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If you've followed genre films for the past 35 years, there's a good chance you've seen Bill Moseley bringing his particular brand of cinematic mayhem to more than a few roles. Whether it's Chop-Top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Luigi Largo in Repo! The Genetic Opera, or Otis Driftwood in Rob Zombie's Firefly family trilogy, Moseley brings a memorable presence that's undeniable.
It was one of those key roles, reprising the Otis Driftwood character in Zombie's 3 From Hell, that helped Moseley land his latest major character: The Governor, the Western-inspired villain that launches Nicolas Cage on a journey through a post-apocalyptic nightmare in Sion Sono's Prisoners of the Ghostland.
"I was pals with the co-writer, Reza Sixo Safai. We like to talk movies, and I invited him to a screening of 3 From Hell, and I think that was when they were still casting Ghostland," Moseley told SYFY WIRE. "I think he looked up at Otis and looked at me and said, 'We found our Governor.' It turned out that Sion Sono was a fan of mine, which is great to hear, so that sealed the deal."
In Prisoners of the Ghostland, The Governor is the tyrannical but seemingly affable leader of a settlement that feels like a cross between a Kurosawa movie set and the town from Rio Bravo. Clad in a white suit and sporting an exaggerated Southern drawl, he maintains his group on power thanks to a group of katana-wielding enforcers and fills his days surrounded by beautiful women. When one of them, his "granddaughter" Bernice (Sofia Boutella), goes missing, The Governor drafts an ex-con named Hero (Nicolas Cage) to go out into the wastes known as The Ghostland and find her. To strengthen the man's motivation, the Governor also outfits him in a suit lined with explosives, giving him a ticking clock as well as dangerous terrain to deal with.
For Moseley, who's no stranger to playing villains, the secret to slipping into The Governor's blend of smiles and savagery turned out to be the instantly memorable wardrobe, particularly the character's gloves.
"I wasn’t quite sure until I was in Japan," Moseley said. "I got into my wardrobe for the first time with Sion in the room. I put on my Stetson hat over my white suit and shoes and socks, and everything was in place. I still wasn’t quite sure who the Governor was until the wardrobe lady brought out the red gloves. When I put those on, it was like, 'OK.' And Sion looked at me and went, 'Governor.' I was like, 'Oh, OK.' I realized that I was more than just an individual; that I was probably representative of all that’s wrong with capitalism or whatever it was, with the white shoes but the blood on my hands. Once I got that, the voice came, kind of a cross between Colonel Sanders and Foghorn Leghorn. That was the moment. The magic moment was putting on the red gloves, kind of like Cinderella’s slipper."
Prisoners of the Ghostland marks the first largely English-language film for Sono, a fan-favorite director whose past successes include Tokyo Vampire Hotel and Love Exposure. That put Moseley in the interesting (and new) position of working alongside a director who didn't speak much English while he himself didn't speak much Japanese. Still, as the film shows, it worked out for both of them.
"A lot of it, I could tell he was happy because he would smile at the end of a take, and then he would say something and then we would move on to the next shot or scene or whatever. So, I could just tell from his face and body language that things were going well. [Laughs.] You know, it was interesting," Moseley said. "That’s certainly the only time I worked where there has been that kind of a language barrier. I don’t think it’s so much of a barrier as much as it is a challenge, because as actors we convey so much without using language. So, I think there’s a certain sensitivity built into the job. And when you’re all focused on the same thing, there is a general superego that guides us all. It just made working with Sion very easy."
The film also gave Moseley an opportunity to work with Nicolas Cage, one of genre cinema's most adventurous stars at the moment. Though they don't spend the entire film together, since his character sends Cage off on a quest, Moseley did recall working closely with Prisoners of the Ghostland's star. Cage, Moseley said, didn't have any move stair attitude of airs.
"You know, he was really a lot of fun. He was really calm, cool, collected. He is a consummate professional. He knew his lines. He was there on time. That’s the way I like to work," Moseley recalled. "And he goes for it. He is completely non-self-conscious. He shows up; he does his thing. I was just really happy about that. I was worried. I didn’t know if he was going to be one of these movie stars that was difficult to work with, at least for some of the scene partners. But for me, I just had a great time with him. I thought he was a wonderful guy. He was great off-camera, too. We shared some of those long, cold nights—and again, we were shooting in November, December in Japan, where it’s cold. It’s like winter. So, we sat around a little fire stove waiting to work from time to time, and he was just a great guy."
Prisoners of the Ghostland is one of the more promising indie genre releases of the year in a year packed with indie genre releases, a film that blends horror, science fiction, and post-apocalyptic imagination into one wild stew, often with Moseley's Governor at the center of it. For Moseley, a genre legend who's worked with everyone from Tobe Hooper to Rob Zombie, it's indicative not just of the fertile presence of genre cinema right now, but of indie genre film's seemingly limitless staying power.
"I feel good. I don’t think it has ever really skipped a beat," Moseley said. "I think that the horror genre is actually one of the most flexible and fun, in terms of political commentary, social commentary. So much can happen. It’s such a wide latitude. There is always new blood and new ways of looking at things. I look at Ari Aster; I look at Get Out, you know? I am very enthusiastic. I really don’t think that the horror genre has skipped a beat, and I’m just always excited for the next new thing."
Prisoners of the Ghostland is in theaters and on-demand on Sept. 17.