Who hasn’t played a game of 'Would You Rather?' Would you rather be blind or deaf? Would you rather be rich and ugly or poor and good-looking? Well, I can assure you you’ve never played a game quite like Shepard Lambrick’s in the IFC Midnight release, Would You Rather.
It’s that time of year again and Jeffrey Combs’ character, Shepard Lambrick, is ready to continue the family tradition of inviting a group of people over to his mansion for cocktails, an exquisite dinner, and a little game. All his guests know is that by attending, they’re entering for a chance to fix a very serious problem in their lives - and for Brittany Snow’s Iris, that’s getting the money and resources she needs to help her gravely-ill younger brother. Trouble is, she must first figure out how far she’s willing to go to save him and herself, because in Lambrick’s game of 'Would You Rather,' only the winner gets out alive.
With Would You Rather hitting iTunes, VOD, and theaters, we had the opportunity to talk to the mastermind himself, Jeffrey Combs. With an abundance of twisted material on his resume, it’s a wonder that anything can shock, let alone scare Combs - but in the case of Would You Rather, it isn’t just about watching the players struggle through game; it entices you to play right along with them, making you consider what you would do for the sake of a very important personal cause.
Check out what Combs had to say about the Lambrick lineage, the sick pride Shepard takes in his operation, what he thinks about his own chances in the game, and more in the interview below.
Can you think of anything in this world that would actually make your character’s game of 'Would You Rather' worth playing?
Jeffrey Combs: “[Laughs] No, I would not play this game! And, you know what? None of those people around that table would play that game if they weren’t so desperate. All options are gone for them. Their weakness is what gives [my character] his power. Their desperation is what he relishes in, and it’s just hateful. I think, in a way, it’s a parable for the 99% vs. 1 in an exaggerated way.”
You’ve been in the midst of some pretty crazy and brutal subject matter before, so where does Would You Rather fit in on the spectrum?
“I saw it as a delicious role, a bit of an enigma. I think one of the things that’s so creepy about Shepard Lambrick is you don’t ever really get to know this guy. He’s a master manipulator and sadist, but you never really know what makes him tick. You do get a sense that this is a family lineage of terror. This is how this very rich and powerful family amuses themselves, and I think we all feel that way sometimes with huge corporations that dally with us, so he’s just a personification of absolute power corrupting. That was my biggest challenge, to resist the temptation to try to flesh him out, to try to figure out some way that we can give him insight or sympathy or understanding, when really it’s far more powerful and unnerving that you never really get to know who this guy is.”
I can see how that can help with the audience’s perception of the character, but how about for you as the actor? You’ve got this intriguing character with a really elaborate plan, but you know so little about his motivation.
“In a way, I don’t think that Shepard Lambrick is a particularly introspective, thoughtful, searching person. He’s been corrupted by his father who was corrupted by his father and he’s corrupting his own son. I don’t think there’s much self-examination here. Why should there be? Everything is at his fingertips. He is the puppeteer. He is the master of his own universe. He doesn’t have to explore or get better or try to improve himself. Why? He’s already got it all! For me though, I have nothing in common with him. I don’t come from money. I don’t know what privilege is like. I don’t have any of those trappings and so the only thing that I can do is convey a guy that I would hate – uncaring, un-empathetic, kind of a sociopath, really. He’s completely who he is and he’s happy with it. These people are merely widgets to play with, and that only adds to how disturbing he is as a person.”
Clearly what he does is sick, twisted and flat-out wrong, but is there any understanding of the good that comes from this, even the tiniest bit? One person does come away from the game with everything they’d need to live a great life.
“Well, in his twisted sort of business mind, he fulfills his contract. That I think is where he is most proud of himself. In his mind, he has total integrity because he may say some version of the truth to get these people to go along, but really their own desperation is what takes them there. They only need a little bit of a nudge because they need it so badly. And he doesn’t renege. He doesn’t pull the rug out. Whoever wins, gets whatever it is that they wanted and more so. In his mind, he’s ethical.”
Do you think there’s any manipulation on his part? It is brought up at one point in the film; do you think he planned that?
“I think the game is always different. I think it’s up to his own whim and I think that he can steer the game, obviously, where he wants to because if you notice, once the Afghan veteran stands up and talks back to the son, the next thing that happens is he’s the target. I don’t think that was planned necessarily, but things come up in a game. It’s kind of like football or baseball. Hey, I see weakness! Or, somebody slides into me with their cleats, the pitcher throws the ball at my head, well, you know what? Paybacks are a b*tch! He can pull the strings and direct which way the game [goes]. Also with the gambler, when I come in and my son has been kicked out and the gambler makes some flippant remark, well guess who gets picked next?”
The son is definitely his weak spot.
