Interview: Jackson Rathbone on 'Warhunt'
We chat with the actor about his new supernatural actioner, and how his philosophy carried him through a unique shooting experience.
There's nothing better than a movie that just goes for it. Warhunt is not worried about its believability. It's not concerned if its budget doesn't match its reach. Director Mauro Borrelli goes guns blazing, and he's surrounded his film with actors gung ho to do the same. His belief rests in his audience, genre hounds who crave the smashing of war and the supernatural.
It's 1945. An American cargo plane goes down behind enemy lines. Mickey Rourke tasks Robert Knepper to retrieve its precious load, and he sticks Jackson Rathbone into their ranks as bonus badass. Rathbone's Walsh has a special set of skills, and Knepper's gang will need them when the German Black Forrest erupts in witchcraft and terror.
Warhunt doesn't flinch. It gets silly and weird, and it presses on. The film pays off on its first third promise, delivering a finale that's as balls-out strange as the best 80s VHS box art covers. And standing centerstage is Jackson Rathbone, holding evil back from global domination.
Nearly two years into our pandemic experience, we've read about many films affected by the global shutdown in March 2020. Warhunt was one of the first, and it was also one of the first to complete its production during that bizarre time. We were glad to chat with Rathbone about this unique endeavor and how he used the confusion and fear surrounding COVID-19 to understand his character's Warhunt adventure better.
Rathbone is an actor who tackles every role in the same fashion. He relies on his training and philosophy to figure out the person on the page. What does that mean, exactly? We get into, and thankfully, Rathbone was willing to go there with us.
This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Brad: So, Warhunt, it is like my kind of movie: World War II meets the supernatural. Ever since I was a kid, and I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, those two flavors have been my jam. And I imagine that's one of the big reasons why you were excited about this film as well.
Jackson: You nailed it, my friend. That's it exactly. When they sent me the offer for this role in this film, I read the log-line, "World War II, soldiers behind enemy lines, fighting Nazis and supernatural forces," I was very intrigued.
They also added that I would be working alongside Mickey Rourke and Robert Knepper. And that's when my actor brain just exploded and said, "Oh, hell yes." I don't even know if I fully read this script before I signed on, because I was just excited by all those elements combined right then.
Brad: You spend a lot of time with Robert Knepper. And the two of you have such a great ... chemistry, or anti chemistry, I guess you would call it.
Jackson: It's always hard to exactly say, "What is that?" When we have chemistry, but we're not supposed to like each other. It is chemistry because he and I got along famously. And I really think you do the best work as an actor, especially when you're antagonistic, when you are on the same level as the other actor, like when you trust each other.
Brad: Yeah. You two are these opposing forces in the film. I imagine anytime you get to play that, there's an extra layer of excitement for the performer.
Jackson: It was great. I mean, it's funny too, because he and I would go out for dinner, and we'd just chat it up and talk about art and history and our other passions. And then on-camera, we butt heads. And they call, "Cut." And we're hugging and giggling. You know?
Jackson: It's just the nature of the industry. But he's just a really, really wonderful guy. So for me to get to spend so much time with him ... Especially as an actor, man, his performance is incredible. Everything he does, he's always great.
Brad: I'm always excited when he shows up in a movie. Going into the production, as a fan of these performers, how do you set aside your admiration and get to just the acting?
Jackson: Oh, man, that's a great question. The only time I've ever been starstruck truly, was many years ago. I had a one-on-one meeting with Ron Howard for The Dark Tower. This was when I was younger, and they were looking for different actors for that young male lead. I was so starstruck that I started stuttering. And I hadn't stuttered since I was a child. I just went backward, and I forgot everything, all my training. And I just ... It's truly embarrassing and I vowed it would never again. And it hasn't ever happened again.
That was the only time I've ever completely been starstruck, to the point that I was dumbstruck. What I've told myself since is that everyone's just human. You really shouldn't put people on pedestals because we all have our ups, we all have our downs. At the end of the day, everyone has to put their pants on one leg at a time. Or in a much more gross aspect, everyone has to use the bathroom. You know what I mean?
