Michael Rooker is a man who probably needs very little introduction. In fact, when introduced to him as he walked through a downtown Toronto hotel lobby he was introduced to me with beaming pleasure and the statement “I’m sure you know who this guy is.” Rooker’s tough yet sensitive looks and gravelly voice precede him almost everywhere he goes. A favourite with film buffs for years, Rooker has played a wide range of characters from his debut in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, to disgraced baseballer Chick Gandil in John Sayles’ Eight Men Out, to his current genre work in the films of James Gunn (Slither, Super) and on the hit television series The Walking Dead.
Deborah Valente, on the other hand, is someone who does require a bit of an introduction, but hopefully won’t need one for much longer. The Toronto native started her acting career in much the same way as many others; by becoming a model and acting on stage. After several smaller roles on screen, she most recently had leading roles in independent productions where she co-starred with Stephen Rea and Ving Rhames.
Rooker and Valente appear together onscreen this month in the horror thriller Cell 213, a Canadian shot film about a shady lawyer (played by Six Feet Under‘s Eric Balfour) who is forced to serve hard time following his conviction in the murder of one of his clients. The cocky, young man is remanded to the same cell as his former client that might just be possessed by the Devil himself. Rooker plays Ray Clement, a guard at the prison whose motives are just as suspect and unclear as those of the warden (played by Bruce Greenwood). Valente plays Audrey, a woman assigned by the state to monitor prisoners rights who might have stumbled on to a bit more than she bargained for at the South River State Penitentiary (actually filmed at a defunct correctional facility in Guelph, Ontario).
The affable and refreshingly candid Rooker, and the sweet and enthusiastic Valente, sat down with Criticize This! recently to talk about working in the horror genre, the psychology behind horror films, and why sometimes cliche is a good thing.
Andrew Parker: So what got you guys involved with Cell 213?
Michael Rooker: Deborah, why don’t you handle this one first because you were on board with this long before I was.
Deborah Valente: Well, I was handed this script and it was really different from anything I had been approached with before. I was really drawn to the psychological aspect of it and this whole idea that this prison cell could be someone’s own personal hell. That was really interesting to me.
MR: And with me, it was just one of those things, you know? My agent approached me with a script, I read it, thought it would make a good movie. I asked if they were ready to go and they were. From there it was just a matter of fitting it in and finding the time.
AP: Yeah, you work quite a lot. How hard it is for you to create a schedule for the amount of work you do in a given year?
MR: It’s funny because only once in my career have I ever had three things lined up back to back. Just like anyone in this business you end up getting a lot more offers than you end up taking or that even end up happening at all. When I get something worth doing the first thing I ask is “Are they ready to go?”. If it is, cool, let’s do this. In the end it’s the real stuff that interests me the most. The real stuff is what matters.