You Were in Dollman: Jackie Earle Haley on Dark Shadows and His Comeback

The Oscar-nominated actor on his most obscure B-movies, playing Rorschach and acting in Spielberg's Lincoln.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

After a 13 year absence from Hollywood, Jackie Earle Haley returned with an Oscar nominated performance in Little Children and a standout turn as Rorschach in Watchmen. He’s also enjoyed playing memorable supporting roles in films like Shutter Island and Semi-Pro, and the TV series “Human Target,” as well as playing Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. In Dark Shadows, Haley plays Willie Loomis, the butler of Collinswood who becomes Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp)’s manservant through the power of hypnosis. Like everything else, Haley makes the most of the character. In a private interview with Haley we discussed his latest role and revisited some of his pre-comeback highlights, including the low budget movies he made in the early ‘90s.

 

CraveOnline: They sent me a DVD collection of Dark Shadows episodes but I could not find one with Willie in it.

Jackie Earle Haley: I’m surprised.

 

How many was he in?

You know, I’m not sure but I know that he was a really prevalent character through most of it but I’m not sure exactly where he came in. I think he was there before Barnabas showed up. Barnabas didn’t show up for, what, like a year or two, something like that. I’m not sure of the exact time frames.

 

The DVD did start with Barnabas.

Oh, okay. I think they went on for a little while where Barnabas wasn’t even there.

 

So did you look at John Karlen?

Yeah, I did a little bit on YouTube and stuff. Interestingly enough, with this character, he’s one of the characters that’s been really re-envisioned for the movie. He’s a different Willie Loomis. I think the original Willie Loomis came there with somebody else but they were both kind of up to no good. I think Willie was constantly trying to find the jewels in the house. In this version, Willie’s more the servant to the Collins family. He’s a drunken curmudgeony kind of guy that’s just going through the paces. He does everything from being the butler to being the cook to being the chauffer to the valet.

 

Was the hair all hairpieces or did you grow your real hair?

No, that was all a hair piece. It was really cool because it was definitely a ‘70s look but a ratty, disheveled balding look. I definitely loved the sideburns.

 

I felt for Willie cleaning that huge place. Did you see a real cleaning crew touching things up on the set?

Yeah. First off, there were different versions of the set. Early on the set was deifniteley disheveled and dusty. Of course the decorators would come in and make it look like that. Later on when it gets a transformation, they came in and just transformed the whole place and changed things out and truly made the thing look magnificent.

 

There’s such a huge ensemble in the movie, were there many days you just had to spend in the background of shots?

Yeah, yeah, definitely, especially playing Willie. He’s kind of a very quiet character. He’s got very specific moments but a lot of time he’s just back there.

 

Do you find something to do or try to blend in?

Well, it depends on what’s going on. Sometimes you just kind of act natural within the moment and sometimes you just need to not try to draw the eye over to where you are so you don’t want to be moving around too much because you want to make sure that the eyeballs are where they need to be within the frame.

 

What is your approach with Lincoln when you’re playing a historical figure?

That one was interesting. I did a lot of studying on that time period, read a lot about Lincoln, read a biography on Alexander Stephens. I was playing the vice president of the confederacy but it was interesting because I loved Steve’s take on it. He said, “You know, this is a diplomat coming to meet with Lincoln.” So it was really fun. It was also challenging in the sense that I had to do a Georgian accent somewhat of that area so I was really looking at voices or listening to voices. Steve put them in front of me, these DVDs of voices that go back to the ‘30s and stuff. Of course we couldn’t find any form the 1850s.

 

So Spielberg is Steve to cast and crew?

I guess, I don't know.

 

Is the Cornerstone Address in there?

No.

 

How much of the movie are you in?

It’s not this big thing but it’s a really cool thing because it was a pivotal moment in history as well as in the movie.

 

Have they talked about playing Freddy Krueger again?

No, I haven’t heard anything.

 

You’re signed for two more, right?

Mm-hmm.

 

Is there a time frame where that has to happen before it runs out?

I think there is but I’m not sure where we’re at in that. I have no idea.

 

Would you look forward to doing that again?

Yeah. It was a really cool gig.

 

How do you look back on Rorschach?

Fondly. I’ve been so blessed and so fortunate to get to have worked on some really amazing things. I don’t want to say that that’s my all time favorite because it’s hard to pick favorites, but in a weird kind of way that one was really just a neat project to work on. I loved the character, I loved the original material and I love what Zack did with it. I really had a good time on that.

