it just immediately starts becoming challenging. It has nothing to do with the cast, it has to do with the amount of people that you have in the middle of nowhere trying to make a movie. So, it was absolutely an adventure, but we're really happy with the results.

For the cast, did you feel like being on location like that, tucked away from the world, enhanced your ability to be in this world that Ted created?

Kaniehtiio Horn: Oh yeah, totally. It helps a lot when you're on location, especially with the bonding between cast members and stuff like that.

Jon Huber: For me, it really added to the acting aspects. For my group, we were chasing people through the woods throughout a lot of this film, and so we had to be exhausted, and tired, and exasperated at times. Honestly, it made it much easier being in the location, and those woods helped set the tone.

Justin Rain: I've never been to New York before, so that was cool to be brought out there for work. I made some good friends out of this, and I learned some things, too. Plus, I got to fight John. That was fun [laughs].

Ted Geoghegan: You beast.

Justin Rain: I got to have my revenge, so that was great [laughs].

One last question before we go. I would love to hear from everyone just what it was that you guys took away from this experience? Whether it was something that affected you personally, or professionally, or maybe it was a mixture of both?

Ted Geoghegan: Okay, I'll start. For me, it really opened my eyes a lot, to not only the challenges of making a movie of this sort of scope, on a limited budget, and in the middle of nowhere. But, it also really opened my eyes to the history behind the film. I'd read up a lot on the Mohawk, I knew a lot about the war of 1812. But, being up there and recreating some of these moments—especially some of the heavier moments—it definitely did affect me. There was a great weight to this film, especially given the fact that I am a Irish/American boy from Montana telling the story. I just hope that I've done people proud by telling the story in a way that's both respectful to the time period and the people involved.

Kaniehtiio Horn: For me, it was sort of a mixture of both. It was my first time really being the lead in a feature film. Also, it was my first American feature shooting in the United States. Obviously, it was something that was super personal because it's a story about the Mohawk people, and like I said before, I have the responsibility and the weight on my shoulders of representing them in this.

But also, I still feel very lucky that I was chosen for this role, and that my family and the people who knew I was doing this movie with were really confident that I would portray this as best I could.

Jon Huber: For me, it was a brand new experience, both personally and professionally. I've never done anything related to a movie, I didn't know what I was getting into, and by the end, I would say it was a life-changing experience. I sent Ted a very long and emotional email after, just thanking him and Travis and everybody for the experience, because it was eye opening on so many levels and the creativity that was in those woods was awesome. So, it was very new and very eye-opening to me.

Justin Rain: And for me, it was an honor to be a part of a story taken from history, from real history and being a part of that. Having the opportunity to tell a concentrated point in time and to work with Tiio [Kaniehtiio] again. We worked on Defiance together a few years ago. So with every project, I get to make new friends and learn a thing or two, and take that onto the next project.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.