BY SAM STONE
In the small town of Haddonfield, evil will rise again for the eagerly anticipated slasher sequel Halloween Kills. Young Tommy Doyle is no longer sitting on the sidelines when Michael Myers carves a new rampage through his hometown. Portrayed by fan-favorite actor Anthony Michael Hall, Tommy organizes the people of Haddonfield to track down and kill The Shape for good as the holiday carnage quickly and gruesomely escalates. For Hall, the opportunity to join a major franchise in such a prominent role was a genuine thrill, and he praised filmmaker David Gordon Green and the rest of the cast and crew for creating such a creatively rewarding environment.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Hall opened up about joining the Halloween franchise as Tommy and reflected on some of his biggest projects from his extensive career, including working with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight, Tim Burton on Edward Scissorhands and John Hughes on a number of classic films. He also teased his role in the upcoming Netflix original film Trigger Warning, where he appears opposite Jessica Alba.
CBR: If Halloween was about confronting and overcoming trauma, Halloween Kills is about trauma affecting an entire community, and your character is right at the heart of that. How was it getting the role of Tommy Doyle for this?
Anthony Michael Hall: Honestly, I was over the moon! The way that it happened was I have a great management company called Untitled Entertainment, and Mitch Mason and Jason Weinberg are my reps… They set this up and I requested to meet David [Gordon Green] from the outset of this. The reason why is I wanted to get a sense of his objectives and to get to know the guy and he was a great guy. I really enjoyed the meeting. That happened back in August 2019 and I was really happy to make that introduction and had a great time speaking with him, and I did my screen test after that.
We talked for about an hour and I got a good sense of how he worked and he couldn’t have been cooler, showing up in a Bob Seger t-shirt and knowing the bartender in hotel lobby bar on a first name basis; he’s just such a nice, affable guy, really easygoing and fun. We had a great talk for about an hour together, I thanked him and went about my way and did my screen test within a week after that and was just so excited when I got this part.
I had never been a part of a franchise, with the exception of The Dark Knight, where I had a really solid role but a small one. To be plugged into this universe is an amazing thing and I’m really pumped about it. What’s funny is, with the delay because of the pandemic, is that it gave me an extra year and I’m YouTube looking for inspiration and researching things and I’ve been plugging into all these reaction videos. Whether it was the test screenings from last year or people getting to see the trailers, I was avidly scouring the internet looking for input to see what people thought of the film. [laughs]
It’s a really unique and wonderful thing and huge to be a part of this. It means the world to me. I’ve never been a part of such a big film and one that is so highly anticipated by international audiences. The fact that there’s a real appetite and anticipation for the film makes it that much more fun because we all know what David did here. He did a phenomenal job and this film is really a thrill ride and I’m just over the moon about it because I know that we made a great film that is really audience-friendly in this context. [laughs]
This is a juicy part, Tommy is the exposed, raw nerve of the film and a lot of what happens in the movie is informed by what he does. How did you approach the role with that in mind?
Hall: Even if you’re playing the villain, you can’t villainize him in your mind. So one of the things I got from David immediately, though he didn’t use this word, was that Tommy was a hero fighting for good. I want to say this to put this in context, for all my fellow actors, he gives us the same arc. What this screenplay does from Scott Teems, Danny McBride and David is they effortlessly thread those characters from the original film to the 2018 version and [Halloween Kills] picks up whether the other one left off. I think that’s a really remarkable thing about David, particularly as a filmmaker because he does that so effortlessly. He reintroduces these characters and we all love them but, to be fair to my fellow actors, we all share that arc.
We go from being victims to being survivors, unifying and becoming fighters and we’re all countering this dark force, fighting for good. I never looked at it like we were trying to be some mindless mob — just the opposite: I think everyone is clear-cut in what they’re doing, unifying as friends and neighbors saying they’re not going to take this anymore. I think Haddonfield really embodies what Peter Finch said in Network about being sick and tired and not going to take it anymore and rise up and fight for good.
