Fan Fest EXCLUSIVE: James Allen McCune talks Blair Witch, Yoga Dancing and Making Things ‘More Cool’
For months, horror fans were eagerly awaiting an upcoming film titled The Woods. Just from a teaser trailer, the film was being praised for its mystery, intensity and style by critics and fans alike. The hype train was full steam ahead.
Fast forward to San Diego Comic-Con 2016…where fans caught wind that they’d be able to see The Woods months before anyone else. As soon as the films end credits began to roll, fans noticed something very unique about this mysterious film…it wasn’t titled The Woods after all…it was a direct sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. As if the film didn’t have enough hype already, horror fans rejoiced once again with high-fives and ‘hell yeahs.’
Now, with the release of Blair Witch upon us, I had an opportunity to sit down with James Allen McCune who plays James in the film to finally open up about the crazy journey that this film had, as well as his own, from conception to release.
NICK: James, first and foremost, I’d like to congratulate you on Blair Witch. You must be ecstatic to be able to share this with the world…and, finally talk about it.
JAMES: Yeah, man. Thanks! It’s super cool. We’ve kind of hid this thing for so long that it almost feels wrong to talk about it in public.
NICK: Now that there’s no secrecy, let’s dive head first into Blair Witch. There are rumors that filming began almost 5 years before anyone knew the film existed; is this true? When was your first actual day on set?
JAMES: Oh, wow. They began the process of this thing 5 years ago. Filming actually began a little over a year and a half ago in April.
NICK: In one of the greatest bait-and-switch in, dare I say, movie history; the film revealed at San Diego Comic Con that it had been promoted under faux-title, The Woods, before being revealed as Blair Witch. Was it tough tip-toeing around this to interviewers and friends?
JAMES: I remember when the movie ended, [at Comic Con] on the screen popped up the new poster and it said Blair Witch, I grabbed Brandon Scott [Peter], who was next to me and I was like, “oh no, they screwed up!” I thought something had gone horribly wrong. But, then again, my natural response when I see the words Blair Witch, is to cringe a little bit like I shouldn’t be talking about it.
Let me put it this way, if Lionsgate could’ve wiped our memories of having ever shot it, I think they would’ve. It was SUPER important to shut up about it. I couldn’t tell my family in Canada what I was doing for two and half or so months. We kind of came up with every other word other than Blair Witch when we were talking about it. We called it The Woods, which was its first name. It also had a second secret name in Canada, which was the word Stakes. They even had a poster for it, which would be on all the paperwork while we were filming. The poster art was a hand holding a wooden stake for vampires. Everyone thought we were making a vampire movie. We would call it BW. We could call it The Thing. We’d really just avoid it as much as possible. Blair Witch became a swear…as much as it could be.
NICK: It feels as thought the horror industry had it’s door kicked in when the original Blair Witch Project released. It terrified me growing up! What horror film affected you the most growing up?
JAMES: The crazy thing about all this, is that I’m a wimp. So, I didn’t grow up watching a lot of horror movies. I remember seeing Poltergeist one Halloween. My sister was watching it, so, I had no idea what I was watching. I remember seeing the “pool scene” where all the skeletons come up out of the pool. I kind of froze in fear for a while. I remember watching this thing [Poltergeist] for far too long and thinking about it for weeks thinking how screwed up it was. I’m slowly getting into horror movies now, just to see what kind of world I’ve bursted into. But, now, at least I have a sort of standard knowledge of horror movies. I watched The Babadook recently. It’s incredible!
NICK: Man, what a psychologically horrifying movie!
JAMES: That’s what I love about it. It doesn’t really depend on tropes or cheap scares, which is really cool. I was very impressed!
NICK: You’ve had the opportunity to work on hit shows like Shameless and The Walking Dead; now, you’ve worked with genius director/writer duo Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. All of Adam’s film show that the actors are truly having fun on set. What are some of your fondest memories from filming Blair Witch (without delving into spoiler territory)?
JAMES: Yeah, of course! Dude, it was so much fun. I don’t think I’ve had that much fun doing many things in my life. I mean, it was grueling and probably one of the most physically/emotionally taxing things I’ve ever been a part of; but, at the same time we [the cast & crew] were all so close. We all really supported each other…even sometimes psychically holding each other up. The whole thing was really special.
I just remember going up to Vancouver city for my co-star, Callie Hernandez [Lisa], it was her birthday. We went club-hopping, which is something that none of us usually do ever. So, it was really funny to kind of see all of us pretend like we know what we’re doing in a club; but, we just made complete asses out of ourselves the entire time. Callie didn’t really know how to dance in the club, so, she just did yoga in the middle of the dance floor. We’re all kind of huge dorks on the inside.
Honestly, the entire movie is one, long fond memory for me.
NICK: Especially considering that you’re making something so horrifying.
