Arriving on Digital platforms today courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media is The Believer from writer/director Shan Serafin. Starring Aidan Bristow, Sophie Kargman, and Billy Zane, the psychological thriller introduces us to an out-of-work scientist (Bristow) suffering from mental degeneration, who struggles with whether or not the strange occurrences happening in his life are real or are all in his head, culminating in a shockingly visceral finale that pushes all the characters into some very dark places.
Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Bristow about his involvement in The Believer and he discussed his longtime working relationship with Serafin, how he juggled his responsibilities on the film both onscreen and off, his experiences collaborating with his co-stars, and more.
Great to speak with you today, Aiden. Let’s start off at the beginning and chat about how you came aboard The Believer. Had you known Shan before this or worked with him prior to this film?
Aidan Bristow: Shan directed me in one of the very first films that I had the fortune of starring in when I moved to LA called Forest of the Living Dead. We just met on that and we became close friends through that process. Then, he ended up directing me on multiple plays after that, too. So he and I were just sitting at my dining room table and were just thinking about maybe something that we could shoot together, like something low budget that would take place in one location and we were talking about ideas. Shan's background is that he's a novelist; he's a ghost writer for James Patterson. He recently co-wrote a book with James Patterson that was on the New York Times bestseller list just a couple months ago. He's really good at being given a circumstance or a storyline and then banging out a whole script or a whole novel based off of that.
So we had some ideas and he just went off and he basically wrote the script. And Sophie Kargman, the lead actress in it who does a fantastic job, was an old friend of mine from acting class. We had always wanted to work together on something, so I introduced her and Shan, and everyone got along, and we decided we wanted to work together on something. We just pulled all the favors that we'd accumulated over the years of being in LA and working in LA and made the movie happen.
With this story in particular, what's interesting to me is so very often in horror, usually the roles are reversed in this, where in most other movies it would have been Sophie that would have been in the position that your character is in. So I thought it was really interesting in how it explores gender roles and gender dynamics. Can you discuss going into the mind of Lucas for this role and figuring out how to distill the different things he's experiencing in relation to his deteriorating mental health in this story?
Aidan Bristow: I think you make a really great observation, as far as the gender roles go. I think Sophie's character Violet is certainly not a damsel in distress. She's kind of the villain in it, I guess you could say, and she comes off as dangerous in certain aspects of it. So I think that was a lot of fun for Sophie to play, because I don't think she gets cast in a lot of those types of parts. And I think when you meet Violet and Lucas, you see them working really, really hard trying to work through something that probably most couples wouldn't be able to work through, which is one of the partners in a relationship aborting a child without telling the other, which is the conflict that we get introduced to in the first couple of minutes of the film.
And as far as mental health goes, that wasn't exactly like a theme or something that we focused on specifically while we were working through the film, but it definitely plays a part. Our hope is that the audience is going to go back and forth on who to believe, who might be losing their mind, who might be the confused party out of the two of them. And if the film is successful, hopefully the audience goes back and forth throughout the course of that film. But that was mostly because we didn't have a huge, huge budget. We wanted to kind of compensate for that by just trying to be a smarter film and to do that, we felt trying to carefully confuse the audience and make you go back and forth on who you related to was the best tactic to go with.
This house almost becomes like this cage in a lot of ways for Lucas, where he's trapped physically, emotionally, and mentally. How much do you feel like having this central locale was able to lend itself to your performance and really help you feel almost like the walls are closing in and there is no escape for Lucas in this story?
Aidan Bristow: The house was a tough find, because essentially we needed something that had a basement and as I'm sure you know, in California there are not a lot of homes with basements. As the producer, especially in the beginning phases of producing the film, I was also the location scout, so there were just all these miserable weeks of going through Airbnb and trying to find a house that had a basement. Obviously, I failed at that. What ultimately I was successful in finding was the house that we were in, which was a two-story house that existed on top of a garage, so we used that to play as a basement.
And as far as the space and having it feed the performance, I think just the nature of going back and forth to that house every single day for the 16 or 17 days that we were filming our principal photography, the claustrophobic nature of it just started seeping in. The first few days we started off with some of the easier scenes just to kind of get everyone warmed up with one another, and they were like 12-hour days that we were working. So just because of that, I think the claustrophobic nature of the house really started to seep into my work, just because we were there with a group of all these people on the crew, so we were truly on top of each other. But again, I don't say that like it was a painful process. If anything, I thought it was beautiful. All these people that were there were working for peanuts, basically. They just believed in the project and wanted to make the best film possible, so it was definitely a supportive environment.
You mentioned also being a producer on The Believer. Was it challenging for you to balance out those two roles at the same time? Or was it a case where, once photography started, you were able to back off a little bit from your producer role and really focus on the acting side of things?
Aidan Bristow: It was very difficult; I'll say that at the top. I think usually when you’re trying to produce, a lot of that can be facilitated if you can delegate a lot. But because of our relatively small budget, it was hard to ask other people in other departments to do a lot of these things for what they were getting paid. So I just had to take on all those duties myself. A lot of times in between takes, I was ordering lunch for everyone to make sure lunch got here on time, and then running back and forth to our line producer, Katrina [Kudlick], who's also an associate producer on the film, to sign checks or sign other documents that we needed. We really couldn’t have done this film without her.
But it was very difficult just because I wasn't able to delegate as much as I would have liked. But from a performance standpoint, what really helped is Sophie, Shan, and I rehearsed the film for like four or five months, every single week prior to filming. So as far as the performances went, we basically locked in what we were doing and thinking prior to shooting it, so there wasn't a lot of discovery and finding anything once we were actually filming. That's what enabled us to shoot close to 12 or 13 pages a day sometimes. It was a pretty expedited schedule in that way.
Before we go, I just have to ask how was it working alongside Billy Zane? Because you guys have some very interesting conversations in this movie, and he's been a longtime favorite of mine. How was that experience for you?
Aidan Bristow: It was great. I think similar to you, Billy Zane is someone whose work I've watched for decades and have been a fan of for a long time. So I was really excited working up towards the filming day when we worked together. He was really generous and kind and gave us a rehearsal day, too, which he didn't have to do. So I got to rehearse with him and Shan on all the scenes a couple of days before we were filming. That was fun because in between rehearsing, he would tell us really cool stories and fill us in on his experiences behind the scenes on some of the film projects that I've loved watching him in. So that was really cool. And on the day of filming, he was just a total professional. Billy just showed up ready to work, and was really pleasant to everyone around him.
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