I was psyched to see self-proclaimed “scream queer” Roger Conners as a leading man in Chill—and to talk to him about being a gay actor working in the genre he loves. See our full conversation at the end of this post. Roger had a small role in Hellweek (which I blogged about here) and has also been in Voodoo Rising and Hellementary, which has been on the Chiller Network. Hopefully, Chill also comes to Chiller so it will get a wider audience.
When the plot of Chill started to unfold, I was immediately reminded of the 80s cable classic T.A.G. – The Assassination Game. There’s this college campus game in which one person is chosen as the killer by a drawing, but no one playing knows who the killer is. The goal is to stay “alive.” Naturally, someone decides it’s no longer a game.
The originality and fun of Chill creeps up on you. At first, it seems fairly routine. We meet a bunch of kids, there are a couple of typical deaths. But then the film starts to inject dry humor and more gore. Roger and cast are great with comic timing, bringing us brilliant moments of subtle, funny dialogue. Chill is essentially a horror comedy.
With the film running nearly 2 hours, I could see some of the exposition being edited down to tighten up the pacing and enhance the playful tone without the audience losing the plot points. Other than that, this group of filmmakers clearly has a grasp on the cliché pitfalls of routine slashers—and made sure to avoid them. We’re hit with one unexpected surprise after another in the final minutes of the film, as well as logical decisions by some of the characters. It was so satisfying to cheer them on instead of rolling my eyes at them for a change!
On top of all that, much of the male cast is fricking adorable (including a big, virtually non-speaking hunk of beefcake–see the guy in red above!). And the killer’s mask and costume are eerie and unique. It makes me so fricking excited to say that Chill 2 is coming!!!
BOYS, BEARS & SCARES INTERVIEWS ROGER CONNERS
Boys, Bears & Scare: Okay. What came first for you? Wanting to be an actor or horror movies?
Roger Conners: Horror movies. While I have always had a flair for the dramatic (case in point, the time my mother walked into the bedroom to find me dressed up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz at the age of 7), some of my earliest memories consist of my fascination and curiosity with horror. Before I even had an idea what acting was or how I could possibly go about breaking into the business, I was drawn to the idea of fear and how that translated to film.
BB&S: So what actor or actress in a horror film, if any, made the idea of acting in horror click for you?
Roger: I know the exact moment I knew I wanted to be on film and the actress that sparked it. There’s a bit of a story behind it… if you don’t mind. I’ve always wanted to discuss it and haven’t had the question come up.
BB&S: I want to hear.
Roger: Alright, well… as I child I grew up in my grandparents’ home due to the fact my mother was very ill. I moved in with them at the age of seven and that was my first time since my mother’s divorce that I got the chance to be exposed to a male figure in my life. My grandfather was a man’s man and he tried very hard to expose me to a more masculine upbringing since I had been rather deprived of that up until that point. Being a more “sensitive” boy, I definitely rebelled. He would try to get me to play baseball with him or learn how to operate a lawnmower, however I was more prone to sit in my room and draw pictures or get into my grandmother’s makeup drawer.
Being a bit more of a masculine personality now, I certainly appreciate his influence but, at the time I just didn’t get it.
So…here’s where this all ties together.
I distinctly remember that in my grandparents’ living room they had this large wooden movie-chest that was filled to the brim with old VHS tapes. One of my most prominent childhood memories is the SMELL that came from this chest. It had this musty, aged smell that I still remember to this day and always will associate with this moment specifically.
So one day I got into the chest and I was digging around and my eyes spotted the cover of one specific VHS…George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”
BB&S: Your grandparents had a horror movie? Awesome!
Roger: The cover was one of the more gothic ones I’ve seen since there have been SO MANY re-releases of the film. This was a stark black and white image of several of the zombies lumbering beside a large willow-tree. For whatever reason, it just clicked with something in my brain. I was instantly obsessed with the image in front of me. I didn’t even know WHAT I was looking at or the context of the film. I just sort of… got it.
So I put the VHS into the player and just as the movie started playing my grandfather came in the room and asked what I was doing. Now, I feel most guardians wouldn’t condone an eight year-old viewing such a violent piece of cinema, but I believe that my grandfather saw the potential in my being exposed to the horror genre. He knew I wasn’t a man’s-man by any means but, if he was going to open my eyes to SOMETHING that might give me a bit of an edge…maybe a bit of an understanding of the male mentality (which horror is OFTEN associated with due the violence), well, this was better than nothing.
So…instead of taking the tape out, he sat down in his chair and watched the movie with me. And to be honest, it absolutely terrified me.
Like, the movie FUCKED. ME. UP.
I ran out of the room in tears… as to be expected I suppose. And I cried for days and had nightmares and everything. However, despite the trauma, I formed this strange obsession with the movie. And, in particular, the character of Barbra as portrayed by Judith O’Dea. I became infatuated with her portrayal of the character and the emotional journey she goes through.
It took me years until I could bring myself to encounter my fear again and actually watch the movie from beginning to end. I finally managed to… probably two years after the initial viewing. And it now holds the title of my number one favorite horror film of all time. It was the kick-off point. It got that ball rolling and now it’s become a huge aspect of my life.
