Even before getting started in film on a personal level, Director Josh Evans has not been a stranger to the ins and outs of Hollywood. His mother, actress Ali MacGraw, was the star of several films, including Love Story (1970) and Goodbye, Columbus (1969). Josh’s father, Robert Evans, is a former studio executive at Paramount Pictures and a film producer, best known for Urban Cowboy (1980) and Marathon Man (1976), while his stepfather is the late, great Steve McQueen. While Josh has acted in such notable films as Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and The Doors (1989), he has found his passion in storytelling and filmmaking. His latest film, Death in the Desert, is an adaptation of a true crime novel by author Cathy Scott. The film focuses on the life and death of troubled casino heir, Ted Binion (although names were changed for the film), and stars Michael Madsen. Recently, Evans sat down with CrypticRock to talk about his life, recent projects, future endeavors, and more.
CrypticRock.com – With your family having such deep roots in Hollywood and films, did you always want to be in this industry? Or did you have your sights set on other interests while growing up?
Josh Evans – I think the first job I ever wanted to do was not in the film business. The first time it became real was when I was an actor, which is very cliché. It was the first thing I deviated towards and the first time that I ever made any money. I was not one of these kids who wanted to be an actor, it just came about. I was definitely going to be in film, but I didn’t know it would be to this extent. You wake up one day and you cannot believe you are where you are.
CrypticRock.com – By now, you have experience in both acting and directing with significant projects under each title. Do you have a preference of being in front or behind the camera? Or would you like to continue both roles?
Josh Evans – I am definitely more comfortable on the side of the camera that does not show myself (laughs). If an interesting opportunity presents itself, I am not opposed to it. I think there are other people out there who are more qualified and want it more than I do. As far as directing and telling my stories, I would do that for free, whereas acting is more of a job, but I enjoy it once I do it.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of acting, your first big breakout character was Tommy Kovic in 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July. How did your involvement in this iconic film come about?
Josh Evans – I was an actor, although I had not really done anything. I only had a small part in Dream a Little Dream (1989), but my character did not even have a name. I would go to my manager’s office at the time and look at the breakdown of the different movies that were being made. There was one by the guy who made Platoon (1986), which was Oliver Stone, but at the time I just knew him from Platoon. He was making a movie with Tom Cruise and there was a role for the little brother. I wanted to play that part, so he got me a meeting with Oliver Stone. When I sat with him, Oliver asked “Oh, you think you look like Tom Cruise?” Now knowing him, I realize he was mocking me, but I said, “Yeah, I do.” So, he said, “We’ll see what happens.” Four months later, I got a call to audition and I got the part. It was very exciting and you could feel how special that movie was going to be.
CrypticRock.com – It was definitely a special film, earning both Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Now, as a filmmaker, your most recent film is Death in the Desert, which is based on true events. What about the story made you decide to take this project on?
Josh Evans – I had been working with author Cathy Scott on another book, The Murder of Biggie Small, and we were working well together. It turned out too big to pull off, due to issues with the rights and budget. I loved her writing and attention to detail, so I asked if she had any other books. She sent me Death in the Desert: The Ted Binion Homicide Case. The front cover was a picture of downtown Las Vegas, which immediately caught my attention. I read the book and I thought they would make great movie characters, everyone was very flawed. These are characters I would want to watch and there was a love triangle, which I loved.
CrypticRock.com – The fact that all of the characters are deeply flawed is touched on in CrypticRock’s review of the film. It is so interesting, because at the same time, they are very captivating characters.
Josh Evans – Exactly, these are lives that you want to watch but you would never want to live. Making the movie is a lot like that. For instance, you find yourself in the strip club at 5 PM, getting ready to shoot, and it was just so depressing. Even in the middle of downtown Vegas, the lights are beautiful, but there is this loneliness, which thankfully turns out great for film.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly did. There are a lot of movies that show the glamorous side of Vegas. However, Death in the Desert really shows the hardships that can come with living in a city filled with gambling, addiction, and so on. Did you spend any time in Vegas before filming?
Josh Evans – I had been in Las Vegas for six months before shooting, with my family. I was preparing the budget, locations, and actors. The Vegas that I was experiencing and discovering was different than what I had experienced before. I wanted to show the real Vegas.
CrypticRock.com – The film did a great job depicting that side. The real life murder trial that took place after the events in your film was surrounded with controversy and mixed opinions. Your film stayed impartial and did not lean one way or another. Did you find that difficult?
Josh Evans – It didn’t matter to me who did it, or what happened. I wanted to focus on the lifestyle, choices, and the tragic outcomes that they all faced. They were victims of their own desires.
CrypticRock.com – Makes sense, and it translated well. The star of the film, Michael Madsen, was a great fit for his role. Did you have him in mind to play the part from the beginning? How did he get involved?
Josh Evans – Michael and I have known each other since 1989, when we filmed The Doors. He has always been in my mind as an extremely talented actor, and as I read the script, he became the most obvious choice to me. He was who I wanted. I called him, he read the script and he immediately had great input and ideas and it was apparent that he would be the best guy for the part. He makes it look effortless, but there are so many subtleties to what he does. He knows how to make the character.
CrypticRock.com – It all worked well in the film. Now that Death in the Desert is out on demand, are there any other upcoming projects?
Josh Evans – I am trying to make a Rock and Roll musical film called Gold Star, which would be set in Coachella Valley, California. I’ve been working on it for years, so hopefully that will happen soon.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds very interesting. You also have a novella by the same name, would this be the same story you wrote?
Josh Evans – Yes and it’s great because it started off as my book, so I have a different relationship with it. I understand it inside out.
CrypticRock.com – Great, that is something to look forward to and definitely check out. My last question for you is actually pertaining to movies. CrypticRock covers all forms of music as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan or either the Horror or Science Fiction genre, do you have any favorites?
Josh Evans – I am not a fan of blood, watching or making it. I did enjoy The Exorcist (1973), The Shining (1980), and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I really enjoyed It Follows (2015), one of my top three from 2015. I loved the way it was shot, the music, and how smooth it was. It was a perfect film to me, so well made. Maybe I will make a Horror film one day, that would be interesting. Oh, and of course, my wife, Roxy Saint, was in Zombie Strippers (2008), and I really enjoyed that one. I know I’m biased, but I thought it was a cool idea.