Thanks to films like That Thing You Do!, Empire Records, and Can’t Hardly Wait, virtually every girl I knew in high school had a crush on Ethan Embry. Additionally, were I to ask most of them today their thoughts on Embry, they’d still have a thing for him. A couple decades and dozens of hours of tattoos later, Embry now looks less like the lovable dork who’d admire the pretty girl from afar and more like the guy who’d show up at high school parties to kick the shit out of the seniors and steal your beer. Despite his intense appearance, after thirty seconds of talking to him, you’d realize he’s far more likely to make a dick joke at his own expense than assault you, unless you gave him a really good reason.
Thanks to his ferocious performance in 2013’s Cheap Thrills, Embry has been riding a resurgence as a genre staple, in between appearing as Coyote in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. In The Devil’s Candy, Embry plays a father who struggles to walk the line between being the head of a household and being his daughter’s best friends, all while his new home’s former resident has set his sights on Embry’s daughter with nefarious intentions. I recently got to chat with Ethan about what drew him to the role, the distinction between art vs. artist, and how we’re currently experiencing Hell on earth. The film has been playing the festival circuit and is finally coming to select theaters and VOD on March 17.
WolfMan: How long has it been since you actually shot this movie? Two years or so?
Ethan Embry: 17 years.
WM: 17 years. Okay. That explains a lot.
EE: I shot it right after Empire Records. That’s why my hair was so long and full.
WM: That was going to be one of my questions. If you playing a character with hair was one of the more appealing aspects of the role.
EE: Oh, totes man. Totes magotes. (Laughs) When I first read it, the image (writer/director) Sean (Byrne) had sent me for Jessie was more along the lines of the Anthrax lead singer.
WM: With a super long goatee?
EE: Yeah. Super long goatee, shaved head. But when we did that look, with me, my biker tattoos, and a shaved head, they thought that I looked a little too intense.
WM: A little too aggro?
EE: Yeah. They wanted to soften him up. That was one of the things Sean was constantly trying to pull me towards. A more gentle Jessie. Sean is the most gentle dude you’ll ever meet, ever, period. He’s so gentle. My gentlest reactions would, at times, be considered aggressive to him. The long hair/don’t care, when we tried that out, it just worked, man. It changed the way I carried myself, completely. You can’t have long-ass hair and bangs past your chin without a swagger. That first hair flip I gave them, they were like, “Alright. Sold.”
WM: The roles that you’ve been taking recently, you’ve been able to tap into the more badass look. Whether it was The Guest or Cheap Thrills, you got to lean into that intensity. I enjoyed getting to see the softer side of Ethan.
EE: The family guy. Emo Ethan. He’s soooo emotional, isn’t he? (laughs)
WM: What was it that initially brought you into the project? The opportunity to play a more vulnerable character? Did you have a relationship with Sean? What appealed to you so much?
EE: Keith (Calder) and Jessica (Wu) over at Snoot, who also did The Guest, got on to Cheap Thrills late. They were part of the acquisition for distribution. At the time, they were developing Devils Candy, so they sent me Devil’s Candy. I guess Sean’s thinking was, the stuff that I had done when I was younger, the more gentle, comical, unassuming underdog combined with the more aggressive stuff you were talking about would make for an interesting Jessie. They sent it to me and I read it and the first thing that stuck out to me was the family aspect of it.
I’m a dad. My son is 17 now. When I read it, he wasn’t much older than Jessie’s daughter in the film. It reminded me a lot of the way I raise my boy. Some people will think that I tend to fall too hard on the friendship element of parenting, but I think it’s a very important aspect. I wanted to try to convey both, the dad that is his daughter’s friend but is also trying to, unsuccessfully, lay down the law.
