Interview with Matt Mercer of Contracted and Contracted Phase II
It was one of those nights when I could relax and just watch a movie. Do I watch a film I already own or should I browse through Netflix and see what I can find? I decided on Netflix. The poster for Contracted and the synopsis had me hook line and sinker. Let me just say it was an enjoyable night. So enjoyable that I stayed up a little later then usual that night to watch the sequel Contracted Phase II.
Contracted is a different kind of zombie movie. I mean a lot different. The way to get the virus is very unique and turns a typical sub genre into a very fascinating story line. The tagline for this movie is “Not your typical one night stand”. A girl thinks she has an sexually transmitted disease but it turns out to be much more then she could imagine. The first film starts out a little slow. Stick with it it. Soon it will have you on the edge of your seat with jaw dropping moments. Be warned there were parts in these movies that made me a little squeamish and that is hard to do. After watching this series of movies I decided to reach out to Matt Mercer and see if he would like to answer some questions. To my surprise he was happy to do it.
GWW : I would like to start with Contracted first. After reading the script for the first time what was your initial thought of the story?
Matt Mercer : Great question. It was first presented to me as an idea by writer/director Eric England, not a fully conceived script or story just yet. But that core idea… woo, it was a doozy. We were out having drinks one night and he told me about it. I thought the possibilities of the idea were immense,story-wise and thematically. Eric and I had worked together on a film he directed called Madison County. He knew I was wanting to get on the other side of the camera, too, and produce a movie… up until then I hadn’t done that on a feature film. So Eric asked me if I wanted to make it with him, and produce, I said “yes” with much enthusiasm, and we starting gearing it up. I made this goofy animated thing to pitch Contracted… it looked like a weird 1950’s sex-ed video. Boulderlight Pictures came on board as producers as well with financing, and Eric wrote the full script…And it was fantastic. It was the strongest script he’d written at that point. It was a real page-turner and lit me up. The characters were interesting and in-line with the themes he was exploring, and I found myself really wondering as I was reading it what was going to happen next, and what was happening with the Samantha character as her body changed and fell apart. The gore scenes were crazy and gut-wrenching, and the ending really was a great and original surprise… that was a very original element I thought, that ending… an ending that suddenly suggests a whole new world may be starting, and we as an audience have been witnessing patient zero, the beginning, we just didn’t quite know that… So, basically, my initial thought: I was pumped and felt like I’d hit the jackpot as an actor and producer. This thing was going to be fun. And it was cool watching Eric knock it out of the park on such a limited budget.
GWW: There were moments in this first film I actually cringed and squirmed in my chair.(Bathroom scene with Samantha). Being on set was the special effects and blood just as intense as it looked in the film?
Matt Mercer : Oh yeah. Enough can’t be said about Mayera Abeita’s special makeup effects work on both Contracted 1&2. She’s amazing. The scene that really got me in Contracted was the fingernail business. We were all standing behind the monitor watching Najarra pull her nails off and cringing. The sound effects made in post-production during that moment really compound it, too. But yeah, the makeup effects seemed intense even in person, but also everyone has a blast on those days and in those moments. Everyone gathers around and watches because we want to see how it’s going to be done and it’s fun to see this crazy shit happening right there in front of you. And Mayera had devised most of it so cleverly that it really was happening in the moment. Pretty nuts!
GWW : Your character Riley was obsessed with Samantha. I would say you were her stalker. Do you think Riley got what he deserved for always bothering her?
