Interview: James Duval, Star Of The New Film ‘Beast Mode’
By Dr. Zaius
Monday, November 30th, 2020 at 10:00 am
James Duval has had a long career in film, featuring in blockbusters like Independence Day and starring in major cult classics like Donnie Darko. The multi-talented actor, who is also a trained musician and yoga instructor, has a resume of well over a hundred credits on IMDb including many films in production right now. On December 1st, his latest film Beast Mode arrives on DVD and Digital. The film is a completely bonkers horror comedy which sees Duval star in dual roles: as the uber obnoxious Hollywood bad boy Huckle Saxton AND as Mike, a Huckle doppelganger. The film features a who’s who of big name talent including C. Thomas Howell, Leslie Easterbrook, Ray Wise, and James Hong. I got a chance to speak to Duval about the film, his career, and time during COVID.
Geeks of Doom: Hey James, thanks for taking the time. We’re talking today because of Beast Mode. The only word I can use to describe this movie is “BONKERS!” It is crazy, it’s horror, it’s comedy, it’s meta; how would you best describe this film?
James Duval: It’s a wacky screwball horror comedy. In the best sense of the word. I am a big fan of screwball comedies back to the films of the ’50s and ’60s. I had the opportunity in this film to play a more physically comedic character. That was inspired directly from those old Danny Kaye films, I don’t know if you know Danny Kaye’s work.
Geeks of Doom: Oh my god, I grew up watching The Court Jester, one of my favorites.
James Duval: YES, so from Danny Kaye to Jack Tripper, the late John Ritter god bless his soul, who I had the pleasure of working with on Nowhere (1997), he was a big inspiration for me, the character of Jack Tripper. He was lovable and sweet. Also, Weekend at Bernie’s was a big inspiration for me, especially for one of my characters in this film.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, I was going to say, not only do you have a dual role in the film, but you essentially have to play dead for a while.
James Duval: Yep, just like Terry Kiser in Weekend at Bernie’s. He’s a phenomenal actor by the way, but in that film after the first few minutes, he’s just playing dead.
Geeks of Doom: What was it like playing the dual role here? Your two characters are essentially polar opposites, and some might think playing dead isn’t physically demanding, but I imagine that is incredibly challenging.
James Duval: It was a little more challenging than I imagined. I had a really good time doing it, I was really playing three characters almost. One character who is pretending to be another character who is also a character in itself and then his real life persona Michael. So you have Michael, then you have Michael pretending to be Huckle, then you have Huckle himself. Then of course you have my homage to Bernie Lomax. It wasn’t too difficult to shift from character to character because they were polar opposites. But playing the dead Huckle was more challenging because of the breathing. If you do long takes you can’t breath for two or three minutes at a time if the camera is on you. Or blinking your eyes, there are scenes where I have my eyes slightly open.
Geeks of Doom: Ha, yeah and they are messing with your mouth getting you to smile.
James Duval: Try not to blink or flinch. For the most part I think I did a good job. There were a few times we had to do multiple takes because I broke up laughing or they tickled me.
Geeks of Doom: I can’t imagine trying to play perfectly still and keeping a straight face especially when James Hong is cracking jokes.
James Duval: It was SO hard keeping a straight face with James Hong in the room. He was ad-libbing and his scenes were scripted but he was saying things that weren’t in the script. And every time he did that I was doing everything in my power to not laugh, and thank goodness the camera wasn’t on me the whole time so I could break up and not make noise. That was also part of the joy of it too. Those are things you don’t think about until you are in the moment.
Geeks of Doom: It made this movie so much fun. It is never boring and so much crazy fun and scenes like that one help so much. I wanted to ask about the character of Huckle Saxton. This is such a stereotypical bad boy Hollywood actor. You’ve been in the industry for a long time, I remember seeing you back in Independence Day and of course Donnie Darko. When it comes to Huckle, were you pulling from any real-life experience of knowing actors that behaved like Huckle?
