Chad Michael Collins returns to our screens with the new action thriller Assailant also starring Casper Van Dien, Poppy Delevingne and Jeff Fahey. Assailant follows a couple, Zoe and Jason, who book a private cruise in the Caribbean in hopes of rekindling their relationship and saving their marriage. After a seemingly harmless bar fight between the husband and a mysterious drifter, the situation devolves into a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The couple must fight together to save themselves from the Assailant.
Chad stopped by to chat about the film.
Today we got to be talking about your new film Assailant and I’m now officially scared of Casper Van Dien…
I still have nightmares about Casper and after shooting this movie with him, I mean, what a role reversal. I don’t think anyone’s ever seen Casper, who is such a warm, friendly, strong guy play the psychopath that he has in our movie. So, it was really, really fun. Director Tom Peyton also wrote this movie, and for a while we were talking about me playing the antagonist role, and I kind of was like switching places with Casper, with Casper being the lead protagonist, Casper being the antagonist back and forth again. And we were kind of doing it do- si -do until we landed on Casper playing against type to be the psychopath Michael in Assailant. I basically play the protagonist, Jason, who was on the wrong end of that business from him. So, it was really, really fun in that we both got to step out of the normal roles that we’re used to playing, the hero stuff, the good guy stuff. I played the unlikeable d-bag who goes on a journey of redemption and he just plays a psycho from the start which is really fun for both of us.
Casper is the Michael Myers of marriage counsellors in this. That is essentially what he’s doing in that he’s trying to teach your character to respect his wife… he just has a very, very harsh way of trying to teach people a lesson. But what I thought was interesting is, Casper is called Michael, and you’re called Jason – Is that a deliberate nod to the slasher icons?
(laughs) That’s a great question and it’s funny because Tom Peyton’s (the director) vision for this was to have a bit of a daytime thriller/horror. We didn’t lean into the jump scares and stuff like that, like a traditional horror movie. But he said, let’s take something, a suspense thriller with some very terrible, horrifying elements, and let’s shoot it entirely during the day, which I think he pulled off to great effect. The Michael and Jason thing might just be one of the subtle nods to the famous horror characters. I don’t know. We’d have to ask Tom…
Jason, your character is the total opposite of say Brandon Beckett. He’s not military, he’s just a normal guy. What’s it like preparing for a character like this?
Well, there’s a lot less preparation to get your butt kicked an entire movie (laughs). It was just as intense fight choreography wise as the other standard action films I’ve done but you’re on the receiving end of this stuff. It’s a very, very different kind of dance you have to do with your fellow actor to take the punch, sell the reactions, the hits, crash to the floor over and over and over again. Drag yourself up, mount a futile attack, only to be thwarted again and thrown to the ground again and hit in the face again. It was just as intense and as rigorous physically as any film I’ve ever done. I just don’t win any of the fights.
Yeah, that’s not right.
None of the reward, all the work, but none of the reward.
The fight at the end between you two is pretty brutal and almost looks like you guys like made contact a few times, did you?
I appreciate the fight choreography because if there’s a way you can keep people safe and sell it with camera angles, there’s no need to run the risk of someone losing a tooth or having their face split open. I’m all for that but when it’s right in there, I don’t mind getting a little physical because it really sells it and really lends to it. Of course, you’re not going full speed, no one’s trying to hurt each other. It’s very common practice to say, “Hey, let me have it!” or “you don’t have to pull back as much, I’d rather feel it because it can turn me in a direction”. With the Casper stuff we did really well together; he is very good, very physical and very aware of his body, which is what you want when you’re doing that kind of a dance with another actor. There was one moment and, not to throw him under the bus, but I was on the ground and he actually kicked me in the ribs.
I think I know the exact scene.
Yeah! He was supposed to snap and pull back just as you barely make contact but he kind of misjudged it and really let me have it in the ribs. I’ll be honest, that guy kicked hard and I felt for the next couple of weeks (laughs). Most of the stuff went according to plan, but there’s no way you can do action sequences and fight choreography and not get a little bit beat up – cuts and scrapes and chunks missing out of your hands and knuckles and bruises and stuff like that. So, it’s a fun part of the job and you don’t really feel it that much in the moment. You always just kind of feel it the next day, but it kind of gives you a greater sense of satisfaction knowing that you went all out.
Had you been shooting this during COVID or before?
Yes, we shot this last spring of 2021, in Nevis which only has a population of about 12000 people down there in the Caribbean. They’re very safe. It had very few cases at the outset of COVID, and they basically shut the island down for the most part to the general public which is tough because they depend on tourism. So, we go down there and film and I always made the joke that this is probably the safest place in the world to be during a pandemic because there’s so few people, there’s absolutely zero cases and people are not coming in across their border all the time. They’re very exclusive about who they let in, and they have a very strict quarantine policy for two weeks. Once you’re there and you pass the quarantine it really is a safe environment to work in. It was fantastic to be able to work because the COVID stuff has made it very hard on filmmakers. It’s very expensive. One positive test and you shut down for the day, and that’s brutally expensive and challenging. For any filmmakers who are able to get anything done during the pandemic is a huge ‘hats off’ to them. We kind of enjoyed living in that bubble where things were definitely safe down there and we just focused on doing the job we came to do.
