Angelique Sabrina White And Jack Shulruff Explore The Hazards Of Advertising ROOMMATE WANTED

Writer/director Michael McCartney’s new comedy/horror thriller, Roommate Wanted, is an edgy cocktail of shocks, suspense, and satire with a fresh and diverse cast. Angelique Sabrina White shines as Maria, a pre-law student who shares a rented house with some carefree college roommates. Unhappy with her academic direction, and struggling with her romantic feelings for another woman, Kate (MJ Garcia), Maria also has money issues. The group is cash-strapped, and the sudden death of their unofficial renter necessitates their finding a new tenant fast, and they find the seemingly perfect new tenant in Dean (Jack Shulruff), who is almost too good to be true. Of course, he is too good to be true, and the movie rapidly takes to demonstrating the hazards of renting to homicidal maniacs with multiple personalities. Shulruff effectively slides between the disparate personalities inhabiting Dean’s disordered brain, and he and White have a fascinating on-screen anti-chemistry.

Jack Shulruff graduated with a B.A. from UCLA’s School of Theater Film and Television as well as completing the Groundlings School core program. The Chicago native can be found regularly performing improv and sketch comedy across Los Angeles. He has also produced and starred in a variety of award-winning short films. His notable credits include PBS’ Nature Cat opposite Bobby Moynihan (SNL), Unusual Suspects, and Blood Relatives. Recent commercial and voice work include MSI Gaming, Cox Communications, Tito’s Vodka, and The Walking Dead. He also regularly creates short-form content with comedy troupe trifecta, of which he is a member.

Angelique Sabrina White was born in the Bahamas, and has been involved in entertainment since she was twelve. She started her career early as a recording artist, but acting ambitions eventually drew her to LA.

Angelique Sabrina White And Jack Shulruff Explore the Hazards of Advertising ROOMMATE WANTED
source: The Group Entertainment

White and Shulruff both spoke exclusively with Film Inquiry about Roommate Wanted.

Jim Dixon for Film Inquiry: How did you both become attached to the project?

Angelique Sabrina White: My manager sent me an email saying that Michael wanted to meet up and discuss a new film he was working on. I hadn’t heard of him or auditioned for him before, so I was surprised that he found me and wanted to meet up before I even read for him. He sent over the script and, obviously, I fell in love with it and had some ideas of my own on the character of Maria, who I ended up playing. We had a great discussion over coffee and I read for him about two or three times after that before booking it.

Jack Shulruff: Michael and I met before he invited me on to the project. He wanted to meet with me and get a feel for who I was, how I approached the character, what I thought of the script – which I really appreciated for a director and a storyteller – to take the time to meet with an actor and get to know them before, instead of just basing it off of an audition, and because you don’t really know someone until you sit down and really get to talk with them. This and the themes that Michael was going for certainly spoke to me and big ways.

Angelique, you were born in the Bahamas. Was LA a major cultural shock for Bahamas native?

Angelique Sabrina White: I was born and raised in the Bahamas until I was 17, but I traveled to the states a lot growing up. I was definitely really used to the culture and lifestyle, but living here full time became daunting after the first couple of months. I go home once a year to get my taste of the beach, food, and music again. Nassau will always be home, but LA will do for now. [laughs]

The Challenges of Horror

Despite the violence and anger on-screen in Roommate Wanted, there’s a sense that this movie was fun to work on. Was it?

Angelique Sabrina White: This movie was definitely the most fun project I’ve worked on. The cast is hilarious both on and off-screen so we had a blast whenever the cameras weren’t rolling. It was also super fun because we got to do our own stunts and I love to be hands-on with all my roles.

What are the challenges of working on a horror film like Roommate Wanted?

Angelique Sabrina White: I think the biggest challenge with a film like this is really selling the performance. As you mentioned, there’s a lot of graphic violence and deep emotional life to tap into. If you’re not prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally for what is required with those scenes, it really doesn’t read well on camera. Thankfully, we had a good amount of time to rehearse the stunts and beats we wanted to hit – I love doing stunts. For me, the scenes of violence were the most fun. The hardest one – without spoiling it – is the one where [Jack] brings me back into the house from the front yard. Working out how we were going to accomplish that and having to shoot it as many times as we did was definitely tough and I woke up feeling it the next day.

Jack Shulruff: You get permission to play, pretend with blood and knives, screaming and shattering glass. It’s hard not to have fun doing it. But maybe that’s why I love acting so much,” he says.

“With stage blood spraying all over the place…”

What’s it like killing one of your co-stars?

Jack Shulruff: Especially with stage blood spraying all over the place? It’s a tricky question. When it actually comes down to stabbing and killing, it’s a fairly technical process. We really have to slow it down, block out the beat so that it’s done in a safe way because we’re working with knives or falling or combat. And so, in the actual moment, it’s pretty tame and pretty technical. The more fun scenes were where there wasn’t anyone involved, where it was me getting to kind of dance or shatter glass or threaten myself with a knife — those unleashed moments if that makes sense.