“Yeah, the son is his weak spot. And you only have the one scene of them together while they’re getting ready to go and I think Lambrick’s nervous. It’s like backstage before the show and you’re not dressed right. Here he is, the man who has control over everything, and he has no control over his son. It’s insight into not only him, but his family and how chilling is that? Here this man is so sick that he runs this game and yet his son, the next generation, is even sicker.”
As disturbing as it is, the movie is fun and it’s because it gets you to plan the game yourself right along with the characters. Were you doing that at all while you were reading the script?
“I think that’s why Brittany’s character's there and why you care for her; you understand why she’s there because it’s not for her, it’s for her brother that she loves so desperately. Anybody can understand the motivation and anybody who watches this movie starts to empathize. What would I do? Which one would I be? Would I be able to withstand that? Would I stand up to them? There’s no way out. You’re screwed!”
How do you think you’d fare in the game?
“I wouldn’t do well. And I also think Lambrick has a dossier on everybody, so he knows their weaknesses. It’s not like he finds out on the fly that she’s a vegetarian or that John Heard’s character is an alcoholic. He knows everybody’s Achilles' heel and he plays them.”
I was thinking that with the card portion of the game, too. Maybe those could be tailored to what would freak the player out the most.
“There I think no. I think it’s totally random. That’s part of the fun for him too, not knowing what’s gonna really happen next. I think every game is completely different. But there’s a basic set of things. Maybe there are 20 challenges and this one just happened to have these particular four or five.”
Out of all the crazy challenges in the movie, what would be the one you’d least want to encounter?
“A lot of them! I think the one that creeps me out the most is the icepick. That’s frightening to me. The sound effects that they use in this movie when it goes in and out, I cringe! Also the water barrel is not exactly something I would relish at all.”
I’ve got a severe fear of the dentist, so I’d say the tooth extraction.
“Oh! That one! That one was really bad, right? I’m freaked by that one! All of them! Not some of them. Not one. All of them!”
How was it filming some of this stuff? Horror movies are terrifying on screen with scores and when they’re properly cut, but that isn’t necessarily the case while on set.
“The great gift for this movie was that we got to shoot it in sequence. We actually had a build and a progression here, and it really informed us because everything kept that tone building and building, and the hysteria slowly crescendo-ing up and up and up because it was like, ‘It can’t get any worse than that, can it?’ ‘Well, actually, yes, it can.’ I think one of the creepiest moments for me in the movie, is when I say we’re going to take a break to prepare for the second round and I leave, and then the servants come in with sheets of plastic, and that just scares the sh*t out of me.”
-[HIGHLIGHT TEXT BELOW TO READ SPOILER.]
Was there any one scene that was most difficult for you to shoot?
“He does such a terrific job when he has to take the razor blade. He’s just so terrific there. His card is any eyeball and I say, ‘Oh, well, you have to take the razorblade and, you know, slice your eye. But you can choose whatever eye. That’s up to you!’ I mean, who could do that? It’s an impossibility! [But] he has no choice. He’ll be dead. He either loses an eye or he loses his life!”
END SPOILER ALERT
You’ve got countless credits to your name at this point. Is there anything that’s stayed consistent in your process after all these years – the way you pick your roles, prepare for performances, on set habits, something along those lines?
“As an actor in this business, you don’t always have the luxury of a whole lot of time. That can be a bad thing and that can be a good thing. I’m of two minds; I do like to have a little time to get my ducks in a row and answer some questions for myself, but, on the other hand, sometimes you are thrown into the maelstrom without a whole lot of prep time, your instincts kick in and it can be much more organic. Every experience has its own dynamics. It can be frustrating at times. I know that on this one, I would have liked to have had a little more prep time simply because I had a lot of verbiage, lot of words. I really didn’t have as much time to get to know anybody on the set between takes because I had to split and go find a quiet place and prep or run dialogue to be ready for the next scene and then the next one.
Just off the top of my head, one really simple and benign thing, shoes are really important. It seems weird, but shoes are really important to me because it determines how you carry yourself, how you feel about yourself. We really lucked out here because this film didn’t have a huge wardrobe budget and yet here I am, I have to play someone who would be wearing $5,000 suits, and that was not possible. However, they did find some really nice suits in the wardrobe department of Warner Bros. or something like that and rented them, and the one that I wear just happened to fit me really well."
I bet they were very careful about not getting any blood on that suit.
“Right! There were no doubles. At least on mine there were no doubles. But this movie doesn’t have a lot of flying blood and entrails. My character wouldn’t allow that. If you noticed, at one point, I get up and I just move to the other side of the room when he’s got the firecracker. I know the spray zone.”
Would You Rather is currently in theaters and is available on iTunes and VOD.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff
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