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Interview: Actor/screenwriter Joe Egender talks ‘Holy Ghost People’

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For “Holy Ghost People,” which releases to limited theaters on Feb. 21, Joe Egender wears many hats. Not only does he play the charismatic and crazy preacher, Brother Billy, but he also serves as co-writer and producer.

Loosely inspired by the 1967 documentary of the same name, “Holy Ghost People” tells the story of Charlotte (Emma Greenwell), who recruits the help of an alcoholic ex-Marine named Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) to figure out what happened to her sister. The two stumble across the Church of One Accord – led by Brother Billy (Egender). This community of snake-handlers risks their lives seeking salvation in the Holy Ghost. And Charlotte and Wayne are about to uncover something unexpected.

Egender was kind enough to answer questions about the film via email. Check out the interview below.

David Wangberg: I saw that the documentary from 1967 was a loose inspiration for this movie. Did any of the people subjected in the movie become a loose inspiration for your character?

Joe Egender: The documentary was certainly the springboard for our movie. The images in that film are beautiful and scary and mysterious. The people are completely lost in their own world. We wanted to tell a story of a girl looking for her missing sister and utilize these images as the backdrop; however, we didn’t use any of the people specifically in creating a character.

David Wangberg: Even though this looks at the evils of a religious cult, do you consider yourself a religious person or a person of faith?

Joe Egender: I grew up Catholic, but I’m not religious. My outlook on it is religion does some great things and religion does some terrible things. One of the aspects of religion we were interested in looking at for the film is blind faith. How does a group of people get to a point where they will follow a person’s lead, even if it could potentially cause them or someone else serious harm?

David Wangberg: Billy is not only evil, but he also has a charismatic charm. And we’ve seen many movies where a villain is strictly evil and doesn’t really give the notion of being likable at the same time. If you could take one of your favorite evil characters in any film, and give him or her the same charismatic charm as Billy, which one would you choose?

Joe Egender: Interesting question. Perhaps Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet.” But I wouldn’t want the charm to take away from his wonderful psychotic behavior.

David Wangberg: Billy tells Rachel: “When you handle a deadly serpent, all your pain, all your fears disappear.” From what I’ve read, you were actually handling real snakes for this movie. So, when you handle deadly serpents in real life, what feelings do you get?

Joe Egender: Well, given, I came into the film with a serious fear of snakes that statement did not initially apply. In fact, the opposite was true. But the more I practiced, the better it got. And by the time the cameras were rolling, the music was playing and the people were dancing, I was feeling the Spirit!

David Wangberg: If real snakes hadn’t been used for the film, do you think that might have lessened the authenticity of your performance?

Joe Egender: Absolutely. From day one we knew we wanted to go practical with the snakes, regardless of the work and cost it entailed. We put too much effort into creating a sense of reality during the services not to bring out the real snakes.

David Wangberg: The opening narration talks about how being alone in the world, you look for help wherever you can find it. As an actor, when you first made your way to Hollywood, did you ever have that feeling of being alone and were you seeking help in the most random of places?

Joe Egender: I never joined a snake-handling cult in the mountains, but I did take several trips to the desert to get myself right again.

This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Joe Egender for taking the time to answer questions about “Holy Ghost People.”

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