Angelique Sabrina White And Jack Shulruff Explore The Hazards Of Advertising ROOMMATE WANTED
source: The Group Entertainment

So creating homicidal mayhem for the screen doesn’t necessarily mean the mood on set is grim?

Jack Shulruff: Michael [McCartney], I now consider a great friend, and my co-stars Angelica and Ricky [Cruz], are just amazing – they’re such just such joys to work with. Angelica’s great, a really giving scene partner and Ricky was just making us crack up left and right. He’s such a funny dude. And you know, I would definitely say we fit that mold of tight cast and crew, for sure. It was a great experience.

Angelique Sabrina White: Surprisingly, the atmosphere on set was very light. Since most of the cast has a background in comedy, they were constantly doing and saying things to make everyone laugh – particularly Ricky and Jack. I was definitely the one laughing because I’m nowhere near as funny as they are.

Did the adversarial relationship between the main characters carry over to the actors playing them?

Angelique Sabrina White: The relationship our characters have didn’t translate to Jack and me at all. I actually think the more we got to hang out, the more comfortable we felt unapologetically taking it there within the scene. The only moments we ever assumed our character’s position was the moments before they called action when we really wanted to get into that space.

Jack Shulruff: We were getting what we needed from each other. I wanted to make sure that if I’m being threatening in a scene, or violent or racist, or whatever it calls for my character [to do], that I make my scene partner know, hey, I’m cool… this is all pretend. I just want to make sure she felt comfortable because, you know, the entire movie, I’m threatening to kill her, her girlfriend, her friends while simultaneously being weirdly racist. So it was important to me that we had a fun working relationship.

Everyone thinks of Jamie Lee Curtis, but many others, including Tom Hanks (He Knows You’re Alone), Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th), Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), and Jack Nicholson (numerous Roger Corman movies) got their starts in low-budget horror thrillers. Was the cast ever conscious, making Roommate Wanted, that they were potentially joining a pretty impressive fraternity of actors who got their start in low-budget horror?

Angelique Sabrina White: Honestly, not really. What I love about acting is the work. It’s been such a wild ride since I moved to LA from the Bahamas over five years ago now. You realize that anticipating the big break and comparing your journey to other actors begins to take away from the enjoyment of the craft. I have let go of all of that and just try to be grateful for the moments I get paid for this crazy job.

Jack Shulruff: Man, if you’re putting me in the same camp as Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tom Hanks, that’s just what I’m shooting for. I’m gonna hold you to that.

Being the monster

It seems fair to call Roommate Wanted a horror movie, and Dean is the movie’s monster. It also seems that the best movie monsters have motivations, even if the motivation only makes sense to them. Would you agree?

Jack Shulruff: I definitely think so. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of anger and violence in the world right now. It’s always been there, but right now I think it’s being given a microphone, and so it’s really being exacerbated. Those voices, unfortunately, are coming out of hiding and expressing their hatred. Looking at that sort of hate, to say, using it, inspired, sort of informed Dean, and was helpful in motivating, rationalizing these points of view that are rooted in hate. And, you know, unfortunately, I know people like that — who have blinders on and who feel like they are victims — that their place in society is being taken by people who look different from them. And doing my best to empathize with it for the sake of acting helps to sort of motivate themes, decision making, and his points of view on killing and needing to take vengeance upon these others.

Shulruff’s character Dean is, to put it mildly, complex. How did he approach playing someone with multiple personalities?

Jack Shulruff: I really just tried my best to find the truth in each individual scene. Breaking it down, sort of by each of these personalities, or different characters, where they had different points of view. If you just kind of break it down scene by scene like that, and try to find the truth and each scene, then hopefully the whole thing kind of comes together.

Shulruff makes shifting between Dean’s various identities look easy in the movie. Was it?

Jack Shulruff: Well, I don’t know if it was easy, but it was a fun challenge for sure. I worked with Michael trying to find different tones of voice or dialects, or just cadences, sort of like a different character each time, I think made it easier to separate the personalities and find honesty in each of them.

Playing a heroine who’s not from Central Casting

The heroine of Roommate Wanted is also not from central casting in a standard eighties slasher movie. Maria is struggling with her sexual identity. How did Angelique Sabrina White approach that as an actor?

Angelique Sabrina White: I tried to approach Maria’s battle with her identity and sexuality as it seemed authentic to her personality. Maria is incredibly A-type and overwhelmed when we meet her in the film. Figuring out her identity is only one of the many things on her to-do list but definitely one of the biggest insecurities she carries. Everyone’s coming out journey looks different, but I tried to play hers as honestly as I could.

