ABOVE: CHASE WILLIAMSON AS DAVE WONG IN JOHN DIES AT THE END.
According to its star, Chase Williamson, John Dies at the End is something of a “mind-fuck.” He’s not exaggerating. Adapted from the cult novel by David Wong and directed by Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep, 2002), John Dies features a clairvoyant Rastafarian, zombies, a meat monster, alternate universes, Paul Giamatti, voice-overs, and an oozing, ink-black drug called “soy sauce.” It also leaves you wondering: when exactly did John die?
A recent graduate of USC, John Dies at the End is Williamson’s first feature-length film. His performance as the protagonist, also named Dave Wong, is filled with expert stares: long, exasperated, empty glances and wrinkled foreheads that look as though he might have spent hours practicing them in the mirror. Talking to the actor, however, it becomes clear that he did not—that’s just his natural demeanor.
HOMETOWN: South Lake, Texas
CURRENT LOCATION: Los Angeles, California
DON’T BE FOOLED BY HIS FACEBOOK BIO: My friend was adamant that I create a Facebook fan page. I refused to do it, so she made it for me and she copied and pasted Kelly Clarkson’s biography onto my page. [laughs] I should probably take that down.
TEXAS FOREVER: Do I have a strong attachment to Texas? Weirdly, kind of. I moved there when I was six or seven from San Diego, and growing up I was very resentful of Texas, the whole culture and all of that. But once I left, I grew an affection for it. Austin is like a liberal oasis in the middle of Texas, which is awesome. I wouldn’t want to live in Texas again unless it was Austin, but Austin’s amazing.
CHILDHOOD OBSESSIONS: The Brady Bunch Movie (1995). I would rent it every single week at Blockbuster—I would always beg my parents to take me there and every time I would rent that movie. I don’t know why they didn’t just buy it for me; I rented it so often. And I don’t really understand, because I’ve watched it recently and while that movie is genius, I didn’t understand any of the jokes because I was really young and it’s all really complex innuendo. I don’t know what I liked about it, but I do think that Jennifer Elise Cox as Jan Brady is one of the greatest performances ever put to celluloid.
STATE CHAMPION: In high school, I did speech tournaments—it’s a part of debate tournaments, but it’s sort of like an acting competition. You wear a suit like they do in debates and you go in a room and perform. They have different categories: dramatic, humorous, and duet. Duet, you do a two-person scene for 10 minutes with two chairs. Humorous, you perform all of the characters in the play. It’s this specific, physical style of performing that I haven’t really seen in any other venue: you cut the play down to 10 minutes and you play every single character with very specific things happening in your body and you just pop back and forth. If you practice it, it’s the craziest muscle memory thing—you don’t even have to think about it, your body just does the sequence. Humorous was my favorite; I was Texas State Champ in 2006 [with] Reefer Madness.
JOHN DIES AT THE END: My first impression was just, “Wow, it appeals to all of these quirky sensibilities that I’ve grown up with.” I remember getting Army of Darkness and Evil Dead II for Christmas when I was 12, because my mom heard about them and was like, “He’ll love these!” So, it not only has that sort of throwback element, but the sense of humor that comes from the book is very random, but also cerebral in a weird way that I definitely identify with. I’d just never read anything or seen anything that captured that tone and that sense of humor in that way before. As soon as I got the script, I got the book and just started reading that. I was like, “This was just handcrafted for me—a person with my sensibilities and sense of humor,” and then I looked online and it already has this cult following. I thought I was very internet-savvy, but apparently there’s a whole corner of the internet that I haven’t explored yet because there’s a group of people who have already found this and love it. And when you read all of the comments from people on all of the message boards, which I’m guilty of doing at times, they’re all hilarious people. They’re all just really weird, funny people. The book’s fanbase is pretty cool.
DOES JOHN DIE AT THE END?: That could be up for debate. There’s the possibility that John does not exist at all, that he’s just a Tyler Durden-ish creation of my mind. You could spend hours just thinking and talking about when and if he actually dies, or if he exists. I think it’s titled that because that conversation just encapsulates what a total mind-fuck the entire movie is.
DAVID WONG, MEET DAVE WONG: I did meet Jason [Pargin], aka David Wong. He came to Sundance with us, and he’s as brilliantly funny as I thought he would be and really cool. Did I ask him about what really happens? I didn’t. It seems like it’s written in a way to be personal for everybody, and I know everybody has their own opinions about it. I don’t know if this is true, and I don’t want to offend [Jason] or anything because I love the guy and I mean this in the best way—I don’t think that he would necessarily have the answer. I think that he would entertain my conjecture, but I don’t think that he would have spelled anything out for me, because that’s half the fun of the book.
CONTINUING WITH COMEDY: I’m in a group called Bowling for Tiffany. It’s a sketch comedy troupe with a bunch of my college classmates, and we do sketch comedy around LA. We do it at IO West, which is Improv Olympic, and this place called the Theatre Asylum in Hollywood. We do a show every month or so, we write a lot, workshop it and put it up and start from scratch every month.
My sketches are all really bizarre. I think of who in the group I want to make say or make do really bizarre things, and then I just make that happen. [laughs] It’s not really embarrassing; it’s more for my own personal amusement. I did have this character that was a zombie that was going on blind dates with people—that was okay, it came back a couple of times. I like weirder, more dialogue-heavy sketches.
A WRITER AT HEART: One of my goals is to write something that I can be proud of and show people by the end of this year. I want to write a feature. I feel like I have the ability to, I just haven’t been able to commit to it because I’m afraid of it, which means that I should do it. So I’m going to try. I get a couple of lines into some opening where it’s people running through a field, and then I realize what it is at face value and I get self-conscious and delete it.
PURSUING OTHER PROFESSIONS: I wish I could, but I can’t; it’s the only thing I’ve ever pictured myself doing. Sometimes I feel like I’m beholden to this six year old dream, but most of the time it feels like a—I don’t want to say a calling, because it sounds pretentious, but it just feels right. And I love it.
SPECIAL SKILLS: I’m pretty good at accents. I wrote all of the ones I can’t do on my résumé because I feel like if I got an audition that called for one, I could probably figure it out. I can do a pretty good Australian.
UP NEXT: Sparks with Clancy Brown.
JOHN DIES AT THE END OPENS AT THE LANDMARK SUNSHINE THEATER IN NEW YORK ON FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1, AND IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON VOD.