Damian Maffei Talks Acting From Childhood Dreams Portraying A Horror Icon
Damian Maffei is an actor with over seventeen (17) credits with most falling within the Horror genre. According to IMDb Maffei’s acting career began in 1997. Maffei also starred in Mike Lombardo‘s 2017 indie drama, Horror in I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday.
Maffei’s latest role may not have dialogue but the latest character he portrays speaks volumes. The Strangers Prey At Night is the long-awaited chapter in this home-invasion Horror franchise that released in 2008. Maffei portrays the iconic The Man In The Mask for the reboot/sequel taking over Actor, Kip Weeks’ first portrayal.
DecayMag Content Contributor David Teixeira composed the following interview.
Ken Artuz DecayMag Founder
David Teixeira: Could you share with us your acting background, how you became an
Damian Maffei: Even up to this point, I think my resume is heavier on the theater side, with a mix here and there of movies. But as a child, I would sit there and watch movies and imagine myself in them. Long after they were over, I’d still put myself in them as a heroic character, fighting the evils. That was exciting to me, and it made me lean more towards genre films. Something about good vs. evil. Of course, I don’t know what child Damian would think of adult Damian right now, I’ve been winding up on the wrong side of the fight. Here’s something I haven’t mentioned in an interview since Prey At Night came out…
When I was 5 years old I used to pretend I was Godzilla. I was pretty well known for it in some circles. I think at certain points I got completely lost and was sure I was Godzilla, smashing down trees and buildings. I remember I had a game, like a board game, but instead of a board, it was a big plastic Alligator, and you had to get stuff out of his mouth before he clamped down on you. Like suitcases and other household items. But instead of playing that game, I used to do battle with him outdoors. Fight this giant alligator. I also ran into giant apes, dinosaurs, and gamey neighborhood dogs.
“It wasn’t until High School though, where I would really test out my acting chops in front of an audience. I took an acting class, and it was required that you audition for the school musical.”
So, I did. I was cast as the voice of Audrey II in the production of Little Shop of Horrors. I was intrigued, very familiar with the Frank Oz movie version. So I took it. Still wasn’t exactly in front of an audience as I did the voice from the orchestra pit into a mic… But I loved the whole experience. That was it for me, from there I went into the acting program at the local community college, and then onto William Esper Studio in NYC.
David Teixeira: Were you a fan of The Strangers before landing the role of Man in The
Mask on Prey At Night?
Damian Maffei: I was, I remember seeing it in the theater when it came out. By the time I had the chance to go it had already made a lot of money, so I rode the hype train in, which is never a good mode of transportation. But even then, I enjoyed its simplicity and effectiveness. The atmosphere of it. The score too had a nice, subtle and effective score.
David Teixeira: I’m a long-time fan of the first movie and I was ecstatic to know that a sequel was planned. When I watched the trailer I instantly thought it was going to be more of a slasher than a psychological thriller. I still think that breaking boundaries is crucial to creating something new and fresh to a sequel. What were your first thoughts when you read the
Damian Maffei: I know the idea Bertino had for it, and then even the screenplay itself, had made its way online in some capacity at a point over the years, but I hadn’t been paying attention to that stuff, so when I had been called about possibly doing it, I had no idea what it was about. My preconceived notions for it were that it would be more “in-house” shenanigans and hijinks abound. But when I got the script, started reading it, you’re quickly introduced to the trailer park and the potential for multiple home invasions, and wide open menace, so that immediately drew me in.
“When I got to the scene between “The Man” and Mike in the van, I was sold on my participation in it.”
An intimate, harrowing moment, where I felt I could bring something to, inject some behavior and help craft and create the moment, that was exciting to me, and not something the villains really have a chance to do in the first film. There’s a turning point in the script, where the game changes for both sides, a drastic change from the original, and that was nice too. It was exciting. I thought all of those aspects would lend to a really nice companion piece to the first, a movie that shared the same universe but traveled a different, and necessary path.
David Teixeira: I watched the movie last night with some friends and the impressions
were divided which I think it’s important because every opinion should be valid if it’s developed. I loved the movie, and it surprised me because the trailer doesn’t do the movie justice, it’s more than a simple cat-and-mouse story and Johannes Roberts does a great job to bring the real family issues to life which was for me the most important aspect of the first film and why it has such a cult following: it could happen to anyone and it feels real. How did you manage to play such an iconic role after the first movie?
Damian Maffei: Wasn’t too difficult to jump right in there. I came up with some stuff backstory, history wise, just to sort of help me along, put myself into the headspace of what I was doing, but as you’re well aware… There isn’t anything to go on from the original movie, and you don’t need much for this one.
“For many, that’s the beauty of the Strangers, is that you don’t know anything about them, they are quite mysterious as far as where they came from, or why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
So what you can do, if you choose to, is play with the body language, the posture, maybe give them a hitch or a limp or maybe they gallop everywhere they go, and then you can fill in the blanks for yourself why they have this or do that. And you get into it. Have fun with it. If you can’t just let loose and have fun doing what you can with these characters, then it’s just not for you.
David Teixeira: Man in The Mask does have a little more of action sequences in Prey At Night and he has a pretty intense scene with Martin Henderson in a car. Did you have the opportunity to put a lot of you into the role? The head tilts the posture, the intensity of the eyes. It seems easy but it must be difficult to play a role with no dialogues and be scary. What were your inspirations?