Although the diversity elements aren’t necessarily integral to the movie’s plot, they are central to the movie’s overall tone and form a clear contrast to the more Wonder Bread casts common to early eighties slasher movies. How important was that to the actors?

Angelique Sabrina White: I think diversity is vital and should continue to make a statement until it’s normal rather than overtly ‘diverse.’ I am so proud of Michael for his choice of characters and representation in this film. Not only is the cast from all over the world, but they all represent their own battle with identity and sexuality that many people need to see on screen so they know they are not alone!

Horror movie rooted in white male rage and privilege

You could write a logline for this movie that would make it sound like a Lifetime movie, and yet somehow it’s very political. Roommate Wanted puts white privilege and white, male rage at the forefront of a horror thriller. 

Angelique Sabrina White And Jack Shulruff Explore The Hazards Of Advertising ROOMMATE WANTED
source: The Group Entertainment

Angelique Sabrina White: I think it is much needed. White privilege and white male rage is the foundation America is built on. In today’s world, it is being challenged and stood against by the strength of so many others. For this film to speak into that reality is refreshing for me, as a black young woman, and I hope for everyone who watches.

Jack Shulruff: It excited me that he wanted to tell a horror story with sort of political roots. I’m a deeply political person and the opportunity to be a part of a project that highlighted those wounds in American society or in the global society, that was exciting to me.

Working with director Michael McCartney

Bearing in mind that we’ve already spoken to him, what would either of you like to say about your director, Michael McCartney? 

Angelique Sabrina White: Michael was a very collaborative director. From the very beginning, he was open to any thoughts I had on Maria and how she unfolded in the story. It was fun to get to play with that and have some control over the way she was portrayed. We worked together a lot and he was great at describing what he wanted out of me with challenging and fun notes.

Horror cast with a background in comedy

When people are shooting fast on tight budgets, in close quarters with their fellow cast members and crew, they often talk about the sense of family that develops. Did that happen on this one?

Angelique Sabrina White And Jack Shulruff Explore The Hazards Of Advertising ROOMMATE WANTED
source: The Group Entertainment

Jack Shulruff: Oh, absolutely. Inherently, when you’re spending, you know, 12 hours a day, every day for a month with the same people in close quarters, you tend to be vulnerable and have great conversations to pass the time. Michael did such a good job of generating a community feeling, making sure that the actors and the crew felt that they have the had the time and the space to do what they needed to do to be comfortable, but also work within the constraints of a limited budget, and a quick timeframe. And I think we did it. Michael, I now consider a great friend and, and my co-stars Angelique and Ricky [Cruz], are just amazing—they’re just such joys to work with. Angelique’s great—a really giving scene partner. And Ricky was just making us crack up left and right. He’s such a funny dude. I would definitely say we fit that mold of tight cast and crew, for sure. It was a great experience.

Angelique Sabrina White: Surprisingly, the atmosphere on set was very light. Since most of the cast has a background in comedy, they were constantly doing and saying things to make everyone laugh—particularly Ricky and Jack. I was definitely the one laughing because I’m nowhere near as funny as they are.

Sequel rumblings

Without providing too much of a spoiler, Roommate Wanted, in the mold of the tried and true slasher greats, does leave room for a sequel. How do you feel about that?

Angelique Sabrina White: I would definitely be up for a sequel and to see where Maria goes from here — hopefully, she has better judgment next time.”

Jack Shulruff: I’ve heard some rumblings about that. If we’re doing it, sign me up.


What’s next for the stars of Roommate Wanted?

Angelique Sabrina White: I actually was recently in another film called How I Failed the Bechdel Test. It’s a short that is a play on Pulp Fiction – but with women. It is incredibly fun, smart, witty, and a tad meta-super fun to play! It was released by Seventh House Productions and is out now, check it out! But with the onset of COVID-19 this year, something in me switched and I decided to go to school for something completely refreshing and relevant to what the world needs, so I am also taking courses now for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Jack Shulruff: This whole quarantine has been a good time for mining ideas that I’ve had in the back of my mind. And so I’ve been writing with some friends and hoping to produce some new work. I’m really interested in and have in the past produced short-form content, whether it be comedy or drama. And I’ve actually got a shortcoming out this fall. Auditions are starting to slowly trickle back in so hopefully, we can make the most of them and I’ll have more to report soon. But in general, it’s been a good time. albeit a slow time, you know, staying creative and writing.

Roommate Wanted just had a successful premiere with the (virtual) Salem Horror Film Festival and will be making the rounds of the international festival circuit.

Film Inquiry would like to thank Angelique Sabrina White and Jack Schulruff for taking the time to speak with us!

So the question is, how will the critical millennial audience accept a diversity-themed horror movie?

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