By: Dr. Michelle Conty
Award winning actor, writer,
and director Lukas Hassel took time out of his film promotion schedule to talk
to Horrorhound about art, film, and what’s next on his very bright
horizon. The Danish bore film star came
to the United States after graduating from the Samuel Beckett Theatre School at
Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He
moved to New York City, where he was cast in an HBO short film called, Man
About Town, which won the Short Film Making Award at Sundance in 1997.
Hassel has been traveling around
the world promoting his films – The Son, The Father, where he was writer,
director, and actor, as well as The Black Room, where he stared opposite
Natasha Henstridge and Lin Shaye.
HH: What brought you into
horror? Were you a monster kid, watching the Creature Features and Horror
Hosts? Or did you come into horror another way?
LH: “So, when people ask me
what I do, rather than go to “I’m an actor, writer and filmmaker”, I like to
say that I’m someone who likes to ask the questions many shy away from. I
explore the far reaches of the human condition in my work, and of course, many
of the corners I find, lend themselves to horror. So, in short, I’m not into
horror for the sake of gore or scares, but for leaning into the dark. That can
then be any genre – sci-fi, drama and even comedy.”
HH: You have put in the hard
work and determination to build your career to where you are often in the
spotlight, in film and television as well as off screen – at film festivals,
conventions, etc… Please tell us about confidence, both in yourself and in your
characters those you write and those you portray in your work.
LH: “Confidence is important,
in general. Often the roles I book at castings are from the days I feel
confident about myself. I’m not too occupied about what others think in the
room. Acting is the confidence to go places where it may not be comfortable to
be and trust that it has worth. Writing characters, exploring where their level
of confidence is, can be a huge clue to how such a character would exist in the
world I have created around him or her.”
HH: What are your thoughts on
make-up and special effects?
LH: “In general, I think less
is more. On TV, I find most of the actresses over-done. Nothing about being a
detective would suggest you should have a sheen over your lips or perfectly
positioned hair. Now for special effects makeup, it’s obviously different. I
had special effects makeup in “The Son, the Father…” and I was eager to make it
the best makeup job possible. I got
lucky and my production team secured incredible makeup talent in Lauren Young
and Abby Hartung.”
HH: Let’s talk about scheduling. How do you make time for everything? How do you determine how much time something
LH: “Passion takes
commitment. Family and friends find their way into my schedule, and it’s a
balance. I’m a big believer in
priorities, and having a life outside of career is key. Life is too short to be
just about moviemaking or writing or acting. Stop and smell the roses. Enjoy
yourself with the people you love, but work hard with the time you have at
making your life as full as possible.”
HH: Your travel schedule is impressive. Do you still have a day job?
LH: “Thankfully, I can fully dedicate myself to
this business. Strange as it seems, the only time I feel like I’m compromising
myself in terms of work, is when I do co star jobs on TV shows. It’s high
intensity, high pressure acting, but not particularly satisfying. No rehearsal,
usually no collaboration, as opposed to indie filmmaking. If there is little
money involved (read: indie film) it better be exciting for an actor to bite
into, and collaboration is everything. TV provides good money and helps raise
my profile in the indie world, but it’s not the kind of acting I’m interested in.”
HH: How do you handle
naysayers and haters? Because come on,
sometimes that shit hurts.
LH: “I got into this business
as a 19-year-old (started in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland) and I faced
rejection pretty quickly. I had a choice; do I embrace this lifestyle that has
no promise of the villa, the car, the comfort of a 9-5 job and take on the
constant casting process all creative endeavors demand? For me it was worth it
then, and now decades later, it still seems worth it. If I continue to improve
my skill set and move in an upward trajectory, I’m happy. Naysayers and haters
are everywhere, and so it goes. No one promised me it would be easy.”
HH: How do you handle the bad days, the days when
you don’t feel brave or you just don’t have any energy?
LH: “Staying focused on the
work, knowing you have people in your life who believe in you and even love
you, help in the moments of doubt. A filmmaker colleague, whom I have high
regards for, recently wrote me a message saying: “I’m at a loss, feel awful
about where I’m at right now.” And I loved his honesty, because we’ve all been
there. I wrote back and thanked him for reaching out. We vented back and forth,
and at the end of the day, it felt great to know that neither one of us were
out in the artistic/scary trenches by ourselves.”
