[This interview originally featured in Issue #3 of our digital magazine]

From the inside of his car, Kyle Gallner laughs about how it’s been tough finding an acting job during a global pandemic, which seems fair although hard to believe when talking to someone with such talent and a breadth of experience in the industry. Gallner came to my attention during a watch of Adam Rehmeir’s angsty and adorable Dinner in America (2020), in which he plays a rebellious punk rock teen with a soft side trying to tear down the bad guys when he makes an unlikely friendship with the dorky yet relatable Patty. From there a Gallner spiral happened, I found myself inadvertently watching films that he was in; Jennifer’s Body (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), The Master Cleanse (2016) and his more recent film The Cleansing Hour (2019).

The excitement and expression on Kyle’s face when he remembered some other horror film favourites at the end of the call, exclaiming “Aliens! Oh, shit I can’t believe I didn’t say that, that’s one of my favourite movies of all fucking time!” just goes to show that his passion and dedication for everything he’s in stems from being a fan of film himself. Something so refreshing to see and hear. Throughout our chat Kyle spoke openly and honestly about working in the industry, his love for character driven stories, the world of social media and more.

What first attracted you to the role of Simon in Dinner in America?

I’m not sure it was necessarily an attraction to Simon as much as just an attraction to the script and the world in general. I thought the characters were extremely unique and well written, I thought the world was this great heightened version of reality and there was something really cool about Simon and Patty. People who would normally be the sidekicks got to be left, right and centre and tear the world up together. I love the balance of their relationship; I love Simon’s anarchy, fuck you, punk rock mentality vibing with Patty who has that bubbling on the surface. It’s this cool passing of the torch between the two of them.

So I think it really was a perfect storm. Simon’s incredibly fun to play, to be able to just throw caution to the wind and just put that attitude on the whole time and be that aggressive. I grew up loving punk rock and hardcore music and going to punk and hardcore shows, and I’ve always wanted to be on stage screaming with the microphone, so there’s that personal aspect for me that I loved. Really it was just all things connecting and creating that world that I really fell in love with. 

When I spoke to Adam Rehmeir, he mentioned how genuine the characters feel, and they all have this authenticity about them, which I loved. Adam even mentioned you got so into the role that when you were driving the car, that it was you actually driving like a mad man… 

It was just fun, it was like summer camp! We got to go insane. Then we had great experiences off set and before we filmed. It doesn’t happen often but Adam fought really hard to make sure me and Emily got out there two weeks early. We spent so much time together talking characters and just getting to know each other, so by the time we showed up on set we were ready to go. Because I feel like it’s such a strange world that if we had just shown up and tried to live in it on the day, we would probably be playing catch up for at least a week before we really got our footing. 

We were really lucky with that. We would all hang out in our time off. You know the band Disco Assault who did Psyops’ music, played a gig in Detroit in an abandoned bank which is this cool punk venue in the middle of nowhere in downtown Detroit, and they brought me up to perform with them. We got to do all these really neat and authentically cool things.

Simon at first comes across as this bad boy punk, but turns out he’s actually a bit of a softie. Did you pull inspiration from anywhere?

Physically I tried losing some weight as I always wanted to make him look kind of hungry – he was always moving and on the run so I was kinda going for that old school lean Henry Rollings kind of thing. His aggression too is a really good blueprint.

I would just listen and watch interviews with people and I made playlists, and I just kind of dove in and lived that, even when I was off set I would turn Simon on for interactions with people through the weekend. I’m a pretty polite guy and I remember I was at the airport about to fly to Detroit and I put Simon on to talk to the ticket lady and I remember walking away and just feeling so bad because I didn’t say thank you and I was thinking you gotta harden up dude! 

It was pretty fun. Simon is what he is, and even coming out of prison I don’t think that much is going to change about Simon. He is really authentically himself and that’s what I really like about Simon and Patty, nothing in this script tries to change them. You see who they are, you see what they stand for, you see what they believe in. Simon is very rough around the edges, but he literally lights someone’s yard on fire because they’re screaming racist things. He stands up for Patty because they’re calling her horrible names. While he may do questionable things, I do truly believe that Simon’s moral compass is actually really in place. He sticks up for the things he believes in, and he really sticks up for the underdog. 