The other thing that stuck out a lot in the script, there were a lot of music cues that Sean had written in, and that was the music I was listening to at the time, so it rang true to me. I clean myself up for work a lot. I’m trailer trash. (laughs) Ethan is about as lower-middle class white trailer trash as you can get. I liked the idea of not having to do that for work. Represent something a little closer to me, with more hair follicles, but still emotionally closer to who I am. And stylistically, a little more accurate.
WM: You’re less in a rush to change out of what you wore on the set of Devil’s Candy, as compared to Grace and Frankie.
EE: At lunch, I take those clothes off. At lunch, they’re gone. So true, man. You speak so much truth, right there. That sentence is so truthful.
WM: Well, I’m a smart guy. I’m smarter than I look, luckily.
EE: You sound really smart.
WM: That’s how I get jobs. As long as I sound good and don’t let people look at my Twitter, I can convince people that I’m not a complete moron.
EE: That’s good. Good job.
WM: Speaking as a “smart guy,” you always struck me as–
EE: Not smart.
WM: Not smart. So what is that like, being dumb?
EE: (laughs) It’s bliss, bro.
WM: You’ve always struck me as someone who doesn’t need to pull their punches when it comes to saying what’s on your mind or what you’re really thinking. You aren’t often thinking about the public relations aspect of celebrity when compared to other actors.
EE: I was homeschooled, man. My social skills are nil. Along with that comes my filter. Yeah, that’s accurate.
WM: In this movie, the art takes hold of your character and you’re just a conduit for that art to come through. When I was thinking about this interview and this movie, there was a lot of talk and controversy about the Casey Affleck allegations and how he shouldn’t be rewarded. On Twitter, I often see you getting political with people. What are your thoughts on the concept of art vs. artist?
EE: The question of separating the artist from the art is something I haven’t thought of a lot. I think that artists, particularly in Hollywood and some musicians, are personalities in addition to artists. People aspire to be them. It’s not really their art that is the only thing that we should take into account. Their actions are also closely watched these days.
As far as the Affleck situation, I mean, fuck it, I’ll just say it. I think that what he was accused of doing and what we know Mel Gibson did are two very different things. I think to lump the two of them together is a mistake. Seeing Mel Gibson there and seeing him back at it, full bore, is disturbing to me. I remember thinking, “So, he’s either drunk again or still hasn’t figured out how to be normal sober.”
People make fucking mistakes. What he did was gross. People have been linking that and Marlon Brando, what was it, last year, that they basically raped that woman on that film? To link what Casey did and Marlon Brando’s actions together, to say what Chris Brown did, to say what Sean Penn has done, into the same thing, I think, is not fair. That being said, I’ve never watched that documentary that Affleck made. From what I’ve heard, there were some pretty unsavory elements to it.
WM: Absolutely. The whole film was very debaucherous.
EE: Right, and just no class. The things happening in that mockumentary are enough to be upsetting. I don’t doubt that those things that he was accused of doing or saying, but from my understanding, it wasn’t assault, it was harassment, that that’s what the suit was. Maybe I’m wrong, but what I’ve read about it, that’s what it seems what it was. That he was harassing these women, and that’s reprehensible in itself, but it wasn’t assault and it wasn’t an attack. I think it’s good that everybody’s got him under a microscope. The problem is, why is Chris Brown still fucking selling tours and making money with music?
WM: That, or Victor Salva, who’s doing another Jeepers Creepers movie, despite going to jail for molesting a child. That’s why I was curious about your take on it, being inside that industry. You are someone who is famous and I can see, on Twitter, you have no problem interacting with people and speaking your mind and if you wonder if the actions you take or things you say are going to cost you a potential job.
EE: My tattoos are probably going to cause more trouble than anything I say. It’s funny, the public loves to look at Hollywood and blame these people in this town and wonder why they’re still giving access to make these films and albums, whatever the case may be, and it’s because people are still buying them.
The entertainment business, period, film, television, music, is a business. If people stop buying Chris Brown albums and stop going to these concerts, they would stop supporting him in this town. But they don’t. People went and saw Hacksaw Ridge. People rented Get the Gringo. It’s really up to the public’s actions whether or not these people have careers.
