David Hayter is something of a cult hero in entertainment, between his writing credits on the superhero blockbusters X-Men, X2: X-Men United and Watchmen, and his years of voice work for Metal Gear Solid. What you might not know is that he started his career as a live-action actor (anyone else remember Guyver?). David's stepping back in front of the camera as the star of the new horror film Devil's Mile, and we had the chance to pick his brain about it this week.
"I still do a fair amount of acting, but it is primarily in voice-over," he explained. "I was very excited to do this role for a number of reasons. First, I'd never played a psychopath before, and I thought I'd be good at it. Second, the script and the part were very, very cool. And third, the film was made by some very good friends of mine, so I knew it would be blast to work on. And it was."
"I think I translated my own internal violence and viciousness pretty well," he continued. "I am a pretty Zen guy now, but in my youth, I was a little rougher around the edges. I think people will get a glimpse into what made me fairly ideal, writing for Wolverine or Rorschach in X-Men and Watchmen."
Which brings us to a thought: when you're a damn good screenwriter (as Hayter is), is it possible to turn that part of your brain off and just act? "Well, I always think from a screenwriter's perspective. I can't help it," David told us. "But when I'm hired as an actor, I don't think it's right to allow your own ideas to interfere with, or overrun, the process. Joe O'Brien - writer/director of Devil's Mile - and I discussed a few ideas and bits of dialogue along the way, but the final decision was always up to Joe. That's the only way a film can work."
Devil's Mile sees David playing the unluckiest mob enforcer ever; when Toby and his two colleagues take a detour on their way to deliver two captives to their boss, things get violent very quickly. It's definitely not the first road-trip horror movie; in fact, the horror genre may be the most prolific in film these days. David told us there were "absolutely" discussions on how to make this flick stand out amongst the pack.
"But the film is inherently unique," he added. "It is not a haunted house film, or a slasher film. It is a total mash-up of a number of genres - noir, Lovecraft, Japanese horror, crime thriller, etc. So that goal was always firmly in mind."
The movie provides a reminder of how well David works in front of a camera, after we've spent years enjoying everything he's done behind it. We asked him if there's any one particular credit that he gets the most attention for, and the answer probably won't surprise you. "People pretty much recognize me from Metal Gear. Occasionally, people will ask me if I was in a screenwriting documentary called Tales from the Script," he said.
"What continually surprises me is how shaken up grown men get when they meet [his Metal Gear character] Solid Snake for the first time. Some of them can barely talk, and two men have burst into tears. It's a little jarring."
As for projects that he wishes would've gotten more exposure, "The first film I produced and starred in, Burn, was a project I was enormously proud of, but it never got released," he reflected. "I just watched it the other day at director Bryan Singer's house - Bryan also exec-produced the film - and it really held up nicely. I wish more people had seen that."
So now that we know what makes him tick as a performer, what does he look for as a fan? What makes a film or TV show impress David Hayter? "Great stories, surprising writing, superb acting," he explained. "I am just now rewatching the first season of Game of Thrones. It is one of the greatest things I have ever seen, particularly in the casting. Every actor in that show is outstanding. And now that I know where the story goes for the first few seasons, I can see so much more of what the writers layered in as foreshadowing. Badass on every level."
That's an adjective we could also apply to David, who's played heroes, written for heroes, and now is taking us to his dark side. He really has kind of done it all. And he doesn't care if it's a blockbuster or an independent. Asked about the difference between working on a big picture like X-Men and a smaller one like Devil's Mile, he quipped, "Well, the food is a lot better once your budget passes a hundred million." Yep, he's a badass.
Devil's Mile is available now on demand and hits DVD on September 2. For more on David, you can also follow him on Twitter (@DavidBHayter).