JAMES: I know, right?! You wouldn’t think you’d have fun doing that kind of stuff. But, like you said, Adam [Wingard] is a genius and he knows how to keep everyone in good spirits, even when things are really hard. He’s the funniest dude who would always put on different personas when giving us direction. His number one direction for some reason were just the words: MORE COOL. [laughing] Which is really the most useless thing to say to somebody! So, we would be neck deep in a really serious scene and he [Adam] would just say “uh, can we get more cool, please,’ and then he’d back out. We had no idea what that was supposed to mean.
NICK: That’s such an indie approach to what I think will be a blockbuster hit; which is amazing.
JAMES: Right?! The thing is, this is a big studio thing and there’s a lot of important, powerful people behind it. But, its never for a minute felt like a ‘corporate’ thing. The folks at Lionsgate are so rad. They are just normal people who are extremely passionate! They aren’t here to just make a quick buck; which, I think was the reasoning behind hiding the fact that this was a Blair Witch movie for so long. Because, this is a climate right now for cheap remakes and reboots. They [Lionsgate] came from it with a genuine interest in wanting to expand on the mythology of the original Blair Witch Project, which is amazing. So, it came from a genuine place and not a ‘we’re trying to make as much money as possible off of something that already has a built in audience.’ And, everybody from the beginning has had that. It’s really cool to see something that’s not a cheap cash-in. It’s a really interesting script! I mean, they passed over hundreds of ideas of sequels to the Blair Witch Project for years until they found the right one. It’s super special. Everyone was super excited about it and still is.
NICK: If you could describe Blair Witch in 3 words, what would they be?
JAMES: Um, relentless and funny. It’s a surprisingly funny movie. But, the last act of the film is brutal. It’s non-stop. I’m so impressed with it. It’s sort of a slow build similar to the original Blair Witch Project, where a lot of people could debatably say it’s boring because there aren’t cities blowing up or people getting ripped apart. Our movie really follows that kind of tone where it’s a group of people just trying to get answers. So, we really take time to meet us as a cast and see what we’re like. But, once the kiddie wheels are off, this thing is rolling down a hill at break neck speed straight towards a wall.
NICK: [laughing] You’re freaking me out just talking about it. I’m even more nervous to see it now.
JAMES: I know. I’m good. [laughs]
NICK: One thing I’ve noticed, is that throughout your career you’ve played characters named Jimmy (The Walking Dead), Jamie (Only In L.A.) and now in Blair Witch, you’re playing a character by the name of James. At times, did you feel fully immersed in this world when filming Blair Witch because of this?
JAMES: Yeah, that was a big part of it. They actually named the character after me. So, it wasn’t always going to be my name until they casted me. That was weird thing to have actual characters calling me. There was no way for me to not put myself into the part. When playing a character, I like to add little things that are separate from myself in order to make it feel more in depth. But, for this character there was nothing I could do except for…be myself. This is a good thing and a bad thing, because, this character is the most connected I’ve been to a character, but, it’s also not something I could really wash off once I left set; which was hard.
NICK: It’s like a never-ending haunted house; and, with you being easily scared that must’ve been rough! [laughing]
JAMES: That’s almost word for word what my therapist said.
NICK: And, correct me if I’m wrong, but, you’re the only character named after the actual cast member in this film.
JAMES: Correct, yeah. They wanted to pay homage to the original. Because, the original cast was named after themselves. But, we were iffy to do that, because they [the original cast] didn’t really have a good time with having these characters being named after themselves (to put it lightly). I don’t think that being famous for a character that’s not at all like you are, like, Heather [Donahue] was playing a character, and a lot of people don’t realize that because it’s named after her. It was really inconvenient and continues to be inconvenient to this day that when you Google their personal names and the only thing that comes up are the characters they played. So, they [the creative team] were trying to be as respectful to us as much as possible, which I really appreciate.
NICK: From 2011 to 2016, you’ve been hitting home-run after home-run; so, what’s next for James Allen McCune; or, are you not at liberty to discuss it?
JAMES: Yeah, I can’t discuss specifics, but, I just joined a video game! I’m out of my mind excited about this! But, we haven’t started that quite yet. This is a huge dream of mine, so, I’ll be starting on that soon and it’ll probably release in a couple years. I’m also making music! I’m going to start recording an album, which will be titled, “Damage Boost’ when it’s out. That should release toward the end of this year. If you can’t tell, I’m just sort of trying new things.
NICK: Well, thanks for taking the time out of your crazy schedule. Best of luck with everything! I cannot wait to see the film. I know there will be line wrapped around the building tonight when it releases.
JAMES: Thanks, man. I really appreciate you! This is really cool.
Catch James McCune in Blair Witch on September 16 at a theatre near you! Also, be sure to listen to James’ music at https://soundcloud.com/jamesallenmccune