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INTERVIEW: Filmmaker and Actor Miles Doleac On His Latest Film ‘Demons’

Miles Doleac is an actor, writer, and director whose latest film Demons arrives in October. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about the movie and his career in the industry.

DAVID: Hello and thanks for talking with us. I’d like to start right off with you. Could you share some background about yourself? 

Miles Doleac: That’s a big question. Shall we begin like David Copperfield … I am born … I grow up? Sorry, couldn’t resist. I was born in Hattiesburg, MS, and became infatuated with movies from a very young age. I was fortunate to be afforded opportunities to perform growing up, went to a high school (Hattiesburg High) that had a fantastic drama program … all of this in the deepest part of the Deep South. The arts are so important for kids I think. They certainly were for me. I attended and graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts, and worked with some amazing folks there, especially the incomparable Bob Francesconi (his mask classes were game-changers), moved to New York, thereafter, where I got my AFTRA card via an appearance on a soap and did some pretty cool WAY off-Broadway theatre, then out to L.A., where I scored the occasional middling acting gig, but mostly worked in food service. The closest I got to the big time was catering the Governor’s Ball of the Academy Awards and serving pizza to Tom Hanks‘ children. It was there that I met a History professor from UCLA, Scott Bartchy, and decided to take some courses with him through UCLA’s extension program. I had been told back in college in North Carolina that, if I ever found anything I loved other than acting, I should do that. The entertainment business is, after all, very, very hard, and fraught with rejection and constant disappointment, but, if it’s who you are … if it’s what you must do … you do it. You have to do it. I came to love the history of the ancient world, working with Dr. Bartchy out in L.A. Ultimately, that journey led me to Tulane University in the great city of New Orleans, where I got a PhD in Ancient History. I was there as Louisiana’s production scene exploded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Opportunities to act began to present themselves. I was able to work with some wonderful folks, especially indie filmmakers, who really inspired me. I decided I needed to be making my own films … creating my own opportunities, my own characters. I married the two worlds I was straddling at the time in my first feature, THE HISTORIAN. And I was so lucky on that film to work with the likes of William Sadler and John Cullum, brilliant, veteran talents, from whom I learned so much about acting and directing. From there, I was off and running. I’ve directed two more features and short since then, and appeared as an actor in numerous films and television shows. It’s been a long, strange, circuitous, difficult, and wonderful journey from there to here. And I’m excited about the possibilities for the future.

You’re a very busy man with several films in post production and coming soon, but let’s talk about the latest, a horror film called Demons, releasing this October. What’s it about? 

A botched exorcism in rural Louisiana results in the death of a young girl. The disillusioned priest who was tasked with performing the exorcism leaves the Church and marries the older sister of the victim. Fast-forward almost a decade, the two appear to be the picture-perfect couple. He’s a successful novelist. They have a beautiful daughter. They own a gorgeous bed and breakfast in Savannah, Georgia. They’re hosting the wedding of an old friend. But something’s off. The ghost of the sister who died all those years ago keeps popping up and things begin to unravel. We played with time in this one, so we’re flipping back and forth from past to present, peeling back the layers of the onion slowly but surely, hopefully bringing the audience along on a compelling and challenging ride. 

RELATED: Our review of Miles Doleac‘s psychological horror film Demons

You are the film’s writer and director, and one of the stars. That’s a lot of hats. Let’s start with writer. What made you interested in writing about horror? 

First and foremost, it’s the single-most marketable, narrative genre. As an indie filmmaker, the next movie is never guaranteed. You have to try to make your investors’ some money or they’re going to stop investing. I suppose it was just expedient in that way. I do like the genre, though, certainly when it truly explores human psychology, and The Exorcist is a film that I’ve always admired. The presence of religion in horror films certainly interests me, especially as a student of ancient religion. So, I had written this synopsis with an exorcism element and it was getting some interest from some important folks in the industry. I knew I needed to pound out a script ASAP, because people were starting to ask for one. I did. It was an interesting exercise being on a kind of timeline like that. I hadn’t had that with my other films. In some ways, this is my favorite script that I’ve written, because I sat down and just said to myself, ‘I gotta get this done’, so I didn’t second-guess or overthink it too much.

