Beyond The Jumpsuit of Dan Ellis - September 2009
Interview by: Preston

While he may not have very many films under his belt, Dan Ellis has managed to gather a large fan base from his portrayal of the twisted, foul-mouthed janitor in the movie "Gutterballs". This prolific underground-horror movie actor has worked on movies such as, "Monsturd" and "Retardead", and has recently finished two additional movies, "Hanger" and "Star Vehicle".

Why don't you give a small introduction to yourself, for the readers who maybe unfamiliar with you.
I guess I'm most known for my role of “The Janitor” in Ryan Nicholson's “Gutterballs”.

What made you decide to get into acting?
When I was about 6 my mother took me to see the original “Phantom of the Opera” and it scared the crap out of me but it also made me curious how he made himself look like that. When I was about 8 or 9 I started getting books on monsters, make-up and Lon Chaney from the library. I wanted to do monster make-up so I started reading more and getting kits from a local theatrical supply shops in my home town of Cincinnati. I'd make my friends and myself up like we had been beat up or shot and we'd run around acting like fools. Well, after doing this for a summer I decided that I enjoyed wearing the goo and acting like a maniac more than applying the make-up. Luckily there was a very good performing arts school, S.C.P.A. (School for Creative and Performing Arts) in Cincinnati and my mother took me to audition to get in. I was accepted and started the following year as a drama major and art minor. I jumped right in doing mostly theatre but also some commercial and TV movies that were cast locally.

So far, most of your movies have been horror films, is it safe to say you are a horror fan?
Totally safe! I am mostly a fan of horror films from the 30's & 40's but I love me some gore! As a little guy I watched the classics with my mother and we had our local TV horror host “The Kool Ghoul” who played lots of those movies as well as some lesser know B movies from the 50's & 60's. As I got older, movies like “Halloween”,“Friday the 13th” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” started to get my attention as well as any obscure or underground horror I could find. So doing what I do now is really a dream come true!

You mentioned enjoying both mainstream and underground horror movies, what are some of your personal favorites?
My list contains only originals, no re-makes, with the exception of John Carpenters “The Thing” that's not only a great film it's the best remake ever made as far as I'm concerned so, besides re-makes and the classics... American Psycho, TCM, Halloween I & II, Toxic Avenger, 2000 Maniacs, Basket Case, Near Dark, Return of the Living Dead, Evil Dead I & II, Friday the 13th parts I, II & III, Class of Nuk 'Em High, Motel Hell, Ichi the Killer and Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Now you'd think as often as you get asked this question the easier it would be to answer but it's quite the opposite my friend and I'm sure I missed some but I had to stop at some point. Some films you forget about only because it's been so long since you've seen them, but these are the ones that will always rise to the top for me.

How did it come about working on your first movie, "Monsturd"?
I lived in San Francisco for about 8 years before I moved to Vancouver and while I was there I managed production for a sign studio. I hired a guy named Dan Burr (the evil Dr. Stern) and we became good friends. He invited me to come hang out over at his friend Dan's house for some beers, so I went and that's when I met Dan West and Rick Popko. I mentioned that I had done some acting and they told me about a film they were making and asked if I wanted to be in it. I remember saying “Did you just say Monsturd?” and when that was confirmed the next thing I said was “Hell yeah! How can I say no to something called Monsturd!”.

You were also in the sequel, "Retardead", how was working on that in comparison to "Monsturd"? Also, would you like to work with Rick Popko and Dan West again?
That was a last minute thing. I was about to move to Vancouver and Dan and Rick told me that they wanted me to be in “Retardead” before I left. They sent me a couple pages of the script and we went out and shot some footage

but most of it didn't make it to the final cut because of some sound issues.

As far as working with them again... Of course! Those guys are awesome people and very good friends of mine.

I know you auditioned to be in "Gutterballs". How did you find out about the movie?
I think it might have been “Craigslist”. You can find anything on there ya know!

Did you know Ryan Nicholson before auditioning and working on the movie?
I had no idea who he was to be honest but after he told me I had the part in “Gutterballs” I started looking online for information on him. I remember finding his IMDB and thinking, “Holy shit! This guy has done tons of stuff!”. I knew at the very least that I was going to see some amazing effects first hand and I was not let down! He really surprised me on set, he was very cool, open to input and expressed what he wanted well. As an actor you really can't ask for more.

Without a doubt, your character, The Janitor, is a fan favorite. What was it like being that character?
I had so much fun with that character. Ryan kind of let me just do what felt right with him and so that made it very comfortable. I'd catch myself sometimes, on my own time, being the Janitor and just start laughing. He was really a lot of fun.

Is there any part of you that can be found in the character?
Oh yeah, there was quite a bit of me in there. He was a mix of my stepfather, a janitor that worked at one of the schools I went to and myself. Sometimes you play a role that is more like your alter ego than just a part and those are special even if he is a crazy, bitter and psychotic fella.

What are some of your favorite moments from the movie?
Honestly most of my favorites were the kill scenes. I was so charged before, during and after those scenes that most of the time I had to go outside and take a little walk just to settle down.

I remember at the audition when Ryan told me that he wanted me to do those scenes instead of having someone else wear the mask I almost soiled my slacks! The whole reason I wanted to be an actor was my interest in effects and how they were done, so the opportunity to see them behind the scenes like that was incredible.

The end scene was really a good one also, I had just returned from a memorial for one of my best friends in San Francisco and I found out another friend of mine was HIV positive so I had some issues that I tried to use to my advantage and just go berserk.

