By Franklin E. Wales
Near the end of a signing in Elizabethtown, KY, a large intimidating shadow came over the table. I looked up to see Reaper M. Jones looking down at me a rather unpleasant scowl on his face. Reap wanted to know why I was in town and he hadn’t been called. I tried to explain that my cell phone dropped its signal, hoping he’d understand. Reaper is one of the most popular heavies in independent movies today. His sizable 6 foot, 300 pound frame and impeccable acting talents keep him in demand. Anyone who actually meets Reap, however is surprised to find he really is the proverbial “Gentle Giant”. Even knowing this, looking at his displeased look sent a chill down my spine.
We invited Reap and his charming wife Michelle, out for a bite when the book signing was over, but it was a no go. La Casa, de Reaper was having a barbecue that evening, and Jacki and I were invited. So as a pleasant change of menu and venue we held our summit over black angus sirloin, cooler of beer and a pitcher of Margaritas. Allow me to say’ if you ever get invited to one of Reap’s barbecues, drop whatever plans you have, and get there… he’s that good of a cook.
With a belly full of steak, I sat down next to the beer cooler with my tape recorder while Reaper grabbed for the Margarita pitcher and I wondered if interviewing ever got better than this?
FEW: How many movies have you actually been in, Reap? Seems like every time we talk you just added another.
RMJ: All together I’ve appeared in nine films and am slated to appear in a few more before the end of this year. Some films take several years to finish because of the normal hurdles any indie director will go through. I would never take a lengthy process as a negative aspect, though, because films like Braille and Mountain Mafia weren’t just thrown together, they were crafted and perfected over a long period of time. That’s not to say they’re better than any of the other movies I’ve been in, it just means the directors are doing their best to ensure a product that all of us can be monumentally proud of.
FEW: In all your work, what generates the most fan mail?
RMJ: One of the scenes most people talk about is my suicide scene at the end of the short film Souled (which is a favorite of Sid Haig). I think it was that everyone can relate to that character, beleaguered by the prospect of financial ruin, so that by the time he sticks a shotgun in his mouth—a sobering moment for me as an actor, believe me—the audience is gasping.
FEW: Any favorite role as an actor so far?
RJM: I guess it’s hard for me to pick a favorite role because I just have so much damn fun playing these characters. I love acting whether it’s on stage or on film so whether it’s someone vicious like General Dornan from Santa Claus Vs. the Zombies or a decent guy like Eric Bateman in Wingman or a blend between the two like Daniel Clay in Chris Kahler’s Graverobbers From Outer Space, I just have a good time on the set and have fun with my roles. Acting can be laborious but it should never stop being fun.
FEW: Unlike many independent actors, you actually have a background in the theater, isn’t that correct?
RMJ: Yes. I had always enjoyed performing, whether it was in a classroom play in school or my Catholic Church Christmas Presentation but I didn’t actually get “the bug” until my second community theatre production of Cheaper By The Dozen where I played Joe Scales. Being the guy who got the most applause during the curtain calls will definitely provide anyone with “the bug”. After that, after the addiction set in at the age of sixteen in 1989, I couldn’t stay away from the theatre and was proud to have never gotten a negative review. All in all I’ve appeared in thirty-five or forty theatrical productions.
FEW: And what about film?
RMJ: While I love film, adore working in film, my background is primarily in the theatre and it’s something I will always go back to. I couldn’t be more proud of my roots and was even more proud when my daughter, M.K. Renae, began working in the theatre as well. My son Caleb is very interested in stepping on stage and has already appeared with me and M.K. in Jason Crowe’s Hell House and they play extras in Braille. They were both bitten at very early ages.
FEW: What’s one of the funniest things to happen while shooting?
RMJ: One of my favorite stories is when I was filming an awesome battle scene against former WWE’s Al Snow and his wife Cynthia (Bobcat) during Hell House. This was one of my few good guy roles in which my character fights the villain at the end of the movie and fares pretty well against him for awhile. Al, Cyn, and I had choreographed this fight scene where he takes me down. During one of the takes he gets me in the gut and I fall to my knees, exhaling heavily from the blow; well, when I go to my knees this booger flies right out of my nose. Al laughed his ass off and I asked Jason Crowe, the director, if he thought it would read. He just smiled and nodded before cracking up himself. That was a lot of fun. It helped that I was working with Al…another really good friend. Whenever he and I get together we play the meanest head games with each other and he invariably wins. I love the guy dearly but he can be vicious in sort of a mischievous way. I love, love, love working with Al.
FEW: More often than not you seem to be the heavy in your work, but in at least one case, Tim Ritter’s Reconciled by the Christ, your character of Franklin proved to show the sensitive side as well. Tell me a little about that role compared to your usual fare?
RMJ: Reconciled was interesting in so many different ways. First of all it was my first starring role on film and only the second film I had ever done. But I had just come off of a six year stint working at a haunted event in Louisville and I was well in tune with my villainous side. Stepping into the murderous side of Franklin was never a real challenge; in fact, it helped me to develop the character that I’ve become known for playing. But, near the end when he comes to the great revelation and accepts Jesus. I had to do a 180 with the character which meant I had to drop any and all guards and become a vulnerable character who falls to his knees, crying on the lawn. It really is a beautiful moment that demanded I gave more of myself than I had ever given.
FEW: Given Ritter’s background of films, did you know what you were in for before signing on?
