TRENT HAAGA: MILD MANNERED KING OF SICKNESS

His last stint at Tempe was on what would become a fun little cult-classic, the nifty back-woods witchcraft movie, “Dead and Rotting”. In this one, Haaga co-stars as one of a trio of friends who run afoul of an ancient crone, accidentally killing her familiar. For revenge, she transforms herself into Debbie Rochon and plants trees in their skulls. (There’s slightly more to it than that, of course.) Though “Dead and Rotting” was made for the same lack of money that the other movies were, the elements here, for the most part, click really well. The art direction is suitably surreal and creepy, and the acting—with a few minor exceptions—is all top-notch. “It was a case where (director) David Barton really wanted to make the movie. He’s an effects guy who lives in Ohio. How many opportunities is he going to have for somebody to give you money and say, ‘Make the movie! We’re gonna bring the cameras, producers, everybody out, and you’re gonna be the director!’”

Haaga, for one, found the shoot refreshing. For some people, the idea of leaving L.A. to shoot in the backwoods of Ohio might not be high on the ‘to-do’ list, but Haaga felt it was needed for virtually all involved. “After doing three movies in three months—and I’m talking about writing the scripts, and everything, with the same crew of people, we needed a little break from each other. I think we were all getting on each other’s nerves by that time. It’s a lot of work. On ‘Dead and Rotting’ we all had to go to Ohio and live together. At first I was sleeping in David Barton’s basement, which was, like, flooded from the storms, smelling like mildew. I’m the producer of a film out in Hartville, Ohio! It was kind of Tromaesque, in that respect, except there were only ten of us instead of thirty-five or forty. The whole thing that we went to Ohio to do it is what made it look so good and made it fun. We didn’t have to contain ourselves to one location, or anything like that.”

Interestingly, for all the acting he does, it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that Haaga enjoys the most. In fact, he finds it odd that people keep casting him as an actor at all. Take his reaction to “Dr. Horror”—“(Paul) sent it to me, and I popped it in, watched about thirty minutes of it. Dude, I’m such a ham. I’m so bad. And I’m not one of those hyper-critical—I don’t consider myself an actor. If you can get me to hit a mark and say a line, that’s about as good as you’re going to get from me. In that one, I’m just so hammy, I think it’s trouble. It’s the same with a lot of my stuff. Something like ‘Terror Firmer’, where I’m just a little character I can watch the movie and enjoy it. But if I’m in the movie too much – and, again, I swear I’m not one of those hyper-critical weird actor-types, but man, watching myself in every scene in ‘Suburban Nightmare’, I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t do it.’”

“Suburban Nighmare” is Haaga’s latest, due out in a few weeks through EI Entertainment’s Shock-O-Rama label. Produced by Rochon (who does not appear in the film, though the original story was hers) and directed by Jon Keeyes (“American Nightmare”), Haaga co-stars with Brandy Little (“Hallow’s End”) as a pair of serial killers going through some extreme marital duress. The set here was a little bit Tempe, a little bit Troma, in that Keeyes’ Highland Myst company consists solely of friends who occasionally come together and put their lives on hold to make a movie. Very rarely is there tension or in-fighting on-set.

“(‘Suburban Nightmare’) was really smooth and really nice. I mean, it’s a talky drama where all the action takes place in one house, almost one room, on video – how tough could it have been? For me, I just like meeting new people, going to Texas, working with a tight-knit little crew. A lot of them didn’t have crew experience, but they were all friends. It was more of a – I don’t know – a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. We shot it in nine days, I didn’t feel any undue pressure. As an actor, you feel less pressure than when you’re on crew, but I don’t think any one felt a lot of pressure. I stayed on Jon’s couch, basically. It was cool. I really liked the spirit of going out and shooting a movie with no money, but with people who are just into it.”

There’s a pause, then Haaga continues, “I gotta say, I don’t know if it’s fit for print, or whatever, but I didn’t necessarily get along with the one of the lead actresses). She represented everything I don’t like about actors and why I disassociate myself with actors. When she was basically the only other actor in the movie, I just went right over to the crew. I was eating with the crew. You walk into a situation like that – people only knew me as an actor and people have preconceived notions about actors. And nine times out of ten, they’re pretty much right. You get a Debbie Rochon every once in a while, but in my experience it’s a lot of (the opposite). And I don’t truck with that, man. These people, these actors, are just as integral as an A.C., but you don’t see an A.C. getting in front of the line for food. If they can bring something to it, that’s great, but they have to get into that spirit of the thing. That’s the thing, a lot of actors don’t do it because they even enjoy the craft. They do it because they wanna get rich and famous. (This woman in question)— you’re virtually in every single frame of the movie—we’ve only been shooting for ten hours and you’re asking when you get to go home? That’s just rude, man! These people have been working just as hard – no, twice as hard – they’re working harder than you to make the thing good, and you’re gonna get all the glory from it!”

After nearly a dozen leading roles in movies that can be rented in video stores across the country, Haaga is ready to move on. Or, rather, back— to behind the camera. “At this point, man, my big, big dream is I wanna direct a movie. ‘The Toxic Avenger IV’, yeah, I wrote it, I had to come up with the framework for that. And then there was just this constant barrage of people telling me ‘put this in there, put that in there!’ So by the time you’re done you’re left with something that is not exactly what I consider fair representation of my cinematic worldview. I just want more control. Even though I’m not a director, I would just like to be able to say that I did it. I’m on my second script this month. I’m concentrating more on the writing and production. Acting is great, I’m flattered that people would even think of me that way. But I can’t say that I’m an actor. I’ve had no training, I never had much of a desire to do it. I’ve never read an acting book or taken an acting class. In reality, we know that’s what qualifies you to be an actor. I’ve just been in like, twenty movies.

“My big goal this year, my kid is getting old enough around summer time where I can consider some day care. Write a script a month this year. And then, by the beginning of next year, have something out of that group that, you know, okay, we can make this happen. The big plan, for me, is to take everything I’ve learned from all these other guys, get ten or fifteen thousand dollars myself and go to Newburg, Indiana, where my parents live, get all the local support from those people, get them to close down places or whatever so I can make a film that will look like it’s a hundred thousand dollar film. That’s the loose plan, but I’m also keeping it open. I’ll take anything that comes by that looks like something I might be interested in.”

The irony is, of course, that Haaga is a good actor, whatever his own assessment of his talents might be. And he has made a lot of good friends in the industry who continue to recommend him for work, especially his usual co-star, Debbie Rochon. This isn’t lost on him, either. “I love that Debbie, man. That’s why I want to move into the directing end of things, because I need to pay her back and pay her back big time. I need to give her the best goddamn role of her life! I know what she’s capable of, and a lot of people who hire her just don’t understand. By fucking god, she is good! I think she’s under-utilized.”

With “The Ghouls” in limbo, and the directing bug gnawing at him, Haaga is struggling to just move forward. The goal in place and in sight, sometime soon, don’t be too surprised if you hear that there will be a genuine “Trent Haaga Film” on the horizon. Until that time, be on the lookout for “Suburban Nightmare” and “Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots”.




Posted on April 28, 2004 in Interviews by

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