Interview : Anthony Michael Hall on hunting pure evil in ‘Halloween Kills’

Universal Pictures

Much like the Halloween franchise itself – which now has twelve instalments under its thoroughly bloody belt – Anthony Michael Hall has quite the legacy behind him.

From humble beginnings in the early 1970s as a young actor in commercials, Hall’s star quickly grew bright. Making a name for himself on stage, Hall soon began receiving on-screen roles such as the 1980 TV movie adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold Bug, which scored an Emmy that year.

But it was his role as Rusty Griswold in the classic Chevy Chase comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation that truly put Hall in the spotlight, which was not only a success with audiences but also landed himself on the radar of writer/director John Hughes. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship between the two, with Hughes casting him in Sixteen CandlesThe Breakfast Club and Weird Science – a now-legendary trifecta of 1980s teen comedy cinema.

In the proceeding decades, Hall has refused to stick to any single comfortable box as a performer, appearing in films such as Tim Burton’s Edward ScissorhandsFreddy Got Fingered (alongside alt-comedy hero Tom Green), The Dark NightFoxcatcher and War Machine for Netflix. On the small screen, he’s made appearances in countless classic television series, from Tales from the Crypt to The Dead Zone to ABC’s The Goldbergs, on which he currently appears as Mr. Perott.

In 2021, Hall steps into the shoes of a horror franchise with a shadow almost as intimidating as his own. Appearing as Tommy Doyle, who survived the legendary spree of masked killer Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s original Halloween in 1978, Hall’s modern incarnation of the character is far from the frightened young boy of that night so many years ago. Like many other Haddonfield residents, the Doyle of Halloween Kills has refused to be victimised by the trauma of what he witnessed that night. Instead, he rallies the other survivors together to take the fight back to Myers and put an end to his horrific legacy.

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to Anthony about how he approached taking on the mantle of a fan-favourite character, the joys of shooting in a small town and why David Gordon Green’s take on the Halloween mythology impresses him so much.

Congratulations on the movie finally making its way to (just about) everybody!

AMH: It’s been a long wait, right? But I think in this case, the anticipation helped. There really was an appetite for this sequel, but with the fact that people had to wait another year, they’re just raring to go. They’re looking forward to seeing it, and I’m so excited for that. That energy in itself is great.

It’s a little bit crazy that you’re entering this franchise which has been around for so long, with so many sequels and reboots over the decades. Halloween has been around for just about as long as you. What was it like stepping into a franchise which is such a hallmark of the genre and has existed alongside your own career?

AMH: First of all, it’s a thrill. When this came up, I was contacted by my management at a company called Untitled, who are great. I requested a meeting with David Gordon Green, so we met in late summer – it was probably in August or July of 2019. I was really grateful that he was kind enough to take the time, and we just sat down at the hotel he was staying at. I got a good sense from him in terms of where he wanted to take the movie and the direction hat the sequel would go in, and just how he likes to work. We had a really nice, very easy-going and natural conversation that developed organically. It was great to spend about an hour with David. Then I did my screen test, and I was just really thrilled that they chose me to play the part.

In terms of the franchise itself, it’s been amazing. Especially in the last two years, because like a lot of people, I had the time to go on YouTube and search out things. I stumbled across a lot of fan sites and a lot of people around the world that do these reaction videos, whether they were reviewing the trailer that broke a couple of months ago, or the test screenings that emerged last year. It’s given me a great insight and window into the whole fandom and how many people love this franchise.

And I’ve got to tell you, they are so specific. As you know, this is the twelfth in the series of films, but the fans are very specific. They know everything, from the mask to the characters to the alternate universes. People have very specific opinions about Rob Zombie’s version. So I think that’s really cool. It’s been really fun for me to kind of educate myself while I was waiting for the film to be released, and kind of getting hip to what people felt about it.

It ties back into this notion that it’s really something that people are anticipating and looking forward to. As an actor, being part of that is just a great feeling: to know that we made something that turned out great and I think will really have impact for audiences, and that people are looking forward to enjoying it. It’s really fun, man. All around.

Young Tommy Doyle in John Carpenter’s original Halloween, portrayed by Brian Andrews

This instalment, even more so than the last in 2018, really does seem to be deliberately drawing on those greater elements. Fans have such an encyclopedic knowledge of the rich cast of returning characters, including your own, who’s made multiple appearances in different forms over the years. In your research into the Halloween lore, what is it that you think audiences are really looking for from not just Tommy Doyle but a Halloween film in particular?

