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Vampires are inherently cool.
Whether they're stalking crypts in Transylvania or roaming the American West in leather jackets, there's just something about these particular creatures of the night that's instantly slick and packed with charisma. They're also, as the history of vampire movies has shown us, very adaptable, so when actor and producer Noah Segan set out to craft his feature directorial debut, he imagined a way to use the coolness of the vampire to meditate on a major shift in his own life: Becoming a father.
"The impetus for it was really just becoming a dad and looking back at the last almost 20 years of my life," Segan told SYFY WIRE, "having been an actor primarily and having had these real cool experiences where I would get to be with my friends, making cool movies, and then going to film festivals and wearing a cool jacket all the time and having my hair slicked back and just thinking, 'Wow, man, I am the coolest guy in town.' And then I became a dad, and I realized that's not really important, that's not really my life anymore. And then realizing that wasn't necessarily the path and that the path was going to be a balance of the person who I had become over the sum of my experiences of my life, and then the person who I'm becoming in real time as I raise a family."
The result is Blood Relatives, a vampire family road comedy which premiered to acclaim at Fantastic Fest earlier this year, and arrives on Shudder in just a few days. Segan, who both wrote and directed the film, also stars as Francis, a loner vampire who's confronted one day by the sudden arrival of Jane (Victoria Moroles), a daughter he never knew he had. Reluctantly, Francis opts to show Jane a few of the ins and outs of her emerging vampiric powers, and the two embark on a road trip across the middle of America, where they learn, among other things, how to be some kind of twisted family. It's an emotional process for both characters, but it also turned into something quite personal for the film's stars.
"This was deeply personal and I think why the film, I hope, has a lot of heart is because a lot of it had a personal ties," Moroles said. "Obviously for Noah, but for me too. We meet Jane, she's going through a process of adultification, and this grief and loss that she is experiencing with just losing her mom and also these newfound abilities. But I definitely connected to the emotional maturity that you see in her in the beginning. I experienced a lot of loss as a young person, and it's obviously super hard when you're that young. So I tried as much as possible to bring that to her in a way that was through her deflections, like humor, and having her angst and her attitude and her tenacity, because I feel like those are products of what happens whenever you're going through that as a kid."
For Segan, crafting his vampiric characters began with thinking about some of his childhood acting heroes, not just as an aspiring actor himself, but also as a Jewish person pondering his own place in the movies. Francis is an eternally young man with enormous strength and speed, yes, but he's also deeply connected to certain pain in his past, and it all informs his view of the world.
"I think that Francis is very much me in that I think a lot of the things that he's going through, while they are vampiristic, are also emotions and experiences that I went through in terms of just an internal struggle, and obviously a major comment on my heritage and culture, the people that I've come from," Segan said. "But I also thought as I dove deep into that, especially speaking about my Jewishness, and again the person who I thought I was versus the person who I am, I thought a lot about people like Elliott Gould, and James Caan, and Albert Brooks. [They're] actors who I loved growing up who were unabashedly Jewish, but also powerful and also confident and also able to balance a vulnerability and a strength. So I was trying to channel that just a little bit."
When it came to crafting Jane, Segan noted that he imagined a kind of conversation with his own teenage self, then sought plenty of character input from Moroles in pre-production conversations.
"Then when we got to set, being able to be with an actor who is as good as any actor I have ever worked with, is probably the best actor that I've ever worked with, to experience her ability to show up with her take, with her version of truth, [I] realize[d] that she was setting the tone that I had hoped I'd written in the script. And she really did that with this quiet confidence that gave me the motivation and the confidence to keep going. And then we end up in the editing room and we're putting the movie together and I'm realizing, 'Holy s***, not only is Vic coming with this very personal take on her end and acknowledging the personal stuff that's in the script, but she's also doing an impression of me. She's also doing a little bit of a relationship connection.' And it just happened so naturally and happened so seamlessly that we really owe the whole movie and the relationship to her and setting that tone."
Moroles added, "It was so easy, and came... I don't know, just very organically to us, which I honestly think is a lot of luck when you're talking about chemistry. But it is a little bit of work too. And when we first talked, I knew that us having an open communication about where we wanted Jane to go, I had a good idea and I just wanted to make sure that met what Noah had in mind. There was a super clear vision of what Noah wanted."
Through their collaboration, Moroles and Segan made Blood Relatives into a warm, relatable family dramedy that also happens to be about two bloodsucking monsters, but the meaning doesn't stop there. Along the way, Segan also managed to say quite a few things about his place in the world as a Jewish man, America at large right now, and what it means to bring new lives into the current state of the world.
"I think it was very conscious because the script was written not only as I was entering into parenthood, but it was also written during a time that we are unfortunately still in, where racism, antisemitism, ableism, sexism, every kind of big bad discrimination is part of our lives on a daily, if not momentary, basis," Segan said. "And so it really became the old adage, social justice is justice, right? And how can you speak to that? What is your perspective? Because I think that in reality, we are all an Other, and people that love genre, people that love horror, that love sci-fi, that love crime and outsiders, that's what we are all identifying with.
"And so, what is your perspective? Well, in my case, it's being a Jew. So it was simply just a way that I was hoping that I could speak to other people who feel like Others, to connect us and support us. That was very much on my mind, because that's something that I want to leave for my kids. You want to set an example not just for somebody who's watching a movie that maybe you don't know and you can have a conversation with through the film, but also have that conversation with the people who you live with and your friends."
Blood Relatives arrives on Shudder Nov. 22.