What are some of the larger challenges of directing yourself, considering you have a large part in the film?  

Finding the time to watch playback for the scenes you’re in. That’s the big one. On an indie schedule, sometimes, that just can’t happen. You have to surround yourself with talented people, whom you trust … people who will shoot straight with you. You have to be willing to relinquish a bit of control and look to them and say, ‘Do we have it?’ If they answer in the affirmative, you move on and hope you agree when you get in the editing room.

Let me throw a curveball at you. What’s the most fun you had in making Demons? Was it more in front of or behind the camera?

I loved this cast. Loved working with them as a scene partner. Steven Brand, Andrew Divoff, John Schneider, Gary Grubbs, Kristina Emerson, Jessica Harthcock … and, of course, my partner in art, life, and dog rescuing, Lindsay Anne Williams. We were on such a tight schedule for this one. We had less money than I’d ever had before on a feature and, yet, these folks were totally game and upbeat the whole time, even during the most grueling scenes. We were shooting in December, and even in Mississippi, it can get pretty cold. I vividly remember one evening I felt compelled to apologize to Steven for the schedule and the elements, given that he’s used to working on much bigger stuff. He smiles at me and says, “I’m just a foot soldier, my friend. No apology necessary.” And that was the general attitude of all this cast. Just game for anything. I really enjoyed working so closely with Lindsay as an actor. This is a very impassioned, intimate relationship that Colin and Kayleigh have. It was a great joy exploring that with her.

The horror genre is pretty crowded, not too mention the exorcism subgenre. Was this a concern for you and were there efforts throughout to try and avoid the tropes?  

Not really. I think you have to just go for it. It’s a tricky dance. Sure, you don’t want to seem derivative, but, at the same time, horror fans will be looking for some of those tropes. You can get too cute or too worried about not being original enough and that can lead to compromised creative decisions. I think we succeeded in delivering on most horror (or at least psychological thriller) expectations, while bringing a new wrinkle to the exorcism subgenre.

I’ve seen the film (review here) and liked the strong female characters, including Lara (played by Kristina Emerson) who is pretty comfortable with herself. Was keeping the women empowered something you and the filmmakers worked to maintain? 

I love the women in this film and, yes, it’s very important to me to provide powerful, complicated, fully-fleshed out roles for women. We all know there aren’t enough of them. I’m proud to say this is my most female-forward film to date. I knew that it would take a special kind of actress to embody “Lara”. She defies typical expectations of female power and sexuality and Kristina delivered brilliantly. 

Speaking of the cast, you were able to get, as mentioned, Gary Grubbs and John Schneider. Were you involved in casting and how was it working with these veterans? 

Yep. I hand-picked them. And they were stellar. Gary and I are both from Hattiesburg, MS, and we’ve been wanting to work together for a while now, but our schedules just never lined up. It was great finally getting him on a film and having these emotional scenes with him. He’s an old pro. So is John Schneider, of course. And he’s a great jokester … we’d be shooting these heavy-as-hell scenes and, between takes, John would crack some hilarious, racy joke. He has a wicked sense of humor.

I want to take a moment to tell you I enjoyed your earlier film The Hollow, which I also reviewed. That movie was more a crime thriller than horror. Do you see yourself leaning more toward horror these days or are keeping yourself open?

Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I really enjoy working in that southern gothic milieu, which is something that The Hollow and Demons share, so I can certainly see myself traversing that fertile ground again. I’m keeping my options open, but this film has certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities of the horror genre and I imagine I’ll revisit it again at some point.

What’s next for you? I know you have a lot of projects going on. Where can we see you after Demons?

I have a couple of short film projects in the offing, while deciding on the next feature. And I’m doing some theatre, which is a great passion of mine. Then, there are several things on the horizon that I think I’m not supposed to talk about. I’ll have to check my NDA folder! 

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Best of luck with Demons and hope our paths cross again.

Thank you for covering our films!

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