Interview – Rory Culkin

Interview – Rory Culkin

Nearly anyone who has pursued a career in acting would tell you the prospects of playing various roles are what dreams are made of. Coming from a family of sibling actors, Rory Culkin began his career very young, and as he grown into adulthood, so have the scoop of characters he has played. From his early days in such films as 2002’s Signs, to his formative early twenties starring in other features including 2011’s Scream 4, he always stood out with stellar on screen performances.

More recently accepting the fierce challenge of portraying Euronymous in the film Lords of Chaos, Culkin traveled deep down the rabbit hole to grasp an understanding of the origins of Norwegian Black Metal. Excited to see the fruits of his labor finally see a theatrical release in the USA back on February 8th, Culkin took the time to chat about his career as an actor, the learning experience entwined with Lords of Chaos, plus much more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in entertainment for many years. Having a good deal of success in film and television, briefly tell us, what inspired your path as an actor?

Rory Culkin – I started pretty young. I played younger versions of my brothers when I was between 3-4 years old. I then got my first real film called You Can Count on Me (2000), which was Kenneth Lonergan’s first film as well. 

I started really young and kind of just grew up with it. I didn’t have the usual introduction into it. It is just something I sort of took to and stayed with. My brothers are obviously actors, and a couple of my siblings were actors too when they were younger, but they didn’t really like it, so they stopped. I did like it, so I kept at it. 

Cryptic Rock – And you have done a lot of really cool things. You have worked in Sci-Fi, Drama, Horror, etc. Is that diversity important to you as an actor?

Rory Culkin – Going in, it wasn’t really, but looking back now I am happy I’ve had a chance to do so many different styles. It is nice to sort of change things up. Now that I played Euronymous, and all of these other dark roles, I probably should lighten up a little bit just for my own psyche. 

Paramount Classics

Touchstone Pictures

Cryptic Rock – Yes, speaking of which,  you portray Euronymous in Lords of Chaos. A very interesting story. those who are Extreme Metal fans know it well, but perhaps the mainstream not as much. How did the role come about for you?

Rory Culkin – I got sent a hard copy of the script years ago. Before the title page, there was just a picture of Euronymous in corpse paint in a cemetery with a cloak – that immediately grabs your attention. I started to recognize some of the scenes, I do remember the story of Mayhem and the church burnings – unfortunately what I knew most about was the church burnings.

I spoke to the Director Jonas Åkerlund and I met up with him many times throughout the years, he was always saying, “Hold on, it’s going to happen.” I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, but I held on and I am really happy we finally got to make it.

Cryptic Rock – You do a very good job with the role. The character of Euronymous is a very interesting study. Not a normal circumstance many people may understand, what was it like getting into character for him? 

Rory Culkin – Yea, like I said, I spent so many years thinking we were going to make it, that by the time we did, Euronymous felt pretty lived in for me. It was a lot of trying to learn his music, which isn’t easy to play.

To a lot of people, when you first start playing them, Mayhem, they just think it’s noise and they want you to turn it off. If you get through it, try to learn it, try to understand the lyrics, and you can hear what they are saying through all that sound, you start to form an appreciation for it. It’s sort of a fortress of music. You have to try to get through it and earn an appreciation for it. It’s a strange sub-culture.

Rory Culkin as Euronymous in Lords of Chaos.

Cryptic Rock – Yes, it is an acquired taste. When people hear the term Black Metal, they do not quite understand what it means. If you are a person who never heard it before, you do not understand it at all.

Rory Culkin – Yes, it’s the aesthetics too. It’s a certain look that I know draws a lot of people in as well. It’s a certain type of promotion, that is sort of what the movie is all about.

Cryptic Rock – Right. What type of preparation did you do for the part? Did you do your own research?

Rory Culkin – Yes, Jonas Åkerlund helped me a lot, he was sort of in that scene at the time. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of documentaries, but I also got to talk to other people that were in that scene who knew Euronymous and knew Mayhem. I spoke to their Lead Singer Attila Csihar. I also spoke to some girlfriends at the time, and they were the most informative to me. They would do impressions of Euronymous and describe him as a confident young guy who could read a room, but at the same time, seemed insecure. There was a lot to work with, there was a good foundation for the character built-in. 

Cryptic Rock – Interesting, it sounds as if you dug deep to understand the character. Lords of Chaos recently premiered in select theaters here in North America. Sometimes people in the extreme, and more particularly Black Metal scene, are very strong minded. That said, what have been some of the early reactions you have received from those in the scene?

