Jake Busey first came to prominence as a deranged serial killer in Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. He has since amassed an even 100 credits on IMDB, appearing in big projects (Identity, Starship Troopers) and small ones (Reaper, Wristcutters: A Love Story) alike. In his latest project, Dead Ant, he plays the lead singer of a struggling rock band who takes peyote in the middle of the desert to jump-start their creativity… and may or may not be attacked by a colony of giant ants in the process. He spoke with the Sci-Fi Movie Page about the project in a recent interview.
Question: What attracted you to the character, this kind of struggling would-be rock god?
Jake Busey: I’m a musician, and I just thought the guy was a lot of fun. What was hard for me was all that eyeliner. I remember when I was a kid, I was in a record store, and I was browsing through the vinyl, and I found this picture with these four women on the cover. At that time, there weren’t any women bands besides Heart and the Go-Gos. Turns out, it wasn’t women, It was Poison [Editor’s note: the album was Look What the Cat Dragged In.]:
That was the look we were going for. This sort of archetype of the big hair 80s heavy metal era here in 2017 when the scene is so totally something else. It was a good chance to just go to work and be wacky.
Q: How do you find the character underneath the hair and the make-up? How do you make that look work for the character instead of the character being limited to the look?
JB: He’s an artist, and he’s very attached to the art he wants to make. He’s a committed musician and he wants it all to work. I know the world of the music industry and I know the people in it. You find that inner core. You find that, and the make-up and the clothing just become window dressing.
Q: And the giant ants that may or may not be part of an extended drug trip?
JB: [Laughs] Yeah, that was new.
Q: How do you balance the need of the character against the ridiculous side of the story? How do you make the movie funny without losing the character?
JB: You forget that it’s a joke. You’re dead serious about what you’re doing. Tom Arnold was doing a lot of campy, wacky slapstick stuff. He’s good at that. But the band members, the characters in the band they’re kind of clinging to their last hope. They’re fading and they don’t want to fade and they’re fighting like hell to make a comeback. You find that. You stick to the characters’ dilemma and the fact that, to them, this is their dreams: everything they want to do with their lives. You let the situation be absurd and funny, and let the ants just be an obstacle to what we need to do.
Q: Did you guys do a lot of improvisation or did you stick to script.
JB: A little. Again, Tom Arnold’s a comedian, with a comedian’s instincts, and he could improvise really well. He’s a funny guy and some of the stuff he did was too good to leave out. The rest of us stuck to the script. The writers worked hard on the script, and as an actor, I try not to go off the page. I try to stick with what the writers worked on.
Q: Do you change your approach when you’re working on a smaller film than with a big studio movie?
JB: I don’t think there’s a different approach as far as the performance goes. The big difference between a tentpole movie and a smaller independent one is really just time. Time really is money. They film big movies over the course of many months. We filmed Dead Ant over the course of fifteen days. It’s a different world, but we never approach it differently as far as the content goes and as far as my job goes. You always want to give 100%. You show up on time and you give it everything you have. Big movies or small, that never changes.