One of the perks of being a writer is sometimes I get the pleasure of having some of my favorite iconic actors grant me the opportunity to have an interview! Well, recently I got the chance to sit down and Skype with the one and only Sean Whalen who played Roach in the legendary Wes Craven film – The People Under the Stairs. Beyond this, he has over 100 credits for both film and television on IMDB and has quite the inspirational career. We talk bout how he got started in film, his film history and past characters, current passions, and upcoming projects. Sean was so insightful and genuine, it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had!
PopHorror.com: First off, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to sit down and speak with me!
Sean Whalen: No Problem! Thank you for asking!
PopHorror.com: Well, I don’t want to waste any time, so let’s get right into it! How did you get into the industry?
Sean Whalen: I got into the industry because I was the youngest of four children. I always wanted to entertain them. In elementary, I started doing pantomime. In fifth grade, I did a production of Rumpelstiltskin and I remember sliding across the floor onto the stage and hearing such an uproar of applause. I thought to myself, “This is awesome!” From there I went to Groundlings Comedy Sketch Place. I was really fortunate because instead of having to pound the pavement and find an agent they came and saw me! I have had the same commercial agent for 30 years! I started doing commercials and then landed my first feature length film, The People Under the Stairs. It was great, I worked with my coach and went to the audition and was literally crawling around Wes Craven’s floor. I left and later on got the phone call that I had gotten the part. Being on the set with Wes was really cool. He was so mellow and very nurturing, wanting everyone to do their best. Plus, getting this role as my first film debut was pretty cool because I didn’t have any lines!
PopHorror.com: That’s so awesome, Roach is definitely an iconic character! What was your favorite thing about playing him?
Sean Whalen: Well for one, Roach had to have a heart. You could just tell that he enjoyed and was proud of himself that he got out of the basement and out from under the stairs. He also had pride and excitement that he could drive Mommy and Daddy crazy. I mean he was probably just some nerdy kid; not strong in the outside world. He was just so small and pasty. Inside, he was a stud and outside he was just some weird goober. (Laughs.) You know in all these years I’ve never even thought about Roach like this. If you think about it, Alice and Roach would not have probably been friends if it weren’t for the situation. But he was comfortable around her. When I think about it now, I enjoyed the role because I think I understood him. I excelled in theater and was proud of myself that I was cast in this role and to have been a part of it. I was always smaller, like Roach, but I never let it bring me down! I didn’t really have to do much for the part. It always surprises me how much Roach was loved by fans. I’m not in this movie at all! I think my run time was maybe like ten minutes total!
PopHorror.com: Well ten minutes or not, he made an impact and had the audience rooting for him!
Sean Whalen: That’s really cool people feel that way!
PopHorror.com: Absolutely! You know The People Under the Stairs house is one of my favorite houses in a movie! What was it like working in it?
Sean Whalen: Actually, for the most part, the only shots of the house were of the exterior. Only one scene of the movie was shot in the house. The rest was shot on a sound stage at Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood. All the walls, anything inside was movie magic! Most films just use sound stages. I mean considering they had to blow this house up! (Laughs).
PopHorror.com: That is actually really cool to hear. It’s always awesome to hear fun facts about your favorite movies! I know you touched base on this a little bit already, but what was it like working with Wes Craven?
Sean Whalen: You know he was the most nurturing man. He really just wanted everyone he worked with to just be able to play their parts as real as possible. I remember when it came to filming my death scene, Wes was like, “What do you need?” I told him I just needed to get myself emotionally prepared so I needed a minute. He was so understanding, he shut down the whole set until I was ready to film it.
PopHorror.com: Wow, that is awesome. Beyond that amazing movie, you’ve appeared in some of my favorite TV Shows such as Lost, Revenge, Scrubs, and Castle! What has been your favorite TV Role?
Sean Whalen: Um, TV Role, hmm I’ve never really thought about that. I mean I love comedy. I loved being on Damon Wayans show, My Wife and Kids. I could just improv things and it was really fun. Lost seriously broke my heart. I thought it was going to be this long reoccurring role, but was only four episodes. I read the script and was like what a flaming arrow through the heart! I die! It was still really cool to be a part of it, though. I mean I watched the show and had just watched the cliffhanger of who was on that boat. Then six weeks later I was one of the ones that was on that boat! It felt surreal, it was like I was Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. I also enjoyed my character on Castle. I love making people laugh.
PopHorror.com: Those sound like really fun experiences. Speaking of making people laugh, you were actually in one of my favorite Rom-Com’s! I loved the scene, where you’re playing a male secretary and Drew Barrymore comes over and unplugs your headset your face is priceless! What was it like working on Never Been Kissed?
