Review Fix chats with horror icon Bill Oberst Jr. discusses his career as an actor and what’s next.
About Bill Oberst Jr.: (Via IMDB.com)
Known for a Daytime Emmy Award-winning performance in “Take This Lollipop” and a ratings-winning role on CBS-TV’s “Criminal Minds,” Bill Oberst Jr. is an American actor of stage and screen whose real-life gentleness and interest in things spiritual are at odds with his often macabre screen persona. Ron Chaney, great-grandson of Lon Chaney, presented Oberst with the first Lon Chaney Award For Outstanding Achievement In Independent Horror Films in 2014.
Oberst’s staged theatrical reading “Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire” won an Ernest Kearney Platinum Award for its Los Angeles debut, and was named Best Solo Show Of Hollywood Fringe and Best LA Solo Show in the 2015 Best Of LA Theater Roundup at Bitter-Lemons.com. In 2017 “Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire” won a United Solo Theatre Festival Award for its Off-Broadway debut on Theatre Row in New York City.
The premiere of the horror-themed episode of CBS-TV’s “Criminal Minds” which introduced Oberst’s deformed killer character (also guest-starring Adrienne Barbeau and Tobin Bell) was the evening’s most-watched TV program. CBS.com included Oberst’s character in their list of “Criminal Minds’ 14 Most Notorious Serial Killers.” The character remains one of only a handful of uncaptured “Criminal Minds” killers.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be the winner of the Lon Chaney Award For Excellence In Horror Cinema?
Bill Oberst Jr.: I cried when I got it, and I smile when I see it. It’s the only award I keep out. Lon Chaney, Sr. understood a big truth: We manufacture our own monsters by the way we treat one another. That truth got into my bones when I was a boy, and it motivates me still. Will till I die, I hope.
Review Fix: What films are you most proud of in your career and why?
Oberst Jr.: In the non-horror film category I’m fond of Chris Eska’s THE RETRIEVAL, a Civil War-era piece. It’s like a tree in winter – bare branches and deep roots. Among horror films I’ve done, my tastes are pretty cultish – I’m personally drawn to enigmatic artistic horror that raises questions but doesn’t answer them, like Adrian Corona’s arthouse horror DIS. On television, I’m proud of the work Matthew Gray Gubler did with my wounded monster character on CRIMINAL MINDS, and in the app & gaming world, Jason Zada’s TAKE THIS LOLLIPOP wins hands-down. Facebook changed their API guidelines because of it, 100 million people used it and it won an Emmy. Not bad for 90 seconds of fear.
Review Fix: You’ve been in so many films. Is it hard to keep up such a schedule?
Oberst Jr.: Yes. 90% of it (the scheduling) is nightmarish and 10% (the work) is heavenly. No heaven without hell, and vice versa. A nice metaphor for life.
Review Fix: Did horror films attract you as a kid?
Oberst Jr.: My God, yes. I was (to use the parlance of the era) the fat kid, the ugly kid, the sissy kid and the smart kid. I felt like a monster. So I loved the monsters.
Review Fix: How did you get into horror films as an actor?
Oberst Jr.: I was a stage actor for the first 14 years of my career. I had no idea I was scary. When I ended up in LA, I found out! The camera reads my face as a mix of melancholy and malevolence, which has become my sweet spot as a camera actor. My inner 14 year-old monster kid was secretly delighted by this turn of events, and still is.
Review Fix: Why do you think horror films continue to resonate with so many people?
Oberst Jr.: Because death offends us. The truth of our transience offends us. Horror, at its best, gives us a way to approach our decay without much pain. Horror helps us to know darkness, which, ironically, makes the darkness less dark. What I do is great fun and cathartic, but it is also therapy. For both me and the audience.
Review Fix: What does horror mean to you?
Oberst Jr.: I love this genre because it allows for brokenness. We’re all broken. Good horror admits that. I have a personal crucifix on the wall of my office which depicts Christ’s body in twisting agony. As a metaphor, and as a truth, that resonates with my soul far more than either pure beauty or pure ugliness would – it is the combining of the two; the seeing that there is always the one within the other; that resolves the chord in us. We sense that such duality is true, I think, because we see such duality in the mirror every day.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Oberst Jr.: As many years of sweet life as God grants me. As many opportunities to be a minister of death as filmmakers grant me. And a chance to show some love each day.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Oberst Jr.: Only a word to the misfits who may be reading this: You are blessed. There are no straight lines in nature, or in us. Be the monster you are, wounds and all. Amen.