I had the amazing privilege of meeting Judith O’Dea last year and I can’t lie, I definitely broke down and cried. I associate her with so much…that film basically sums up my childhood. I even recited Barbra’s monologue (the one she delivers to Ben as he’s nailing up the windows) for my first acting class and have it memorized to this day.
It sparked my desire to appear on-screen and to this day I dream of having an onscreen death as mind-blowing as Barbra’s in NOTLD. Definitely my favorite death captured on screen due to the sheer rawness and intensity of it. It fucks with you.
BB&S: You know, she’s actually appeared in a couple of gay psychological horror films in the past few years.
Roger: Yeah, I’m well aware. October Moon and November Son, right?
Roger: She is an absolute doll. SO sweet and genuine. She truly appreciates her fans and she remains so humble.
BB&S: It seems your grandfather wouldn’t have expected you to connect more with the powerless female “victim.” Hehe. So, what do you prefer playing, the victim or the killer, and why?
Roger: Haha. Well I think that you’re right in saying that, but at that point he probably wasn’t all that shocked either. I definitely prefer playing the victim.
BB&S: Victim of course meaning either an actual victim—or the be-otch who fights to the bitter end.
Roger: While I love the challenge of taking on the antagonist roles (which I have only played a handful of times), I definitely love playing out the emotion of fear on screen. Again, all the characters I associate with my initial desires to appear on screen are strong FEMALE leads. Barbra from Night of the Living Dead, Laurie Strode from Halloween, Sally and Pam from Texas Chainsaw. The girls always get to have all the fun! The big chase scenes, the screams, the moments you really remember! Each one of those girls has become ICONIC in the genre… and that is what I really want. I don’t need fame or money… but I DO want people to associate me with horror-cinema. Even if it’s on an independent level.
BB&S: What subgenre would be your ultimate type of horror film to make? You’re already doing slashers, but beyond that.
Roger: I was just thinking about this today. I mean, clearly with my love for NOTLD I would hope to someday get to appear in a zombie film. But that being said, I would also be VERY picky. It would have to be the right script. Zombies have been SO over-done these last few years. You expose audiences to too much of the same thing and they become desensitized. The market has been over-saturated. Now they release titles that almost lampoon the genre. It’s more shtick than it is true horror.
BB&S: Speaking of being picky, you’ve played the gay guy in films that aren’t specifically gay horror. Are you sensitive to how the director/writer portrays the gay character and are you willing to ask him to alter anything that feels like it might be offensive?
Roger: I didn’t used to be, but as I’ve aged and matured I’ve definitely had a different outlook toward gay characters in modern cinema as well as a different approach to the characters I play and how I play them.
BB&S: Really. Any regrets about any past gay portrayals?
Roger: My first few times playing a gay character on-screen were definitely a more comedic take. This was what the director wanted and looking back I’m not exactly happy about that. Gay can be funny but it doesn’t need to be a parody.
BB&S: Although it would limit your audience, would you do an all-gay horror flick?
Roger: Oh yeah, of course! I’d love to. Sadly there isn’t a huge gay-scene here in Cleveland. I’m more of the go-to gay around here than anything but there really isn’t enough of us to pull off a strong gay-based feature. I’d have to travel…which I’ve done before and would love to do again for such a project. For my own EGO I’d love to do a gay based film, lol. Once you enter the realms of “gay-cinema” you’re performing for a new audience. And physically…you need to be on TOP of your game. You need boys that have the LOOK as well as the talent.
Mainstream horror is chock full of hot women (if it’s done right) because, let’s be real, we know the majority that will be viewing that film. When you transition into gay-cinema, it’s the same mentality…same expectations. Horror lovers, no matter what orientation, want to see something hot on camera. And if done right, they want to see something hot die a horrible, bloody death!
BB&S: Well, in a movie like Chill, which is not an all-gay film, you’re the “final gay.” What has the response been from general audiences to having a final gay instead of a final girl?
Roger: You know, with Chill I honestly hoped for MORE of a response! But at the same time, I appreciate the fact it’s been downplayed.
BB&S: It’s a pretty big deal, at least to me, because it pretty much never happens.
Roger: You’re right when you say Chill isn’t a “gay-film.” It isn’t made for any specific sexual orientation. It is, in our minds, the most MAINSTREAM film we could produce on a smaller budget. And once they cast me in the lead, well…it just happened to have a gay male lead. We discussed making my character Kyle straight. We discussed a lot of things. In the end, we wanted Kyle to be easy to understand and relate to. He is a normal guy. He’s a nerd. He’s awkward. And he happens to be gay. Rarely addressed in the film. That was on purpose.
BB&S: On top of the final gay, I really loved how smart and fresh the writing was in Chill. The humor was perfectly nuanced, plus you broke the “rules” of slasher clichés. It really gives you a fresh voice in the genre. Is that style something you will bring to the sequel (I already saw it listed on imdb)?
