Jeff Fahey is one of Hollywood's most versatile character actors and is always grateful to find new opportunities and challenges. His latest is the Saban Films' shark thriller Maneater, which follows a group of friends out on a tropical island paradise only to be stalked by a ravenous shark. Fahey spoke with Bleeding Cool about working with writer-director Justin Lee and wanting to share scenes with co-star and country music artist Trace Adkins.
Bleeding Cool: What intrigued you about Maneater?
Fahey: Maneater is produced by a longtime friend of mine, Daemon Hillin, who also produced a film I finished in Thailand [Battle for Saipan]. I also worked with Justin Lee filming a Western together called 'Badlands.' Trace Adkins is also a friend, and we'd worked together a few times. Daemon got a hold of my manager, Jeff Goldberg, and pitched me, "They want to know if you can read this. They can get your stuff done in a day or so and just jump over to Hawaii."
[Maneater was] in between a couple of films that I was doing. So I had a couple of days, and I said, "I'll come over and be part of your little romp here." Although, I didn't have to work with the shark [laughs], thank God. It's a miracle any film ever gets made, and I'm always willing to help friends move something forward. I find the shark film genre entertaining, and it's got its fans.
How did Justin run his set on Maneater?
I've been off doing other films and out of the country quite a bit. I haven't seen the finished product yet, but I always enjoy working with Justin. I've done a couple of other films with Trace, but we hadn't done any scenes together. In [Maneater], we had two scenes together I'm excited about. So those are the reasons why I did this film. It wasn't for the film or the script; it really was to work with a couple of friends again and help them get a movie done.
How was that experience for you?
It was great. [Trace's] a fascinating individual and hugely successful and talented country artist, songwriter, and performer, not to mention the nicest guy in the world. He's constantly working at honing his craft of acting and technique. I see him improving every time as an actor. I'm not saying it in judgment that he's not equal to others. I'm always fascinated when people move from one world to another, whether it's acting into music, music into acting, painting into dance, and so on. He's a natural talent, and his acting career is only beginning.
Did Trace ask you for any advice on acting? Were you able to pick his brain as far as his methodology?
No, because everything was moving so fast on these small film schedules. You have little time to discuss and break down a scene when you get there. You have to do it on the run, and there isn't much time to talk. There were both three to five-page scenes. When you only have a day to shoot a character, everyone's in the zone in the scene to make it work. I could see his process. When somebody is listening, you know when they're moving with the flow, and they're giving you some stuff so you can move. It's a never-ending creative process. Whatever you're working with people who are well-established in the industry or those just beginning, you are still putting 1,000 percent into whatever the end result is. You can have these wonderful accomplishments within the scenes you're doing. That's what it was like working with Trace and Justin as a director. One of the things I enjoy working with Justin is that he is a wonderful writer and flexible. He has the courage to give me some space to bring another take on a character or scene. The whole scene doesn't change, but you can add a little more music, if you will, into the flow of it.
How do you contrast the scale of your projects across TV and film?
TV is locked in, and that script has gone through the writing room. It stays within that world of what that show is. Even if the dialog is wonderful, there's very little wiggle room, especially if you're dropping in as a guest artist. You have more flexibility when you're a running character on a TV show. You adjust to the dialog, show up, and deliver.
On independent films like 'Maneater,' you have a lot of flexibility because many times, that film hasn't gone through the gauntlet through executives and investors. You've got some flexibility, especially if you've got a writer-director you're working with. We can work as a team to massage something into a place that works even a little better.
You have the big films, but it depends on who's working on them. When I work with Robert Rodriguez, there's always flexibility, and we've done six or seven projects together. I don't want to say he's constantly rewriting, but he's always there. He'll come up and say, "Jeff, I've got something." He'll write something at lunch, and here's a new scene, and say, "You want to try this?" It depends on the relationship you have with the writer-director.
To answer that question, there's a lot of freedom in small films. It's not freedom to run away from the project and take the easy route with the dialog but to really massage something, even if it has to be rewritten at the moment. The writer-director doesn't have to answer to studio executives or financiers on the other side of the world. I enjoy all the different worlds.
Maneater, which also stars Nicky Whelan and Shane West, is in theaters, digital, and on-demand.