Rory Culkin – It has been surprisingly positive. Going in, we sort of knew there was going to be criticism from some direction. If we made these guys look like legends, we would be accused from most people as glorifying them. If we made them look like young, ignorant kids, we would get criticized from Metal fans that we made them look like wimps. (Laughs) No matter what, I knew we would get criticism, I knew that going into it. 

The reaction has been surprisingly positive. I went to a Black Anvil show last week in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I went in the back, spoke to the band, and they seemed very into it. They actually came to the premiere and did a Q&A with me. The reaction has been pretty positive, it has been very nice.

Gunpowder & Sky

Cryptic Rock – That is good to hear. It is certainly a scene difficult to crack at times. That can really go for any form of sub-culture though.

Rory Culkin – Right, I think the best of those in the culture are willing to look in the mirror and see the faults within the culture. This also happened almost 30 years ago, I think the genre has evolved and matured since. I don’t think this movie is indicative of the current Black Metal scene. It is just sort of the origins of true Norwegian Black Metal, and it is fascinating. 

Cryptic Rock – Yes. Doing the study, playing the character, and trying to break a part and understand the music, have you yourself acquired a taste for Black Metal?

Rory Culkin – I have. I listen to Mayhem, I have a soft spot for it now. Going into the movie, I listened to a lot of the music Euronymous listened to, opposed to the music he was playing. I listened to King Diamond and Ozzy Osbourne. I am still very much into that. I am into what inspired these guys more than Black Metal.

Cryptic Rock – Very cool. This is obviously a look at the sub-culture objectively. What would you say you have learned from the role and reading about the sub-culture of Black Metal?

Rory Culkin – Very early on going in, I was very intimidated by these guys. Just looking at pictures of them and listening to their music, then I just got an understanding that was the idea, they were trying to scare me. Then I got to sit down with some of them and see how cool they are. To simplify it, it is like I am no longer afraid of the dark. 

Dimension Films

Momentum Pictures

Cryptic Rock – That is a good way to put it. With Lords of Chaos out, what else do you have coming up?

Rory Culkin – I am working on a Showtime show starring Kevin Bacon called City on a Hill. It comes out in June. I am shooting that in Brooklyn and Boston. That is next on the docket. 

Cryptic Rock – That sounds interesting. Talking about your experience as an actor, as you mentioned, you come from a family of acting siblings. What was that like, was there any sort of competition?

Rory Culkin – Not really. Macaulay was very much established. Me and Kieran never really competed for the same parts – I am 6-7 years younger than him. There was definitely no competitive nature. In fact, we would pass each other scripts if I thought I was a little to young for a part, I would send it to Kieran and visa versa. We were pretty supportive surprisingly. (Laughs) 

L to R – Rory Culkin, Joaquin Phoenix, and Abigail Breslin in Signs (2002). © Touchstone Pictures

Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. Seeing you have done features as well as television, how would you compare the two mediums?

Rory Culkin – The benefits of TV is you get to really spend a lot of time with your character and you get to know them, which is is great. Sometimes on a feature, especially an independent film, you really don’t have much time. Sometimes as soon as you get to know the character, you wrap and you’re finished. 

Also, in TV, you have to move fast. Sometimes it’s more about storytelling than performance. You have to sort of have everything together and perform within that short window of time. There are differences, I’m still trying to figure them out.

Cryptic Rock – Right, there are positives and negatives to both sides. Seeing you had a chance to play a leading role in a musical film like Lords of Chaos, out of curiosity, what do you enjoy listening to?

Rory Culkin – I am big into Jefferson Airplane; Crosby, Stills, & Nash – sort of our parent’s music. (Laughs) Researching the part of Euronymous, I sort of could try and start from the beginning and see how Jefferson Airplane eventually turns into Norwegian Black Metal. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – Rock-n-Roll certainly has a timeline and it all flows into the next off-shoot. 

Rory Culkin – Yes, AC/DC were one of the first bands to introduce hell and Satan into the mainstream music with “Highway to Hell,” etc. Then KISS and King Diamond with the face paint. It all really does lead to Norwegian Black Metal.

Cryptic Rock – Exactly! Last question. What are some of your favorite Horror and Sci-Fi films?

Rory Culkin – A lot of people don’t like this film, but I love Prometheus (2012), it blew my mind! I liked Apocalypto (2006) as well. I know it is not really Sci-Fi or Horror, but I am into that kind of stuff.

Touchstone Pictures

20th Century Fox

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