He truly loves what he does in that scene with Patty in the basement, music means so much to him and it’s a powerful thing and to see someone else be great at that, Simon is happy to celebrate that with them and recognise that in someone else. Even on the roof with Patty’s brother, that’s kind of a soft moment, and you can see how when Simon is not fighting the world at every turn, he’s actually not a bad guy. 

Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs in Dinner in America (2020)
No not at all. Like you said, the moral compass is absolutely there and that’s why his punk attitude is even more endearing, because we think he’s right and has the right idea.

He’s doing what I wish I could do. I wish I could light bad guys’ yards on fire! 

We all want to, but Simon just does it. 

The song Watermelon (played in the basement scene) provides a poignant moment in the film where Simon and Patty really connect. What was it like listening to that song for the first time?

I was actually in on those sessions, and I sat there and watched them work. That was incredibly informative to me because that was sort of the first time I got to see where Emily’s head was at with Patty. It was a moment where it really hit me, thinking oh wow, this is where this is going. It made me love Emily all the more. Patty is so critical to this movie and she’s 

such a special character but she’s so difficult that I definitely don’t think anybody could have done what Emily did with it, I think Emily was made for that role. She was so incredible in that role, and what she did with it was so beautiful and touching and powerful and just to get that first taste of that was really cool. 

Then to see it come to life, was awesome, it was a really beautiful moment to see that come alive and to play that. I think Adam was right, that is an incredibly important scene and that’s the only time you’re going to see Simon ever break, that’s it. That’s the only time you’re ever going to see anything switch in him. It’s such an important moment, an important moment to him, an important moment to her, and it was just such a great vibe on set. I think when that scene was done, everyone said we’re really making something cool here.

I think you can definitely feel that, it’s clear that you guys were so invested in making it. Adam was singing you and Emily’s praises that you brought so much to the screen and made the film possible. He spoke a lot about the dialogue and script being quite a difficult one because it is so character driven, but for me that was one of the reasons I connected so much to the film. You can just get so immersed in it. Do you think it’s a film people connect with or totally don’t get at all?

I think there’s definitely going to be some of that. I mean just look at the first 20 minutes of the film, it’s so aggressive and so abrasive, people walked out at Sundance. I have a feeling with all of the good things that have come from the film, they may give it another chance. Even at the end of the day, I do think this will rub some people the wrong way, but I think it’s supposed to. I don’t think it’s supposed to in the way that we’re making a film to alienate people but we made a film with real people and the world is ugly and the world is hard you know.

You read some things where people talk about the first 20 minutes and they’re like it’s this glorified something or other using this outdated speech and it’s like dude, it’s not outdated, people are treated that way all the time. We would have premieres and people would walk up to Emily and be like, that was me every day on the bus. Just because it’s not your reality, doesn’t mean it’s not reality. 

Like I said you get to see the sidekicks be the heroes and the sidekicks are the real people. Real people are the underdogs, people fight hard every day, there are so many people who have a ton of Simon in them, a ton of Patty in them or a combination of both and I think people see themselves in these characters one way or another. Which is great because people really do relate to the story in some way. The characters become these people that we root for and want to see them win and in the end we kind of see them win, it’s not this massive fairytale ending but it feels real and what I find extremely gratifying is that it comes back to people wanting more of these two and wanting to know what happens to them. It’s just been nice and I love that people love Simon and Patty. 

The Cleansing Hour is a film about false demonic possession which turns into a reality! What was it like on set during filming?

It was actually a lot of fun! It was all just so insane, we filmed in one sound stage, the whole set was built there, it was very run and gun. Alex and Ryan were really nice and fun to work with. Damien LaVek was really fun to work with and it was just an insane movie to make. Every day was something new, and some new madness that was going to happen.