AMH: One of the things I thought was cool about Tommy’s character was that I was the perfect age when I made the movie. I was 51, and I’m 53 now. I think in the timeline of the original film, it’s actually spot-on, because the character was ten years old at the time. So I tick the box on that level. But in terms of my actual approach to the work, I think this idea of good versus evil has been around as long as the world’s been around, right? You see it in literature. You see it in Westerns, and Marvel films; you see it in all kinds of movies. So I think this exploration of good versus evil and the aspects of light and darkness are great. With this, you have a really interesting thing where the survivors of Michael, the people of Haddonfield, come together and they rally around each other. What I thought was so wonderful about this role is that the movie opens, and we’re all there at the local bar, discussing being survivors and having come through this decades-long experience. But what happens is almost like a wave kicking in, in this heroic way, where everybody responds and inspires each other.

So whether it’s Nancy (Stephens) or Charles Cyphers or Kyle Richards, their characters take this heroic turn in realising that they’re going to have to oppose the darkness of evil that is Myers. I was watching an interview with David that he did yesterday from home, and one of the things he said was that it’s actually a very limited mythology about Myers, right? Because we don’t really know what makes him tick – why he does these things that he does, other than the fact that he escaped from a mental hospital.

I think there’s something deep in people that we love to laugh, we love to cry at films, but going on a scary thrill-ride is something very much embedded in the unconscious or subconscious of audiences, you know what I mean? I think this film will really impress people that love the franchise, because it really delivers on those levels. There’s the action. The suspense is there. And I think quite effortlessly, David and Danny and Scott Teems were able to thread the characters from the original film through the last one, and then they open it up even more with this.

And I don’t just mean the characters the everybody knows. This character Vanessa, and her husband, they’re dressed up as the nurse and the doctor at the beginning. There’s a bar owner who’s played by this gentleman Brian, who’s actually a good friend of David Gordon Green’s, and that guy actually owns a bar in Austin. He owns a barbeque place. So there again, David does something interesting where he can direct comedic or dramatic actors, but he can also do something like Fellini where he casts people that aren’t even actors – and he does great stuff with them. I found his talent limitless.

To be very fair, Kyle, he kind of reminded me of John Hughes, who’s another maestro I worked with as a kid. He had the great writing ability, a natural affinity for directing, but he also had that collaborative spirit of allowing ideas to form and creating those one-on-one discussions and friendships with the actors. So you’re really kind of collaborating and developing the performance with him, you know? So that was all great, and the fact that it was a very heroic role. I think we would all attest to that there was a great energy about this film. All of the characters coming back and fighting against Michael was a lot of fun.

Anthony Michael Hall’s Tommy Doyle isn’t just a survivor – he has a thirst for vengeance

That’s one of the things I was quite taken aback with: when it was first announced that David Gordon Green was going to be tackling Halloween of all things. But it goes to show that just because you’re most well-known for working within one genre or style of storytelling doesn’t mean your talents can’t work elsewhere.

AMH: Yeah, I concur. I agree with you completely. It’s also great seeing that level of artistry from other departments. We had a great cinematographer, this guy named Michael Simmonds. That’s a relationship I was keen on when I’m set. I watch how the director and cinematographer interrelate and how they work and attack the day together. Because it’s really on their shoulders to achieve each day, you know?

But then you have Christopher Nelson, who did the special effects. He and his team were controlling the look of the mask and The Shape. There was just a lot of great artistry and cool people. And again, it’s always nice to leave L.A. or another big city and go to another place to make a film. That’s part of the joy for me as an actor; that you wind up in a new place and there’s a sense of exploration attached to a project. I felt that with this – we were going into the South where these guys are from, and although they live in South Carolina, we made the sequel in North Carolina. The 2018 film had been done in South Carolina, and I just really vibed. I really had a great respect for the whole crew, not just how David works, but Danny and their whole team. They really have a close-knit group that have been with them for almost twenty years now. They’ve done all these TV shows together, and they have a nice shorthand together. It’s really cool seeing the craftmanship and the work coming together from all these different departments. That’s a big part of the fun for me – just watching all of that come to the table.

With this trilogy of new Halloween films coming full-circle to the original and thematically bringing the saga to a close, it must be very satisfying to see that level of craftmanship on display.

AMH: Oh, yeah. We had some really cool studio and stage work. They built the Haddonfield house on stage. I think it used to be the Dino De Laurentiis studio, but I think it’s owned by Sony now. So we had a nice hybrid approach of doing studio work and then a lot of practical locations. We shot in this little town of Wilmington, North Carolina, and we’ve doubled the hospital. There’s also the park and plenty of other stuff there. So that’s a big part of the fun. When you take a production into a small town, everyone’s more appreciative of it. They’re more excited and open to the experience of a movie coming to their towns. It was a relatively quick shoot, too – we shot for about six weeks, I think. It was very efficient and well-organised with a great team, all the way across the board.

HALLOWEEN KILLS is now in cinemas

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