Interview: Ethan Embry (Late Phases, Empire Records, Can’t Hardly Wait, That Thing You Do)

EthanEmbryMain

I recently had a chance to speak at length with Ethan Embry, an actor that everyone surely recognizes by now. Whether it’s been in films such as Empire Records, Can’t Hardly Wait, That Thing You Do, Vegas Vacation, White Squall, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, or Cheap Thrills, or his television appearances in shows like Once Upon a Time and Brotherhood, Ethan is one of the screen’s most recognizable character actors.

We got together to discuss his latest film, the terrific genre thriller Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf, a werewolf thriller that’s much more interested in the people in the film than the wolves. Read on to see what he has to say about the new film, his acting career, those films he’s in that everyone loves, and much, much more.

EthanEmbry2

IWM2$: First off, tell us a little about the film and your role in it.

Embry: The movie centers around a veteran who’s played by Nick Damici, and he’s sort of on the last of his life and he’s pretty bitter, he likes pushing people away, and he likes doing things his own way. He’s blind, and the one thing he hates more than anything is people trying to help him. So he’s moving into this retirement community to kind of fade away, and I play his son that has learned through years of being in his life that he will not accept the help and it usually ends with him pushing you further away. For the movie, that was probably my main job description: originally it was written as a kid who was trying to get rid of his dad, and it didn’t really work. It adds so much more when the kid is trying to help and the dad’s not letting him. The heart of the movie, and I think this is why people really like it an respond to it, is the story about this guy, and the werewolves are almost secondary to him.

EthanEmbry3

IWM2$: It’s kind of like On Golden Pond with werewolves.

Embry: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s what people grab onto. The best genre movies are centered around real nice character stories.

 

IWM2$: What was surprising about your role, was here you are in a werewolf movie, and your character had to go through the emotional wringer, rather than fighting werewolves.

Embry: That was my place in it, because the way the script was originally, it was just a kid getting rid of his dad, and Nick and the director wanted to add a little heart to it. Who doesn’t want to roll around in the hay with a couple of werewolves? You always wish you could play and do the fun stuff. Sometimes my job description is heavily immersed in the genre aspects; the last movie I did, Devil’s Candy, I was just covered head to toe in blood for like three weeks. Just covered. Those experiences last a while, you know? That’s what I love the most when you do get to be really physical, because it makes you feel like you’re earning your dollar.

LP_Posters11x17.indd

IWM2$: Are you a fan of the horror genre?

Embry: I like the really good ones. I think it’s the same as any other genre. You have above par, below par, and mediocre. I think when a thriller or a horror really gets the largest reaction, physically and emotionally, is like The Babadook. Oh, it’s so good! It’s horrifying. It’s such a good movie. Or Whiplash. When people talk about Whiplash, and they say, “I wanna see Whiplash,” I tell them, “It’s the scariest movie you’ll see all year.” Horrifying. There’s nothing graphic about it; Simmons is horrifying in it. You’re terrified of him. So, yes, I do love those thrillers and genre movies that really hit you. And I think it’s harder to find a comedy that will do the same thing to you with the laughter reaction. I think those are fewer and farther between. But nothing is worse than a horror movie that doesn’t scare you.


EthanEmbry6

IWM2$: The film has a great cast that includes Nick Damici, Tina Louise, Tom Noonan, and Lance Guest. What was the working atmosphere like on set?

Embry: We did have a good time. Most of my stuff, if not all of it, was with Nick. He’s so laid back, he’s the typical New York actor of his generation. He loves what he does, and he’s found some success in it, so he’s comfortable with who he is, and that’s always a great work environment. I mean, we would sit around and just play guitar in the sun. It was an all around great work experience.

IWM2$: What attracts you to a roles nowadays?

Embry: You know, it depends. Sometimes it’s who else is in it, who can I work with. And if there’s not anybody else that I know or I’m excited about yet, it becomes — especially with genre films, I like taking big risks, because those are the ones that pay off. Take Cheap Thrills, that one is really kind of risky. It is very polarizing. Some people absolutely love it and some people found it revolting and walked out. And when it comes to genre, those are the ones that attract me, because you’re aiming at very focused directives.

EthanEmbry4

IWM2$: I’m a huge huge fan of That Thing You Do. Was it as much fun to make is it is to watch?

Embry: Oh dude, so much fun. So much fun. I grew up around music, my brother’s a musician. I’ve been playing since I was about 12 or 13. Music is what I do when I want to create but no one is letting me act yet. Like, I woke up this morning and spent two hours playing bass. Because what are two things people fantasize about the most? Being a movie star and being a rock star. And when I was doing That Thing You Do, they paid me as a movie star to be a rock star. So it was just like a win/win situation.

IWM2$: You also starred in Empire Records, which has transcended being a cult classic to become a bona fide classic. What was that experience like?

Embry: Well, the thing I love about Empire Records is that originally it was never seen. It was shelved by the studio and only played in a couple of theaters, and they pulled it and stuck it on VHS. And it got its popularity by being passed around at slumber parties and whatnot, and over the past 20 years has turned into something that nobody would have ever expected. You know, we never even had a premiere for it; we never even spent the money for a premiere. And last year, there’s a company out here in LA and they play movies in a cemetery and thousands of people show up, and they played Empire Records. And we got all the dudes from the film and the director, none of the girls could make it. So the director had never seen it with an audience. So to sit there next to him watching the film he made 20 years ago surrounded by 7,000 people quoting the whole thing… like at the end of the movie, when we get up on the roof and dance around, slow dance during the credits, everybody gets up and starts slow dancing! And he’s sitting there, he’s got tears in his eyes. And to me it kind of mirrors what the movie is about, too, you know? Damn the man! And it does it, it did. The man tried to put us down.

EthanEmbry7

IWM2$: So finally, what else do you have coming up that we can look forward to?

Embry: Coming out Mother’s Day weekend on Netflix is a new show called Grace & Frankie with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, who are both amazing, and Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston. You’ll have 13 lovely episodes you can binge watch and just completely destroy the weekend. And then sometime soon is the Sean Byrne film, and then there’s another one. This one is kind of interesting because it is kind of genre, but it’s a really slow burn. It’s called Echoes of War and it’s James Badge Dale and William Forsythe. And it’s a post-Civil War film. It’s like a cross between an old western and a genre film. It’s really good. I enjoyed it.

IWM2$: Well, Ethan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today!

Embry: All right, see ya!