Ford Austin on being a unicorn and ‘Digging to Death’

Provided by Meghan Mihalchick
Provided by Uncork’d Entertainment

Ford Austin stars as David in Michael P. Blevins’ Digging to Death. Ford’s performance is spectacular in this horror film that reminds us why we love this genre.

Digging to Death is about a man who buys a fixer-upper house to restore and as he’s digging a hole for a new septic tank, he discovers a large box filled with three million dollars in cash and a dead body. He is faced with the dilemma of reporting the body and losing the money or hiding the money and reburying the body. What unfolds next is a series of consequences that lead us to truly discover what’s buried in the backyard.

The film also stars Clint Jung, Sumeet Dang, Bryan Dodds, Debbie DeLisi, Stephan Singh, and Mike P Blevins.

Check out our interview with Ford!

Did you know Mike before joining this project?

Ford: So, I had made a movie, I don’t know, maybe like seven years ago, named Heels, and there was a role, a guy carrying a microwave, that we needed a cast because he delivers a couple of pivotal lines, something that forwarded the plot. And I remembered Mike from another thing in the past and we were kind of associates. We’ve circled each other but never really gotten to work together so I called him up and I said ‘hey man would you be willing to play this microwave guy?’ And that’s literally his credit, microwave guy. And while we were doing that he was like, ‘well, you know, I’ve got this whole grip and electric company in Los Angeles and I’m setting up things, getting ready to start directing movies.’ And then a couple of years later, he came he goes, ‘ I want you to play David in this movie I’m doing,’ at that time it was called ‘What’s Buried in the Backyard?’ And, and I said, ‘Well, you know, you got to give me top billing and you’ve got to make me do a lot of fun stuff and you’ve got to pay me millions of dollars, because it’s such a low budget film that I know you’re got a lot of money to spare.’ I wound up showing up at his house, like, five months later, and he started digging this hole in the backyard, he goes, ‘yeah that’s kind of where we’re going to be most of the film.’ And I said ‘okay, you know this is February, right? It’s kind of cold.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah we got a rain machine. This is going to be great.’ So I asked what my costume was and he’s like, ‘take your pants off real quick,’ I was like what kind of audition is this? I already have the part right? So I took my pants off and he said that’s what I was gonna be wearing for most of the movie. I said ‘Okay, I agree to do this movie, I will do this with you, I will go down this rabbit hole.’ Mike and I have been really good friends ever since he got me out of my pants, and it was a great movie and I really had a fun time making it with him.

Did COVID affect anything with this film?

Ford: We finished shooting the movie in 2017, and we were gonna release it in like a year and a half, to get it all cut and get everything done, so, like two years to get it all done with all the sound and the editing and it was going to come out last year. We were going to premiere it at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, which, as you know or may not know, it is now closed permanently until someone else buys the property and reopens it… but we were supposed to premiere at the Cinerama Dome, and I was like ‘hey man, maybe we should like hold this off because this COVID stuff is really starting to get crazy.’ We had the days booked and everything and then sure enough, they canceled all the dates for COVID. So, this was the earliest we could premiere it.

How does it feel now that it’s officially out and people are actually getting to see it?

Ford: It’s kind of a trip for me because, you know, obviously the pandemic happened, life really changed and I kind of forgot what I did in the movie. And I’ve been getting emails from people, like a guy from Norway or Finland emailed me a couple of weeks ago because it was released in Europe last month and he was just like over the moon about my performance and over the moon about the journey of the film. And a lot of people have started reaching out to me and congratulating me and saying that has really the first time, in a long time, they’ve watched a horror film or a thriller that has really gone exactly where you wanted it to go. There’s this thing that they do in Hollywood movies where they sort of like, they’ll like carry something and then there’ll be like this redemptive scene at the end that will draw everything back, and you’re like, ‘oh.’ There’s no payoff and I don’t want to give anything out about the ending but, you know, everybody has been emailing me the past few days, excited to see it. 

Provided by Meghan Mihalchick
How did you prepare to play David and get into that mindset?