When it comes to the death scenes, which do you prefer, being killed or doing the killing?
Killing is more fun for me but it's cool to see the finished product when you get killed, It's pretty surreal. To be honest it really doesn't matter what I'm doing, I love making films and most of the time if you're doing the killing then the formula dictates that at some point your going to get it as well.

It doesn't seem to matter what I'm doing though if it's one of Ryan's films because he loves to spray me with as much blood as possible as often as he can, but as fucked up as it sounds, I like it!

I know a lot of people were excited for "Gutterballs" when it was still in production, but when it came out it definitely lost some of the fan base because it offended and shocked so many. What were your first thoughts when you finally saw the completed version of the movie?
The time between production wrap and the screening is the most frustrating time for an actor especially when you're working with a director for the first time because you have no idea what they are going to do with what you've given them. When I finally got to see the finished product I remember going up to Ryan and saying “Anytime you need me man, just say the word. I trust you”.

I knew the scenes before hand so I wasn't as shocked as most. Some people say the rape scene is too much and the foul language gets old but I think it had to be that way. It's a hardcore film and the subject matter is brutal so why go candy ass on any of the elements of the film? I always laugh when I read people complain about the content or that it's too offensive. Did they even read what the film was about?

You and Ryan have become good friends since the production, and everyone that I know who's met him has said he is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. But, what is it like to work with him during the making of a movie?
The same. He's a great guy on and off set and what ya see is what ya get. Some directors will be real “buddy buddy” with you before the shoot and when you get to set, all of a sudden they pull a “Jekyll and Hyde” on you, but not Ryan. He has always been very easy going and open to input or concerns and that is very important for a good director/actor relationship but if I approach him with some bullshit, he lets me know and I respect that.

The much anticipated "Hanger" is due out shortly. Tell us about the movie and your character in it?
Hmmm, let me see. Well "Hanger" is definitely something different and if "Gutterballs" rubbed people the wrong way then Hanger is going to scar them badly! This movie is so crazy and the stuff Ryan pulls off is just farking nutz!

It's the story of a prostitute named “Rose” (Debbie Rochon) who gets pregnant and her pimp decides to take matters into his own hands so to speak. Well, the aborted fetus is thrown in a dumpster only to be rescued by an old bum who raises the boy even though he is horribly disfigured due to the botched abortion. When he reaches his 18th birthday he gets involved with “The John” (played by me) a former client of “Rose” who wants to get the pimp also, so they team up for a little revenge Plotdigger style!

“The John” is an retired Navy man, doesn't take shit off anybody and has no problem with “taking out the trash”.

As you mentioned, everyone's favorite Scream Queen Debbie Rochon has a role in "Hanger", did you get to do any scenes with her?
Yeah we did and let me say, Debbie is such a down to earth lady, a real class act! She was so much fun to work with and that always reads well for the scene. Besides being extremely talented she is really an awesome person to just hang out with.

Was working on "Hanger" different than "Gutterballs"?
I had to sit in make-up for about 45 minutes every night for "GB", but for "Hanger" it was almost two hours and we only had one location for "GB".

We went from the nice "bowling alley to this little motel in Surrey BC that was home to multiple psych patients, prostitutes and some other unsavory types. Needless to say it was not a five star motel but it was a critical element to the film and you really want that type of location to help sell what a fucked up world the characters live in. "GB" was all interior but we filmed "Hanger" in the middle of winter, mostly at night and a lot of exterior scenes so we all froze our kibbles 'n bits off!

You also just finished wrapping up on another Nicholson movie, "Star Vehicle". Anything you want to tell us about that?
I'll give you the short synopsis:

“Star Vehicle" tells the tale of a frustrated Teamster driver Don Cardini (played by me), abused by spoiled stars and arrogant students, who becomes a ticking time-bomb of revenge. As Don goes on the rampage, his favorite scream queen finds herself up for a new role in the greatest gore-fest of all — real life.”

I think that "Star Vehicle" is really going to make a lot of people happy. I really wanted to write more here but I think you'll just have to watch it.

From your characters in "Gutterballs", "Hanger", and "Star Vehicle", which has been your favorite?
The Janitor, without a doubt, I loved playing that guy.

Given the chance, who would you absolutely love to work with, whether it be director, actor/actress, or other? Your dream job if you will.
Man that's tough, there are so many great actors and directors doing some incredible stuff right now but as far as directors go I'd love to work with David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Milos Forman, Martin Scorsese, The Coen brothers, Rob Reiner and Guillermo del Toro. I think it would be really fun to do voice work on one Tim Burton's animated projects, his films are a favorite around the house.

Okay, here's the deal, I don't think its a fair question because it's driving me crazy trying to figure out the best way to answer. There are a ton of actors I respect but hell man, they might be huge jerks and then I'll have to e-mail you to change my list right? Ha ha ha! Seriously though I want to work with anyone as long as they are serious about what they are doing but have fun doing it, if that makes any sense.

There is nothing I'd rather be doing so, regardless of who's attached, every time I do a project, it's my dream job.

Do you have any desire to go from being in front of the camera to behind it?
Sure, why not? I have a couple scripts I'm working on and someday I'd love to direct them but for now I love the side I'm on. I doubt I would ever switch permanently, if I ever were to direct, it's just way too much fun acting!

Well that about wraps up the questions. Anything else you would like to say or any final thoughts you have?
I just want to say thank you to Film Bizarro for being so supportive of our films and letting me hang out for a bit, it was fun. It's really cool that there are sites like this out there helping spread the word about the indie film scene and all the cool stuff being done.

Check out Dan Ellis on IMDb.
Information on "Gutterballs", "Hanger" and "Star Vehicle" can be found here.


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