Monster Party's Julian McMahon is no stranger to playing complex characters, considering his standout roles include Christian Troy in the FX series Nip/Tuck, Victor von Doom in the Fantastic Four franchise, and Jonah in the Marvel Hulu series Runaways. Now, with Monster Party, McMahon is stepping into familiar territory with a movie centered around equal parts body horror, menace, and mystery.
In Chris von Hoffman's thriller Monster Party, three teenage thieves embark on the biggest heist of their young careers: infiltrating a dinner party hosted by Malibu's social elites. However, what begins as a novice home invasion quickly evolves into a violent game of cat and mouse when the trio discovers that their hosts are not at all who they appear. Alongside Robin Tunney, Lance Reddick, and Kian Lawley, McMahon stars as the patriarch of a well-off family whose true nature is not quite as polished as it seems.
Kicking off the release of Monster Party, we spoke with McMahon about his complicated character, Patrick Dawson, and how some of his earlier work may have prepared him for the role. We discussed the movie's multi-genre appeal, the horrors of addiction, and his collaborative relationship with the writer and director on set that ultimately led to one of the movie's most shocking moments.
What sort of influences do you gravitate toward when you’re taking on a character like Patrick?
It really comes initially from reading a script and having a connection with the script itself, and particularly the character. And then it’s about kind of talking with the writers; seeing what their influences were, and what their kind of projection of the piece is. And then obviously the same kind of thing with the director, with this piece that was- Chris [von Hoffmann] was both writer and director, so you’ve got that conversation going all in one. But really it’s about working out, you know, you read a script and we all have our interpretation of it, but what are they looking at in regards to how they want to shoot it? How does the character fit into the piece for them? And you bring your own influences and introduce that into the conversation and see if that kind of fits with what they’re looking for.
Were there any real life serial killers that stood out?
I didn’t look into any serial killers on this one. I didn’t feel like it was really necessary. I felt like once I read it- it was a pretty good script; I really enjoyed the read. And once I had the meeting with Chris- I’ve watched his work; I was more interested in taking his work and what he was interested in as a director. And it was kind of about developing a look and a style, so I kind of really just delved into the script, as opposed to rehearsing in regards to looking back at other serial killers or murderers or anything like that.
So, the movie deals with- there’s a lot of gory aspects. How would you compare working with that sort of gore in Monster Party versus the graphic scenes in something like Nip/Tuck? Were you prepared for that?
Yeah, once you work with blood, you work with blood. [laughs] Look, I think it all comes down to… Nip/Tuck was such a- well… it’s kind of hard to distinguish the two because Nip/Tuck was character-driven, but the surgeries were such a large piece of the production, and all of that kind of involved was a prevalent part of how we were trying to convey storylines. Not just the gore of the surgery. And so, even the surgery was character-driven. Then the gore in this is a little more kind of tongue-in-cheek. You know what I mean? I didn’t feel like it was a horror movie that was gonna be like it’s so bloody and disgusting that people were just gonna be kind of holding their hands up to their eyes throughout whole thing. It didn’t feel like that kind of piece to me. And you know the whole thing where my character gets cut, let’s say [laughs], you know, we were just there and we were like, “How are we gonna do this?” And then someone said, “Let’s try this,” and Chris was like, “That’s awesome. Let’s set up up the camera.” It unfolded in a really kind of fun and natural kind of way. And that was actually my first shot.
There is a fun energy to the movie, so you can kind of get away with something like that.
Well, that’s the thing, and I was really interested if he [Chris] could balance that tone, and I think he did it extraordinarily well. And that is- you know, how do you get away with that without making it look just ridiculous? And at this moment, if it’s ridiculous, it’s OK, because it’s about having fun. It's not just trying to be a horror movie here. And it’s not trying to be a comedy. You know, it’s stuck in almost like four or five or six different genres, so it kind of allows you to go to those places, as opposed to, as an audience, trying to protect yourself, and go, “Well, why did they go there?” or “They should’ve gone there” or “It doesn’t deserve to go there.” It kind of opens itself up to being able to go anywhere.
About your character, considering he’s kind of attempting to “cure” himself, did you play him as more of a villain or a victim?
Yeah, well I think he’s both actually. I think the first part of the movie, like the opening when we see him get out of bed, and he kind of jumps into his slippers and goes to the window—I mean, that to me is- it’s kind of like an addict who can’t even see the light of day. It’s kind of like this guy who needs that other side of him to be fulfilled before he can even walk out the door. You know what I mean? As we know, with all addicts, when they go into periods of flushing it out of their system or attempting to flush it out of their system, I’m not sure they can deal with culture and society the same way they could when they were fulfilling that kind of side of themselves. So, for me it was about hiding him away like this guy who’s been up in his room for I don’t know how long it was. And then, about halfway through, once he kind of tastes that sensation again, it’s like, “Alright, this is it, man. This is who I am. You can’t stop me.”
How would you say that Patrick stacks up against other darker characters that you’ve played, like Jonah in Runaways or even Victor von Doom in the Fantastic Four movies?
Well, the difference with those is they had real excuses for what they were doing. Like Victor von Doom was a badly scarred individual who was very ego-driven to contrast what he looked like—all of these kind of elements that force him to be kind of outcast. He felt very vulnerable and kind of put off by the world. And then Jonah is discovering—I don’t want to say anything out of line for Runaways—but Jonah’s searching for a piece of himself that… I mean, it’s been centuries he’s been looking for it. He’s got this excuse—they both have excuses, in a way, to be on these missions that they’re on, and it kind of gives you a bit of leeway in regards to what they do, so it’s maybe a little bit of justification. But Patrick’s not like that. He’s that way, and he’s hiding it for the first part of the movie, and he hates hiding it. And when the handcuffs come off, it’s like no holds barred. And that’s him. Him at the core. And that was interesting, because that’s a guy who I think is innately violent and kind of loves the taste of that kind of environment in his system, and without it just can’t even live properly. And that was a human being. You know, Jonah’s not even human. And Doctor Doom’s not even human anymore. But this guy’s a guy.