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Men In The Monster: Matthew Ninaber & Steven Vlahos On Playing “Psycho Goreman”

Thursday, January 21, 2021 | Interviews


When writer/director Steven Kostanski (The Void) struck out to find a skilled actor to play the hulking alien baddie in his wild new creature feature comedy, PSYCHO GOREMAN (“PG for short!”) he found two! Voiced by Steven Vlahos (Good Night, Sleep Tight) and embodied by Matthew Ninaber (Transference), breathing life into PG turned out to be two-man job, and both actors became an essential part of giving the character the gravitas and comic timing befitting a genocidal galactic overlord enslaved by a precocious tween (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her harried big brother (Owen Myre). Rue Morgue got to chat with both actors about the trials, tribulations, and pleasures of bringing this larger than life character to the screen.

Steve, can you tell us how you landed your role as PG’s voice?

So, I originally auditioned for the part of Psycho Goreman back in 2018, just as the entire character, because it wasn’t originally split into body-voice. They were just looking for someone to play [him], so I taped the audition just like everyone else. There was a part where they wanted us to demonstrate in our audition tapes that we could be physical or had some combat training. They wanted to see how we moved because, you know, PG is so physical in the movie. My audition tapes consisted of me doing [a] scene, and then two minutes of me boxing in my parents’ backyard. I got a callback, met Steve [Kostanski], and we gelled well.  He told me that he really loved my interpretation of the character, but he and myself were both kind of wondering if I was what they were looking for physically.

I kind of left there with high hopes, but obviously didn’t hear back for a little bit, [and] was pretty bummed out. I was thinking, “Man, if there was a world where they would let me voice this guy, that would be incredible.” Then, a year later, they had shot the movie and got ahold of my agent and were like, “We want Steven to voice PG. Is he interested?” I just jumped into the recording booth and we did her up!

That’s awesome. I had no idea it was a Darth Vader situation.

Yeah! I definitely thought of it the same way.

What was it about your voice that you think they were drawn to for the character?

Well, there’s definitely a quality to even just my normal speaking voice that has a bit of a rasp and maybe a growl to it,  and there were character references that Steve was mentioning – like Venom from Spider-Man and Molasar from The Keep. And I would think about other characters, like Megatron. Just that kind of big, heightened speaking, monstrous kind of character. Before I recorded my audition tape, the first thing I did was craft his voice. I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to do this audition and just walk on camera and be like, ‘Is that fear I smell?’ There’s no way I’m going to do that without crafting a voice first.

Was this your first time doing actual voice work?

Yeah. Psycho Goreman was my first real voice job I had done. I’m a voice actor and I’ve auditioned for things before in the past, obviously, [but] it’s so funny that I landed my first real voice gig through an on-camera audition. The thing is – as you mentioned, the Darth Vader situation – the real difference there was that it wasn’t typical VO, right? It was an ADR session. Unlike Darth Vader where you have Dave Prowse, the actor that plays Darth’s body…he had a helmet on, right? So, James Earl Jones was kind of free to play with the lines as much as he wanted whereas, in the parts where you can see PG’s mouth moving from beginning to end, I had to match his lips. I just had to match Matt’s mouth as he’s speaking, which posed some challenges. But there’s lots of room to play within that still, so it was a fun challenge.

How do you go about preparing for a voice job like this?

Steve sent me a scratch cut of the movie, because I’d never seen the entire thing. My mind was blown in the best way because it was not what I thought it was going to be. I thought it would be geared more towards kids…it is, but it’s also so not. I just kind of went on that ride and [thought] on what his voice should be – watching it over and over again and working out what I thought certain moments would look like. And then collaborating with Steve in the actual booth.

How long did the recording process take?

We banged it all out in two days! It went really smoothly, I guess because I’d done that work beforehand. Also, Steve was very clear with his direction and he knew what he wanted for certain moments. And then, for other moments where he was like, “Let’s see what you’ve got. Just play with something,” he might like what I did. He might ask me to do it a different way. He might have said, “Hey, I actually liked the way that was before this. So, let’s maybe try to match that.” So, there were lots of levels there, but it was a very fun, very smooth process.