It was exhausting, don’t get me wrong but that was actually a weird one as I almost didn’t get to do the movie because I magically – in a world where you can’t book a job to save your life – lined three movies up and I had like a matter of two weeks before one movie and The Cleansing Hour and then 2 months between The Cleansing Hour and Dinner in America. Between the first two movies my appendix went during my time off. So I had to get my appendix taken out, and I called Damien and I said dude I might not be able to come, I may not get permission to fly to Romania. I got permission from the doctor to fly out the day before I had to fly out and they waited, they held on, they didn’t recast me.

I flew to Romania covered in bandages with fresh surgery scars and showed up and made this movie. It was crazy! Another crazy thing, the only reason I got Dinner in America was because I did The Cleansing Hour. Because JP (Jean-Phillipe Bernier), the dude who shot The Cleansing Hour, shot Dinner in America. He said you’d be perfect for this movie and he told me all about Dinner in America, and it turned out one of the producers sent me the script three years before and I just spaced on reading it because I was filming a TV show and I had brand new babies at the time. So I checked in my email and I still had it, and I read it and I took a skype meeting with Adam while in Romania filming, and we high-fived and said let’s do Dinner in America. So me and JP hopped right from The Cleansing Hour over to Detroit and did Dinner together. It’s all crazy!

Kyle Gallner in The Cleansing Hour (2019)
Going into The Cleansing Hour I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. There are so many exorcism films out there that we are always thinking, do we need another one, but TCH is a really fun movie. There are also some really fantastic practical effects and great gore. Did you find those practical effects added a realistic element to it?

I’m a huge fan of practical effects and they did such a good job with so many of them. I’ve read so many reviews where people are complaining about the bad CGI because the practical effects are so good. No that’s not CGI, that’s literally happening, they think it’s CGI but it’s really happening.

Them pulling that towel out her throat, she literally had that thing shoved down her throat. The Devil at the end is a full built suit, none of that CGI. When Damien told me it was going to be practical effects I got really really excited because I’m a big fan of that and I haven’t gotten to deal with that a ton, especially on such a large scale. They sent me the script and I was like yeah it’s a possession movie, and you kind of take a deep breath and think what is this one but I thought it had a really unique take on it and something interesting to say.

I did see an opportunity for it to be really fun and wacky at times, and Damien really let us play in that space too. I came up with random little games and jokes for myself, like if you watch I tried to slip in a bunch of thumbs up and Damien said you got about five in there, little things like that. At one point Damien came up to me and exclaimed that I needed to stop swearing so much and I said Drew swears, that’s what Drew does. Drew gives thumbs up and swears, and Damien just said okay! He let us play and really create these characters and mess with them.

He also let us improv, there is a part where the demon says something and I just turn around and shout “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” He really just let us play whilst also doing a really good job at including what you want in a horror film; he built a good sense of dread, the kills are good, you get the blood, the gore, you get the special effects, you get really good practical effects. It ticked a lot of boxes for me and I was excited to see how it would work when you’re all stuck in one room together. 

The ending is spot on. Do you think the film has a bigger meaning to it about society’s obsession with social media?

I think it does in a fun, crazy kind of way. We live in a world where it is kind of king a little bit, but it’s also unhealthy. It can really be unhealthy and extremely toxic. Fandom while it can be a beautiful thing, can also be horrible. I’ve experienced some weird stuff but there’s so much that drives me crazy.

We now live in a world where men feel like they can threaten women online because there are no consequences, or you go and tell someone to kill themselves… There’s so much good on there but also we see the dark and ugly side of people and the world. You just can’t believe that people can speak to each other that way or treat each other that way. It drives me crazy and it really upsets me.

But what really drives me crazy is all the threats towards women – that shit puts me through the roof. While the film is a fun poking at social media, I do think it’s good to start taking a harder look at that and a harder look at where we are and what it does to people, not just enabling people to be horrible to one another but also the mental gymnastics it makes people go through. It really creates a hot 

slew of issues including depression or giving kids anxiety because they’re thinking their life isn’t as interesting as another person’s life. Or this new thing of wanting to be an influencer and it’s like, what does that mean? You want to take pictures in front of wings painted on brick walls, which is fine if that’s what you want to do but I think there’s more to it and it’s a deeper thing that needs to be looked at. I think making films and art about it is an interesting way to dissect that and really look at it. 