Roger: Thank you for saying that! Hearing positive feedback on the film really fills me with joy. A lot of work went into that little bitch! Truth is, I don’t know. To start, I was merely cast as Kyle. I had no influence on the script early on because I didn’t write it. Meredith Holland did. She took influence from me to tweak Kyle but it wasn’t until the movie was in production that I stepped in to help out more behind the scenes. I know horror. Plain and simple, as a fan I just…KNOW what works and what doesn’t. Luckily for us, Meredith provided us with a solid script with witty dialogue and believable characters. Any writing I did came with scheduling/location conflicts, weather change, etc. You know how independent cinema goes. The script you start off with will, more likely than not, be nothing like what turns up on camera in the end.
I’m happy to say the final cut of Chill is very true to Meredith’s original material, though there are some major changes that had to take place for the betterment of the film. And as for the sequel, well…as with the first film…that’s all on Meredith. Once I see a script I’ll know more about what’s going on and when. Haha.
BB&S: Oh. Okay. So you’re not going to be calling any of the shots on Chill 2.
Roger: No, sir. I’m just an actor who was privileged enough to be a source of reference on set whenever it was needed. And with that I received some very flattering credits for which I am very thankful!
BB&S: What, if anything, can you tell us about the upcoming film Raw Focus? Anything you want, from your part in the production to details about the role you play and/or the plot.
Roger: It’s not a bareback porn, contrary to popular belief….
BB&S: Yeah. That one is actually called Raw Poke Us.
Roger: Oh god! I would LOVE if somebody made a porn spoof of a film I was in. Dream come true. So in Raw Focus, all hell breaks loose when a photographer with a flair for erotic art takes a group of stunning models out into the middle of nowhere for the ultimate photo-shoot. Unfortunately for this crew of young and aspiring talent, this happens to be the same middle of nowhere a trio of psychopathic killers has selected to use as their personal killing fields.
I am producing this one as well as doing a LOT behind the scenes! I have a lot of say with this which is very exciting. Bobby Jones is a very competent director with an amazing vision and he’s lucky enough to be blessed with such a standout cast. It’s a movie about female models. In order to make that work you need women who LOOK the part. Somehow, we got them. Seven of them to be exact. We are so lucky to have such stunning talent on board this project!
BB&S: It’s so exciting to be talking to a fellow gay horror fan who is also a cute self-proclaimed scream queer in movies, with new ones on the way. So one last question. Are you okay with me exploiting your “scream queer” title and looks to get you more attention on Boys, Bears & Scares? Like, you know I’m going to reuse that sexy collage I made of you when I post this Q&A.
Roger: Exploit all you want! Haha. It comes with the genre! I mean, even I need to exploit myself when able.
BB&S: And of course…we have to mention the other “raw” aspect of Raw Focus….
Roger: Ah. There’s the perfect transition to what I was about to say…
BB&S: I wasn’t sure who should say it first….
Roger: Hehe. Yeah, I’m doing full frontal in Raw Focus.
BB&S: Wahoo! I mean…very cool if you’re doing it for the art.
Roger: I play Chatham who is the personal makeup artist to the models on the photo shoot. He’s a former model himself. He’s been in the business for a while. And even though he’s the makeup artist he’s not at all the typical type you would picture in that career. He’s a former porn-star. And a bear. And a flirt with the girls and very protective of them. I shaved my head for the role. Grew out the beard. I’m pretty bear-tastic right now. Which is fine because I definitely associate myself with that scene to begin with! That’s my niche.
BB&S: So…did you demand nudity be written into the script or was it required of you?
Roger: Well, the topic of nudity came up and we already had a few females who had signed on for it, and Bobby, who is straight, basically put it out on the table. I’m gaining a following being an openly gay actor who promotes that I am, well, an openly gay actor!
BB&S: And then you put “it” out on the table…?
Roger: Haha, no, no. Bobby has yet to see that. And he is terrified for that day to come. Shooting for that comes up in two weeks. I will be at the gym every day until that happens.
BB&S: Well not too much gym. You’re a bear. You need a little heft.
Roger: Gym meaning weights. I need to get these guns locked and loaded. Believe me…the tummy is already taken care of. I stripped at a bar called “Exile” in my early 20’s. At this point in the game, when it comes to that, I’ve nothing to prove. I have been comfortable with my body for a while now. Nudity was bound to happen.
BB&S: Well, I’m sure after Bobby sees “it,” he’ll be saying “you definitely got the part.”
Roger: I should “have the part” based simply off the fact I think being naked on camera is hilarious! Bring it on! Hehe.
BB&S: Can’t wait to see it, Roger. The movie, of course. Thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions! Anything else you want to share before we finish?
Roger: Just that after Raw Focus wraps, I’ll be moving onto another project entitled What We Saw which will mark my first time taking on the title of director! It’s a script I’ve been working on for a while now and I just feel it’s time. I know a LOT of talented and capable people. And I don’t think I’ve been this excited for something in a very long time!
BB&S: Awesome. Keep on representing for the gay boys and bears in the horror genre.
Roger: I’ve seen enough success within the indie scene post-Hellementary that I feel confident this one will really be something amazing! That’s my goal, stud! And thanks to you and all the fans out there for giving me so much amazing support! I really am humbled by it all.