Co-writer/director Hunter Adams’ stylish, satisfying revenge thriller, “Dig Two Graves,” opens in 1947 with a pair of bodies being thrown into a quarry. The film then jumps forward in time to 1977, where Jake (short for Jacqueline) Mather (Samantha Isler) and her older brother Sean (Ben Schneider) are planning to jump into the quarry together. He does, she doesn’t, and he dies. Bereft, Jake soon encounters a trio of strangers led by Wyatt (Troy Ruptash) who makes her a deal: he can bring Sean back to life if Jake can find someone to “take” Sean’s place. “Dig Two Graves” shows just how Jake deals with this untenable position.
As the villain of the piece, Ruptash is a seductive, menacing presence in dandy clothes. The actor, who recently appeared in “The Young Pope,” and has guest starred on many TV series, has some memorable scenes in the film. The most notable involves him dressed in a robe and chanting in a cave and handling a live snake. Ruptash plays his role seriously, not as camp, which is why it is so potent. His presence enlivens this nifty little thriller.
The actor chatted with Salon about making “Dig Two Graves.”
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Wyatt is said to have “ungodly intentions.” You basically play the devil in this film. How did you embrace that opportunity?
What I love about Wyatt is he presents obviously in one way, but as the story unfolds, you get a sense of why he is the way he is. That’s why I love this character. That’s not to say what he does is right, but in my eyes, there is some empathy for him. You see how the past can inform the present and the future.
In terms of stepping into the darker aspects of the character, I play a lot of dark characters, and I go towards that work because it’s generally more complex. As an actor I need to find the ways to not play a stereotype or someone who is just evil or bad. So it’s building backstory and justification. Hunter [Adams] had a great gauge. If I was going down that road, he’d make me aware of it. Wyatt can’t be scary, there has to be something seductive about him. That’s a fun area to play with.
What can you say about Wyatt’s distinctive dress sense?
The appearance of the character played into his character. I love that Wyatt seems to be timeless in a way. He could have been plucked him out of another time with the top hat and the Civil War jacket and the boots. His physical presence arrives before he does. You see the hat. . . I love how he first appears in the movie. He is with his brothers at a carnival, looming like a presence, and then there’s a weird flash of them. It’s an ominous presence. It was a wonderful way to introduce these three characters; they are like a unit. His first appearance in the tunnel was magical because there’s this aspect to him that you don’t know whether it’s real or supernatural. He has these powers, but you don’t know what they are. Hunter said they are like the Witches in “Macbeth.” That piqued my interest.
Wyatt gives Jake a difficult ultimatum: she must sacrifice someone to get what she thinks she wants. What would you do in that same situation?
Oh God. [Laughs]. That’s so difficult. If I was playing a character I could go into my imagination. The film broaches that subject. Fortunately, most of us aren’t going to be subject to that choice. It speaks to family and what is important to you. What are you going to sacrifice to get back what is important to you? What would I do? I have no idea. I’d like to believe I have a moral compass that guides me and will continue to guide me.
The film also explores issues of. Can you discuss how you deal with anger and injustice?
For me, I find I have to be active and involved. And then I reach a point in terms of what’s going on in the world, where I shut it all down and take time and decompress and regroup. It can be overwhelming sometimes.
You have a very memorable scene where Wyatt handles a snake. Can you talk about that scene?
The first thing I did on location was meet the snake wrangler, and it was a little terrifying. The snakes don’t have the venom, but they have the fangs. I had two days about learning how to handle the snake. Wyatt needs to look like he’s done this, and he has to appear comfortable with the snake. They had a guy who told me what to do, what not to do, and how to hold it. The actual shooting of that scene was at the very end, so we were all pretty tired, but the adrenaline was going from playing the scene, and on top of it, handling a live snake, forced me to be very present. I was frightened and very present. I became hyper-aware, like folks say they are in a car accident. That’s a great place to be as an actor.
There are several violent moments in the film, none too graphic, but as such they are all quite effective in conveying the dread.
I agree. As an actor and an audience member, I veer to the less is more frightening and effective. It’s more realistic, which can make it more terrifying in a way. It’s about not overplaying it.
Wyatt gets beaten up in one scene in the film. How do you play those moments?
I like physicality. Different acting techniques suggest having physical business that takes you out of what’s being said. It can bring you into the moment and bring in a reality that doesn’t happen otherwise that helps you play the scene.
“Dig Two Graves” addresses themes of xenophobia. What can you say about the film’s timeliness given the nature of politics today?
What comes to mind is what happens at the intersection of intolerance and hatred and fear of the other? I think that one of the things that is so powerful about the film is the ripple effect of ignorance and intolerance and hatred and lack of awareness.
The film shows from its opening moments how people have power over others. How do you see power being wielded?
Wyatt can do something for Jake that she desperately wants and needs. He brings it out to not just about what she has lost, and is experiencing, but what her whole family is living through. He puts it on her, and gives her the power — you [Jake] can change this — and why would you not want to change this? He entices her with his power. But by putting it on her, he tempts her with power. Power can be a dangerous thing when it falls into the wrong hands. Power comes with awareness, consciousness and integrity.
“Dig Two Graves” deals with the supernatural. Do you believe in magic or the occult?
Oh God! I believe that there are people who are practicing stuff they believe in, but I would say, no. I believe in some sort of synchronicity in my life. I’m aware of when things seem to be lining up. That speaks to a sense of something larger, but in terms of magic and the occult, no — but I’ve seen some great people do some great magic tricks.