The pedigree behind Halloween Kills is impressive, with both John Carpenter as an executive producer along with Jamie Lee Curtis, who is front and center. How was it having that on set?
Hall: It was amazing! I never got to meet Mr. Carpenter and will hopefully meet him at the premiere, but our brilliant team leaders Jason Blum, Jamie Lee, David and Danny were able to join forces with Mr. Carpenter. He’s done this incredible, new soundtrack that also harkens back to the original. All the departments on the films, like cinematographer Michael Simmonds or Christopher Nelson, who created the mask, there’s a real sense of community on set. David and Danny have this core group of great men and women on their crew and many have worked with them for fifteen years on all their shows, so they have a real nice shorthand.
That’s what I plugged into immediately, enjoying that in those quiet moments, all these great, creative talents were with us: David, Danny, the cinematographer, camera and VFX and all these great actors I got to work with. Jamie Lee is awesome and has a great spirit about her, really caring for people, and it shines through when you work with her. Andi Matichak and Judy Greer are just natural, great actresses but also have a lot of charm interpersonally as was Kyle Richards. We had a great experience and it was a relatively short shoot at only about six weeks, shot back in September through October of 2019.
Since you invoked Batman, I have to ask: Your character in The Dark Knight gets to share screen time with both Batman and the Joker and how was it being on set with Heath Ledger while he was in his full getup as the Joker?
Hall: He was in the zone, he really was; he was brilliant. When I delve back into that in my memories, I asked Chris Nolan some questions — I’ve gotten to work with some great writer-directors like Tim Burton and John, and Chris Nolan is up there, as is David — one things Chris said was that right away he knew Christian Bale was the right guy for Batman. I’m a huge Christian Bale fan and I was a fan of Heath’s before going into this film.
I was very impressed to see his level of focus and concentration. Two points of inspiration for Heath as the Joker were Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols and Malcolm McDowell’s performance in A Clockwork Orange. In the film, when the Joker is in jail, the way Nolan shoots and positions it, with his head down and tilted with that thousand-mile stare, these details became something I was aware of even on days when I wasn’t on set.
I found it incredible to work with Nolan. He’s brilliant and there’d always be a small group of people following him around like he was the Pied Piper in between setups because he had such a grasp, technically, in his filmmaking, and such a great director with actors that he really carves out time to have those one-on-one conversations to really cultivate the character together. He was great to work with.
Watching Heath was inspiring, he was in the zone when we made this film and when I think back, Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors and I got to hang out with him along with Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal. We were all swept up in the fun of that. I felt that to greater extent with Halloween Kills because you’re a part of something that audiences love and adds a real energy to the crew and the work.
In talking about John Hughes, you got to work with him at the height of his ubiquity so early in your own career and on multiple projects. What were some of the biggest lessons you got from him with your career?
Hall: One of the things I’ve told almost everyone when I talk about John is the sense of collaboration and joy. He was laughing all the time and David does as well; I really have to draw parallels, not just because I’m promoting [Halloween Kills], but he really did remind me of Hughes in a lot of ways. The way John was, we were always conspiring together and we would shoot scenes as they were written for three or four takes and then digress and we would play and come up with stuff where I’d improv and we’d come up with plenty. He created an environment where that was okay and he did it for the other actors as well.
The joy that he would work with, always laughing and conspiring and in conversation with one of us behind-the-scenes between takes, figuring out ways to improve upon a scene, embellish and make it better and funnier. That would be my first takeaway with John. That’s a great thing that I learned, that idea that no matter how talented you think you are, it’s always a collaboration when you’re a film or TV show. It literally takes a village to make any good project, so I think that sense of working humility, where he was able to take ideas from everybody.
To draw that same line with David Gordon Green, he’s a natural writer and director and auteur and John had all those natural qualities that David had as well, that ability to be collaborative, genuinely care and be in discussion, not just with your crew but that it’s an ongoing relationship you’re cultivating with him.
You also just wrapped a really prominent part in the upcoming film Trigger Warning. Is there anything you can share about that?