Damian Maffei: I tried to take advantage of some moments in the movie that allowed me to bring a little behavior to the character. Much of it is standing there, or… Being there, and the mask, the axe, that stuff just visually does its job on its own, all you’ll do is get in the way of that.
“It’s easy to be scary with no dialogue when the people manipulating the world around you, the director, the director of photography, the people making it look and feel the way it is, are as talented as the ones on this flick.”
But the van scene, that was one where I was looking forward to doing it, having some fun there, taking my time and helping create a harrowing experience for the audience. I’m not going to say that, acting-wise, it’s some enormous emotional challenge to take on the role, that’s absurd. But it provides challenges in the way that, it’s a little frustrating to an actor to have the usual things you bring to the party, your voice, your face, stifled. But you find subtle ways to inject yourself in there. Stay true to the role, have fun with it, respect it and what you’re doing.
“Inspiration wise, I looked at a lot of the more “out there” artists, people who very passionately create works of art, get lost in it. I looked into quite a bit of that.
I saw The Man in the Mask as someone who is very passionate about his work, a good Strangering takes time, and patience, prodding and batting and priming the prey.”
Working them and playing with them. And when you finally go in for that moment, that van scene moment, that’s a rush, man. That is a feeling, a moment, you’re going to want to savor. Get the music right (after you get the baseball update) and put the final touches on your piece. It’s a job well done, something The Man is proud of.
The inspiration question is asked a lot, I know some people are hoping I’ll drop some iconic slasher inspiration. I’m very familiar with the slasher genre, and in fact, Friday the 13th Part 2, another film with a sack-head villain, is one of my favorites. But Jason from Part 2, and The Man in the Mask are very different beings.
“The Man and Michael, Harry Warden, Cropsy, pops from The Mutilator… They’re all driven differently.”
Much of it may be subtle, and as a viewer, you may or may not pick up on any of it. But aside from a head tilt in a white mask here and there, a little homage, my love for those fellas didn’t play too heavily into it. Consciously anyway.
David Teixeira: How was working with Johannes Roberts? He did a fantastic job on this
Damian Maffei: Johannes is wonderful. He is a horror fan through and through, and he knows his stuff. He’s an extraordinary talent, with an infectious energy, just seeps out into the cast and crew, and that’s a really nice thing to see and feel from the helmer of things when it’s 2 am and you’re out in the woods in the middle of nowhere. He loves this stuff, and that passion shows in the final product. Oh, and he’s funny as hell. It was a pleasure to work with him and to sit back and watch him work through everything. Really.
David Teixeira: Did you have the opportunity to meet Bryan Bertino and did he give you
any tips to help you play the role?
Damian Maffei: I never did meet Bryan, no. I’d have loved to, I think he’s a seriously talented writer and director, always a welcome addition to the genre. I’d certainly have been interested to hear if he had any tidbits for me. I can’t imagine what tips he’d have passed on, much of what is so good about his first movie there is that he just sort of used the Strangers as very effective set pieces, strategically placing them here and there.
David Teixeira: If there is a sequel, are you interested in coming back? Do you keep in
touch with your everyone involved?
Damian Maffei: If there are moments in it, such as Prey at Night had, where I can play with moments and bring some behavior to some scenes, continue to move forward with that, I’d love to. I keep in touch with many of the folks from the movie, some more than others. The movie I went on to afterward had quite a bit of the same crew, so it was good to jump back into another thing with talented, hardworking people, who I respect and very much enjoy being around. And I keep up with the other Strangers, other members of the cast. It’s still pretty fresh, still opening in other parts of the world, so we’re still very much enjoying that.
David Teixeira: Can you share with us a funny story or trivia moment on set with the
Damian Maffei: In the van scene, I stab Martin with an ice pick. Of course, as you may know, we didn’t use a real ice pick. I mean, there was a real one, but we used a fake, retractable ice pick for the stabbing. Simple enough, aim, stab, retract. One time there, I went in for it… Guess I was holding the ice pick at a slight angle… It didn’t retract.
“So I jabbed poor Martin (Henderson) in the chest there with, not an ACTUAL ice pick, but a hard, rounded pointy-ish, stabby thing.”
We went through with the scene, he’s an exceptional trooper, and my face was of course covered by the bag so you couldn’t see the true horror, but as soon as they yelled cut I said: “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU OKAY?!”
David Teixeira: What can you tell us about your next role in the movie Haunt produced
by Eli Roth and written/directed by the producers of A Quiet Place?
Damian Maffei: Haunt is about a group of friends on Halloween night that are looking a “haunted attraction” to enjoy, as groups of friends are known to do. What they find is an “extreme” haunted house which promises to feed on their darkest fears. Doesn’t go well. I play one of the villains of the piece. This thing was an absolute blast to film, I really enjoyed being a part of it. So much fun to just dive in and play in the playground Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (writers/directors) set up for us, and it was an honor to get to take on this delicious son of a bitch creation of theirs.
David Teixeira: Any other projects coming up?
Damian Maffei: Got a bunch of goodies on the stove and in the oven, waiting to come out of the freezer. We’ll see which of them, if any, find their way home. You’d be hard-pressed to keep me from rambling about them should any go into production, so await my return!