 

Did you watch every version that came out?

I did.

 

Did your reaction to it change with each version?

No, not really. It was just interesting to see more things added. It was fascinating. I think part of that’s also I became a fan of the book while working on the project. I really recognize, not being a big graphic novel fan at the time, I was just kind of unaware of it but for starting there, for that being my first graphic novel, it was so rich in content, in depth. Also the combination of such well written words but those panels were so brilliantly and symbolically, there was so much going on in them that you could literally read that thing over and over. You study the images, you’ll see more that’s connecting to everything. It’s like the pictures were part of the writing.

 

What was it like working on Dollman with Full Moon Features?

God, that was so long ago. That was such a low budget film. I think we shot that thing in like two weeks or something. Albert Pyun, the guy that directed it, was directing two movies at the same time. One was a video movie and the other one was a film movie. Dollman was shot on film and they were shooting this other video. This was before video [today], it was still like SD but there was this little wave. I think he shot both of those movies in one month so it was a kick. It was a neat experience.

 

What was it like going to Japan as a kid with The Bad News Bears?

That was really cool. I remember that well. It was really neat and exciting. It was an adventure getting to go to this completely foreign country, I’m like 16 or 17 so pretty young. It was a trip an it was a trip going there with all my buddies that I’d worked with on two other movies. I also fell in love with the girl that my character fell in love with. Her and I dated for a little while and that was interesting because she barely spoke any English. I barely spoke any Japanese. She came out and visited me here and stuff so it was a trip.

 

Did you stay in Japan extra?

No, I didn’t. I think we had to come back and keep shooting because we shot most of it there and then we came back over here.

 

Was Day of the Locust intense to do even as a kid?

That was. Mostly because of the end scene. It was a really fun, neat experience but when we got to that scene, I remember John Schlesinger, it’s the scene where Adore Loomis runs and trips over something and Donald Sutherland’s character comes up and stomps him to death. That was really intense. On the set I remember John Schlesinger coming up and going [in British accent], “All right, here’s what we’re going to do. There’s going to be these two by fours that Donald will hold himself and then he’ll pretend to be stomping on your back. Are you okay with that?” I’m like, “Uh, I think you better ask the teacher.” My schoolteacher that was there. So that was kind of scary but it all worked out. I remember too on the closeup of me, on my face, when he’s stomping on me, there was a grip kind of holding my back and he was going like this jerking my body. So I’m trying to relax and play it real so my head keeps just mashing into that concrete. It was a trip, man. I think I was 12 or something. I was a little kid.

 

We’re six years into your comeback now. Has it sunk in that you’re here to stay?

Man, it kind of feels like that but I’ve had such an experience in life, you never know.

 

Do you enjoy looking back on the older movies with some perspective now?

Yeah, I don't know how much I’ve really thought about it but in just thinking about it now it is kind of interesting. Over the years I have seen bits and pieces of Breaking Away or some Bad News Bears and those were really good movies, those two. It was neat being a part of that and it’s neat looking into that window. I feel like I’m looking at another person and yet I also know it’s me. It’s interesting to look through that window of time and see as a young kid I was working on this craft.

 

If Dollman and Maniac Cop 3 were right before you took a break, can you look back on those now?

You know, I’m not sure. I don't know.

 

Was Maniac Cop 3 fun to do?

Yeah, kind of. The thing about that era, as you know my career was on the downside so I was showing up in these not even B or C or D, more like F movies. You know what I mean?

 

That’s why I wonder if it’s cool now that you’ve come back and been Oscar-nominated and been in big movies.

Mm hmm. It’s definitely interesting and it’s interesting the people that you run into especially in the genre world, that some people are like, “Oh, you were in Dollman!” Really? That’s the one you remember?

 

Maybe Little Children, Oscar nomination…

Yeah, right.

 

Was the pool scene in Little Children something that’ll stay with you for a while?

Oh, absolutely. That was a brilliant scene watching it all cut together, the way Todd dealt with that scene. It was magnificent. Shooting it was intense and trippy too because you kind of felt it was going to be what it was. You did it over days and there were all these angles but it was a trip playing that part and doing the various build up. All of a sudden everybody’s jumping out of the pool and I’m the only one left in it and looking around. It was a trippy scene.