Matt Mercer : Oof. Nobody deserves that, haha! Despite all the different characters’ flaws in the film, which often lead them into their horrifying situations, I don’t know if I’d say they deserve it… they’re flawed but they’re people. BUT, some of them do suffer the consequences of their actions and/or the situations they put themselves in. It’s interesting. I’ve talked to some people who think Riley was a good guy who really cared and was just trying to help Samantha, while others see him as a total creep who wouldn’t leave her alone. I think Riley was for sure so enamored with Sam that the lines got blurred for him, and he inserts himself too much into her life (and ultimately inserts himself too much in other ways… yikes). I think he skirts the edge of obsession. He lets his desperation drive him to go a bit too far… he doesn’t intend to be predatory or anything, but, in my opinion he also isn’t thinking about what he’s doing, and he veers in that direction. He knows Sam needs help, but his assistance doesn’t manifest in the most helpful way all the time. It also gets pretty complex by the time they have the sexual encounter… because she’s desperate by then, too, but also this predatory thing is taking over her body. She’s really falling apart physically and emotionally. It’s a perfect storm of desperation that creates a lot of suspense in that final scene between them. Is she going to kill him, or have sex with him, or… what the hell is going to happen here? How far is this scene gonna go? I will say this: some people have criticized the believability of that scene… would Riley really do that? For me it works because of the circumstances and desperation of those characters in that moment, regardless of the physical condition of Sam. Okay, that was a long answer. I’ll hop off the soapbox now.
GWW : Did you know that there would be a second film in this series and you would be the star of it before signing on to do this film?
Matt Mercer : I had absolutely no idea. Didn’t fathom it at all! There was only the plan to make the one film when we made Contracted. You really have no idea how a film is going to do and if it will garner any kind of continuation.
GWW : Let’s move on to the second film Contacted Phase 2. Now it is your turn to go through the drastic changes that Samantha had to go through. How tough was it to convince the audience that you were slowly morphing into a zombie?
Matt Mercer : Well, I can only say I hope I was convincing. Ha! It was tough sometimes, especially if it was a big full-body makeup day. There were some days that began with 5 hours in the makeup chair, which actually can be pretty tiring. Then, you have to be sure you don’t overdo it in the performance… the makeup takes care of a lot of the performance when it comes to the morphing into a zombie stuff. I just tried to be as believable as I could under the crazy circumstances the movie presents. What I can say is that I couldn’t have done it without the makeup effects team, obviously, and I definitely took a cue from Najarra’s work in the first film (although she’s a
better fake barfer than I am, haha). The hardest thing for me was the contact lenses. I’d never worn lenses in my life, let alone lenses the size of dinner plates. I had to practice a lot with them before we shot, to get used to them, and Jennifer Quinteros (one of the makeup fx artists on the film) applied the big ones where my entire eyeball was covered. She was so patient. You can’t see out of those big ones at all, either.
GWW : Riley also had a scene in the bathroom similar to Samantha’s in the first film. Did you get a little sick to your stomach filming that scene?
Matt Mercer : I think there was a take where I was gagging over the bloody toilet in the bathroom, and it totally got real for a moment. It was kind of nauseating, some of that stuff, yeah. But hey, that’s how you know it’s working. I will say I had a hard time not laughing at the [spoiler alert] blood-pissing scene. I had fun with that. Josh Forbes (director) had wanted me to play up the fact that it’s hard to stop peeing in mid-stream, and so we did that to the hilt. I thought that was very funny and had a hard time not cracking up. I think I ruined a couple of takes laughing.
GWW : Now when the film ends we actually get a little bonus scene in between the credits. Will we ever get a Phase 3 movie?
Matt Mercer : They are certainly suggesting that with that little bonus. But honestly, I have no idea.
GWW: Finally do you have any movie or television projects coming up that you can talk about? Where can we see you next?
Matt Mercer: I do! I have a few new movies coming soon that I’m excited about. I was in a movie for Joe Begos (director of Almost Human) called The Mind’s Eye, which will be out later this year. It’s a telekinesis horror revenge movie with a crazy great cast (Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, Noah Segan, Larry Fessenden, Josh Ethier, Jeremy Gardner, John Speredakos, and more), and it’s dynamite. I also did a movie called Beyond the Gates that was directed by Jackson Stewart and produced by Barbara Crampton, which I can’t say much about but it’s super cool and centered around a weird board game, and also has a great cast (Skipper, Chase Williamson, and Brea Grant). I also did a comedy called Bad, Bad Men with my buddy Allen Gardner that is top notch… it’s about some real estate agents who get embroiled in a kidnapping plot much to their chagrin. It’s fun. And I did one of the leads in a Syfy movie due to air in July that my pals Jon and James Kondelik directed. Can’t say much about that just yet. I also directed a feature called You or a Loved One that will be released this year. Okay, good god, that’s enough plugging haha.
Thanks for the interview, Chris!