Attending film festivals always gives you some insight into a film’s history and future. Not only do you get to often see Q&As with directors and actors, but you get to see the films before they are distributed. More often than not, you can see the films before they even have a distributor. Some films get turned around fairly quickly, and some have a generous lag time before finding their audience. Famously ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE premiered at TIFF in 2006, but did not see a wide audience until 2013. Similarly, though to a much lesser extreme, I first saw MISSIONARY at 2013’s Fantasia International Film Festival, and it only began its official distribution this month. To usher in the definitive release of the Mormon themed horror film I talked to MISSIONARY’s breakout star Mitch Ryan about the role. He has since gone on to be in CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO, which is a great sign that the horror genre suits him well.
Your part in MISSIONARY is really intense. How did you get into the mindset to portray such an unwavering character?
I got a good sense of the character from reading the script. It wasn’t too much of a stretch after I knew how to plan it out. Not to reveal too much, too soon. Keep it grounded in some truth. I did my research on the Mormon religion. When you realize that all of these guys have so much pressure on them, when they are on a mission for two years, not getting paid—they are paying to be there—they have all these rules put upon them, it sets up for some to crack under the pressure. And then I just went for it. I tried to keep it truthful and not force anything. I kept it all justified, because they believe that everything they do is all in God’s eyes. They believe everything is living through God. Like, “Oh, I’m supposed to be doing this; I’m supposed to be having this affair even though it is a sin.” Everything they do is a sin. It is really limiting what they can do. They can’t go and have a drink. They can’t go and do a lot of things that we normally do and take for granted.
I just went for it. I did not do a lot of preparation, but I did not have a lot of time. I got the job about a week before we started shooting. I did my research, but I did have a pretty good idea of how to play him straight away. I made him a lonely guy. I made him vulnerable. I tried to bring across some of that hurt, the pain he is going through.
Were there any particular films or articles that you read to research your role? You mentioned you researched Mormonism, but did you also research the horror tradition which this sits squarely into?
Of course. I watched MISERY, with Kathy Bates a lot, and DeNiro in CAPE FEAR. BLUE VELVET’s Denis Hopper. Obviously FATAL ATTRACTION. And then I brought my own to it, to keep it truthful. And speaking to [writer] Bruce Wood, who was a Mormon who served a mission and was able to talk to me about it. He had some experiences where his friends, while on a mission, acted a little crazy, a punched a guy in the back of the head. It was a huge shock, and the idea for the film came about from his experiences. It was good to have him there, and we also had a real Mormon on set.
A real live Mormon?
[Laughs] A real live Mormon! He was able to advise us on accuracy. He made sure the apartment was accurate, the way we dressed was accurate. He made sure every little detail was there.
In the film, Kevin’s obsession with Katherine seems tied to his faith. Because of that the horror in the film all comes back to his religion. Did you have any reservations about portraying faith in a negative light?
You can’t really be too concerned about that, because it can affect your performance. You just have to believe that this guy, Kevin Brock, is on a mission and he genuinely believes that he is there to find his family. If I kept telling myself that, then everything I’m doing is right, and it stays believable. He was just a lonely guy, looking for love, and to find his family. Having that vulnerability there helped get that believability of the downward spiral.
I’m sure some Mormons will think, “That doesn’t happen; that never happens.” But everyone is human, and given those circumstances some people will crack. When he started to have that affair with Katherine, it was a sin but there was no turning back. He had already done it, but he kept justifying it. When Kip’s [Pardue] character comes back he freaks out because he is already in too deep now. He is a bit of a sociopath.
You mentioned that you got the part a week before starting the film, but it also sounds like you were able to play Kevin as you saw the character. How close was the original script to the final film?
The ending changed. In the beginning it was a really cliché ending. When we got to set, we had a week of rehearsals, and we spoke about how the ending had to change. That was the only main difference. I did not have too much notice before we started shooting. I spoke to the director on the phone to make sure that I could do an American accent [Mitch is Australian, but does a seamless American accent], and I flew out the next day. I mapped it out, and did a big character arc, and decided where each scene fit on that arc. Working with Anthony [DiBlasi] was great, because he gave each of us so much freedom to really go for it. They shot it very documentary style- everything was handheld. It was guerilla filmmaking. It was very free.
When you put the outfit on—the slacks and the tie and the undergarments—that helps getting into character. It’s a costume. You just start to believe that you really are this guy. I was also isolated. Living in Orlando I didn’t really do much. I harnessed a bit of that loneliness and kept to myself over there.
What drew you to the part of Kevin?
As soon as I read the script I instantly knew I could bring something to this. A lot of my favorite movies are those MISERY-type movies, where the person is not all that he seems on the surface. There are a lot more layers to them. That is my favorite kind of characters. The complicated characters that aren’t what they seem. And for anyone who has been in love before, it is pretty easy if you want something, and you go after it, you won’t stop at anything. With this guy, he believed he was there to find his family. He was on a mission and was not going to stop. I really liked the idea that I was able to show both sides. I could be the nice guy at the start, and then I could be the crazy guy. As an actor, I loved being able to do that big range. He goes from a happy guy to insane. It is just so fun to play those guys.