The Stepfather - Dylan Walsh
The Stepfather/David Harris (Dylan Walsh) © Screen Gems

In 1987 The Stepfather premiered, making Terry O’Quinn a cult star. Of course, he went onto find fame and an Emmy with his role as Locke on TV’s Lost. In the remake of the movie, which opens on October 16th, Dylan Walsh, who has already an established television career with the quirky Nip/Tuck, takes on the role of the stepfather, David Harris, a man with family values who mysteriously comes into the life of Susan Harding (Sela Ward), sweeping her off her feet and becoming engaged to her. But the family is not as perfect as David imagined they would be, and therefore he must eliminate them. I spoke with Walsh on the set of the movie last year, and noticed immediately he looked battered, with a slash on his neck.

Can you say anything about your neck condition?

The Stepfather - Dylan Walsh
The Stepfather/David Harris (Dylan Walsh) © Screen Gems

There’s a place in the movie where I’m after the family and Sela’s character gets back at me, I won’t say exactly how. I get a little wound, so I have a whole prosthetic neck.

In the original your character has his archetypal family imagined, he wants the kids and wife to be a certain way; does he have a similar mindset in this?

Yeah, in this one David Harris is caught up in a 1950s family dynamic, where’s he’s the captain, he’s the king, sits at the head of the table and he tells them what to do and they do it. And this is a whole new deal, these gray areas and negotiating back and forth that he’s not very good with. It’s almost like a clash between two different ways of going about being a family. He’s well meaning, it’s that he wants to be in control of every facet of it. Even in the late 80s when the original was set, families have changed so much – a guy who is set in 1950s ways must be completely screwed. He’s stuffy, he’s stiff, and I imagine he’s had these different families and he’s tried different things. He has a repertoire of tricks and they haven’t worked before and he’s trying to make this one work.

How do you approach the character?

The Stepfather - Dylan Walsh
The Stepfather/David Harris (Dylan Walsh) © Screen Gems

I thought it was helpful to think about the movie as I could as a different genre, and then it kicks in and it is what it is. You get to a point where there’s no escaping the genre, you’re doing standard things that are done in these kinds of movies, and then what’s hard is that you start relating more to movies you’ve seen, images you’ve seen, rather than the character, and that’s where you can get into trouble, and it’s walking a line between those. There are jolts that happen at specific times in the movie where somebody’s hand goes on a shoulder and they turn, that will be in this movie too for the 456th time. And to keep those moments feeling like they’re organically natural is hard. That’s the challenge.

Did you watch the original?

I didn’t watch the original, so if you have questions about the original I don’t know about it. I didn’t want it to interfere with what I was doing.

Does the stepfather go into this family knowing he’s going to do something evil?

Not at all. One of the fun things about this movie is there’s part of this movie that’s a genre that you can’t escape, but there’s this whole section of the movie where you can just forget about the violence and imagine that this really is almost like one of those Hallmark movies where they’re just trying to make this family work. It’s such a common thing nowadays, so many families are patched together, and he’s just trying to do good by these people.

How hard is it to keep a genre picture real, where you’re stabbing each other or attacking each other?

This is a simple, tense thriller, you know it from the get-go that he’s a killer…

That’s definitely been a line to walk. It’s been a battle the whole time. The first day on set, six in the morning we started our first scene together, it was slow going initially, and I think we were settling into the genre that day. But by the second day I was doing stuff running around the basement, and screaming and covered in fake sweat and dirt, and on that day I realized I needed to abandon any attempt to do anything special other than make people believe. I think that’s the key with these types of films, is that you just need to make people believe and nothing more than that. With this story in particular, the simpler, the better. This is a simple, tense thriller, you know it from the get-go that he’s a killer, the first thing you see is him surrounded by a dead family. Most of the stuff we’ve been doing is me running around and breaking through windows and breaking through doors and stuff, so before the takes I do push ups and scream and make the blood come to my face, I think that intensity brings something to it, otherwise I would feel really silly.

Can you turn on and off the evil side?

I’m having so much fun doing that because in a moment you can go back and forth between a genre film and a family story, it’s liberating.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.