Horror fans know Rhys Wakefield from his creepy, sinisterly smiling turn as the "Polite Leader" of a group of Purgers in 2013's The Purge, and the actor is now stepping behind the camera to tell a different kind of unsettling story for his feature film directorial debut, Berserk (in which he also co-stars), a story about two screenwriters looking to experience real fear while trying to finish their long-gestating zombie screenplay. With Berserk now on VOD platforms, we recently caught up with Wakefield for our latest Q&A feature to discuss the chilling real-life inspiration for Berserk, filming the movie in 14 days, and working alongside a talented cast that includes Nick Cannon, Nora Arnezeder, and James Roday.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, Rhys, and congratulations on your new movie, Berserk. When did you and co-writer William Day Frank first come up with the idea for Berserk?
Rhys Wakefield: We first came up with the idea in 2016. I was inspired by an encounter which involved a hooded stranger trying to break into my house at 6:00am in the morning. Whilst prying open the window, he saw me and ran away… but it was the fight or flight of that fearful moment that made me explore the possibilities of what could have gone wrong.
Where did filming take place, and what was your shooting schedule for Berserk?
Rhys Wakefield: In LA and Sydney. We shot the film in 14 days, which is perhaps the shortest shoot of any movie I’ve ever been a part of… tight schedule.
You worked with a great cast on this film, including Nick Cannon and James Roday. How did they get involved, and what was it like collaborating with them to tell this story?
Rhys Wakefield: Nick was sent the script and responded right away. We sat down together to discuss the project and he had such an innate intuition for the character and tone of the world I wanted to create. He expressed that he wanted to be a paintbrush to my vision, which is an incredibly gracious thing for someone as experienced as Nick Cannon to say to you.
The same goes for James—he just had an innate understanding of what I was trying to achieve. His comedic timing is a real gift, and he’s ceaseless with his gift-giving. They were both ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and work with our tight schedule. I’m forever grateful to them.
What did you learn working behind the camera as well as in front of it on your feature-length directorial debut?
Rhys Wakefield: It was very important to map everything out quite arduously before we got to principal photography so that Mac Fisken, our DP, was as autonomous with our shot list as I was. The actors and I sat down to discuss the characters at length so they could hit the ground running on game day. This experience was another exercise in the importance of not only time management and scheduling, but learning to trust your instincts. If you feel you’ve got it, then move on. Don’t pander with excessive takes, don’t pander to perfection—these things waste time and are illusory. Make good decisions fast rather than great decisions slow.
Were you influenced or inspired by any films, TV series, or books while making Berserk?
Rhys Wakefield: I was inspired by an array of American films like Death Becomes Her, The ’Burbs, Pulp Fiction, Hitchcock’s Rope, Scorsese’s After Hours, and Scream. Each film includes characters who are self-referential. They depict characters who really work on screen because they’re either wildly cynical or wildly naïve—a lovely, natural point of conflict in a rather fantastical, bold world.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Rhys Wakefield: Our final night when I knew we had the whole damn thing in the can. Also, Nora Arnezeder in a scene she has in the movie. It was so far above what I had envisioned. She conveyed so much emotion and complexity, it was special to witness.
What do you hope viewers take away from Berserk?
Rhys Wakefield: It’s designed to be just be fun and entertaining, but I’d say the Trojan-horsed message is that whilst narcissism can be entertaining, it’s ultimately insidious and destructive.
With Berserk now on VOD platforms, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers follow your work online?
Rhys Wakefield: I’m in early pre-production for a suburban sci-fi I’ve written and will direct later this year, which I’m very excited about. They can follow me on Instagram as @Rhys_Wakefield