Was your voice altered in any way?

Oh, for sure. Even from trailer to trailer, it seems like there were slightly different alterations. There are obviously some filters and things added to kind of make him sound a little otherworldly, but you definitely hear me coming through still. A lot of the growl, the bass-iness, is very much me.

Are you a horror fan? Did you draw from any personal favorite performances for the role?

I’m terrified of very scary movies. Gore doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but you throw a little girl ghost in the movie and I’ll close my eyes [until] the commercial. So, I wouldn’t say that my inspiration came so much from other horror movies, I would say it came more from evil villains in kids’ cartoons, which I think works for the style of the movie.

You obviously didn’t get the on-set experience, but have you been able to connect with the cast since? Or has COVID-19 kind of put the kibosh on that?

Not at all. It’s very strange because I feel a connection to all these people, [but] I’m convinced that half of them don’t even know I exist. It’s really funny. There was the premiere in Toronto, right before COVID hit, but everything was all happening so quick, and then, next thing you know, it’s over. There were no restrictions in place, but also people kind of knew that there was this looming thing that was coming in. By then, SXSW, where the film was originally supposed to premiere in the U.S., was canceled. There was this weird energy in the air, so everyone was like, “Go see the movie, then get lost.” So, yeah, I haven’t really been able to connect with any of the cast at all in this time.

What do you hope audiences take away from Psycho Goreman?

Honestly, it’s just a fun ride. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s no moral to the story. If you’re a little older, and you grew up watching ’80s horror flicks, then this is absolutely for you, and you’re going to love it. If you have the sense of humor of the general millennials that exist now, then this absolutely for you. You’re going to love it. And, if you’re a child with really cool parents who will let you watch this, then you’re really going to love it. I love the movie. I think it’s super ridiculous in the best possible way. I’m really stoked for it to come out.

Matthew, tell us a bit about how you got involved with this project?

Like so many other people’s stories, I got a call from an agent saying, “Steve’s making this really cool horror-comedy,” and that there was a chance I could be the villain, and I just did whatever I needed to do to make sure that I could steal the role! To be honest, though, I’m pretty sure everybody else knew what it was like to be in a monster suit, and I was the sucker who was just naïve and gung-ho. [Laughs] “Get this guy. He doesn’t know better.”

What was the audition process like?

They did all the lines, so I gave them a range, and I went full out [when] they wanted to see the movement, the physicality. I sent them multiple angles, probably more than anybody else did, and I just kept on hounding them. I was a big fan of Steve’s work, so [I did] whatever I had to do to be part of this, and then [I got] the call. He was like, “Hey, come to my apartment,” and the producers were there. He asked, “So who is your favorite villain of all time?” And I froze. I’m like, “I need to pick something. Everything’s riding on this.” I just blanked and out of nowhere I said, “The Phantom of the Opera.” And after I said it, I’m like, “Why did I pick the Phantom of the Opera? That is the dumbest choice ever.” And then he said, “Okay, explain it to me,” so I just went full steam ahead [about how] I think it’s a misunderstood character and, really, all he wants is love. I’m pretty sure Steve was just so desperate for someone to get in a monster suit, I could have said anything, and he’d be like, “Good. Fine. You got it.” [Laughs]

You do bring so much presence to the character. Steven Vlahos voices PG, but what you bring physically is so integral as well. How did you prepare for the role?

I asked Steve [Kostanski], “How do you see this guy, what do you like?” and we just kind of went back and forth. At the beginning of the movie, it’s pretty theatrical – he’s pretty big – but then by the middle, he’s kind of like a beaten-down old dog who’s just being dragged along by the real monster of the movie, [Nita-Josee Hanna’s “Mimi”]. You can just see his energy shift as he goes from the destroyer of worlds to being a slave to a little child and that comes full circle back when you see him in his final form at the end. [We] really wanted to make sure that we had that arc.

Were there any favorite performances that you turned to for inspiration?

