Everyone has a story to tell, and Noah Segan finally found his.
The Blood Relatives writer/director/star, who’s most known for his ongoing collaboration with filmmaker Rian Johnson, has spent the majority of his life performing on sets, but he never really considered directing a feature film until recently. It was fatherhood that ultimately changed his perspective, and the pandemic, in turn, provided him the time and opportunity that led to the creation of Blood Relatives, a horror-comedy about a 115-year-old Jewish vampire (Segan) who discovers he has a teenage daughter (Victoria Moroles).
“I started a family and I discovered who I really am,” Segan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So the story sort of sprang from that, while trying to obviously think about it in terms of the movies that I like and the stories that I like, which often happen to be genre tales. I don’t know that I was thinking, ‘How can I milk the Jewish vampire thing all the way through?’ I had never seen this character before, except in the mirror.”
From Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell to Christopher Nolan and Michael Caine, a number of directors have good luck charms that they include in most, if not all, of their projects. And for Rian Johnson, Segan is that good luck charm as the actor has appeared in all of his feature films, including 2019’s smash hit Knives Out. Segan also played the fireman who discovers Holly White inside a fire truck on Johnson’s third-and-final episode of Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias.”
But once Johnson committed to making more films in the Knives Out universe, many of his die-hard fans wondered how he’d incorporate Segan into the mix, considering Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc was slated to be the one-and-only constant from film to film. However, with Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery nearing its limited theatrical run on Nov. 23rd, it can now be said that Segan plays a new character named Derol. He previously portrayed Massachusetts State Police detective Trooper Wagner in the 2019 film.
“It is safe to say that these guys are stuck with me. I’m an albatross who’s just always hanging around,” Segan says with a laugh.
In a recent conversation with THR, Segan also discusses the invaluable support he received from Johnson and Frank Oz during the making of Blood Relatives.
Well, you’ve been acting since you were a kid, but have you always had an eye on directing someday?
I have not. (Laughs.). I should have, probably. I’ve always loved being on sets, and that has very much been the driving force in my career. It’s getting onto sets with people who I like and people who I love, and so I’ve been incredibly lucky to have done that. Directing kind of stemmed out of having some time to write and then really feeling like I had a story to tell and that I might be the person to help usher the script along into an actual movie.
So what’s the origin story behind Blood Relatives?
I have spent almost 20 years acting in movies, some of which are really cool, and I got to have a lot of cool experiences. I got to go to film festivals and locations and be around really interesting, fun people. So that can be very contagious. I also think I developed a persona where I thought that I was a really cool guy and that I had all of these cool things going on in my life, which I did. But I thought all of that reflected on me, which, of course, it doesn’t. None of that stuff is really who you are. But then I started a family and I discovered who I really am. So the story sort of sprang from that, while trying to obviously think about it in terms of the movies that I like and the stories that I like, which often happen to be genre tales, horror movies, monster movies and those sorts of things.
A lot of people start writing scripts that they never finish. So, story wise or character wise, when did you know you had to see this through no matter what?
I don’t know that I had what you’re describing, which is a false start. I had plenty of crises of confidence, but the feeling that I needed to resolve something with this story just kept me going. I believe that my life is a series of happy endings, and I really wanted that to reflect in the story. So I was writing all of these conflicts because that’s a story. What happens in our lives are conflicts and questions. So I kept on trying to push myself towards finding a positive resolution because that’s what I want and that’s what I’ve been lucky enough to find. I tried to balance out the conflict, the tragedy and some of the spookiness, along with the happy ending, and that kept me motivated.
So it wasn’t as simple as, “Hey, I’ve never seen a Yiddish-speaking vampire before”?
I don’t know that I was thinking, “How can I milk the Jewish vampire thing all the way through?” (Laughs.) I don’t know that I was thinking, “Okay, what is the natural apex of Jewish vampire lore?” I had never seen this character before, except in the mirror. If anything, I was just trying to get to a place where I felt like I had fully expressed what this guy is going through and what his daughter is going through and what the world around them looks like as it changes and forms and becomes a place where they can exist.
When I got to a place where it felt like, “I have a family, they’re together, they’re invested, they’re lovely and they care about one another. They’re on an adventure now, hopefully forever,” that felt like a natural endpoint. But, of course, along the way, I was playing with this concept of the Jewish vampire, the reluctant dad, the artifice of the cool car and the leather jackets and the nighttime and all of that. Listen, I’m just stealing from my favorite movies, and so I just wanted to do the stuff that I loved in my favorite films.
The Days for Nite Inn was a nice touch shortly after a scene that’s shot day for night.
Thank you. We had a very short schedule of 18 days, and on a movie like this, you’re asking your crew and your partners to really show up and give it their all. And it’s often very difficult to do that. So from the get-go, I was trying to conceptualize mechanisms that I love in movies, that can push the story along in a way that will make it a joy to do. It’s not just the end product, but the process itself. So I realized that I love movies with rear projection or LED projection as the case may be. I love movies that shoot day for night. It speaks to the language of cinema, and even people who don’t study this stuff like we do, can appreciate it and find a smile in it. These mechanisms make people feel a little bit of that movie magic, and so that became another driving force. I really tried to manipulate what was going on inside and outside at any given moment. That’s the kind of stuff I love to see.
You and Victoria Moroles have a special dynamic. Did the two of you find that pretty quickly?
