I’m something of a fan of Ray Wise. He’s not that widely known, but when he does appear he has great screen presence, and his turn as the devil in Reaper was brilliant. This interview was done off the back of the film Infestation. You can read reviews of both by clicking of the links. From Death Ray #21, the very last issue.
Better The Devil You Know
Ray Wise, the player behind telefantasy’s best recent character, um, the Devil! Smooth and sharp, he’s our kind of guy.
Forty years in the crazy business of Tinseltown and still going strong, if you need a lawyer, president, or murderous father, Ray Wise is your man. Often attracted to horror projects, (you can see him in Dead End and Jeepers Creepers II, for example) Wise has played not one but three diabolical creatures: The Devil in Reaper, Ludlow the Demon in Charmed, and Leland Palmer in David Lynch’s frankly disturbing TV classic Twin Peaks.
Recently appearing in Kyle Rankin’s big bug movie Infestation, Wise talked with Death Ray via transatlantic satellite.
Death Ray: Infestation: We enjoyed it. Notice you have done a lot of SF and horror, what attracts you to that kind of project?
Ray Wise: I like to be frightened along with everybody else. I like to feel that titillation, that adrenaline rush when I think that something really frightening is going to happen. I like the anticipation of it, even more than seeing the actual event. Except that so much of the horror today is so… volumes of blood and ripping and slicing and cutting and tearing. It’s not frightening any more, it’s just gory. I prefer the old school horror.
DR: Infestation, like a lot of your movies, contains a certain degree of humour. One thing we really like about your acting is that you have a fantastic sense of comic timing. Where does that come from in you?
RW: Thank you. I really couldn’t say. I’ve always had that sense of humour, ever since I was a little child. I couldn’t explain it, except that that’s the way I view the world, it’s slightly askew, and it makes me laugh a lot.
DR: Whenever you’re on screen you’ve got such a little twinkle in your eye, like when you were playing the Devil in Reaper.
RW: That little twinkle is important. When you watch an actor on film, the eyes can tell you everything. If you’re not thinking the right thoughts, you’re not going to convey to the audience what you want them to feel. The eyes are windows to the soul, right?
DR: So what kind of thoughts were you thinking when you were playing your version of the Devil, then?
RW: Oh, devilish thoughts, you know! Haha. I have an incredible imagination, and I’m able to fabricate little scenarios in my mind that can back up any acting situation that I might find myself in.
DR: Can that be emotionally draining? We think of your turn in Twin Peaks, it must have been distressing playing Leland Palmer, who kills his own daughter…
RW: Totally distressing! You had to get your head in the right place to be able to portray that scene properly, so it can be stressful. I’ve learned over the years that downtime in between scenes I’m able to relax, and joke around with the people on the set. We try to keep it as light as possible when we’re doing heavy stuff like that. David Lynch kept a very laid back set.
DR: Like tunes, the Devil had all the best lines, our favourite has to be ‘I’m not a carjacker Sam, I’m the Devil!’
RW: Right! I had so many good lines and I enjoyed saying every single one of them. In my mind the Devil was a cross between a really good games show host and a used car salesman. He’s sartorially resplendent, and he has a kind of smooth way about him, and he’s able to cajole and talk you into just about anything. That’s the Devil to me.
DR: If we include old Leland in there, this is the third time you’ve played some sort of diabolical entity. Have you carved out a niche in the market?
RW: Yeah, I think so. I think Leland was the perfect prep for leading to the Devil in Reaper. I still watch those episodes today, and I’m still blown away by them. And Ludlow, another demon. He was pretty spectacular. And Charmed is a lovely show. Yeah, so I have a short short history in demonology.
DR: A lot of your other characters seem to be authority figures, vice-presidents, presidents, fathers, that kind of thing. What do you think the overlap is between the demon characters that you play and that sort of politician/ dad type character?
RW: Hahaha, well, I think the big overlap is the actor playing the characters! But there’s a little bit of demon in every good father, and certainly in every politician. I don’t see much difference between some vice presidents that we’ve had and the Devil in Reaper.
DR: The devil has a better suit…
RW: That’s for sure!
DR: And you also got the impression that he wasn’t all bad either. He was in a weird way a mentor to Sam…
RW: There are certain aspects of good and evil in every character. I try to keep that in mind, you have to find the good in the bad and the bad in the good it, seems to me. Yes, he was a mentor, and adviser, he was like a big brother… He wanted to see the kid blossom, though he would prefer that the kid would come his way. I don’t think the Devil has to be all bad all the time. I think he likes mixing it up with the humans here on Earth and having a good time with them. And that entails having some good things happen. Don’t forget good and evil is all a matter of choice anyway isn’t it?
DR: In Infestation and Reaper and others you are often paired off with younger actors. Do you find yourself performing that sort of devilish mentor role for the younger actors?
RW: Yeah, I think so. With younger actors, I am mentorish. And of course I have my own children too, well, they’re grown adults now, but I went through the same process with them. I like passing on what I know to the next generation. It gives you another reason to be on this planet. It ties you in a little bit more to everything in life. It’s a wonderful thing.