Hall: I’ve worked with some female directors but not enough yet, to be honest. There’s a wonderful woman named Mouly Surya from Indonesia and she made a great film a couple years ago called Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, which is just an incredible film and very much inspired by [Clint] Eastwood and [Sergio] Leone, shot like a Western in the classic way.
This woman undergoes a harrowing experience and, like Kill Bill, she just starts kicking ass. [laughs] She’s a very talented filmmaker. It was great meeting her and she was kind enough to cast me in this film. The other great thing is we had Zoe White, who shot The Handmaid’s Tale, a really brilliant cinematographer and coupled with Thunder Road Pictures, which did the John Wick films. They have access to a stunt team called the 87eleven who are just phenomenal, they do all the stunts, fight work and planning.
I’ve never worked with a team that was so prepared and I’m excited about that film. Jessica [Alba] is amazing and I kind of play a villain, but Jessica is the hero and this a great opportunity and could be a franchise for her. I was really impressed by her. She was really nice and easygoing to work with and can go from effortlessly mothering her kids on set to taking care of stuff with her huge company and then flies right into direct these action sequences. She knows her stuff when it comes to kicking ass and wears multiple hats on set. We just finished filming that in Santa Fe and that was a lot of fun too.
When you’re taking on these more antagonistic roles and playing in horror, what is the appeal in getting to paint with the darker colors in the canvas of your performance?
Hall: When I was a kid, I loved Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken and all these great, iconic actors. Those guys were a big influence on me in particular because I noticed they seemed to have more fun playing villains. There’s something to be said about that, that it’s really a lot of fun when you’re playing a villain because you can extend yourself more and maybe take more chances.
That’s always something I’ve kept in the back of my mind when I’m playing a villain, because another thing that’s very important is remembering to show the humor, that’s also something I learned watching Nicholson and Walken. Sometimes that guy can be even better in a bad movie when he’s playing a villain because he can eat up the scenery. [laughs] You have to have a certain pleasure in playing a villain and want to see the villain have fun. Watching Heath, he was brilliant in that role in a darker performance.
With that in mind, how was it developing your more antagonistic character with Tim Burton for Edward Scissorhands, especially at a time when that was against type for you at that point in your career?
Hall: When I think back to that, I’ve worked with some great auteurs and he’s one of them, like Chris Nolan and David Gordon Green. When I met with Tim Burton for that film, I recall having a conversation with him in an office in Midtown in New York where I was from and he was really cool. The way he looked at me and sat in a chair, with one leg up, looking at me sideways because I had just come off those Hughes films where I was all kinds of scrawny. [laughs] But by then I was a bigger guy, over six feet tall and had worked out a bit and gained some natural weight and it was a very simple and easy transition.
He saw it as a funny thing that I was a sort of bully character in the film. I never asked him but I think he thought it was funny I could do a 180 from those John Hughes films, which I was happy to do! [laughs] Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp are also smaller in stature so I could tower over them a bit and I think that all contributed.
Just to close out, now that Halloween Kills is done and finally ready to open in theaters and on Peacock, what are you most excited about getting to share it with the world?
Hall: I’d like to quote David Gordon Green because I happened to text him a couple weeks back and I hadn’t spoken with him for awhile and he was already in Venice, Italy for the film festival and he goes, “I can’t wait to unleash this movie on the world” I have the same sentiment. The thing that was cool about the delay for this film was the buildup among the fans of this franchise, which at 43 years and counting is so massive and diehard and tell you about every timeline and mask from the eleven previous films. The fact that they’re waiting makes it really exciting because we know that we all contributed to David’s vision and he did such a phenomenal job.
It’s a thrill ride, I’m not overstating that, this movie a rollercoaster that just takes off and keeps going. The convergence of those two things makes it really exciting because I know people are going to love it, especially when you know there’s a hunger for it. I’m super pumped and excited and I’m just on Cloud 9!
Directed and co-written by David Gordon Green, Halloween Kills is in theaters now and streaming on Peacock.