Being in the suit is very different than acting regularly, so I watched a lot of creature films. I went back to Hellboy, Lord of the Rings…just watched other actors, what their emotions looked like, trying to settle where I was going to be, because you really have to act huge in the suit for something to come out. Any subtle movements don’t show as much, so what I’m doing under the mask is a lot more than what was showing up. Like, I’m scrunching my face just to get a little bit of a disappointed look. It was hours of wearing the mask just to figure [it] out.

Give us the gory details about the makeup and prosthetics process. I’m sure it was pretty brutal?

Oh, my gosh, yeah. Again, like I said, I was a sucker who just didn’t know better. I was so excited and Steve warned me, “I just want you to know it’s so much fun for the first five minutes, and then all of a sudden people just have panic attacks and start freaking out.” Actually, I went into sleeping bags and wrapped myself up just to prepare, because I’m not going to be the guy that just says, “I can’t do this.” He told me horror story after horror story.

Getting into the makeup…it takes about three hours the first time and then about an hour-and-a-half every [subsequent] time, and it was thirty days of filming. By the time we were done filming this movie, I [was] just raw: it was just ripped-up all across my chest, all across my back, my thighs, everything was just blistering. Some of the misery of PG [as a character] is just me being miserable. [Laughs] But you forget about the pain. Steve’s asked me, “Do you want to get back in the suit?” If the story’s there, I’d get back in the suit because I’ve really fallen in love with PG, but I had two requests: I need a pee flap and I need a butt flap. Because it’s sixteen hours and I can’t go pee or I can’t use the washroom and that’s just…I don’t know if I could do that again.

How do you even handle that? It must be torture.

[You’re] dehydrated, you have a headache. I just gave up eating throughout this movie. As soon as I got out of the suit, I’d eat one meal a day. I’d eat as much as I could, and then I would get as much sleep as possible to get back into the suit. It’s a workout being in that thing. I had a big mishap: day three someone gave me water or something. I don’t what happened. They think [it was] heat exhaustion, but I’m pretty sure someone gave me some nasty water or whatever, but I looked at Steve. We’re halfway through the day, and I’m like, “I’m not trying to be a drama guy, but I think I’m going to crap this suit.” [Laughs] So, it was ripping me out of the suit and throwing me into a stall. I am telling you, any sense of privacy or shame…I just started laughing and everyone on-set started because that’s all you can do!

Aside from PG, of course, Nita-Josee Hanna is the real star of the film. What was it like working with she and Owen Myre, and had you ever worked with actors that young?

I have worked with actors that young, but not like this – not to this extent and not with this dynamic. First of all, Nita just came and I didn’t even know her real name, she just referred herself as [her character] “Mimi.” From day one, she was in character and who she was onscreen is who she was offscreen. Owen would hide around the set to get away from Nita because she was legit a bully! [Laughs]

But both of them came so prepared. They knew their lines, they knew my lines, they knew everybody’s lines, they knew the stage direction. If I ever needed to know what was going on, I could just ask them. They knew more than the crew did. It actually blew me away how seriously they took it bringing those characters to life.

I know you have some stunt credits. Were you able to bring any of that ability to bear?

Yeah, I did all the choreography myself. Luckily I was already wearing foam, so I mean, the falls, [getting] kicked in the head a couple times, the one forest fight scene…I have an inch of foam on my head, so it was like, “I didn’t feel that, let’s keep going!” I think PG for the most part just gets beat up in this movie, so if I’m doing the sequel, I want more of him destroying galaxies.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

We’re going through some crazy times, and this is a great movie to laugh, have a great escape, and get inside of Steve’s crazy mind. I’m telling you this is a trip. There isn’t a lot like this, It’s really something else, and I’m very proud of what Steve did. I think he’s very excited to share it with the world.

RLJE Films will release the Horror/Comedy PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on January 22, 2021.

Rocco T. Thompson
Rue Morgue's Online Managing Editor, Rocco is a Rondo-nominated writer, critic, film journalist, and avid devotee of all things weird and outrageous. He penned the cover story for Rue Morgue's landmark July/Aug 2019 "Queer Fear" Special Issue, and is a regular contributor to Screen Rant, Slant Magazine, and other cinema-centric publications.