WM: Speaking of the public and maybe tying it a little more into the movie, and something that resonated with me was Leland Orser’s bit in the film where he talks about how the Devil isn’t a guy with a pitchfork but the Devil is in humans, and I’m sure had I seen Devil’s Candy a year ago, I would’ve blown it off. Now that I’m seeing what’s going on in America, the truly evil things that humans are doing to one another, I’ve never believed in the Devil in quite the same way as I do now. What were your thoughts about that before filming this movie or if the movie has changed your perception of the Devil?
EE: I grew up super religious, but I am no longer. I believe that the concept of heaven and hell and God and the Devil are things that we can apply to actual realities. The idea of demons and possession. Take the science of mental diseases, chemical imbalances, it’s easy to see where the idea that possession is possible when you understand schizophrenia, bipolar, mania, things like that.
I’ve suffered from mania, to the point of full-blown hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, inability to stop talking for a fucking week, and I know what it’s like. It does feel like possession. I think that hell is something that we create for ourselves. Your concept of horrible things is another person’s relief.
If we want to talk about politics and last night’s State of the Union, half the room is standing up and applauding while the other half is just sitting there groaning, and that’s a representation of the rest of America. Half the country, it’s true, they got him. He said what they wanted. Our idea of the Devil is their fucking savior, and vice versa. There’s a couple times where I’ve gotten the old Bible off the shelf and searched through Revelations to see if it says anything about a bloated Cheeto being the Antichrist. (laughs)
WM: I don’t know if I got that far in the book to read that part.
EE: Check it. Maybe it’s there. Did St. Paul talk about anything to do with that? Where I’m at, I’m disgusted, but I’m not surprised. At all. Not surprised one bit. It’s disappointing but it’s not surprising.
WM: Instead of the State of the Union last night, I went to a metal show instead, which seemed like a far less infuriating experience to have.
EE: What’d you see?
WM: This band from Brooklyn, Tombs. It was so funny to hear conversations like, “Do you enjoy epic fantasy doom metal or atmospheric black metal?” It sounds like a completely foreign language when you say these things out loud.
EE: Yes! (laughs) I’ve been talking about this lately, all the sub-genres of metal being ridiculous. They’re so particular about them. For me, when I say I love metal, there’s some of it I hate. I’ll group hardcore into metal. I’d call Dillinger Escape Plan “metal” and people get so pissed.
WM: Uhh, they’re math rock.
EE: “That’s mathematic hardcore, man. That’s not metal, bro.” (laughs)
WM: I’ll wrap things up with a slightly less intense question. Bringing it back to the Oscars, they at one point dropped Red Vines and Lemonheads from the ceiling and encouraged the audience to eat these things, and they’re fucking disgusting.
EE: That’s really horrible candy.
WM: Since the movie’s called “The Devil’s Candy,” what do you think would be the devil’s Candy? What’s the most disgusting candy that you can’t believe people actually eat?
EE: Halloween candy corn, man. It’s awful. Why? It’s gross. Either that, or the little colored dots on the piece of paper. I can’t get just the candy, I always end up with half of the paper in my mouth.
WM: You’re guaranteed to eat at least an entire piece of paper if you eat that stuff.
EE: That shit’s just ridiculous. You know what the Devil’s candy actually is, right?
WM: I’d like you to tell me.
EE: It’s the tears of the innocent. (laughs)
WM: Oh, okay. That makes sense.
EE: That’s the sweetest of them all.
WM: I don’t know why they don’t sell that in stores.
EE: Like an energy drink.
WM: Or limited edition Cadbury creme eggs full of tears of the innocent.
EE: They’d be salty.
WM: If you’re trying to sell people, “There’s a salty, creme egg,” you’re looking at a specific demographic that would buy those.
EE: Well, anything with the Devil in the title is a limited demographic, I think.