As the supernatural horror film The Canyonlands gears up for its international release from March 5th (read our review here), our own Peter Gray was fortunate enough to chat with one of the film’s stars, rising talent Sheldon D. Brown.
As a fan of Brown’s work in the film Cicada, Pete was excited to discuss the contrast of the films he’s been involved in, and how it was to film in such a beautiful location as the Canyonlands of Utah.
I saw you last year in Cicada, which really resonated with me, and The Canyonlands feels like the farthest thing from that. How did this film come about for you?
One of my closest friends and roommate from college was the editor on the film and happened to come across the opportunity randomly himself. He gave me a call one evening and asked if I’d be interested in shooting a horror film in Utah. I knew little about the script, but at the time it had been awhile since I had the opportunity to act and was recovering from a few surgeries and being physically out of commission. I was really excited to have the opportunity to continue film work and to get a chance to travel for what I knew would be a really fun experience. I filmed this a year after shooting Cicada and just a few months prior to returning to New York to finish shooting the final scenes for Cicada, so very different experience of shooting a horror with college friends in the middle of the desert to shooting a drama with a team I’m not as close with in New York.
Given the productions you’ve been in so far, all of which feel quite serious and/or personal, was it fun to let loose a bit more in a film such as this?
Of course, I LOVE horror films. It’s one of my favorite genres just for the sheer fact that as an actor you can do all kinds of things you don’t typically get a chance to do with most work. Screaming and running, high stake arguments, and heavy breathing, and tripping and falling and all of these predictable yet satisfying tropes. I was also excited that the black character who is commonly the first person to die in movies and seems to be the loud panicked one in the group was not the case in this movie. I got a chance to be a stoner who avoids the trouble and helps the protagonist until the end and it was refreshing to just have fun. Although, I do wish I got a chance to do some of the action gory scenes, that is really cool!
I find it’s a common thing that so many actors that star in horror movies actually don’t like the genre itself…clearly not the case with you.
That’s unfortunate. I LOVE horror films. Everything from the classic Hitchcock, Night of the Living Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to the really interesting psychological thrillers today like Hereditary and The Witch. I think the genre is fascinating, even the very nonsensical, predictable films are still very entertaining in their formulaic plots. Having grown up watching horror movies with my big brother, it was awesome to shoot one and relive those memories but this time watching me on the screen!
The film has fun with the traditional tropes of horror films in that its characters do get split up. Did you get to interact much with the cast prior to filming?
(Laughs), did I?! Yes, we all slept in the same lodge, at the same facility, hiked together, worked out together, talked, laughed, traveled to town, just about everything together. It was like being at summer camp. And most of the team I went to college with so it was nice to reunite with old friends, even old roommates, and make new friends as well. The lead, Stephanie Barkley, and I had so many scenes with just the two of us, we really got to know each other and become close throughout the process and I still remain friends with everyone after filming too!
It looked stunning too having being filmed on location in Utah. Did you get to enjoy the surroundings much?
Oh God of course. I say to this day that the location is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been/seen in my life. I couldn’t even dream of the landscape I saw. So I was extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to work in that location. I learned a lot about the land from the owner of the property we were filming, the animals, the weather, being away from technology and being outdoors which is something I never did prior to filming. I’ve never rock climbed, or rafted (can’t even swim), or hiked in the desert before but I got a chance to do all of those things and it was incredible! Not bad for a 26-year-old actor at times.
I wanted to ask if this was filmed during COVID or not as the setting and small ensemble feels quite contained…
This was filmed prior to COVID thankfully. I always feel many horror films contain the small nuclear ensemble whether it be a family or a small group of friends but the immense difficulty of getting the team transported to the location with lodging and equipment, it was necessary that we kept the team intimate and everyone wore many hats and worked really hard to put this together. An incredible crew, who made us feel safe in an exotic and at times dangerous location, and just putting in long grueling hours, much of this work would not be possible without them!
The Canyonlands is screening in American cinemas (where applicable) from March 5th, 2021. It will then be available on VOD from March 9th, 2021. An Australian release is yet to be determined. Our thanks to Sheldon D. Brown and Prodigy Public Relations.