By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Actor Joe Pantoliano has played over 150 roles in movies and TV, from his breakout turn as “Guido the Killer Pimp” in RISKY BUSINESS to Eddie Moscone in MIDNIGHT RUN to his Emmy-winning Ralph Cifaretto on THE SOPRANOS and beyond. He’s only dipped his toe in the horror pool a few times, though, including this week’s release HIDE AND SEEK, in which he plays Collin Carmichael, legal advisor to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ Noah Blackwell. RUE MORGUE caught up with “Joey Pants” to talk this excursion into the fear zone, as well as his early appearance in the 1983 killer-in-the-woods flick THE FINAL TERROR.
In HIDE AND SEEK, written and directed by Joel David Moore and opening in select theaters and on VOD/digital platforms this Friday from Saban Films, Noah is the scion of a wealthy real estate clan in New York City whose father’s recent death has brought back unpleasant memories. They involve his estranged, troubled brother Jacob, whom Noah goes searching for in a rundown building inhabited by squatters–and a motorcycle-helmeted killer who may or may not be Jacob. The Blackwells once took out a restraining order against Jacob, and Pantoliano describes Collin as “a man close to retirement, or past retirement, who’s protecting the family secrets and enabling a big lie and a dangerous situation, out of loyalty and also for selfish reasons, to maintain his paycheck.”
The film is a remake of Korean director Huh Jung’s 2013 thriller of the same title, though Pantoliano was unaware of its lineage when he first came on board. “The history of HIDE AND SEEK–the fact that it was a very successful movie in South Korea, and the emerging aspect of South Korean filmmakers in general, I wasn’t even aware of,” he recalls. “Since we made our film, South Korean films have just blown up, and the TV show SQUID GAME. It’s fascinating.”
That Netflix sensation, he adds, shares the theme of financial and class inequity with HIDE AND SEEK, in which the wealthy Noah is confronted by how the other half lives–and dies. “It’s a common theme all over the world,” Pantoliano notes, “and I think part of the success of SQUID GAME, globally, is the idea that the people who are participating are financially behind the 8 ball. It just seems like, in the United States, you’re either incredibly rich or you’re poor; they’ve pretty much decimated the middle class. And the idea of keeping people poor and needy and hungry, it enables them to continue to have control. Although I’m reading more and more about McDonald’s employees striking, walking out, truck drivers walking out, unions getting a chance to regain leverage against these despicable billionaires who are just gobbling up the riches of our country.”
HIDE AND SEEK filmed on locations all over New York City in the dead of winter. “I think my best acting in this film was pretending to look warm, because it was freezing–it was freezing outside, it was freezing in the car, there was just no way to stay warm.” Filming in the Big Apple is something he’s used to–and so, he says, are the city’s residents. “I’ve worked a lot in New York, and it’s almost like people don’t even notice you anymore. It used to be a big deal, a movie shoot, but not so much now.
“There’s one location we shot at, on the Upper East Side in this park where Jonathan and I are sitting on a bench, that I had never seen before. I thought, what an interesting place, because most exterior locations in Manhattan have been overused. We’ve all seen ’em. But that was an interesting park; I didn’t know it existed.”
Far from any urban jungle, Pantoliano found himself in the forests of the Pacific Northwest when he took part in THE FINAL TERROR. Directed by Andrew Davis, who would go on to big-ticket actioners like UNDER SIEGE and THE FUGITIVE, it casts Pantoliano as Eggar, the antagonistic bus driver who shuttles a group of youths on a work detail into the woods where a feral killer is lurking. “That was a lot of fun,” the actor says. “We were in Crescent City, California, where all the big redwoods are, and I’m a city boy; I grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey. I remember I was walking on this log and I saw a slug, and I just wimped out; I was like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! What is that?’ And Andy was laughing so hard, the camera started shaking.
“Andy and I became good friends and colleagues, and I worked on several of his movies after that. [Future studio mogul] Joe Roth and Donna Roth produced the movie, and we made it for nothing with all of these unknown kids who became very famous later on.” These up-and-comers included Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrien Zmed (T.J. HOOKER) and Lewis Smith (BUCKAROO BANZAI, NORTH & SOUTH).
“We had so little money that Andy operated the camera; he was the director, the DP and the cameraman,” Pantoliano continues. “One thing I remember fondly is, we finished shooting, and we were staying in this motel, and I was driving the picture car, which was this pickup truck. Andy had 3,000 feet of film left, and he said, ‘I’ll just shoot you driving, on the way back to the motel,’ and I said, ‘Sure!’ I always like working with Andy. THE FINAL TERROR kind of didn’t exist for a while. We made it, I never heard of it again, and then with the advent of all these streaming services, it has become somewhat popular, 30 or 40 years later.”
One notable thing about THE FINAL TERROR for Pantoliano is that (SPOILER ALERT) “I played two characters: Eggar and his mother,” who turns out to be the killer stalking the group through the trees. “Eggar is trying to protect his mother, so he doesn’t want these kids to go into this area, because he knows they could be in danger and his mom could be found out.” The actor reveals that he played the murderous mom “in some cases; in others, it was Steve Altman, Robert Altman’s son, who was the prop guy and wound up becoming a very successful production designer. He did stunts on FINAL TERROR, like the one where Cindy Harrell falls out of the tree after she’s been murdered, into the boat. We had a great time working on that.”
Recently, Pantoliano has been devoting a good deal of his time to NO KIDDING? ME TOO!, a podcast he hosts with his daughter Daniella. “I’ve been an advocate for mental-health-related issues for a long time now, and we talk to high-profile people who have dealt with and come through and manage and regulate their particular brain styles.” And when it comes to future gigs, he says he’s not attracted to one particular kind of film over another. “It’s good parts in good pictures, and the people who are going to be involved. I’ve never really been attracted to genre specifically; it’s more the filmmakers I want to work with.”