HH: When did you start to write your own pieces
LH: “I started to write to
take some of the power back that I’d been handing over in casting offices for
eons. Doing an audition, walking out crossing my fingers I had the part, but
essentially powerless in the final outcome. I thought writing an amazing script
would give me power, control of my own fate. I was sort of wrong. I realized
quickly, that even with a great script, if it’s expensive to make, you still
need people to finance it. So, REAL power, real control, is to write a great
script you can make with the people you have access to with a budget that’s
HH: How did you get started
in film? - When did you make the transition from front of the camera to writing
and directing. Discuss the different roles you have in film and how you balance
LH: “I had a script that
placed top 30 in Nicholl’s Fellowship and won me the Cinestory Fellowship which
gave me a lot of attention, but when I brought up the notion that I wanted to
direct the script myself, producers where like: “Well, cool, but what have you
directed before?” The answer was I hadn’t. So, I realized then that I had to
put in the hard work and write and direct a short film to give myself the
opportunity to be taken seriously enough to direct my own feature down the
road. I created the sci-fi short “Into the Dark” which went on to do really
well on the festival circuit, screening in over 70 fests picking up multiple
awards. I was happy to discover I really had a voice and a point of view, not
just as an actor, but as a writer and director – something I couldn’t have
known until I tried it.
Acting in projects I also
direct is tricky. I had to give it a lot of thought and come up with a plan of
how to do it. In short, preparation. Never enter a scene as an actor until I
was confident the director role was not present in my head. Being in the moment.
However, knowing my own strengths and weaknesses as an actor, I could
circumvent that environment very well and help myself be a better actor by the situation
I had created. So, directing myself was an easy process. Directing others in a
scene where I also acted was harder. I had to rely on the rehearsal process
before shooting, and then use playback and input from my AD or DP on any given
HH: - How can we, in horror and in film, increase diversity? What does
diversity mean for you?
LH: Diversity is incredibly
important. However, I don’t write stuff for diversity’s sake. I write to
explore a particular theme. If I can use gender, race or sexual orientation
diversity within that framework, wonderful. If not, then I won’t. As it turns
out, I’m often drawn to injustice which is a something that seems to go hand
–in-hand with diversity. So much of my work would involve gay characters, or
other minorities. In my new script, Silhouette, my first horror script, the
protagonist is a mature disabled woman.”
HH: How do you stay true to
yourself in a ‘plastic fantastic world.’
LH: I’m pretty pragmatic and
in general don’t find myself with concerns about being true to myself. I’m
proud of who I am and I’m happy to share my opinions well knowing other may disagree.
Such is the world. Just because I feel strongly about something, doesn’t mean
I’m right. That’s fine. As a gay man, I have gotten a lot better over the years
to stand up for myself and recognize that the society is very hetero biased,
and be aware of when I myself am buying into the stereotypes we are fed daily.
Thankfully I operate in a world where most artists are explorative, open and
HH: How do you keep yourself – both ego and
self-esteem – in check?
LH: Ego versus healthy self-esteem is a balance
only kept in check by constant self-evaluation.
Every morning when I woke up to handle a crew of 35 on the set of my new
short film “The Son, the Father…” my mantra was: Be pleasant. Be present.
No one likes a know it all.
Humility is key. Knowing no one is better than me, or worse. We all have a journey. Being mindful is
something I value in myself and others. I can spot ego a mile away and usually
I stay clear. In filmmaking, a healthy dose of critical eye is a great thing.
Our business of full of self-deluding, something that prevents growth.”
HH: What are your thoughts on feedback, constructive criticism, and making yourself better?
LH: “Born and raised in
Denmark have given me the ability to view things without sentimentality. For
better and worse. Some people would find me obnoxious probably because I’m ubber-pragmatic.
If you ask for feedback on something, you’ll get it both good and bad. I’m not
a mindless back patter – it’ll be okay- type of guy. I prefer to face the
issues head on and find a way to solve them. I prefer the truth over kindness.
In American culture, people are a bit more careful about honest feedback -
which is actually really sweet, just not very helpful.”
HH: How does being
‘international’ relate to your film career in the United States?
LH: “Well, my acting roles on
TV have usually come from my background being European. I’m seen as the
“international male”. On Limitless, I was a German (although I managed to avoid
the cliche accent), on Elementary I was a Dutch guy (dialect coach and all)
etc. My American accent is decent with a
script, but I obviously still have remnants of my Danish in there.”