James Duval: Oh yeah, definitely, you hear so many stories in this industry. I took from those and then upped them to the highest degree. We see it today, we’re in the day and age of zero accountability. They literally just push and push because they can get away with anything. Some of it to be honest goes back to the golden age of film, back to the silent film era where there was no dialogue so they could show up drunk to the set. Then there are tons of stories of Charlton Heston, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor just DRUNK out of their minds making these films.
Geeks of Doom: Then there’s Marlon Brando showing up to the set on Apocalypse Now out of shape not knowing his lines. I really enjoyed the film and your performance. Your facial expressions, whether Huckle or Michael were just so funny.
James Duval: Thanks man, that is what we were going for so I’m really happy to hear that.
Geeks of Doom: You have a Rocky-style training montage in the film where you’re obviously in great shape. I read on IMDb you’re big into yoga and teach yoga too.
James Duval: I used to teach yoga, but I haven’t had the time in the last few years. I haven’t been in the studio to teach since about 2014-15. It’s so difficult to have regular classes while you’re working. You can teach and get a class and build a following. But once I leave to shoot a movie those students will find another teacher. I still practice yoga and teach when I can. I do private instruction here and there.
Geeks of Doom: In that montage, you look ripped. Was there extra training you had to do for this film?
James Duval: The movie came on the hill where I had been training with weights as well as yoga. I was training with weights for James Merendino’s sequel Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2. I bulked up about 20-25 pounds for that. I started bulking up, then the movie got pushed, but I decided to keep with it and keep bulking up. When Beast Mode came up, I was still working out and I just thought you know, Huckle would look like this. He would have that movie star body. One thing that this pandemic has afforded me is time to work out and lift weights, do yoga, and play bass guitar and piano, write, etc. It’s given me time to do all the things I’ve wanted to do for a long time that I was only able to do piecemeal.
Geeks of Doom: That’s really awesome. I’ve noticed that during the pandemic people either are falling off the deep end or dive deep into the things you are passionate about. You seem like a genuine renaissance man.
James Duval: It’s unfortunate but this thing is going to pass. My craft is so important to me and I want to hit the ground running. The only way to do that is to take care of myself mentally, physically, spiritually, metaphysically. This is a time where people who said ‘I never have the time to do those things I want to do’, this is that time.
Geeks of Doom: That’s a great way to look at it.
James Duval: All we can do is take advantage of the situation we are in, with the tools that we have. If you have yourself and your health, that’s the start and I learned that from years of my yoga practice.
Geeks of Doom: Well Beast Mode is the furthest movie from yoga I can imagine and that comes out December 1st. I noticed on IMDb you have so many movies listed as “in production.” Are things held up because of COVID or are you just working a lot?
James Duval: I have been fortunate where I have been working steadily for years now. I try to stay as busy as possible, I was very picky when I was younger. It served me well when the business was totally different. As the business started to change, going back to the craft, it was important to me to become a good actor. For me to do that I had to dare to fail. I had to try things I hadn’t done. I had to be bad sometimes, make bad choices, so I could learn. You know from failure comes success. That’s from this great book I love called The Majesty of Calmness. It comes down to failure building success, that’s how we learn to stand back up from the things that knock us down and really weather the storm. Again, putting the craft at the forefront, I started taking as much work as I could get, in every genre possible whether it was comedy, musical, sci-fi.
Geeks of Doom: I keep saying it, but Beast Mode feels like there are so many genres thrown into the blender, so that helps. With all the roles you’ve had, is there a deep cut James Duval film you feel doesn’t get recognized enough that you’d want out there?
