23rd Feb2018

‘Death House’ Interview: Sean Whalen

by Philip Rogers

With the highly-anticipated horror Death House being released in cinemas on March 2nd, I got a chance to ask actor Sean Whalen about what we can expect from the movie, his long and varied acting career and his move into teaching the art of acting and what his dream role would be…


How did you first get into acting?

I was the youngest of four kids, so I used to joke around in my kitchen to entertain my brother and sisters, so I wouldn’t have to clean up after dinner. I would Keep them entertained until they finally figured out what I was doing and then I had to clean the kitchen by myself. But because I was the youngest I got attention that way and made my brothers and sisters laugh, I did the same at school. I did a play in fifth grade, where I directed and stared in a version of Rumpelstiltskin. I loved it and I was hooked. I did community theatre, local theatre all through school, I got into UCLA in the theatre acting department. I didn’t really finish out that programme because I didn’t really care for it. When I graduated from UCLA, I went straight in The Growling Theatre, which tons of people come from: Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Pee Wee Herman, Elvira… So, I did that, then I went to Play House West. I just realised I started in 87’ and by 89’ I got my SAG Card. I was lucky I only pounded the payment for two years before I got my first commercial. Two years later after People Under the Stairs (1991) I was able to quit my day job. Four years after starting I was a working actor.

And you have been constantly working…

This in an up and down ride. They say actors have a good run for Five years, I did have a good run for five years, I had a good run for 15. Then when I had kids and a house I had to do a side job for a little while because after 2001 the market changed, and I have supplemented ever since. Everything I do now is in the entertainment industry I teach acting, background voiceover work, writing, producing, a bunch of different things.

You feature in the upcoming film Death House where you play Satan, can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect from the film?

They are pretty much mums the word actually. I came into it through my friend Felissa Rose, they brought me in and told me to play this role of Satan. Beyond that I am not really allowed to talk about what I am, as it’s all a secret. What’s nice is I went there, and I had a small part, but I wanted to make sure I brought something interesting to it. Since then I have been mentioned by Kane Hodder in a lot of interviews as one of the coolest scenes which was great. But the film is very trippy, with all of your favourite horror icons in it. It’s a really crazy surreal movie that probably needs to be viewed more than once, which is the main comment coming out from the people who have seen it. It’s very complexed and weaved a very complex web.

The film itself as you say has several icons, what was it like being involved in such a film?

It was neat because I had heard so much about it, and when Felissa and Harrison Smith found me a part it was really great. Now It’s not a play, we don’t all work at the same time, so when I was there, Kane was there, but a lot of the other people were not. Barbara Crampton was there, that was really fun, and Cody Longo was there so that was really fun as well. But to know you are a part of this horror icon thing is really fun.

What was your favourite scene to film in Death House?

Well I am only in one scene, but it’s a very memorable scene, so that would be my favourite, because the guys I worked with were really great and Harrison runs a really cool set. I was there for a full day, but it was really fun. I will give you a little hint, I lost my voice for two days after working on that scene. That is the only thing I will tell you.

Obviously, you’ve have had a varied career, and everyone will know you from different films, for some it would be People Under the Stairs, Twister or others, but are there any characters or roles which you would like to portray on screen?

Yeah, I have always said that I would like to play a western, because I haven’t done a western and that is the only genre I haven’t done. But I have done every other movie, kid’s films, big comedies, small comedies, horror movies, big budget, low budget. So, for me I think I would love to have a strong reoccurring comic role in a TV series. I love comedy and I teach comedy improv in the states, so that is what I would love to do.

Do you have any other projects that you are working on at the moment?

I actually have a play which I have co-written, produced and star in, here in Los Angeles that we just got a third extension. It’s a comedy play called Psyche on Vine about the hottest restaurant in Los Angeles, where all the waiters are trained psychologist. So, it’s really funny, they analyse you whilst you are getting your meal and it’s a really fun night. It’s a place that has a bar, so you can drink during the show and it takes place in a restaurant. The theatre is a restaurant, so the play takes place all around you, so it’s really fun. That’s going on right now and I just got an email from a pretty big horror director who just told me I have a role in his next film. I will speak about that when I am allowed too. I am starting my classes, teaching teens and adults in the next couple of weeks, but the main one coming out right now is Death House.

I have been following another one of your films as well called Ugly Sweater Party, do you have any updates on that?

That is still being edited, in the independent world it takes a long time for movies to get out there. We shot Death House a year and a half ago, so it takes a while. But Ugly Sweater Party is by a very talented writer, director Aaron Mento who is a really funny. That is hopefully coming out sometime this year.

I know you touched on your teaching which you do online as well…

I do Skype classes. I have two clients right now, one is in Arkansas and one is in Nashville. I do Skype classes all over the world.

And if someone was interested in one of your classes how would they contact you?

The best way to contact me is through my Facebook, Sean M Whalen and you can friend request, message me. I have an assistant who helps me gather all that kind of stuff up and we will reach out to you.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into acting themselves?

The main thing is, absolutely study for a couple of years, get your training in. When I started it was get your training, get an agent and hopefully the phone will ring. Nowadays it’s not like that so much, there is no such thing as just an actor. Brad Pitt won his Academy Award for producing, not acting. The main thing is get your stuff out there as quickly as possible, create your own stuff, write your own stuff, you have cameras in your phones. You can shoot things, put up videos, vines, anything you can. Just start working and create your own content. It’s the wave of the future and that’s who you are competing against. So, unless you want to do acting for fun which is totally fine, do community theatre and things like that. The main thing is to not only get your training as an actor, but to really learn the whole business. Learn how to write, learn how to direct and get your stuff out there. The real success stories these days are the people who kind of started themselves. There’s a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it’s about a woman who started by putting up song parodies on YouTube and finally got a shot at a TV show and kind of made it happen. It’s really about being proactive, writing your own stuff, creating your own content and being a Jack of all trades in this business.

The days of becoming an actor and sitting around, very few people get to do that. There are people who do that on Broadway, but again they are not just actors, they are actors, singers, dancers. Very few people who do just one thing anymore. Even if they do to have longevity. Even Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I worked with on Twister, was a director and ran a theatre company. You’ve got to do more than one thing and that’s why a lot of these actors have production deals. Reese Witherspoon is becoming a force for strong women’s content to keep it going. If she just sat back and waited for Hollywood to give her a call, they probably wouldn’t. That’s why take charge you have to be more proactive these days. That’s the advice I would give.


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