RENT-A-PAL Round Table With Director Jon Stevenson and Actors Wil Wheaton and Brian Landis Folkins

Horror films have the unique ability of finding terror in even the most comforting of places. Homes, lovers, friendships, and even inanimate objects can become enemies of the night, lurking in the shadows, concealing their true intentions until it’s too late. With Rent-A-Pal, director Jon Stevenson becomes the latest director to turn the tables on the innocent comfort of friendship, utilizing the suffocating atmosphere of isolation and loneliness for a home caregiver forced to welcome the necessity of human contact.

Film Inquiry had the opportunity to participate in a round table with director Stevenson and cast members Wil Wheaton and Brian Landis Folkins to discuss the film and the influences they drew up one to bring Rent-A-Pal to life.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

RENT-A-PAL Round Table With Director Jon Stevenson and Actors Wil Wheaton and Brian Landis Folkins
source: IFC Midnight

Stephanie Archer with Film Inquiry: You talked about the nostalgia and the tactility of the VHS and getting into a time loop. I couldn’t help but notice the name Andy within a horror set with this concept of best friends, and I couldn’t help but think of Child’s Play. I was wondering, for all three of you, what were some of the influences you’ve had in creating the film and maybe some of the influences, Wil and Brian, that you may have drawn upon to create your characters?

Jon Stevenson: Well, I’m so glad you bring up Chucky because it’s the perfect analogy for this movie. You know, taking something that’s part of your childhood and turning it against you is just really scary. Also, movies like The Ring. I know that that is older, but it really captured to me how creepy a VHS on a TV is, and it just has a good aesthetic to it.

Brian Landis Folkins: For me, watching the original Rent-A-Friend video was earth shattering. When I first read the script, when Jon sent it to me, I was about nine pages in and I was like, ‘This is different than anything I’ve read before. I have to be a part of this. Please, Jon. Please, please.’ And then he referred me to the Rent-A-Friend video and I think it’s about, I don’t know, 45 minutes. And it rocked my world.

RENT-A-PAL Round Table With Director Jon Stevenson and Actors Wil Wheaton and Brian Landis Folkins
source: IFC Midnight

The things that he was doing with the one-on-one relationship through this video tape, I was so fascinated and for me, it was just like, ‘Okay, what would need to happen in order for someone to come to a tape like this and have that change their life in that sense, where I’ve never had a friend like this before.’ And sometimes in the movies, it’s about timing and how it works out to the answers of the questions. And when the timing lines up, that’s all it took for David to kind of release himself over to Andy and really that was the turning point.

Wil Wheaton: I wanted to keep Andy really simple and direct. And I felt that Andy was a predator, that Andy was an abusive boyfriend, that he was deeply insecure and extremely controlling and super manipulative. And that his primary fear, the thing that he was absolutely terrified of, was being alone. And he seduced his friend, this person into being his friend and then just wanted to let him go. It had the stakes for Andy of being alone forever if this guy leaves. So I just played with those. And then honestly, this whole thing, Brian talks about being nine pages into the script, I was like, ‘Me too.’ This whole thing is that Jon’s script is so clear and so specific and written  for actors.

Every script has what I want to look like when I’m on the screen. And sometimes I can see it. And sometimes I can’t. And I could see it immediately. I knew that if I was going to be part of this, that this character is the monster in the house, but you have to open the door and invite him in. So I had to give those two beats for him, and then just connect the space in between them.

Film Inquiry thanks Jon Stevenson, Will Wheaton and Brian Landis Folkins for taking the time to speak with us!

Rent-A-Pal releases on September 11th, 2020 in select theaters and VOD. 

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