James Duval: I feel fortunate that they all have been out there and had a life or a resurgence. Donnie Darko would have been there. I was really proud of that movie when we made it, but it failed when it came out, but we know through word of mouth it’s become this huge cult film. And that’s such a huge honor. It wasn’t because of the studios or the marketing, it was because someone just recommended it to their friends. It spread because of that. That got the accolades: more than what I would have imagined, better than just being popular for a month or two. My early films with Gregg Araki are now playing on Criterion, which is a big honor. May with Lucky McKee I was really proud of. Go by Doug Liman, I’m really proud of that film as well. More recently, I have movies that haven’t come out yet and I’m really excited about the work I’ve just done. I just finished a film called I, Challenger and I’m really excited for that to come out. I also have a pilot I just did. I, Challenger is like a stoner comedy that becomes a horror suspense drama. I bury myself for 24 hours in a self-burial challenge. From there I did a pilot which was a gritty drama about the mafia in Buffalo, New York where I played an undercover cop. It’s totally different from anything else I’ve done recently. But I am excited about that too.
Geeks of Doom: I actually just saw Sushi Girl for the first time which you were great in. I saw Tony Todd at the NYC Horror Film Festival a few years back and he mentioned that as one of the films he was most proud of.
James Duval: That’s really an honor to hear that. I did Sushi Girl because of Tony Todd. He is such an amazing actor.
Geeks of Doom: I have to ask about Donnie Darko. You play the iconic Frank (the Bunny) and you have an all time great line.
James Duval: ‘What’s it like wearing a stupid human suit’ one of my all-time favorite lines.
Geeks of Doom: I saw an interview with you where you were at a convention doing photo ops in the Frank costume.
James Duval: That was a blast. To wear that costume again for the first time since we did the film and take pictures with people. One time we did that in Charlotte, North Carolina and it was Easter Sunday, so I was the Frank the Bunny Easter Bunny. It was kind of wickedly cool. The kids weren’t scared, they got it. I was Donnie’s guardian angel, even if I didn’t look like it.
Geeks of Doom: Thanks so much for the time, do you have anything else you want to promote?
James Duval:I, Challenger is coming soon, the pilot is called For Nothing so stay tuned for that starring Michael Madsen, Daniel Baldwin, an incredible cast of actors. I, Challenger costars Margaret Cho, my partner in crime Coy Williams, and an eclectic array of character actors. It’s a crazy weird funny movie.
Geeks of Doom: I think that’s what people are going to really enjoy with Beast Mode too. The cast is full of people we just know, you have Ray Wise, C. Thomas Howell, James Hong, Leslie Easterbrook.
James Duval: Oh man, so many great actors. Ray Wise man, he was great and our star C.T. Howell. Robert Costanzo is in it and he looks exactly the same as he did in all those ’80s movies.
Geeks of Doom: As long as you’ve been in the business are there still moments you get starstruck?
James Duval: All the time. It is one of the joys of being in this business. If you lose that, if you become jaded like that, you just rot yourself. I’ll admit it I used to ditch school and go to the movies. What did I want to do with my life, I had no clue. But when I went to the movies I knew I wanted to do something like that. So 30 years later, I know how movies are made but the wonder of it never gets old. I mean I get to watch Star Trek: Discovery AND Star Wars: The Mandalorian on TV now. I haven’t gotten to work on them yet, but if I did, the joy would be amazing. I love stuff like this and that’s why I make movies. My fandom in all this has never been stronger. I got to work with Ray Wise on a short film before Beast Mode that hasn’t come out yet, but just getting to work with Ray Wise has been a highlight for my career. I have been fortunate to work with some amazing actors in my career.
Geeks of Doom: Thank you so much for your time.
James Duval was a fantastic interview with an even better outlook and perspective on life especially during the pandemic. The Donnie Darko star has over 100 credits to his name. To check out Duval in an underseen gem, check out Sushi Girl, streaming on The Roku Channel. Beast Mode sees him deliver a tour-de-force performance as two totally different characters. The film is available on DVD and Digital starting Tuesday December 1, 2020. The horror-comedy has a tremendous cast and is well worth checking out for its absolute commitment to insanity.