Sean Whalen: Never Been Kissed… when she unplugged it, it was totally an accidental hit in the face! (Laughs) It really was supposed to be only a one line character. I made the part bigger with just my improv. So cool. I also got to work with Garry Marshall. You know I had a lot of fun working on the People Under the Stairs and Twister but this was my favorite comedy, hands down.
PopHorror.com: It’s one of my faves too! One of your upcoming projects is Death House and it is one of the most anticipated horror movies coming out as people are referring to it as The Expendables of horror films! What can you tell me about it and your character?
Sean Whalen: I play Satan. That is literally all I can tell you! It was really fun to do. I mean I’m not a Bill Moseley or anything but it was fun!
PopHorror.com: Awe! I had a feeling that was going to be your answer! (Laughs)
Sean Whalen: Yeah they are keeping everything pretty lock and key! They want to shock the viewers!
PopHorror.com: Okay Okay! (Laughs) I see you have another horror movie coming out called, Ugly Sweater Party, can you tell me about this one?
Sean Whalen: Ugly Sweater was really fun! I’m like the “Freddy Kreuger” of Ugly Sweater. I’m the dude that haunts the sweater! It’s a fun one! I’m also currently working on my own horror comedy!
PopHorror.com: That’s awesome! I can’t wait to see both of them! I see that you also teach acting classes! How long have you been teaching and what inspired you to get into it?
Sean Whalen: Yeah, a friend of mine several years back said we should do a workshop together. We decided we couldn’t do it as a partnership because it was difficult to split half doing acting workshops. So, now I’m at James Franco’s Acting School for Comedy and Improv. and I’m the main guy there now. I tried to make enough of a name for myself with these kids. I mean some of these kids can be discovered there too! Sandy Issac (NBK), “He said you are really good at this. If you want to know how good, see how many kids sign up for your next class, then you’ll know.” Well, more than half of my class had signed up so I was very happy!
PopHorror.com: Wow! I love improv, I was actually all state in high school! I want to take one of your classes! From all the characters you’ve played who would you say is your alter ego?
Sean Whalen: Alter ego, hmm good question, I don’t know. It couldn’t be Roach because I never shut up! (Laughs) I guess, in some ways, it would be maybe Roach, in that he’s selfless, brave, and not concerned about stuff. He never panicked. He did what he did well. I’d like to believe that I would never give up. He embraced his situation and made the best out of it even with his tongue being cut off. He still found ways to have fun. I’d be honored to be him.
PopHorror.com: I love hearing you go so in depth with Roach’s character! Do you currently have any charities or passion projects?
Sean Whalen: Well, I’d like to look into getting awareness for colon cancer. After I had my colonoscopy, it really opened my eyes. This can be prevented. There is no reason for anyone to die from this and I just want people to know they should go get a check up! You’ll be fine! It is so stupid to not get checked! I don’t want to die or see someone else die from melanoma. My good friend Jami Gertz has an organization for skin cancer, I think I’ll get in touch with her and see what she thinks!
PopHorror.com: That would be cool to start your own thing and bring awareness to it! Speaking of Jami Gertz, you were in a movie with her that was actually filmed in Iowa. Which is where I’m from so I think that is amazing! What was it like working on Twister and what did you think of Iowa?
Sean Whalen: It was a huge circus! It was all about special EFX. Bill, Jamie, and Helen were obviously the focus point and I was just lucky to be in it. Even though my role was small I created a character with a backstory. I made that choice. I was a good guy. At the time I loved Iowa. I had a friend who was doing their residency in Ames, so I stayed there a lot. It was mentally draining to be away from home for so long, though. It took about 5 1/2 months to film on location. It was from April to Mid August.
PopHorror.com: At least you weren’t here in the winter months! (We both laugh) I don’t want to keep you much longer so I just have one final question for you. Since you are a teacher, is there any advice or insight that you would like to provide on how to break into the industry?
Sean Whalen: Only thing I’d say, be like Roach, don’t let anything get in your way! Dedicate two years of your life to it. Live in Hollywood or New York for at least two years. Live comfortably and after two years if you still feel good about it do it! It is a hard business, but anyone can do it at the same time, though. The girl from Crazy-Ex Girlfriend got her start from making videos! You can make a movie on your phone! You want it, you do it! At least this way you can’t say you never tried, like Roach!
PopHorror.com: That’s awesome advice! Thank you so much again! I cannot wait to see your upcoming films!