In Bryan Bertino's The Dark and the Wicked, a grieving brother and sister encounter increasingly eerie visitors on their family's secluded farm, including an enigmatic priest (Xander Berkeley) who may or may not be there to help them in their time of need. With The Dark and the Wicked now in theaters and on digital and VOD platforms from RLJE Films, we caught up with Berkeley to discuss his intriguing role in The Dark and the Wicked, from the spider that spontaneously showed up on his hat during filming to the ambiguous (and potentially devilish) nature of his character, and he also discussed his love of doing his own practical makeup effects and reflected on playing Trevor Lyle in Bernard Rose's Candyman.

Congratulations on your new movie, The Dark and the Wicked. Maybe I made the mistake of watching it really late at night, but it really freaked me out and I think it's really going to stick with me for a long time.

Xander Berkeley: Yeah. Yeah, my wife and I just watched it last night. I just was waiting because I had a bunch of different things going on, and yeah, it creeped the hell out of us. It was a very effective film, I thought.

Yeah. The imagery, and your character in particular, has got some really interesting stuff going on. When the script first came across your desk, did Bryan Bertino have you in mind for this role, or was this something that just spoke to you as an actor?

Xander Berkeley: It's funny. It all happened rather suddenly. I don't know where they were at with the role except that I was at South by Southwest in Austin about a week before they shot the scene. I ran into one of the producers, who I had met before, and it just happened spontaneously. I usually travel with a more extensive makeup kit, so I didn't have much time to age myself up for the role, but I jumped into it and I'm glad I did.

I am, too. It's such a great role because at first you kind of think maybe he's there to help them, but like everything in this movie, nothing is quite as it seems. Was it fun for you to bring that emotional complexity? We're so used to seeing priests as the good guys in horror movies, but here there's a lot of shady elements going on. It must've been a juicy role for you to sink your teeth into.

Xander Berkeley: Yes. Smaller role as it was, it was still really juicy in respect to the fact that it plays on a double archetype, both the holy man and the unholiest of presences beneath the cloth. I think that we also see priests playing the sort of, not in horror films, perhaps, they're usually seen as the one who's the savior, but in other films they're cast in a bad light because of all the stuff that's come out about the Catholic priests and child molestation.

I was glad that it wasn't either of those two what have become almost clichés, but that it was something in this gray area of a guy who's on one hand saying he's there to help, and he may be, or he may just be a complete projection of their imagination. You just don't know what's going on. Bryan even toyed with, "Is he the devil?" You get to try and play into both something that remains believable, like in the old, somewhat creepy old priest on the road. Somebody that would just show up in bad weather without a car? Hmm. Dodgy. Hanging outside the house at 3:00am, that's super dodgy.

I have relatives from Texas, and I traveled around when I was little, went to go visit them, and I just remember these guys that were from another time. I grew up on the East Coast, so when I would see these people that we would run into, it just felt like they were from 100 years ago. I wanted that as part of it because I think that ambiguity, both him being old, but from an even earlier time than he could conceivably be from... I was using the accent that I remember really hearing a lot when I was a little boy in Texas, so that it would have that from-another-time vibe.

At the same time, I had the spider jump onto my hat when I did the first scene. Jumped off the truck right on the first take, the master shot, and stayed up there for the whole thing. It probably limited what choices they had in the editing, because it would've been a little on the nose to have a spider dangling, as it was at times, right in front of my face. Large spider, too. Yet we just felt like it was too fortuitous to take it off if it was willing to sit there for every take and every angle. It's rolling super creepily around, and we didn't know if that would be like a subliminal thing. It would've been too much. I saw why it limited him in terms of what he could use. The footage had to be sort of over my shoulder, and then it was a side view. I don't know whether that dictated the cuts, but for us it was wildly an affirmation and an omen of the creepiness of the film.

Yeah, you couldn't ask for better symbolism, especially for your character and the theme of the movie. That's very serendipitous.

Xander Berkeley: Even though Bryan didn't get to use it, I'm sure he has some of that footage. I certainly took a little bit of a selfie video as I walked away between takes, going, "I cannot believe this guy is staying up here. There are spider references in the movie and then a random spider jumps onto my hat and makes a nest on top?"

Now that's method acting, right there. That takes it to another level.

Xander Berkeley: Yeah. I was channeling something dark and evil.

I know that you're also an artist, and you mentioned makeup effects. Did you get any creative freedom to play around with the visuals of your character from that standpoint?

Xander Berkeley: Oh yeah. Yeah. They tend to let me. I drop a few of the names of my buddies that are Academy Award-winning makeup artists, and they go, "Oh. Would you like to show us what you want to do?" In the early days, they'd never let me, but they kind of let me have free run these days and I just have a ball. I started out in the theater when I was a kid, and my father was an artist and gave me a great kit of really creepy stuff when I was like 12 or something and I've been into it ever since. Growing up in the theater, I was a makeup man and that's how I kind of got into character, while I was in the mirror, transforming myself into the character, I'd go, "Now, I'm this other person and now I'm ready to go on stage." That really carried over into a lot of the work I did on film and trying to get an education about how to adapt it for film.

I didn't have my kit with me because I was coming out of Austin, but we made do with what they had, and they were cool and they were super fun to play around with. It changed the way I looked, and then that spider definitely influenced the way I moved. That spider stayed in me.

That is amazing. I love that you have that background, and you've been a part of so many great makeup effects over the years, including Candyman, and I feel like that movie has become even more timely. I think it's just as timely now as it was when it came out. [Spoiler warning if you haven't seen Candyman.]

I just love your work in that film and the scenes you and Virginia Madsen did together. Just looking back on that experience, filming that final scene with Virginia in the bathroom, is there anything in particular that you really treasure about that movie?

Xander Berkeley: Yeah. Well, since you referenced that scene, I'll tell you a quick anecdote if I can squeeze it in. It [the final scene] was not in the original script and the original film, and Bernard Rose, the director, test screened it somewhere and said, "They've all voted. They want you dead, mate. They want you dead." He says, "I've got an idea of what we're going to do. You're going be in there. Your little chippie, she can't make a decent dinner. She's flapping around this steak in the frying pan and you're disgusted by her. You're in the bathroom, regretting all these choices in life and how you've just betrayed your beautiful wife. You just go and you just bury your head in your hands, and you start saying, 'Helen. Helen.' Then you look in the mirror and you say it one last time, the fifth time, mate, and there she is. You've beckoned the candy bitch. She's back from hell and she's going to rip you stem to stern. There's going to be gallons and gallons of blood, mate."

Literally, on the day, I'm just reeling, "Really, you're killing him just for having a little affair? Oh, wow. Okay. All right." Then, sure enough, they rip me stem to stern and there was Bernard himself with this fireman's old-school pump, a water pump, but it was filled with blood and he's just spraying it all over me and all over the tiles and all over the tub. He was going, "Gallons and gallons, mate, like I said."

That is amazing. No peace for Trevor. That is awesome.

Xander Berkeley: I kept my mouth filled with blood after the last take when I'm just staring into the mirror, after I said "Helen" the last time. And then when I see her in the mirror and when she rips me open, I had this huge mouthful of blood to be able to be able to "blagh" as the hook is reaching where it would've reached my lungs.

Well, it's not exactly a happy ending, but a memorable one for sure.

Xander Berkeley: Yeah. If I can help to make things a little more gruesome, from Terminator 2 on, I've started to collaborate in gruesome demises.


  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.