HH: Do you see living in a
conservative or liberal part of the country effecting the roles you take or the
movies you write?
LH: “The conservatism in this
country fuels my need to get stories out there that shows a different way of
looking at life. I try to change the world in my own small way by what I write
and choose to direct. The biggest thing I think we need to resist as humans is
the notion that the behavior of the individual doesn’t matter. We each MUST
take responsibility for our own actions and not blame some God or writing for
being a shitty person. Worship no one.”
HH: Social commentary in film
has been a major part of both drama and horror.
What are your thoughts and experiences on integrating social/societal
issues and film?
LH: “The only challenge I
gave myself before starting to write my new horror script “Silhouette” was to
see if it was possible to write a horror film that had something to say beyond
the scares. Could I write something that had something to say about the social
makeup of our communities today. I think I succeeded. The script is just now
making the rounds, and we’ll see what happens. Definitely my most commercial
script thus far.”
HH: How do you decide what
equipment to purchase and use: cameras,
software, hardware, etc…?
LH: “I’m not a production
house. I’m content to align myself with people who understand that part of the
industry better than me. I know what I want out of my material, and will
communicate that with my production team. Then together, presented with the
options at hand, we will forge the best way forward. In the case of “The Son, the Father…” getting
connected with exec producer Ben Andrews, as well as Lorraine Montez from Evil
Slave productions in Seattle was amazingly fortunate. These are people I can
see myself working with for years to come.”
HH: What are your tips and
tricks on mixing sound, editing, music, and lighting?
LH: “ I write with edits in
mind. So, although I’m happy to work with excellent editors, I will always want
to stay true to my script and have a hand in the post production. Being in the
room with editing, color correcting and even sound. It’s not always possible.
However, finding the people with whom there’s trust and mutual respect is half
the battle. Music is the hardest aspect for me. It’s probably the only part of
filmmaking where I don’t have strong sensibilities. So, I tend to shy away from
having an actual score as opposed to a soundscape. With Dave Salierno on my
sci-fi short “Into the Dark” I got spoiled. A master sound engineer and artist,
he produced stuff far above what I could have come up with myself. These are
people I’d like to work with again and again.”
HH: How do you network to
find these great people to collaborate with?
LH: “Film festivals are hamster
wheels, sure, I get that, ever churning. On the flip side, they are also
incredible tools for networking and meeting interesting hard working artists. I
never know where magic might happen, and so stumbling across a collaborator in
Muskogee, OK (Bare Bones Film Festival) or Austin, TX at Austin Revolution Film
Festival or anywhere else for that matter, is gold. Connections are key. Good
people are key. Visionaries are key.”
HH: What are your thoughts on
marketing, VOD, and user-created-content?
LH: I have only made short
films thus far, and so VOD is not a major concern. I didn’t make my short film
with money in mind. It was a calling card, and practice. Now, when I’m ready to take on a feature
film, the game changes. It’s too much work, too much money, to just sit back
and not have bigger plans, monetary and otherwise. So, VOD is important.
Building up connections leading to distributing meetings are important for
Marketing is money. Anyone
can post on Facebook these days, and the ship has sailed in terms of that doing
much in the way of PR. A distributor can help getting the film out there.”
HH: Have you used any
LH: “Never used it. Don’t
mind others using it, so long as they have put all they could afford themselves
in first, and only then reach out. People who ask for money without putting in
the hard work first are a turn off.”
HH: What are your thoughts on
LH: “It is more important
that I’d like it to be. The Kardasians have a lot to answer for, essentially
creating a generation who think posting butt shots will make a career. That
said, the importance of a presence in social media can’t be overlooked.
However, it won’t cover up a bad script, and so the initial approach should
always be let’s make the best possible product I can make, and then have social
media aid in getting the message out – as opposed to, let’s create a cool
poster of the film that will sell a lot of tickets once I get around to
thinking up a story and writing a compelling story.”
HH: - Are you concerned about having any of your stories or characters
LH: “There’s always
that danger. Some jerk without talent will try to further their own career
based on some of your work. However, that’s life. That shouldn’t hold you back
to the extent that you won’t share your work for feedback out of fear that
someone will rip you off. You will end up hurting your own creative
development. At the end of the day, trust in your fellow humans and let the
chips fall where they may.”