Well, I can only credit Victoria for being an incredibly skilled and talented professional. She is not out of nowhere. She’s been doing this for a very long time. Like a lot of great actors, she has an incredible ability to not only show up prepared, but also show up fully formed. And what that creates for the other actors and for myself as the director and her co-star is a sense of stability and confidence that we were then able to play with. If your partner is cool, then you’re going to be cool. It’s a very contagious vibe, and so her energy really led the acting department in that respect.
We had never met in person [prior to filming]. We put this movie together during the height of the pandemic. So up until meeting a few days before we started shooting, our relationship was just based on phone calls and Zooms and trying to share tonal inspirations and stuff like that. And so, much of this is a credit to the work she was doing behind the scenes to get us there, and we really hit the ground running.
Based on Victoria’s character’s Screeching Weasel t-shirt and the various needle drops throughout the film, it was evident early on that you’re a Screeching Weasel fan, but then I noticed Ben Weasel’s actual credit on the film, not just the song credits. So what’s the story there?
Yes, I am a huge Screeching Weasel fan, and Ben’s work has been my favorite work since I was probably 14 years old. I was a 14-year-old, snot-nosed brat who loved punk rock like Screeching Weasel, and the very short answer is that we became buddies online during the pandemic. We actually connected over opera because he is a huge opera fan, as am I. Specifically, we both studied [Richard] Wagner’s Ring cycle, which has a big part in the movie.
So as I was going through this process and developing the film and bouncing things off of him and reading screenplays and novels he’s been working on, I shot my shot. I said, “Listen, is it possible for us to work together on this film?” He is a brilliant, savvy musician who retained control and rights to his music, and so he very graciously made a deal for us to include it in the film, as the voice of the daughter character, so to speak. I wrote her like I would want myself to seem when I was 14 or 15.
So I’ve heard Joe Gordon-Levitt talk about this as well, but Rian Johnson is quite generous when it comes to being a sounding board for his friends and collaborators’ own projects. So when did you pick your spot and show him your work?
Well, I took full advantage of my friendship with Rian. (Laughs.) I constantly asked him for guidance, from the script stage through the prep stage, to showing him cuts and asking him how things were working. And luckily, part of Rian’s workflow is heavy specificity. So he was very generous with me and gave me very specific notes and guidance about how things were progressing.
There were other people who really came out with incredible support, too. The first person I spoke to after finishing the film — and before I even looked at a cut of the movie — was Frank Oz. It was the end of the year, and we sent Frank a holiday card that said “Segan’s Greetings” instead of season’s greetings. (Laughs.) So Frank is on the list, and he always sends me a little note back saying, “Got the card. Your family looks great. Hope you’re doing well.” So we’ll have a quick little catch up, and in this email, I said, “I got back last week from shooting my feature.” And he said, “How quick can we jump on a call? I want to hear all about it.”
So we ended up speaking, and he was the first person who I spoke to after I wrapped. And not only did he give me the support and comfort that I needed after going through the process, but he also set me up for success in terms of post-production. He gave me a lot of guidance in terms of how to manage this entirely new format, which is finishing your movie, not just shooting it. I’ve had a lot of experience on sets, but I actually haven’t had a lot of experience in the edit.
So I really found myself feeling like I needed as much help as I could get in terms of how that mechanism would work. And luckily, I had that through conversations with Frank and later with Rian and with other friends of mine. Of course, I also had that with my editor Patrick Lawrence, who’s incredible at his job, and Josh Ruben, our producer. So I had a great support system.
You are Rian’s good luck charm, so I’m rather curious to see how he’s going to incorporate you into Glass Onion, which I’m lined up to watch very soon. [Writer’s Note: This interview took place on Nov. 3rd.] While I’m hoping for a fake nose and mustache of some kind, what can you say at this juncture?
Well, it’s funny because I have not been given any direction as to what I should or should not say in terms of my very small and hopefully funny involvement in the film. I wish I could say that I had to go through hours and hours of prosthetics to be a part of the film, but I didn’t. We did other things that I will let surprise you, but it is safe to say that these guys are stuck with me. (Laughs.) I’m an albatross who’s just always hanging around. [Writer’s Note: Having now seen Glass Onion, Segan’s answer has taken on a whole new meaning, and his role is indeed very funny.]
When you popped up on Mr. Corman as Sam, the guy on the couch, I did the DiCaprio pointing meme given your history (Brick, Looper) with the show’s creator/star, Joe Gordon-Levitt.
Had that show not moved to New Zealand after the shutdown, do you think you would’ve appeared a bit more?
Absolutely. We had best laid plans, of course, to continue to work together on that show, and I was so excited and so grateful that Joe wanted to include me in the show, especially as an old-school friend. We’ve known each other now for almost 20 years, and so much of how we know each other is through our work. And when you know somebody that long, since your early twenties, there’s a point where you really do feel like you’re buddies who hang out on each other’s couches. That dynamic exists, and it exists right alongside the idea that you’re both collaborators and actors who work together. So I really appreciated and loved that dynamic in Corman, and unfortunately, because of my family obligations and all of the logistical things that were in our way, I wasn’t able to come down to New Zealand and work more on the show. It was a bummer because it’s such a wonderful show.
Blood Relatives is available Nov. 22 on Shudder. This interview was edited for length and clarity.