How was shooting in the Caribbean? Did the weather behave itself?
It was fantastic. It’s amazing. This island was so majestic and so beautiful – a volcano in the centre, rainforests all dotting the landscape, beautiful ocean, 360 views but it is windy and the clouds come in. It’s like Hawaii. You get some of the rain and then of course, the rainbows and stuff like that. But it was really, really, really great and mostly manageable. Shooting stuff at sea was a little tricky because the wind turns the boat all the time and keeps shifting in the horizon. The wind can be very loud but other than that we probably had more issues with wildlife because on this island, cows and goats and donkeys just kind of roam free. There was no property law; hardly any fences. So, we have some bleating goats and some donkeys. Sometimes some of the birds would go absolutely nuts and it sounded like we were shooting in the middle of a barnyard. But other than that, it was pretty smooth, not a lot of traffic and stuff like that they had to deal with. It was an amazing backdrop, beautiful weather and incredible people. I was really fortunate to be able to film a movie in the Caribbean.
Yeah, I bet. Is there any of your own personality in Jason? I hope not (laughs)
(laughs) That’s a great question. Jason is a guy who doesn’t want to own his faults. His relationship is on the rocks, mostly because of some less transparent decisions he made behind his wife’s back that negatively impacted their relationship. So, they’re in the Caribbean to try and give a one last effort to save their marriage. That’s the place where they began, and they proposed on this tropical island.
You never want to throw yourself under the bus completely, but I think that Jason is a bit headstrong, and he feels very justified in what he does, and of course, I think anybody can fall into the trap of feeling overly justified in what you think, what you say, what you do, and it’s your job to kind of check yourself and not let your ego run rampant thinking you know what’s best for yourself or everyone else in the equation. I think we’re all a little bit guilty of that. I’m also very quick to come clean and take responsibility if I made a mistake or made the wrong call or used a bad judgement. I can relate to Jason in that because he does come clean and he does admit that this is basically all his fault. If he could just have gotten out of his own way a little bit, which is something that we’ve all experienced in life to one degree or another.
Zoewas very patient with Jason. How did you find working with Poppy?
Poppy was fantastic. She was such a gamer. These are tough shoots and I’ve done a lot of movies like this, and I love them but make no mistake, they’re very hard movies. They’re very physically demanding; me and Poppy carry the load, which means we shot all day, every single day, all throughout the script. There’s barely a scene that we’re not in. That’s a lot to do in terms of managing the dialogue, and when you add a bunch of physicality on it and hot weather and everything else, 16-hour days for weeks on end, it is very exhausting and very draining. Poppy was all in and if you look at images of Poppy online, she’s a former runway model and she goes to fancy galas and wearing designer dresses. She’s obviously very beautiful and she came here and basically had to wear nothing but hiking clothes for an entire movie sweating, getting sprayed with fake sweat; it was unglamorous, and it was as far removed from the red carpet as you can possibly imagine. But she was so into it, and she threw herself into it. Never once complained, was such a gamer on such a demanding shoot. I don’t think she’d ever done a movie like this, so she deserves all the credit in the world because she was an absolute pleasure to work with.
I have been a fan of Jeff Fahey for about 30 years; I just think he’s one of the coolest people in the business. Is he that cool in real life?
He is as cool in real life. Let me tell you, Jeff is awesome. I grew up just watching him in movies like The Lawnmower Man. He’s just so good. Like, really incredibly good. I’ve been a big fan of his forever, so it was fantastic to get to work with him. He’s such a knowledgeable actor. He’s so good and he’s lived such an interesting, exciting, globe- travelling life. I love the veteran actors when they have the stories and the wisdom and this that, whatever. So, we had a lot of talks. We were fortunate to fly from Miami down to the Caribbean together on a little charter plane because that’s the only way you can get to this island. We had a great time having some cocktails, flying across the ocean together and just sharing stories and hearing about his life and he’s such an interesting guy, such a talented actor, and I think he absolutely crushes it.
What techniques do you use to make a character believable?
I never came up through the Daniel Day Lewis method actor type thing. I was never highly trained. I never did theatre in high school. Never went and got some fancy high-level degree at NYU or Tisch or Juilliard or Carnegie Mellon. So, I came from a different approach and my approach is just be in the present. Some of the best classic actors and I think these the words of Gregory Peck or someone along those lines who said “Know your lines, hit your mark and listen” and that’s the key to acting. That’s a lot easier said than done, but I feel like that approach has always responded to me. If you stay in the moment, you can connect with an actor. You can find a place that you need to go in a scene while you’re also juggling all the technical things going on around you while you’re trying to focus on that performance. I’ve always come from it from that end where I didn’t come up through doing Shakespeare and high-level theatre and stuff. The best I can do is to be myself, lean into naturalism and just be present and listen and see what magic we can kind of create. That’s always been my simplistic approach to acting in general.
