Interview with Harley Wallen: Swedish Breakdancing to American Film

With an impressive background in MMA to which he has been dedicated since the age of 7, actor and filmmaker Harley Wallen received his first taste of the entertainment business when he was introduced to breakdancing. In pursuit of furthering his acting career, Harley travelled from his home country of Sweden to the United States, where he saw some success. Upon seeing quick advancement in corporate America, the aspiring actor redirected his focus.

However, when faced with an unfortunate, life-changing situation, Harley found that he was missing fulfillment in his life. He has since founded a production company called Painted Creek Productions, which he co-runs with his wife, Kaiti Wallen. Operating out of Michigan, Harley has worked with Yan Birch (The People Under the Stairs), Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, Syndicate Smasher) and Tara Reid (The Big Lebowski, Sharknado, Party Bus to Hell). Recently, Harley took a moment from his busy schedule to speak with PopHorror about his filmmaking career, his highly anticipated upcoming horror film, Agramon’s Gate, and more!

PopHorror: Hi, Harley! Thank you for taking time to speak with me!

Harley Wallen: It’s my pleasure!

PopHorror: Starting off, I understand that you grew up in Sweden, where you experienced the entertainment industry for the first time. Could you tell me more about the opportunity that sparked your interest in pursuing a career in film?

Harley Wallen: It all started when I began studying Judo at age 7, which eventually lead to other forms of martial arts. One day after Judo training, a friend of mine used the room to practice breakdancing. This fascinated me, and I got into this form of dance as well. As I developed this new skill, I ended up appearing in a few music videos. Eventually, this newfound talent helped land me an opportunity to appear on a syndicated Swedish television show. From there, I was given very small parts as an extra, and I began hanging around the actors. It just seemed so cool to live and breathe as someone else for a little while!

Harley Wallen

This compelled me to start taking acting classes. Following a little success in Sweden, I moved to the United States to pursue an acting career. I did okay at first. I did a couple of independent films as an actor, as well as some commercials. But things started drying up, and I kind of lost myself. So, I completely put acting aside to pursue corporate ladders and take care of my family. About 15 years later, I found myself in a divorce that was pretty difficult, and the only thing that I had kept up was my martial arts practice. I felt like there was a void in my life. I didn’t feel like I had anything as fulfilling as I had when I was acting. So, I redirected my focus back to film. After a few years of returning to acting, I ended up getting some bigger opportunities because we had film incentives here in Michigan. But then the film incentives ended. I really wanted to see some good stuff continue to come out of Michigan, so I furthered my education in film and acting and began making films of my own.

Harley Wallen as Mike in short film Broken

PopHorror: It sounds like the entertainment industry is something you keep coming back to, and that indicates a real passion, which is great! Being well adept in MMA, how would you say these fighting styles helped shape your career in film?

Harley Wallen: I firmly believe that martial arts gives you discipline and work ethic. It also teaches you that, even though things are not always perfect, you can overcome. It also teaches you to be humble. What’s beautiful about mixed martial arts is that it isn’t always the better fighter who wins. It is the one who has the best day, the best fight or the best training camp. I think you almost have to be humble. But I think that and my work ethic are huge parts as to why I’ve been successful. My work ethic is probably as strong as my talent. There are some people who are pretty talented, but they often fall short of their potential because their work ethic is lacking. However, there are others who don’t have as much talent, but they make up for it with a strong work ethic. So, when you combine a fair amount of talent with a strong work ethic, I think that helps further your success that much more.

Harley Wallen

PopHorror: That is very true. After appearing in several television series, short films and features, you made a small appearance in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. What was your role, and what was it like being involved with such as big production?

Harley Wallen: You know, it was very really interesting to see how everything went down. I actually had an audition to play a Norwegian television reporter. But I told them that I don’t speak Norwegian. I speak Swedish. So, the casting director told me to just speak so that it sounded like Norwegian (laughs). And I felt right away that wasn’t going to work. A couple of days later, I received a call telling me that they were looking for a referee for a fight scene. They said that it was speaking role and asked if I was interested. I said, “Absolutely!” So, I met with them and got outfitted. And then the script changed. They wanted more of an underground feel, so that meant no referee. So, they made me the fighter coach of the winning fighter. We had two scenes. Unfortunately, most of it got chopped up.