Ford: So, prior to this, I had been to the Actors Studio, which was a lifetime goal of mine to become a member of the actor studio which has created a lot of great actors from New York City. The president of the studio, Martin Landau, taught me a lot of tools over the seven years that he mentored me. And, and then Marty died. And about a year later I got cast in this movie. And I said, ‘well, I’m going to use all these tools that he gave me,’ and the biggest thing that I did was, you substitute, you do a lot of sense memory about moments in your life and you substitute relationships so that when you’re on screen and you’re doing a scene with someone, let’s say there’s someone in your life that’s very similar in dynamic like if you’re doing a scene with your mom and you have your relationship with your mom. You would benefit by practicing those scenes with your mom, or if your mom’s not there, you practice as if you’re talking to your mom. Substituting your mom for that character. So, in rehearsal, that’s a lot of the stuff that I will use because I find that helps me out. I even did a play off Broadway that was Tennessee Williams play, I originated it and there was this kitchen set that they had, and in order to make it really personal, you can use substitutions for real places that you’ve been in your life. Sometimes it helps to substitute your own home or someplace that you’re very familiar with. Now in this movie, I didn’t do that because I had just moved into that house so it actually works towards my favor to not be familiar with the space. I’m actually discovering it with the audience. One of the things that Martin Lando taught us at the studio was to always be exploring and that means to always try and find a different way to do something, and to bring it to the table and give that to the director so that the director has lots of options… So based on all of the work that you’ve done, all the memorization, all of the character work, all of the character study, if the director doesn’t call cut, you have all the tools inside of you. You’ve already rehearsed, you’ve already practiced it. You’ve already trained it, you’ve already explored it. So that now you theoretically could be able to go on for many more pages of improv…

Since Mike wrote and directed this film, did that affect your approach at all?

Ford: That’s a great question because, ultimately, it’s all going to come down to what the director wants and when you have a director who’s also the writer, you know, it’s kind of into this world of being an indie autor, where they oversee how everything starts from the paper until it’s in front of the audience. So, fortunately for me as an actor, if I told Mike I wanted to try something, I told him. If I had an idea, he would listen to the idea. And if it sounded at all good, he’d say ‘do it.’ And if it didn’t sound good, he’d say, ‘maybe we’ll do it. We’ll do it but let’s just do this first.’ He always gives you a chance. Very, very collaborative director. 

As awful as this sounds, considering the content, this film just seems like one of those movies that you’d have a lot of fun with. Was it fun to make? 

Ford: Yeah, definitely. I also learned that carrying around a bag of $3 million is really heavy. I mean it was, I had to carry it up and down the stairs and I remember falling up the stairs and then tumbling down the stairs more than once. Yeah, and there was obviously me dealing with a dead body, that was a lot to deal with. So, there was a lot of humor that happened behind the scenes, because, you know, it’s a really uncomfortable thing so you kind of have to break the tension with a little humor every now and then. It was such an intense, serious thing especially as we got more towards the climax of the movie it was, you know, harder and harder. And I think probably, like, for me, you will see it in the movie exactly where the hardest point was for me to see it. It’s right in the climax. And it’s after I’ve had this big confrontation with the corpse. But, you know, Mike is such a great director. He let me just sort of explore the emotion in that moment and I think it really paid off and he captured it. And it is really, really wonderful… There’s another big part of the movie that I have a lot of fun with, which was my interactions with my boss inside of our office. The guy who played my boss’s name was Clint Jung and since then he’s passed away but it was an honor to get to work with him, and it was really, really fulfilling to get to do all those scenes in the office because there is a major, major incident that happens in there, and it’s sort of everybody’s fantasy about how they’d like to sort of be in office, like no one ever gets to do that in that office. 

Provided by Meghan Mihalchick
Which is worse, dragging a body or dragging the $3 million?

Ford: I’m not, you know, like a huge weightlifting person so, trying to drag bodies and stack bodies has always been a big problem of mine because I’ve done so many horror films. And this is the kind of a thing that I’ve gotten used to doing because it’s the nature of the beast of what I have to do in my career, you know, doing Dahmer vs Gacy, I had to learn how to drink a lot of blood and eat people’s flesh and kind of enjoy that because that’s what it was. Anytime you’re moving a body, it’s obviously the ratio of body weight to the amount of muscle that you have. So let’s say they’re your size or your weight, it’s going to be doable, but once you get into people who are much heavier than you, personally, then you’re gonna have a problem. You’re gonna have to deal with the physics of dragging a body. Maybe you’ll use a fulcrum to get the body over some bumps or something like that. It’s really, really hard. I’ve probably dragged about 20 bodies in my time.