How did you find working with Tom Paton, the director?
I really love Tom Paton. He is great. He has a wicked sense of humour. He’s such an up-and-coming director. One thing about Tom is that he fought for every scene to be great and to look great. When you have a lower budget and you’ve got a lot of stuff to do and not a lot of days to do it in, sometimes you have to make concessions and be like, OK, this is just a two-person talking scene. We got to get through that as big as possible because this is more important, we’re going to lose the light. Tom said “no, every scene is important. Every scene. I would need it to look the way I want it to look for a very specific reason” and he got it, and he was very creative with some of his shots and everything else. Wonderful collaborator. He wrote the script in like two weeks’ notice. We were collaborating the entire time. Would Jason say that? How would he say that? How does this impact the end of the script? Let’s just keep teasing it, tweaking it, making it more real, more natural. It is such a great collaborator, very open to trusting his actors, which I always appreciate because I’m there to kind of serve. We’re all here, right? Let’s make the best movie we can so however that looks, let’s go for the best ideas that’ll make us the best scene, which will make us the best movie, which will make us the best product. He was fantastic, and he’s just got a wicked sense of humour and the guy is so intelligent. If you have a conversation with him, he’s just a fascinating guy. I really hope I get to work with him again soon.
What kind of roles do you look for now compared to, say, five years ago?
Are they paid roles? because those are the ones I’m looking for (laughs). No, I’m kidding. I’m grateful for an opportunity to act and to work because it’s not something you can take for granted in this industry. Obviously, COVID shut the entire industry down for a year plus where it was very scarce for anyone of any level. You can’t take it for granted. I’ve gone up to eight months without having an acting job, and so I’m very grateful for everything that comes my way. I’m not really all that picky in terms of stuff; I’ve always seen acting and each gig is an opportunity because it’ll help me grow and I’ll be a better actor. It’ll enrich my acting and life experience, so I welcome that. That’s one of the reasons why I love this industry and this career to travel, to meet interesting people like Jeff Fahey and shoot in the Caribbean. Such an amazing, life changing opportunity every single time. I love the action stuff. I love to do what I love to do, and that speaks to my sensibilities as a G.I. Joe fan and a war movie fan and the fantasy/sci-fi stuff that I love and the comic book stuff that I love. Those are the things that I love so my sensibilities kind of bleed out into the projects that I really love to do, and I always feel super grateful when I just step into the action arena or this summer I’m stepping into the fantasy arena for the first time, which I’m very excited about. I’m not as picky as most. I won’t just do anything, though. Let me just make that clear (laughs). But I do try to look at every single acting gig as a real great opportunity and treat that very, very importantly,
What would you like audiences to take from Assailant?
The lesson from Assailant. It’s funny because I don’t think anyone intended Assailant to be a meditation on how to have a successful relationship, but that’s really what it is. I mean, it is right, but it’s not. But it is (laughs). I think that one of the takeaways after watching the movie and seeing the whole thing put together is if you’re in a couple and then it could be a friendship or business relationship, it can be a significant other in a romantic relationship. Life will throw problems at you and it’s important to fix things when they’re small and to be able to negotiate those things and find the solutions when things are small, because it’ll be cumulative and it’ll only grow larger and you’ll have a much tougher time down the road. If you put those things off, get them when they’re small. Find your solutions when they are manageable. Don’t wait for them to be bigger and certainly don’t let them bleed out into the public arena in front of a guy like Michael, who will then chase you across an island and make you pay for the sins of your negligence (laughs).
What else are you working on?
Deadline just did a piece on a movie called Dead Zone which I shot last summer with Michael Jai White and Jeff Fahey. It’s a military action horror film about an elite group of soldiers that go into a bombed out post-apocalyptic cityscape where they are trying to extract a potentially humanity saving prototype vaccine. But of course, they meet tons of mutant irradiated freaks and monstrosities all along the way, and things don’t go to plan. So that should be, hopefully, coming out before the end of the year. I can’t say much about my Sniper franchise, but let’s just say stay tuned. I can say two things, which I’m very excited about. When we shot Assailant that was the second of two movies I did in the Caribbean. The first movie I did was a romantic comedy and it also starred Jeff Fahey. I worked with him three times last year, which is amazing. It also stars Natalie Cox and called One Year Off. So hopefully that should be coming out. I did a movie called The Bunker with Tony Todd and Tobin Bell as well as Chelsea Edmonson, who I starred in High Moon with. So that should be hopefully coming out by the end of the year. I’ve got some things lined up and I can’t say too much about right now, but we’re just always trying to keep busy over here. But so hopefully we’ll have a whole slate of movies coming out that people can enjoy very soon.
Hopefully this COVID stuff will go away and life can gradually return to normal again.
Yes, it seems like we’re getting there, slowly but surely.
Well thanks very much for taking the time to chat today and all the best with all the upcoming projects.