But it was a very cool experience and a great chance to see big stars like Ben Affleck. He was super cool. We were on set for probably about 35 hours over a weekend and he was hanging around talking about workouts and diet programs. He was a really down to earth guy. Zack Snyder was a really nice guy as well. My lines were cut, which I wish could have made it, but I totally understand how that happens now that I’m a filmmaker myself. Overall, I had a great time, and it was also a learning experience to see how things moved during production.

PopHorror: That would be an outstanding experience, for sure! It was around this time when you expanded your filmmaking experience to the other side of the camera by writing and directing. What made you decide to do this?

Harley Wallen: When my business partner and I first decided to create a production company after the film incentives in Michigan ended, I asked him what he thought he would be good at and he wasn’t sure. So, I asked him what he thought I would be good at. He said he could see me directing. So, I decided to try it while he directed the technical side, since he had previous experience with camerawork as a hobby. So, at the time, we divided up the work. I also remembered excelling in storytelling while in college, so I decided try my hand at writing.

Harley Wallen

PopHorror: That’s great! You never know what you can do until you try. So, you have been involved in the filmmaking process from multiple angles. Everything from writing, producing, directing, acting and editing. What process do you enjoy the most and why?

Harley Wallen: I’m an actor first. I absolutely love acting. I have also fallen in love with directing. I enjoy telling a story through others. And I think I have learned quite a bit from seeing directors who are completely unwilling to stray from the vision they have in their head, and other directors who can be walked all over and have their film completely hijacked because they don’t have a strong enough vision. There is a middle ground where you’re strong enough to hold your story intact, but you have enough flexibility to allow space for the actors to interpret and experience the characters in the story. I think there is a happy medium between being overly controlling, which takes away from the authentic creative aspect of acting, and allowing the actor to take their character wherever they want, which can prevent the scenes from fitting together.

I find what works for me is that I let the actors act while speaking to them on their level and redirect when necessary, and I know enough of my vision to hold onto it. So, I’ve fallen in love with directing a lot. Writing is another part of filmmaking that is really close to me, because for me, writing is a break from everything else. It helps me recharge my batteries and it gets me excited, but I’m not quite as in love with it as I am everything else.

PopHorror: Given all of your experience, that does make a lot of sense. Filmmaking is a team effort and requires everyone to do their part and collaborate. How many film genres have you worked in, and which one is your favorite?

Harley Wallen: Oh, that is a very tough question (laughs). As far as watching films, I would say that a great thriller is probably going to be the one that ties me down the most. I love more of an advanced plot. Most people who have seen one of my first features, Moving Parts, say that it reminds them of the great thrillers of the ’90s, where you truly don’t know what is going to happen and you’re always trying to solve the puzzle throughout the film. Those stories are so rare these days. I think they’re often trying to dumb it down to cater to everyone. And I don’t like that. I like being able to say that this movie may not be for everyone. Maybe you have to be a little more attentive and you might have to put away your phone when you watch it.

Artwork for Agramon’s Gate

More recently, from directing my upcoming film, Agramon’s Gate, I realize that I love horror. I mean, I really LOVE horror. To make people wait on pins and needles is so special. Even right now, we’re in post-production editing, and I can’t get enough of it! I am communicating to my composer and my editor probably too much, but I am so loving this. I had Laurene Landon and Yan Birch come in and lay down epic performances! I would not be surprised if both of them won awards for each of their performances.

Laurene gives me goosebumps every time I see some of these clips. She came in and she took this role all the way. Her role is a psychotic mother who has been in a mental institution for 20 years. The last time she was free was when her husband tried to kill her before her 12-year-old son shot and killed him. She then thinks that the demon that possessed her husband has passed to her son. So, Laurene plays someone who is really deranged. To be able to play that level of crazy as well as the loving mother in the flashback scenes, it takes a lot of acting chops, and she was amazing. And then Yan. I don’t know what it is with him. He looks like the nicest guy in the world, and then he does something with his eyes and smiles a little and he looks scary and creepier than beyond what you can imagine.

