Actor Marshal Hilton on Building A Character: ‘I’m Not Afraid to Dig into the Dark Places’

Marshal Hilton is an actor working in the business since the early 1990s, a respected performer with a long list of films in all genres. his latest is a thriller called Primal Rage. Recently, we had the chance to talk with him about the film and his character. Here’s what he had to say.

Marshal Hilton
Marshal Hilton–Photo by Richard Wright © Media1 Inc.

Hello Marshal. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. It’s great to have this opportunity. Can we start with you? For those who might not know, how about a brief intro on you and how you got into acting.

I’ve been drawn to creative forms of expression for as long as I can remember. Living in Southern California where I grew up, there are a lot of people working in the entertainment business. The business surrounds you an all levels. As a child I was actually heavily into music for much of my youth. I started out playing Drums when I was six years old. I Picked up Guitar in high school and started playing paying gigs in Rock & Roll and Blues bands. Music has always been a creative outlet for me. My first two Majors in College were Music and Theatre, and the fact that the girls in the Theatre Department were hot didn’t hurt my motivation to go to class. As time went on I eventually changed my Major to Business and Marketing. After several years of barely getting by and sleeping on friend’s couches, I figured that I needed to learn how to make money as well. I transferred to San Francisco State with the goal of an MBA. That’s when I started studying acting again in 1990 with a fantastic acting teacher named Jean Shelton. Jean founded the Jean Shelton Actors Lab and was widely regarded as one of the finest Method acting teachers in the country. She had grown up and worked with Stella Adler, Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg in the heart of the New York stage community and brought that craft sensibility to the west coast. It gets no more real that Jean. I knew then that I’d be heading back home to the Los Angeles area to continue my acting pursuits.    

I’ve seen several of your movies and reviewed a few as well, including The Raking and one of my faves in the zombie genre, I Am Alone. You work a lot in the horror genre. What attracts you to these stories and characters?

I wish I could say something eloquent and thought provoking, but the reality is sometimes they just fall in your lap, and sometimes you get what you can get. The Horror and Thriller genres have been staples in Hollywood’s Indie film world for years. There’s a lot of it out there. For me it’s not a Genre choice, but rather one of character. I seem to be able to tap into emotional pain. Characters that have endured pain, and are struggling to manage the anger of pain, seem to fit my spirit. I’m not afraid to dig into the dark places that we all have and bring them to the surface for display. It’s a cleansing process for me, both creatively and emotionally. In life some people are genuinely happy people. Their lives are a history of balance and love. Some folks, like myself, come from a different condition. We constantly have to work on ourselves to quell the darker sides of ourselves. We have to knock off the patina of guilt and envy from time to time of those who live blissful and balance. I’m fortunate I have the craft of acting to give me that place of exploration.   

Marshal Hilton
Marshal Hilton–Primal Rage © Patrick Magee

You’re a busy actor with a number of movies coming out this year, but I want to talk about an action horror film called Primal Rage. It’s a new take on Bigfoot movies and a refreshing one at that. I’ve seen the movie and was pretty impressed. How did you get involved with the film?

I actually read for the role. It was a typical audition situation. I met Patrick Magee the Director, Angela Lee the Producer and Angela’s Bulldog at some place in Hollywood. I got a call that Pat wanted to meet at his Studio the next day. When I walked into to his Studio and saw all his amazing work lining the walls and ceiling, I just looked at him and said, “I’m in”. I hadn’t even read the script. His work was so stunning and so detailed I knew I was going to working with a guy that was not only passionate, but an artist that had supreme skills. He showed me the concept trailer and said we were going to shoot in the Redwoods forests of Northern California and Oregon, and when I saw his Bigfoot creation, it was a no brainer.

You play the leader of a group of troublemaking hunters who find a little more than they expected in the woods. Tell us about your character B.D.

“B.D.” is the leader of a group of cantankerous and somewhat hostile locals that Max and Ashley have the unpleasant pleasure of crossing paths with while they are making their way back to town. He’s a bit of a blowhard and definitely full of himself. Kind of like a Politician. He’s the mouthpiece of his crew. He wasn’t a “Bad Guy” per say, he just found pleasure playing mind games with people. Patrick and I figured that he was the kind of guy that probably owned the local Hardware Store, the car dealership, the liquor Store, and his band of merry men were most likely guys that worked for him. He’s definitely the Alpha dog in his town.

Marshal Hilton
Marshal Hilton (center)–Primal Rage ©PatrickMagee

I agree. Not really the villian but clearly an ANTAGONIST. Do you like playing opposite the hero?

That’s an interesting question. I do actually. It’s fun to challenge and do battle with an adversary. In my mind, my character is always “the Hero”. A villain never sees himself as “Bad”. They are convinced that their path is righteous and just. They are driven to accomplish something that is important to their dream and they are committed to achieving their goal. What makes them “Bad” is how their actions juxtapose to a moral standard. In their minds eye, they just move the moral boundaries to fit their objective.   

Tell us about your approach to building a character, especially a guy like B.D., who we are meant to wonder about throughout.

