Michael Smallwood saw his latest gig to hit the big screen, Halloween Kills, for the first time Tuesday at Hollywood’s historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. For the busy Charleston actor and playwright who also serves as City Paper’s contributing arts editor, it’s a first in a career that’s wound from community theater to indie film to big-budget on-screen productions.
Returning for the second installment of the latest films in the Halloween franchise, Smallwood’s character was conceptualized by the Charleston-based Rough House Pictures team that includes director/writer/producer David Gordon Green and writer/producer Danny McBride. Rough House’s portfolio includes everything from HBO-quality slapstick in The Righteous Gemstones to the renewed Halloween, produced alongside the horror wizards at Blumhouse Productions, which brought the world Get Out, Paranormal Activity and more.
Ahead of the premiere, we sat down with Smallwood to talk about the experience of helping create 2018’s Halloween, filmed in Charleston, and 2021’s Halloween Kills, filmed mostly in Wilmington.
City Paper: You’ve acted on stage and on screen. Which is your favorite?
Michael Smallwood: I think I prefer stage. There’s something about the energy of that live crowd — the reaction you get from an audience who is actively watching right there. With a film, as an actor, you do it, and then you walk away from it, and it’s months before you actually see the work. And then, once audiences see it, you really only know what people’s reactions are if they tell you.
CP: What led you to get involved in Halloween (2018)?
MS: I auditioned a couple of times for Rough House Pictures stuff. I auditioned for Vice Principals and a couple other things. They basically had open, sort of, auditions to fill out the town, basically various characters living in Haddonfield. They called me in, I did a read and was like, “OK, great. That was cool.” And then maybe a week later, my agent called and was like, “Hey, do you want to be in Halloween? Because they have a part they’d like you to play.” And I was like, “Absolutely. Of course I do.”
CP: Is that a situation where you want to know what the pay is first? Or the time commitment?
MS: With indie projects, I’m always asking, “What’s the money and what’s the time commitment?” Because you can end up in situations, and I’ve been in them before, where you’re working way too much for way too little compensation. But with studio projects, I never really have that question, because at the end of the day, worst case scenario is that they’re going to pay me SAG (Screen Actors Guild) scale. And SAG scale is very good.
And frequently, you’ll know when you get the casting notice, the rate is there for you to see. I leapt at the opportunity to do Halloween. My wife’s a huge fan of that franchise, and I knew this would be a huge movie. So absolutely, I want to do this part. I didn’t know, after we filmed that movie, that when putting together the second one, they’d want to bring my character back.
CP: When did you figure that out?
MS: They called me in summer 2019. Then at the end of July, I got a call that was like, “Yep, it’s definitely happening. They need you fly out to L.A. for some special-effects tests.”
They sent me the script, and I read it and realized, “Oh, OK. I’m in a lot of this movie. Great. Cool.”
CP: Does your character have a name?
MS: In the last movie, he was credited as “Hunky Doctor.” And in this one, he gets an actual name.
CP: Ah, right: Michael Smallwood, Hunky Doctor.
MS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s right.
CP: You said your wife is a fan of Halloween. Were you a horror fan or Halloween fan before this?
MS: Horror’s never been one of my favorite genres, but there have been standout ones that I’ve always liked. I’m a big fan of the Scream movies, those are my favorite horror movies.
CP: How was it different, day to day, than other projects you’ve been on?
MS: It was a much longer process of having to be on set. A big difference in this project versus some of the others is that it was all night shoots. Every day, a night shoot. Once you start turning your entire schedule upside down, it takes a while to get used to. You’re basically on set all night, then you’re trying to sleep during the day. The rest of it was all just the work. You know, you’re on set, getting to do … some really cool stuff — I’m trying not to give away too many spoilers.
CP: With horror there are so many short cuts and quick shots, I assume that means a lot of repetitive takes?
MS: That’s just the film process. Especially with horror, there are some things you can only do once because, once we do it, you know, that costume is going to be ruined. Some stuff we did a ton of times. They’ll be like, “Just give me a bunch of screams over and over again.” Every little bit, we’ve probably done that dialogue 10, 12, 15 times.
CP: Is it fun while you’re doing it? Even though it’s difficult and tedious?
MS: Oh, yea. We all say the worst day that you spend on a film set is the best day of work. Because at the end of the day, we’re getting to tell stories.
CP: From the trailers, it looks like you might spend some quality time in this car …
MS: We spent a week in that car. There were two of them — here’s a little movie magic: One of them was just a regular car that they could film interiors of. And then one of them was specifically rigged for certain things — we actually didn’t even use them. There were supposed to be some gunshots that went off inside the car, so one of the cars was rigged with gunshots inside. We spent a whole week of night shoots in and around that car.
CP: Did you get to keep anything from the production?
MS: The one thing I did keep is one of my stethoscopes. One of my lines from (Halloween) 2018 was about the stethoscope, and we brought it back for this movie. I got to use it in a really cool way in the movie. And I was like, “I’m keeping this.”
CP: So, do you think your character will be returning for the third movie, Halloween Ends?
MS: It’s not looking good! I’m not going to say no, because anybody can return for any number of reasons. I have no idea. But, no spoilers, I don’t think so.
Halloween Kills hits theaters Oct. 15. Terrace Theater will host a special screening at 7:30 p.m. Friday, featuring an intro and Q+A with director David Gordon Green.