PopHorror: That sounds incredible! Could you tell me a little more about the storyline of Agramon’s Gate?

Harley Wallen: Sure! It all begins at a house party, and the host brings in a psychic reader. They’re all having a good time doing their readings until someone asks if they can try and contact someone from the other side. So, they decide to conduct a séance. The father of Richie, the main character, comes through. Or so it appears. And suddenly, the psychic opens her eyes, looks at Richie and says, “Oh there you. Things will be different this time around, Richie.” Then a shock goes through the group and knocks Richie out of the circle. And the party ends awkwardly. After that experience, a demonic presents begins to show up and mess with people. He appears as Richie’s dead father, making it appear as though Richie’s mother has broken out of the mental institution, and finally, his original victim.

I looked up some interesting things about demons. Agramon is the demon of fear. Essentially, the more scared your get, the more power he gets. I know that is a premise often tackled. But it is a very interesting one.

Harley Wallen in makeup for Taken Over

PopHorror: That sounds very exciting! What would you say was the biggest challenge in filming this feature?

Harley Wallen: There were several challenges, but probably one of the biggest ones was when we lost our hospital location. It turned out that the previous production that had filmed at this location did not respect the place very well, and some things were broken, and they did not clean up after themselves. After we had already been approved, the manager came back and turned us down. This location was essential for some really big scenes with Laurene and Yan who were coming in two days! But something I have learned is that if you stay the course and do your part, you usually end up with something better, which is what happened.

It was two days of pure hell scrambling around under pressure trying to find a Plan B. We were almost ready to clear out a school facility and create a makeshift hospital ward until someone came through and we found a real hospital ward, which was absolutely perfect. It plays so well on screen. So, the two days of finding a last minute location was a scary experience.

PopHorror: That would be a nightmare for any production! What would you say was your favorite part of filming Agramon’s Gate?

Harley Warren: Laurene’s performance. I mean, honestly, we were sitting on set and after each take, we would all show each other our arms and we would all have major goosebumps. It was just very special. She just took it to an unexpected place. I honestly didn’t know she was this good of a dramatic actress. This was a little different from other work she has done. And for Laurene to go as far as she did, it blew everyone’s mind. It was just incredible.

Laurene Landon in Agramon’s Gate

PopHorror: That is a performance that I am very much looking forward to seeing! Is Agramon’s Gate the first horror feature that you have done?

Harley Wallen: It is my first true horror film. My first taste of horror was a film called Taken Over, but that leans more on the side of thriller. I also recently did a family romantic comedy called Bennett’s Song. It just did the film festival circuit, and it’s been doing very well. And I really loved the experience as well. I don’t want to be typecast into a genre, but I think when a great story appears, I want to tell it.

PopHorror: As a lover of films in general, that makes sense. Do you have any other upcoming projects that you would like to talk about?

Harley Wallen: Yeah, actually. I currently have a sci-fi thriller in pre-production called Abeyance. Last year, I read about this transplant procedure scientists plan to do in China to where they are going to take a man’s head off and put someone’s head onto the body. Supposedly, they have already done pre-tests on deceased primates and they actually think this is going to work. And it’s very fascinating to me to think of the ramifications of such a thing. We already have organ harvesting and other crazy stuff going on. We have multi-billionaires sitting around, and now they can potentially live forever. And who’s to say they want to wait for a brain-dead body. Maybe they would like to find one. Maybe they want to look just like this or just like that and who’s to stop them. I also like a little bit of a sci-fi twist. So, in Abeyance, we take things a little further while exploring moralistic implications.

Harley Wallen

PopHorror: That sounds like something I would love to see. Thank you, Harley, for taking the time to speak with me!

Harley Wallen: My absolute pleasure.

With several projects in various stages, the future looks promising for Harley and Painted Creek Productions. We, at PopHorror, look forward to seeing the finished film of Agramon’s Gate, and Abeyance, as well as upcoming projects from this passionate filmmaker!

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