There are a few jumpscares in the film, how did you film those? Did you know the corpse was there?

Ford: Yeah, and all those were practical shots, none of those were digitally created. We did all of this practically, and because of that, there were a lot of times where you had to do a lot of prep to just set up the technical aspect of the shot. So, I did know he was going to be there, and that’s where you really have to prepare and rehearse what that feels like to get completely startled by somebody, shocked by somebody. You have to really practice that and make it organic, just like you would have to practice kissing somebody or pretending to make love in a movie, because it’s got to look real, but it’s not, and if it’s real, it’s a different kind of movie that you’re making, if it’s a sex scene. It’s a miracle because there’s so much technical stuff, you know, there’s always a guy standing there in the corner holding the C standard or something, it’s just like there’s the whole world that is going on behind us. You prepare by sort of thinking to yourself about all the times that you’ve gotten scared and for me, it was The Shining. That was the first movie I was taken to as a kid, except for Star Wars. When I was about 10, I saw The Shining at a drive in. And yeah, I think there were a few jumpscares in that, like that old lady in the bathtub that was pretty scary. But you remember when you got really scared or you remember something that terrifies you. For me, it’s haunted houses. I can’t even go to haunted houses because, well, it’s like it’s not enough to just scare you. These people have to keep coming at you and now they do the thing where they take the chain off the chainsaw and they run the chainsaw straight towards you, and you don’t have any idea who these people are. You don’t have any idea what the background of any of these people are, they all could have just been rounded up at the local Sanitarium and hired to go and run a haunted house, hopefully not. But that’s the stuff that I think about when I’m thinking about jumpscares. I think about haunted houses, like when you turn that corner and there’s like something there, but it’s not moving so you don’t realize it’s there and then all of a sudden it moves, that’s the worst.

Ok, so, your profile picture on IMDb is amazing. Can I ask why that’s your picture?

Ford: You know what I love about that picture? The thing that I like about it is that it speaks to a bravery, and a boldness and I think that it’s a representation of that, your personal bravery. I think it’s also a representation of the whole concept of a unicorn. You know, a mythological magical creature that may exist or may not, but if you’re lucky enough to find one, you’d better hold on to it and you better utilize it, which is what I like to equate my acting ability to, and my ability as a person, not just in acting but in anything I do. I’ve really started to equate myself to a unicorn because I bring magic everywhere I can because I think that’s what this world needs right now. And I think that, we have a lot of people out there starting to do that because we are just getting through this pandemic. It’s a very exciting time and we need everybody to be unicorns right now. We need everybody to bring magic, we need everybody to bring light and happiness and joy to this world. And that’s what I hope to do with my work. That’s why that picture is there.

Is there anything else that you would like to add about the movie, or being a unicorn?

Ford: It’s very exciting, because all the reactions and the responses that we’ve gotten so far are spectacular. And when COVID happened, I didn’t even know if the movie was gonna get finished or get released. I think there’s a lot of us out there that we work and we work and you pour your heart into something, and it’s a miracle if your movie gets released anyway. But then to have your movie overcome a pandemic and get released and get people who love it. When I say I love it, I mean, I have people telling me it’s the best work that they’ve ever seen me do, the best acting I’ve ever done. And for me, that feels really powerful because I did utilize so much of what Martin Landau taught me. And one of the things that Martin taught me, at the actor studio, was when he did that role in Ed Wood, playing Bela Lugosi, and there’s the scene in there where he rolls around in the mud with the rubber octopus. He used to tell us the reason that he wanted to do that without a stunt double, and actually be the one out there in the mud at whatever time of night, was him playing paying homage to all of the actors that bust their butts on independent films for no or little money. For me to do this movie with his tools, and the stuff that he taught me, and to be out there in the dirt, just like he was on his Oscar winning film, that’s the biggest payback, that’s the biggest treat. 

Provided by Meghan Mihalchick
Digging to Death is now available on DVD and Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.