You’ve become somewhat of an icon in the horror community after being in films like Jennifer’s Body, The Haunting in Connecticut, A Nightmare on Elm Street remake and more. Did you ever expect to find yourself in this many horror films?

It’s an interesting thing where at that time they were making a lot of movies with people my age and it was kind of a way to cut your teeth and get into a studio film, and I was very fortunate to be able to book those, and it just so happened they were all pretty close together.

At the time I don’t think I realised the significance of it, and again, social media has kind of helped me realise the significance of that. I didn’t realise how large the horror community is and it can be an extremely supporting community so it wasn’t something I actively sought out but its something I’m extremely grateful for.

I also think that I consciously put a stop to it at a point because I actively wanted to try and be in other things as well, as the industry can really try and pigeonhole you. I do think that from the time I made those movies to now, I feel like horror is being looked at in a different way – back then if you were in a horror movie it was cool for horror fans, now you can be in a horror movie and it’s like a mass appeal type of thing. 

There was a fear of being pigeonholed 10 years ago but now it’s like I’ll do ten horror films, bring them on and let’s go. I really love the community and the genre and I think it’s a lot of fun. I also feel like i’ve done enough stuff in between that I would be happy to jump back in, I think it’s a cool space to play in. 

Kyle Gallner in Jennifer’s Body (2009)
You mentioned that horror is a genre that you really like. Are there any particular horror films that you love?

I’m so far behind, ever since having kids I feel like I don’t watch anything anymore but the ones I’ve loved over the last years; 28 Days later (2002), I wish I was in that movie so bad. I love The Descent (2005), I think that’s a great film. I think High Tension (2003) is rad – I love Aja, he is super super talented. I need to see Crawl (2019) still. 

I love to hate it, but the original Martyrs (2008) really fucked me up. Then you go back to shit like Dog Soldiers (2002), or just the original classics, I remember getting the shit scared out of me watching the original Halloween (1978) as a kid, that’ll never leave me, that scarred me for life. Also I think Scream (1996)  kicks ass. There are some great horror movies out there and I love how they hit on different things and different feels.

You’ve also been in some amazing roles in TV. Do you find when it comes to acting there are any big differences between TV and film? 

Yes! I love the long form of television, the problem you can run into with television is that if they don’t have everything planned out. I like that film has a beginning, middle and end, if I have a question it can be answered. I’ve been on TV shows where I’ve had a question and they’re like well you know we might write a character in who becomes your mother, so we can’t answer anything right now and I’m saying but this directly affects how I’m going to play this right now! 

That can be a little frustrating. I do think television has become such a great space to play now, you have so many amazing writers and directors. Just living in that world, and the stories they are coming up with are so rich. It’s great that it lives on, but to me it’s a little sad because I grew up loving movies and that’s what I wanted to do. 

I’m still incredibly grateful for all the TV I’ve gotten to do, and it’s exciting and I love doing it but the world has just changed so much since I got started that the movies that I loved in my early teens and twenties, they don’t play those in theatres anymore, they don’t make those anymore. So a lot of those stories have become long form on television. So there is a difference but I just think the quality of things has gotten so good on television that you just can’t be mad one way or another. Any chance to work is a great opportunity and any day you get to do what you love is a good day. 

What’s next for you?

I had an indie film just premiere in Texas which is called The Catch (2020) and that’s a cool small-town drama. They’re doing a new Scream, and I can’t say anything about that but I’ll be in that. They’d probably come find me and hunt me down and this would be the last conversation I ever had with anybody!

Other than that it’s slow, it’s navigating COVID, there are very few audiences, there’s not a lot being made so it’s just fighting the good fight for the ones you get and crossing your fingers. I literally lost a job to Crispin Glover the other day – he kicks ass so I’m not even mad about it. But it’s just a strange time. I’m trying to stay positive and sane and enjoy the time with my family whilst I have it.