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Exclusive interview: Jeff Fahey goes underground in 'Beneath'

Actor Jeff Fahey is one of those actors in Hollywood who has never been lacking for work. Ever since his first major role on the soap opera “One Life to Live,” he has appeared in an endless number of movies like “Silverado,” “Psycho III,” “White Hunter Black Heart” opposite Clint Eastwood, and more recently he has starred in Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and “Machete.” On television, he has left his mark on such shows as “Miami Vice,” “The Marshal” and “Under the Dome.” No matter what year it is, Fahey is always busy appearing in something, and it’s always great to see him onscreen.

The many faces of Jeff Fahey-slide0
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Movie poster for 'Beneath'
Movie poster for 'Beneath'
IFC Midnight

Fahey’s latest film is “Beneath,” a horror movie from director Ben Ketai which is now available to watch on VOD and will be released in theaters on July 25. In the film, Fahey plays George Marsh, a veteran coal miner who is retiring after many years on the job. But on his last day which has him taking his environmental activist daughter Samantha (Kelly Noonan) on a tour 600 feet below the ground, a disastrous mine collapse traps them and a couple other workers. They wait to be rescued but as time runs out and the air becomes more toxic, each slowly descends into madness and starts turning on one another.

I spoke with Fahey on the phone as he was in Mexico shooting the movie “Texas Rising.”

This is a very gripping film where you didn’t know how things were going to turn out, and the suspense was very well maintained from beginning to end. How did this project come to you?

Jeff Fahey: My manager actually had read the script and said, “There’s a film, they are interested in you.” I said what’s the genre and he said, “Well it’s a horror film but…” And I said I’m not interested at the moment but he said, “No I think you ought to read this one.” So I read it and right away I called them back and I said I’d like to meet with the director and the producers because this is a nice piece. It was the psychological horror, the psychological drama that drew me to it, and it didn’t have the gore that other films of that genre would have. It read more like a short story and a psychological drama, and that’s what attracted me to it. Then when I met Ben, he very clearly showed his vision and what he wanted to do with it. That made it even more interesting.

Yes, the psychological trauma is what really drives the movie I think. On the surface, “Beneath” looks like your typical horror movie but it isn’t.

Jeff Fahey: Yeah, and the performances that those other cats brought in… Kelly’s performance was amazing, and she had to carry that film on her shoulders and she pulled it off in aces.

I think all the actors in this movie were perfectly cast because they all look like they have spent a lot of time in the mine.

Jeff Fahey: Yes exactly, and the sets and the production design were top, top quality so you had the sense that you were really in a mine. That was a character in of itself and was equally important as the script and the performers.

The set design was excellent and I really did feel like I was in a mine while watching this movie. Ben said it was shot on a soundstage but it never feels like you are on a soundstage in the slightest.

Jeff Fahey: Yeah.

In regards to your role, did you do any of research before shooting began?

Jeff Fahey: No, this all happened pretty fast. We had a real miner come in and speak with the cast the day before we started shooting for a couple of hours, and then we were on the sets and everybody was getting to know each other while we were filming. That was another thing that made it so easy, that everyone got along so well.

I imagine this movie had a very tight shooting schedule.

Jeff Fahey: Oh yeah.

Was this a role where everything was on the page for you?

Jeff Fahey: Yeah it was there, but then the magic happens when you get with the actors and especially when you get along. So when you’re on a tight, limited schedule or budget, you spend a lot of time together especially in a film like this where we are all in a cave together. Everybody in between filming the scenes was sitting around talking and getting to know one another or going over the scenes and talking about the scenes and the relationships. That I think helped the fact that it was a tight schedule, and we all had to be together for the duration. That created that group ensemble feeling.

There are scenes where your character has some breathing problems, and they are like a ticking time bomb in this movie. How did you go about acting those scenes?

Jeff Fahey: Well that’s a process. Everybody has a different process and you have a process that you build up and deliver on, but a lot of the coughing I was able to lay in on post-production which I discussed with Ben. I told him I will cough, but I won’t put the full pressure on because at 12 hours a day for three or four weeks would get to you especially with that real dust. So we were able to lay all the coughing, that heavy, heavy breathing, in post-production. Knowing that we’re able to do some of this in post-production, I didn’t have to hyperventilate 12 hours a day while I was doing the film.

Have you ever been in a movie before that has had a setting that is as claustrophobic as the one in “Beneath?”

Jeff Fahey: I don’t think so, certainly not for the whole duration of the film. I’d have to say no. This would set the stage right now for the most claustrophobic film I’ve touched thus far, and certainly the most dusty. They had to have that real dust blowing around in a confined area hour after hour, but out here you can ride away from it sometimes.

You have had a very strong acting career to where you have gone from project to project with what seems like relative ease. You don’t seem to be lacking for work at all. What’s your secret?

Jeff Fahey: I think it’s no great secret. I think everybody has it. You just go forward and take it project to project and grow a little bit with each one and hopefully understand the interpretation of story and the interpretation of the development of your craft and moving through the industry. But just moving from story to story and group to group, now I’m at the place where the greatest joy along with a good story and the good directors is the relationships working with people you respect and enjoy. That seems to happen more and more. I am with a wonderful group now down here in Mexico doing “Texas Rising.”

One last question, I have to ask you about “Grindhouse.” What was it like filming that one?

Jeff Fahey: Well I love Robert Rodriguez. There were times when Robert will be operating one camera and Quentin (Tarantino) will be operating the other. So it was fascinating that you got these two world class filmmakers operating the two cameras while you’re doing a scene. It was fascinating. I’ll be working with Robert again. I just spoke with him the other day. And hopefully I’ll be working with Quentin. It was a great joy to be working with those guys and watching them work.