Jackals – Exclusive Interview with Johnathon Schaech

Johnathon Schaech (pronounced “skeck”) has had a long and storied career, considering his relatively young years. He’s not yet 50, but he’s acted in 89 productions, and is a horror screenwriter who has hobnobbed with some of the greats in our favorite genre. In his latest fright-film, Jackals (review), he plays the father of a young man who has been brainwashed… or is it possessed? …by a strange and dangerous cult. We sat down with Johnathon to ask him all about it.

Dread Central: What was it in particular about the role of Andrew that made you want to take it?

Johnathon Schaech: Thanks for asking this question – see I’m a father now and this character, Andrew, I related to because he’s a father. My boy is only three, but I could see that if I didn’t get real honest with myself, straighten some things up — stop pointing fingers everywhere else and taking some adult responsibility than this kind of crap (Losing your child to a cult) could happen down the road —

— this sort of HORROR could come and bite YOUR perfect little life in the BUTT if you don’t take responsibility for what you think you’re getting away. Just because no one holds you accountable for your shit doesn’t mean your kid isn’t feeling its effects.

So Andrew is the FATHER – the father who fights to make up for the wrongs of his life. I don’t know if that’s how it’s written, BUT that’s what I came up with. And that’s what I played with…And I made it not only emotional but PHYSICAL.

DC: As I was watching the movie, I thought the more obvious choice for you would have been the role of the cult deprogrammer – so, what was one of the most interesting things for you explore in playing the dad?

JS: The MOST interesting thing – beyond the cooler role was playing a Dad (like I said)

Okay, I’ll put it this way – YOUR kid gets into trouble – he’s caught smoking weed? Something small OR MAYBE he’s holding a fucking TIKI torch parading around in Virginia because YOU didn’t notice him.

YOU didn’t get out of your way to see this incredible gift given to you, and now THE JACKALS have him under their control, and you now have to get him BACK.

The deprogrammer is a great role that’s why my buddy Stephen Dorff is playing it. He’s probably the most under-rated great actor around. He’s successful but underrated. You think you know him – you don’t. He’s a creative juggernaut — just loved we finally get to be in a movie together.

DC: Tell us about working with Kevin Greutert – though he’s done features as a director before, he comes from the standpoint of being an editor in horror films, which is also a form of storytelling… what’s his approach and style?

JS: Thank GOD for Kevin – he can think very ahead of the game (because of him being an editor / an OUTLIER), and when you’re shooting fast and in severe conditions, you have to make it work… He had already problem solved stuff before it even happened.

And my brain is focused on ONE thing (my character and saving my boy).

The professional in me knows how to work with any brain, but it’s great to work with brains that can see it’s about teamwork — I’m self-sufficient, and I’m making everyone’s job easier. Kevin is the same way – very welcoming and respectful toward the other brains and how they work. He is not controlling of the things he doesn’t need to be.

WE were super cool together, and we’ll be doing it again. He’s one of those guys that has a horror background and success, but he’s going to put out a STAND BY ME and just win it all. Watch. I love it when HOLLYWOOD tries to judge the creative MIND, and the creative MIND wins.

DC: This story is set in the 1980s, an era in which cults were perhaps at their most popular – and yet, it is still relevant today as it relates to some young American young men being recruited by Isis or the Neo-Nazi party – so, I’m wondering if you did any research about cults as it relates to parents and deprogramming, etc., and / or what’s the most surprising thing you learned about the subject?

JS: Young boys find themselves very vulnerable to powerful movements because they need PURPOSE –

They need to be part of something MEANINGFUL and if their parents don’t care about them SOMEONE will — and that someone cares about what they care about AND IT’S NOT YOUR KID.

Cults are like Gangs like ISIS — like the neo-Nazi’s – they need members to do their will, and teenage boys can’t help, but want to be part of something. And if they’ve been pushed around or pushed away or told they aren’t smart enough their self-worth is SHIT and their chemical make up is SCREAMING for acceptance.

It’s so important for parents to find their child’s abilities and not push what they want the child to be onto their child.

The JACKALS are just consuming the disenfranchised and the lost boys.

DC: At the end of the day, Jackals is still a hardcore horror film and Andrew gets into the fray. Tell us about shooting these nighttime / outdoor scenes and give genre fans a taste of what to expect in the film.

JS: The best horror is when there are situations you can relate to, that you never want to get in, but THE SHITTY THING is these horrible events could happen to you.

You don’t think your child could be the one driving into a crowd trying to fulfill some whack jobs prophecy, but it could be your kid if you’re not paying attention – The horror of this movie is it could happen to any of us. WE don’t want to take responsibility for the shitty things we do, but it is OUR responsibility. We need to take ownership of ourselves and our children…Or fucking die trying.

DC: One of the first TV junkets I covered as a reporter was The Forsaken. You’ve definitely been drawn back the horror genre a few times over the years, so – what is it that keeps you coming back?

JS: Thank you, I love horror films – The Forsaken, a vampire movie with no fangs – ‘no fangs just makes it a serial killer movie.’ So the studio didn’t know how to market it the right way. Can you imagine if it did? We’d have had the TWILIGHT franchise before TWILIGHT.

The horror genre is like the Shakespeare TRAGEDIES of old — They make action films and horror films because they sell – blood, sex, and violence sells. DRAMA and CONFLICT compel us to feel.

But for the most part, we avoid feeling the emotions to evolve and truly understand why we are here on earth.

It’s not to fly private jets or get the special pillow covers that give us meaning in life (although we can understand those comforts). If you focus on showing off those type of things – winter is coming, and a metaphorical JACKALS is going to affect your life seriously.

Life is a box of chocolates you never know what you’re going to get, and sometimes IT just rips your tongue out of your throat.

That’s why I love Stephen King, Richard Chizmar, and the HORROR genre — because it’s filled with metaphor, myth and magic.

Starring Deborah Kara Unger (Crash, Silent Hill), Stephen Dorff (Blade, Leatherface), Johnathan Schaech (That Thing You Do!, Arsenal), Nick Roux (Jane by Design), Chelsea Ricketts (“Scream Queens,” “True Blood”), and Ben Sullivan (“Hell on Wheels,” Stonewall), the film was directed by Greutert, produced by Tommy Alastra and TAP INC., and written by Jared Rivet.

Jackals will be released in limited theaters and On Demand on September 1st via Scream Factory.

Jackals is a disturbing vision of a fractured family that will do anything to get their estranged son back from a murderous cult, but find themselves under siege when the cultists surround their cabin. A vicious battle unfolds, testing familial loyalties and unleashing a bloodbath in which there are few survivors.


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Staci Layne Wilson

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