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Interview: Actor Robert Maillet talks ‘Septic Man’

Robert Maillet
Robert Maillet
Image courtesy of Starz Digital Media, used with permission

When it comes to his acting career, former professional wrestler Robert “Kurrgan” Maillet is usually found playing the bad guy. “300,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and SyFy’s “Haven” are just a few examples in which Maillet has played a ruthless villain. For his new film, “Septic Man,” which releases to VOD on Aug. 12 and limited theaters on Aug. 15, the 7-foot tall Maillet plays a villain who is more “naïve” as he puts it.

“Septic Man” tells the story of Jack (Jason David Brown), a sewage worker who gets trapped inside a septic tank during a water contamination that has taken over the town. The contaminated water soon begins to transform Jack into something hideous. With the help of a giant (Maillet), Jack tries to escape the clutches of Lord Auch (Tim Burd) and return to civilization.

The Chico Movie Examiner recently conducted an over-the-phone interview with Maillet about his role in “Septic Man.” Maillet talks about some of the film’s most graphic moments; how the director actually threw up while filming one particular scene; and which one of his former characters he would like to see get an origins story. Check out the full interview below.

David Wangberg: In the U.S., “Septic Man” is rated R, but there are quite a few gruesome scenes throughout the movie. Were there any that had to be cut out in order to maintain the R-rating and not get an NC-17?

Robert Maillet: I don’t know; I don’t think so. I think pretty much everything is there. The opening scene and everything is all there. It’s pretty gruesome. I remember [when filming] the opening scene, the director got sick; he threw up from shooting it. That gives you an idea of how bad it was. But, yeah, everything is there.

DW: Wait. The man who made the film himself got sick from filming the opening sequence?

RM: That’s true, yeah – that bathroom scene.

DW: That’s probably one of the more intense scenes. When audiences see this, I’m pretty sure some of them will avert their eyes because of how graphic it is. For you, during the filmmaking, did you have to avert your eyes because of how gruesome it was or were there any other scenes that you did?

RM: It wasn’t too bad. I think it was kind of strange; I had a bag of body parts and I would just throw them down in the septic tank. You just have to use your imagination on what’s creepy and stuff. I was in the water; I was in that tank, and that water’s terribly cold – it’s very cold. It hadn’t seen sunlight, and they didn’t warm the water, so it was pretty cold. It was dirty as well; it was dirty water with fake body parts floating as well. So, yeah, it was pretty disgusting. [laughs]

There were some scenes that were pretty intense. There were some scenes where I had to throw up; that was kind of disgusting. It was mostly oatmeal that I had in my mouth, but still. It was not the greatest tasting oatmeal that I had – cold oatmeal in my mouth. I had to hold it for a few seconds and then “Action!” and then I had to throw up; it was pretty disgusting. That went into the water below, where I had to do scenes in that water. So, yeah, it was pretty gross all around. [laughs]

DW: In a sense, this is like an origins story for Septic Man. We see where he’s come from, and there’s a possibility for more after this. Since getting into acting, you’ve played a lot of supporting characters. Are there any to which you would like to see an origins story?

RM: I would have liked to come back in “300”; they did an origins film of “300” just recently, and it would have been fun to come back and see what happened to my character. He was just a slave to the Persian army, but again, it would have been cool to see the origins of what happened when he got captured and beat up to a point to where he’s this monster – this orc – who fights Spartans. Seeing an origins of him story would have been interesting, but they didn’t call me up for that one.

There were some films that I did like “Sherlock Holmes,” where the character’s origins would have been interesting. There are a few films that would have been fun to be a part of, to tell the origins story of the character I played. There are a few of them that I’d like to give it a try.

DW: Do you see yourself mainly doing supporting work, or do you see yourself in the future doing a lead part in a movie or television series?

RM: That would be interesting and fun; it would be great to be in a lead role. I think I have a lot to offer doing supporting roles as well. I think I’ll get a little more interesting small parts and see if I can really… I guess you don’t have to have the pressure on you compared to when you’re a leading man in a film.

There’s a lot of pressure on you if the film succeeds or not. If you play supporting roles, you got the better part. It’s a lot more fun being more liberating, I would say, and you can stand out, too. You need supporting actors to help to tell the story. For me, I’m lucky to be a part of the films. Being an actor, I’ll take any role, whether it’s supporting or leading.

For leading, obviously, producers or directors would have to trust me to be in a leading role. To do that, I would have to get a little more experience and more work. If I’m confident I can do it, hopefully, other people will see that as well. But, yeah, someday I would like to have a leading role for sure.

DW: A lot of the characters you’ve played have been villains. Here, you are more like the gentle giant, but you are also kind of a villain. Was this to show that you can do more than just play a straight bad guy?

RM: For sure, yeah. The character is a bit naïve, you’re right. You don’t know if he’s good or bad, because he acts like a child. He’s just terrified of his brother, but he does bad things. He’s a killer, and he cleans up his mess by throwing body parts down in that tank. You don’t know if you can trust him or not.

For me, it’s great to play those kinds of roles. You don’t have to be the mean bad guy or the obvious bad guy. It’s something different, something that can show people that I can act and I can do other roles – some interesting roles as well.

A movie I did, “The Big Bang,” with Antonio Banderas as the lead, I played a Russian boxer who’s the same thing as [the character] in “Septic Man.” He’s a bit naïve; he’s not really bad, and he’s not really good. He does bad things, but he’s not really a bad guy. I think that’s how people will see the Giant in “Septic Man” – something totally different that people wouldn’t expect, which is fun. It shows the audience what I can do.