I really didn’t have a lot of details on B.D. as far as scripted elements. I just try to look at the actions of what the character actually does, his scripted actions. In life, people are what they do, not what they say. B.D. is most definitely an enigma. We don’t know much about him, but we certainly get a sense about him. His pace, his style, his cigar, his jewellery, they all say something about him. I think what says even more about B.D. is how his crew reacts to him. Know one ever challenges him, so you never know for certain if he’s just a narcissist, or a guy that could possibly be dangerous. And that’s the key to B.D., the element of uncertainty. The only person that dares to get in his face is Ashley. And there’s a moment when he doesn’t take kindly too her attitude, and he puts his foot down. But in another moment he also offers her his coat as a sign of grace and empathy. And yet another moment when he feels kind of like he’s a pervert. He’s just hard to figure out and that’s his power. So that’s how I took him. Unpredictable…

Watching the movie, the director, Patrick Magee, uses a lot of great practical effects, including the monster. Could you give us some insight into filming scenes with the creature? And your thoughts on the effects?

Patrick is a Master creature creator. The list of superlatives for his work in my eyes would be endless. I knew when I saw the Creature in his studio that it was special. The level of detail was insane. I think it took him and his team like three years to make it by hand. His Bigfoot creature had actual fingerprints on the fingers and toe’s. Know one in the audience would ever see that detail but it didn’t matter to Patrick; he knew it was there, and that’s all that mattered. But when I saw the Bigfoot actually sneaking around in the woods on the first day of filming, I knew it was going to be revolutionary with regards to the Bigfoot myth. It was just plain freaky. I mean, we all knew it was Patrick in the suit, but there is such a suspension of reality when a 6’10” snarling beast is coming at you in full stride that it’s hard to explain.

Marshal Hilton–Primal Rage © PatrickMagee

That said, What would you say was the most challenging part of working on the film?

The 13 hours drive too, and from Crescent City, California. In 20 years I can honestly say that it was one of the most enjoyable shoots I’ve been blessed to be part of. It’s not the size of the show, but the size of the heart in the show. Everyone was “In it” 100%. I think the cast and crew knew we were doing something unique and special.

Just for fun, because I have to ask … do you believe in Bigfoot?

Lol… I’m a pragmatist, so anything that I can’t touch, see and smell, generally falls into my field of doubt.

As mentioned, you’ve got a few films coming out soon. Is there anything you can tell fans about?

Several actually. I have a number of projects in various stages of Post Production but these are the nearest to completion. I just finished shooting a Dramady Episodic Pilot titled “FLICKS” that will be pitched to FX, Netflix, Amazon, and all the usual suspects. It’s a quirky character driven story about a struggling screenwriter whose been bumping around town for 10 years and just can’t seem to break through Hollywood. I play his agent Elan, a rough and tumble, foul mouthed, bull in a china shop Talent Agent. He’s an animal. It very much has the Indie feel of a show like the Jim Gaffigan Show. It’s a small intimate slice of life piece. My description of the story theme is something along the lines of “Entourage”, except the main characters are still eating Top Ramen and can’t seem to catch a break. It’s about all the insanity and failures people deal with on the “lower levels” of the Hollywood swamp. There’s definitely no lack of storylines.

I Co-Starred in a Sci-Fi Adventure Drama feature with Gary Daniels, titled ‘ASTRO”, co- written by Asif Akbar and Bernard Selling. It was Directed by Asif Akbar and the film is in the final stages of Post Production and should be released sometime this year. We shot it in Roswell New Mexico. Also in the ensemble cast are Louis Mandylor, Michael Pare’, Randy Wayne, Dominique Sewain, Max Wasa and others. I play “Alexander Biggs” a mysterious billionaire space entrepreneur who recruits an old friend and colleague to help him discover the mysteries of an extraterrestrial life form he’s discovered in another solar system.

I also had a chance to hook up with an old friend Writer-Director Jesse V. Johnson with a little Cameo appearance in his upcoming Action Drama “The Debt Collector”, Starring Scott Adkins and Loius Manaylor, produced by Deborah Del Prete and Charles Berg. It also features Tony Todd, Vladimir Kulich and Michael Pare’, and true to Jesse Johnson fare, I’m certain that it will be a kick ass movie!

I also will have a Supernatural Thriller Film hitting the Festival circuit mid 2018 titled ‘Echoes of Fear”. It’s a Supernatural Thriller by husband and wife team Brian and Laurence Avenet-Bradley, the creative team behind “GHOST OF THE NEEDLE”, “DARK REMAINS” and “MALIGNANT”. I can’t give you too much here, other than to say I play “David”, a kind-hearted yet nosy next door neighbor who Alysa ( Trista Robinson ) keeps running into as she confronts the haunting of her grandfather’s house.

We dedicate a lot of content on our site to great moments in movies, discussing their influence and impact on cinema. Are there any movie moments that have had influence on you or you consider to be great?

“Unforgiven” and “Pale Rider” are quite possibly the finest Westerns ever made…

“Pulp Fiction” and  “Reservoir Dogs” changed independent films forever… 

The amazing moment when Jenny tells Forest Gump that he’s little Forrest’s father, and he tries to ask if little Forrest is normal? It makes my weep every time I see it. It’s a level of humanity rarely seen in Cinema.

Thanks again for talking with us. It’s been a real pleasure. Best of luck with Primal Rage. 

It’s been a pleasure and thank you for reaching out. Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew, I just want to say thank you for supporting this film. It was a passion project for everyone involved. I hope you and your readers enjoy the film. And remember; be careful when walking in the woods…

You can keep tabs on what’s going with Marshal Hilton by following any one of these social media profiles.