Exclusive: Director Julius Ramsay Talks Midnighters

Midnight, New Year’s Eve: when all the hopes of new beginnings come to life… except for those of Lindsey and Jeff Pittman, whose rocky marriage faces the ultimate stress-test after they cover up a terrible crime and find themselves entangled in a web of deceit and madness. Midnighters (review) stars Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) and Dylan McTee (“Sweet/Vicious”) with Ward Horton, Perla Haney-Jardine, and Joseph Lee Anderson and is directed by Julius Ramsay.

We got the opportunity to sit down with Ramsay to ask him about the film.

Dread Central: Tell us how Midnighters came to life and who some of your influences were. Also, you come from TV… were there ever any plans to make Midnighters into a series instead?

Julius Ramsay: It was conceived from the get-go as a feature film, my brother [Alston Ramsay, writer] and I grew up watching thrillers, Hitchcock’s films and Danny Boyle’s first film Shallow Grave, and early Coen brothers. We really wanted to do a film that was in that vein of noir thriller and we wanted to make a movie [as opposed to a TV series] because, though I love television and television has been great for me in my career – I think we’re in the golden age of television, but I do think there is still a place for film. I think film will always be there, and for me personally and my brother, ‘We’ll go and make a film,’ and that’s what we ultimately did.

DC: Ward Horton, playing your villain, is awesome. What can you tell us about him?

JR: Ward… it is funny, he’s certainly playing against type in this film. He was also in the film Annabelle where he was a good guy, and I think all of his roles have been good guys, so Ward himself was really excited to play a villain in this and kind of go in the total opposite direction. We found Ward through a large casting process. We really worked on this for months and months with Kellie Roy, who was our casting director, who was fantastic.

Ward was in New York and had a great submission, and I remember him delivering the monologue, like bouncing a tennis ball, and it was just such an interesting choice that he made. It really worked for the film and he played it… I think a lot of the other actors played it in a very tortured, mustache-twirling kind of way, and Ward, the way he played it, was how a genuine psychopath would play it, like he truly doesn’t think anything he’s doing is wrong. I mean, his emotions, he’s operating on a totally different frequency than normal people. To him, killing somebody is as exciting to him as having an ice cream cone.

My brother and I did a lot of research about psychopaths when we were making this because we wanted to have a character who was authentic. I think there’s something about the way Ward played this, and I think because as a human being, Ward is a genuinely nice, warm, intelligent guy, that he was able to give that, lend that to the role, and it just kind of added a whole other layer on top of the character which worked really, really well.

DC: Your protagonists… for lack of a better word!… all have to act like they are a family. So, how much rehearsal time did you have? And is that essential to you?

JR: You know, in rehearsals and the way that the film was shot, Alex, Perla [Haney-Jardine] and Dylan were together anyway. We filmed this in Rhode Island and they were all on set and then living in Rhode Island, a few days before the start of production, so they all really got to know each other. We would have meals together and every Sunday night we would get together in the afternoon and early evening and read through the scripts and the scenes for the upcoming week. They each would have periods of down time and they didn’t know anybody but each other, so they’d spend a lot of time with each other, just wandering around Providence, Rhode Island, in the winter, and got to know each other and really bond in that way, so that when they got onscreen and were actually playing the characters, even in betraying each other, there was a legitimate fondness between them all.

They did develop their own personal relationships, so I think that came across, particularly when those relationships start to get undermined and people start to betray one another, it feels all the more authentic. It was very interesting… we scheduled all of Ward’s work for the very last week and a half or so of the film. So when his character shows up, he really was, both as an actor and a character, coming into a situation that was already very much under way. I think his introduction into that three-person dynamic worked all the better.

DC: The beginning of the movie reminded me of a case I heard about a woman hitting a pedestrian, then driving home with him stunk in her windshield. He lived for a few days, and she had him trapped in her garage. That’s a real story, but you have a sort of fictional version of that. How do you keep it believable?

JR: It’s what people do all the time. I think people don’t necessarily want to deal with the consequences of their actions and don’t want to face the music. They want to put things in the rearview mirror, so to speak. With these two characters, it not so much about: Is their response realistic? I think it’s more about what their response says about them as characters than as human beings. And so their response about the situation they’re put into speaks to who they are and the types of decisions they are going to make.

And further, it goes into the dynamics between Jeff and Lindsay as a husband and wife. Because, if it was up to Lindsay, she would have made a different decision. But because she has this messed up, sort of codependent relationship with Jeff, she winds up going along with his bad logic.

DC: What are the upsides and downsides of working with your family on a film?

JR: Well, I think the upside is that beyond the shadow of a doubt you can trust the person you’re working with in a way that’s not always the case in this business. There’s just this unspoken trust and bond and total loyalty and the ability to count on that person, no matter how difficult and trying the circumstances are. I’d say that’s probably the biggest asset to it, that you know you have a partner that’s 150 percent reliable, they’re never going to abandon you, they’re never going to do anything to betray you. That person has got your back all the time.

On the flip side I would say there’s not the same boundaries you might have if you were working with somebody in a strictly professional relationship. Sometimes the family dynamics exert themselves so even though you’re still older, you’re men working on a film together, sometimes we can both behave like siblings. These have their peculiar dynamics, especially when it comes to being stubborn and pigheaded about things. I think in the end it results in a better product and you kind of work through all that stuff so you come out with a great film in the final analysis.

On New Year’s Eve, a married couple hits a stranger walking on a dark forest road. In a panic, they take the body home so as to sober up before turning themselves in. But they soon discover that the man wasn’t dead after all – that he was in fact armed and already on his way to their house. As the family is thrust into a deepening mystery, they discover that no one is who they seem – including each other.


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Staci Layne Wilson

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