DW: In the film, the main character, Jack, is convinced to take on the job of fixing the water problem because of the money involved and the promise of a desk job. What would it take to convince you to make a return to professional wrestling?

RM: [laughs] I don’t know. You think money… well, yeah, money might help. But I don’t know if money would be enough. I did the best I could do in wrestling. I started my professional wrestling career about 24 years ago now back home in the east coast of Canada. And I’ve been very, very fortunate that I did – went overseas and around the world with the biggest company in the world, the WWE, and it was a dream job for me.

It’s different now. I don’t have the passion to be in the ring, because pain upon impact – I don’t like pain. Things started to get painful. When you get older, you don’t recuperate as quickly.

I don’t know; I guess I don’t have the passion to do it. At one time, I used to watch it religiously. Wrestling was 24 hours for me. That’s why I got into it. I loved to watch it, and I wanted to be involved in it. But, now, I’m still a fan of wrestling, of course. Wrestling is always going to be a part of me, but to do it, I don’t know. I don’t follow it as much as well. It’s a bit different than it was 10-15 years ago – different style, different way of telling a story, little more of a high risk, and stuff.

It would take a lot for me to get into it. I still can do a chokehold here and there without [the risk] of danger. But I think my head is pretty much out of it from making another comeback to it. But I still love it. I have some great memories and some great friends, and I had an amazing experience in being a part of that world.

DW: And you said your passion originally was wrestling. I was watching another interview with you, and you said you had no intention to become an actor. Looking at your career now with “Septic Man,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “300,” and even your work in “The Strain,” what would the Robert Maillet who was passionate about wrestling think of the Robert Maillet who is now acting?

RM: That’s a good question. My intention never was to be an actor. That was so far away for me. I was always a fan of movies since I was a kid. But to be an actor, I thought, was so far away, but the wrestling caught up with me. In a strange way, I feel that both are the same thing. In some ways, wrestling is sort of like Hollywood. For me, it’s all about telling a story.

In wrestling, you are an actor and a stunt guy, and you are a director in some ways, unless you have a promoter telling you what to do. Usually, it’s the promoter who tells you the ending of a match – how it will be determined. I see it the same way. It’s very theatrical like films.

For films, it takes longer, and they are a lot more intricate and a little more technical. Wrestling, for me, was over the top, because you got to do the performance for the people all the way in the back row. It’s mostly over-the-top stuff; either you’re very angry, or you’re in pain a lot. To transition into acting, it’s a bit of a challenge. You can’t really exaggerate; you have to be very minimal and subdued.

20 years ago, I never thought I would be working in films at all; I had no intention. And I thought “300” was my only one chance at it, and that was it. I never thought it was going to grow into what it is today.

And I’m very lucky and very fortunate to be working in film and television – especially with the offer of parts from great directors like Guillermo del Toro. He offered me the part in “Pacific Rim” and then “The Strain.” Working with him is a privilege; I’m very lucky. If the opportunity comes along, you take it, I suppose.

DW: A lot of professional wrestlers have transitioned from wrestling to acting – Dwayne Johnson, with whom you just worked in “Hercules”; Hulk Hogan; John Cena; and Roddy Piper. Were there any from whom you received tips when you were making the transition?

RM: I hadn’t really got into contact with them. I mean, when I was on the set of “Hercules,” I did manage to find the time to talk with Dwayne. He’s a busy guy, of course, and it’s hard to find time to talk with him, since he’s always busy. But, no, not really – just some tips.

Actually, there’s a scene in “Hercules” where I had to drag this girl down to the chopping block – I play the Executioner. And they really wanted me to shove her down – grab her by the neck and just push her down to the block and strap her in. And I’m a nice guy; I don’t really do that at home. [laughs] I didn’t want to hurt her, but they wanted me to be rough with her.

So The Rock helped me, gave me some advice and some tips likw, “Grab her by the neck and push in such a way that it won’t hurt her.” He helped me with little tips like that for the scene. She was fine with it as well, she was OK. She didn’t mind being roughed up. She understood that, but, for me, I didn’t want to hurt her at all. But little tips from Dwayne made the situation a little better.

DW: I wanted to ask you about “The Strain” really quickly. Like you said, this is your second time working with Guillermo del Toro; the first was “Pacific Rim.” Is there a difference between the del Toro with whom you worked on “Pacific Rim” and the del Toro with whom you’re working on “The Strain?”

RM: No, I see the same actually in being part of Guillermo’s world really. “Pacific Rim” is sci-fi, and “The Strain” is horror, but for me, I see the same thing in Guillermo’s world. He creates this detail – a lot of detail goes into his filmmaking – and he creates this world. Now, the process for me was the same. I had to wear, in “Pacific Rim,” those huge suits we had to wear as the Russians and we were strapped in the heads of the Jaegers, and it was pretty challenging.

It was challenging for me to play The Master as well [in “The Strain”]. The makeup took three hours to put on the prosthetics and the makeup, and the wardrobe was… I had to wear this huge cape, and the cape weighed about 100 pounds in addition to all the stuff I had to wear underneath. They kept adding clothing on me; it never stopped. It is challenging, but for me, I played one of Guillermo’s creations; his baby, really. But I saw the same director like I did in “Pacific Rim.”

Maybe from filmmaking to TV, TV is a little faster, I would say. “Pacific Rim,” he had months to prep. That’s his style; he takes his time to prep for film. For TV, he’s always in a hurry, because the scheduling was a little faster. For me, it was the same experience working with him as I did on “Pacific Rim.” I was lucky he directed me twice; it was a huge honor.

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