The scary story James Ransone told me at the top of our interview had nothing to do with his new movie Sinister 2.
After I apologized to him for a scheduling snafu due to the weirdness of life, he echoed my sentiment and shared that he recently found out he had mercury poisoning.
Apparently the 36-year-old Ransone was experiencing early symptoms of dementia, such as short-term memory loss (and dietary issues, panic attacks, and more), and eventually attributed it to his amalgam tooth fillings. To remove the heavy metal from his blood, he underwent chelation therapy, where he was injected with a synthetic amino acid that would bind with the mercury and exit his body through the kidneys.
OK, forget about Sinister’s child-manipulating Babylonian deity Bughuul; this had me far more freaked. And as someone starring in a supernatural horror flick, opening this Friday, Ransone said the irony is that what scares him in life is reality.
“The scariest movies to me are like Michael Haneke’s Amour,” he said.
Whereas the heartbreaking story of an aging couple is frightening, Ransone jokingly referred to the famous Stanley Kubrick quote about The Shining (and, by extension, Sinister 2) that “anything that says there’s anything after death is ultimately an optimistic story.”
Odd though it certainly is, the anecdote about his poisoning revealed the easygoing, talkative nature of the Baltimore native. He is the kind of guy who asks, with genuine interest, if everything is OK. Likable and funny, and perhaps without sharing the same awkward goofiness, he doesn’t seem so far removed from his character “So and So” from Sinister 2.
Ransone’s resume include memorable characters such as Ziggy Sobotka on The Wire and Corporal Person on Generation Kill – as well as other recurring parts on Treme and How to Make It in America. Yet Deputy So and So might probably seemed the unlikeliest gig to nab him a leading role.
In the 2012 horror film Sinister, directed by Dr. Strange's Scott Derrickson, Ransone’s Deputy So and So was a fanboy cop to Ethan Hawke’s true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt. The deputy was a sidekick who provided exposition and a bit of comic relief. But following Oswalt’s definitive exit, and Sinister’s box-office success, co-writers Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill had to come up with a way to continue the franchise.
Enter Ex-Deputy So and So.
In the film, Ransone plays the cop-turned-private-investigator who tracks down the murder sites connected to the aforementioned Bughuul. The search leads him to a farmhouse occupied by Shannyn Sossamon’s character, Courtney Collins, and her twin boys, on the run from her abusive husband. As the boys encounter the ghost children corrupted by Bughuul and delve through their homicidal home movies, So and So becomes entwined in the Collins family life and tries to break the demon’s chain.
Ransone would love to say his return for the sequel was because he’s so great, but said it’s more that “I’m one of the few people who didn’t die in the first one!”
“I was really flattered to be carrying this franchise but really freaked out … You think you want to be the lead in the movie until you realize, if this fails, I’m f----d” he said. “I was like, ‘How am I going to make this tiny, comedic relief character be able to carry a movie?’”
To do so (and he said he’s still scared he didn’t), the actor said he tried to expand on So and So by watching the Charlie Chaplin movie City Lights, whereas the first Sinister was his version of “The Chris Farley Show” Saturday Night Live skit with the nervous talk show host character.
“Now I’m the sad tramp doing everything within his limited abilities to help out this woman.”
Ransone said without director Ciaran Foy’s assistance, he thinks he’d have gone too far into comedy with So and So on the sequel.
“There was stuff we filmed that was much broader, much more comedic,” he reflected. “My instinct is to always play as ridiculously broad and big as possible. Ciaran pulled it back, dialed it back, and Ciaran fleshed all that stuff out in the edit to give it a nice balance.”
Without veering into precious actor territory (he says he’s not a method actor with any need to give So and So a real name) Ransone’s thoughts and critiques of his own work uncover a guy thoughtful about his own work -- even when it involves facing down a boogieman compared to the more intense subject matter of his previous work.
“Can I be a leading man? I don’t believe myself to be; I don’t think that I am, but I’m in this place as a performer where I think about how to make things smaller, more subtle.”
But Ransone said it will be up to the audience to see if he pulled it off.
Beyond Sinister 2, Ransone is currently in the indie comedy Tangerine as the cheating boyfriend/pimp to a transsexual sex worker just released from a stint in jail. Directed by Sean S. Baker on an iPhone 5s, it debuted last January at Sundance Film Festival and is in theaters now. He will be seen next month in Mr. Right when the Paco Cabezas-helmed action-comedy -- also starring Anna Kendrick, Sam Rockwell, Tim Roth and RZA, based on a Max Landis script -- opens at the Toronto International Film Festival.
And next year he’ll co-star in In A Valley of Violence, where he’ll play the husband to Karen Gillan’s character, and the son to John Travolta’s. Although not a horror, the western revenge flick has a lot of scary bona fides, as it is directed by Ti West and produced by Blumhouse Productions.
Ransone teased the movie is incredibly violent, funny and idiosyncratic, and his role of “Gilly” is “the complete opposite of So and So, and is the most despicable, loathsome piece-of-sh-t character I’ve ever played in the entire history of my career.” Plus, he said he’ll get to face off against his Sinister co-star Ethan Hawke “big-time.”
Meanwhile, if So and So does return for a third Sinister entry, Ransone joked he wants the character to disappear from society and live on a boat with a hook and an eyepatch.
“Kids have to come and find him, because he’s the Obi-Wan, retired cop of Sinister … you’ll see me in deep background, and I’m a grizzled old man. I handed in my badge years ago, and they keep trying to pull me back into this sh-t!”