Brad: Sure, sure.
Jackson: I think if you put it in simplistic terms like that, you humanize people a bit more. So, getting to work with Robert, it's a dream. But at the same time, he's still just a dude. You get more out of somebody when you treat them like a dude, or just like another person.
Brad: Well, and also I would imagine that the filming experience of Warhunt, being as unique as it was, sort of helps everyone get on the same page too. You're already out there in Latvia, in the woods, in the mud, filming your version of World War II. And then, of course, the pandemic happens. And you all have to, as a team, work together to figure that new system out.
Jackson: Yeah, you nailed it, man. We were in the middle of filming as the pandemic was ramping up. So it's not like we started during the pandemic. We started filming when there were just a few cases coming out of China. And then suddenly it just started happening all over the world.
And while we were filming, we would have actors start dropping out. We had one actor who was concerned, because he was immune-compromised and wanted to get home. Another actor was worried about his grandparents. So he had to get home to watch over them. We literally started losing actors day by day, until finally, production had to call a hiatus for the whole film.
But it was truly like this supernatural force -- the virus. In a weird way, these viruses, they're alien. They're science fiction. They're supernatural, they're demonic. They're fucking weird. Pardon my language.
Brad: Yeah, sure.
Jackson: I think there was definitely an element of truth that was imbued within the film because of it.
Brad: And you're just able to throw yourself in the performance and use what's going on out in the world to your advantage? Because that period in time, I know for myself, was just such a period of confusion and there was that massive the fear of the unknown. What's coming? Does the film help you center yourself, or does it get in the way of the performance?
Jackson: No, I've been lucky in my training -- my theater and my screen-acting training are about utilizing truth, finding whatever is the true moment, to hopefully convey a performance. So for me, [the pandemic] was just a weapon in my arsenal that I didn't really want, but it was there, and I had to use it. It was this undercurrent of just being curious as to what's happening and being afraid.
In my own life, I've found that through my travels as a young man, as a young adult, and growing up and with children now, every human's the same. We all have love, and we all have the fear. If you really look at those two emotions, they tend to spill out into everything. It's the way I've lived my life. I try to focus on what I love and put my energy into that. But at the same time, I also want to examine what I'm fearful about. Am I fearful because I love something and I'm afraid of losing it? Or am I fearful because of an ego? You know?
Jackson: So I always want to make sure that I check the ego and I make sure that my fears are based around love, which is my super philosophical trip for you today [laughter].
Brad: Dude, no. I appreciate it. I mean, we are Comic Book Couples Counseling. This is what we do. This is what we talk about. I love the idea of fear around love or fear coming out of love, or the lack of love.
Jackson: Oh, yeah. That's the true nature of intimacy issues. Most people have intimacy issues based on their fear and the fear of being hurt. And so, they're not able to fully accept being loved. Or it's their insecurities about themselves that they mask. And they don't understand that it is fear. And that fear, that insecurity is stopping you from accepting love, because you don't really feel it for your own self.
Brad: So, getting into your technique and your strategy for taking on characters and narratives. With something like Warhunt, where do you start? How do you start?
Jackson: That's a good question. So the original Walsh, my character, I think he was supposed to be Polish in the script. And then when they cast me, I was like, "Are you going to want me to do a Polish accent?" They're like, "No, no. No, we really like your Southern accent. We want you to use that." I'm like, "Okay, cool. Let's reexamine his character."
And so, Mauro, the director, and one of the co-writers, and I, sat down and really reexamined this character and tailored it around me a bit more. We made him from Texas, we gave him this philosophical bent. Yet at the same time, he has a physical prowess that's a little bit hidden.
That all comes from me, which is, I'm a very...I have a tendency to expound philosophically as much as I can, whenever I can. I'm obsessed with human behavior as an artist. And then also, I've spent many, many years, training with stunt performers in the martial arts, and especially stunts for film and fighting for the camera. At my heart, I'm a pacifist. But every once in a while, sometimes people just need to get knocked around a little.
Warhunt is now playing in select theaters, and On Digital and Demand.