RMJ: When I first learned that I’d be working with Tim I was so incredibly excited because I was such a fan of Truth or Dare and Creep so I was shocked when I read the script. Tim and I have talked in detail how much of a departure it was for him while being such a personal work. Tim is a truly devout person who turned his life around. While I’m a firmly neurotic agnostic (or Cagnostic, I still practice Catholicism and want to believe in God but I cannot make his existence fit into any logical form) I think it’s wonderful that Tim, who I admire greatly for his belief and his tremendously kind personality, was able to display such a piece that means so much to him.
FEW: I should be meeting up with Tim later in this book tour thing. Any messages—
It was at this point Reap’s face went blank, emotionless, his voice flat and monotone.
RMJ: I bet your cell phone didn’t drop the signal when you called him. And I bet he won’t be grilling you a steak either.
Immediately he broke into his well known grin, howling at the fact he’d set me off balance for a moment. Watching Reap shift in and out of character like that is a bit unnerving, but goes to show how well he has mastered his craft
FEW: How did starring in a somewhat Christian themed movie affect your job offers? I say somewhat because the movie does contain many of the darker elements of Ritter’s work, even your character has a healthy dose of dark side
RMJ: I didn’t get another role for three years and that was in Andrew Willet’s romantic comedy Braille. When he first called me about the role he said, “I hesitate to tell you this but it’s more of a PG-13 movie, it’s not a Christian film.” I laughed until my balls dropped. Actually, and I don’t blame anyone but myself, but Reconciled actually became a bit of a curse to me because any director who knew my work from it, was under the impression that I was strictly a Christian actor. In fact, It wasn’t until after I started performing in more mainstream fare that people understood that I was an actor, not a Christian actor.
FEW: You mentioned earlier that your children have been bitten by the acting bug. Have they ever seen Big Daddy Reaper in action on the screen?
RMJ: Both kids have, at one point, been disturbed by what they saw their father go through in film. Souled came out in 2005 when my daughter was only six so during the final scene where I kill myself she was a little confused and very upset by seeing my death. A few years later when my son was about the same age, or maybe a little younger, he saw a clip from an unreleased short film where M.K. beats me to death with a hammer. He was so angry with his sister and even refused to talk to her for the rest of the night after seeing it.
FEW: Some people might think it was wrong for them to see such things. How do you respond to that?
RMJ: When my kids were growing up they were made to understand that what Daddy does in film or on stage is a separation from who Daddy really is. Plus, I never wanted to shelter my children from the reality that the world can be an ugly place populated by ugly people. They know that what I do is a reflection of the world and not the world itself. Also, having worked in the haunted event industry for so long and being such a huge fan of horror, I’ve always allowed them exposure into the genre. Both of my kids now love horror films as much as I do and were raised to know that there is no fine line between reality and what we see on film or on TV; the line between fantasy and reality is very heavy. I think they understand that better than I do. I grew up thinking that the world we saw in film was an honest reflection of the world we live in. Ultimately, I’m more messed up than they are.
FEW: Any restrictions on what they watch you in?
RJM: I play a truly sleazy character in Almost Nothing Good Happens and they won’t be seeing that one. Violence they can handle and I’m not going to shelter them from it but that movie is filled with hookers and sex and other things I’d rather not have them exposed to. It’s funny how we, as a society, feel that violence is okay but sex isn’t.
FEW: Tell me what you have been working on of late. Get a few plugs in here, make a few directors happy.
RMJ: (Raising his glass in a toast) Lately I’ve been focusing on my theatre work, but I just filmed my part in Jonathan Vanderford’s comedy Wingman a few weeks ago and am looking at starting to play a huge comic book geek in Frozen Mercury’s upcoming Comic Book World: The Movie…hell, I have so many good friends in that one it won’t seem like work at all. It’ll be play time.
More than anything I’m eagerly, eagerly awaiting the wide releases of Cherokee Hall’s Mountain Mafia and the holiday release of Santa Claus Vs The Zombies…I’m so proud of both of them. I’m also really looking forward to seeing the final cut of Almost Nothing Good Happens.
I’m also waiting for Chris to finish with Graverobbers…hell, I’ve worked with so many incredible people, people I’ve really come to love, that I just can’t wait to see the final product of our work together and I can’t wait to work with them again.
By the time he was done plugging, Reap needed a refill, and thought perhaps I would try the famous Reaper Margarita.
RMJ: Ready for one of these?
FEW: (I checked my beer and my notes before saying,) One more question, then I’m off work and I believe I’ll take you up on that.
FEW: So you say. First tell me what is the best way for fans or directors to get in touch with you?
RMJ: I’d love to hear from either one of them either at my e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org or on my Facebook under Reaper M Jones . Like I said, I just love doing films and would love to work with anyone who’s interested in letting me get on their set and have the best time either of us have ever had. I also love to hear from fans…there’s fewer things more gratifying as an actor to hear from someone who you’ve really impacted through your artistic endeavors.
In closing I’d like to say to anyone who’s ever heard the Toby Keith song Smoking Weed With Willie, I can honestly say Drinking Margaritas With Reaper was as close as I want to come to that. Thank God I had Jacki there to drive me back to the hotel. A note to directors out there, if Reap offers to grill for the cast, you must let him. If he offers to make Margaritas I would recommend waiting until shooting was wrapped up. Jacki and I had a wonderful time with the Reaper Family (Reaper, Michelle, the budding actress, M.K. Renae, and Caleb) at their humble abode, and we thank them for it.