Interview: Daniel Kash Talks Mama, Aliens and Defiance

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Daniel Kash is one of those sci-fi and fantasy actors whose face is probably a lot more familiar to you than his name.

On the other hand, the name of the first ever character he played professionally on screen is pretty much unforgettable, and it’s also become part of the sci-fi zeitgeist. Kash – who you can catch as a shifty psychiatrist Dr Dreyfuss in the stylish Guillermo del Toro-produced horror movie Mama – played Spunkmeyer in James Cameron’s Aliens . “Cameron told me he got the name off of a cereal box!” laughs Kash. “And I don’t want to eat that cereal, by the way.”

Mama is available to buy from 17 June 2013 on Blu-ray and DVD, both with UltraViolet, and digital download. Pre-order here now .

Kash jokes that his epitaph will read, “He didn’t have much of a career, but he was in Aliens ”, but he’s certainly never been out of work and has an IMDB listing that puts serial sci-fi guest stars Mark Sheppard and Alan Dale in the shade: War Of The Worlds (the TV series), Nightbreed , RoboCop (the TV series), Goosebumps , Total Recall 2070 , Relic Hunter , Veritas: The Quest , Mutant X , The Dresden Files , The Listener , The Event , Lost Girl … you get the idea. He never seems short of work. Living in Canada, the second home of screen sci-fi, clearly helps.

He also delivered a stunning performance in Defiance a few weeks back as psychotic weapons developer Pol Madis, another role which represented a running theme in Kash’s career…

So, how many times have you died on screen now?

DK: [Laughs] “My children and my family always say, ‘Dad, really? Again ?’ I don’t know, man. I often die! I would say about probably 75% of the time I do things, I die. I’ll tell you what that is. It’s a prejudice thing, it’s a racial thing. In North American I have a Polish/Scottish/Irish background – it comes out Polish mostly. This face just seems like a bad guy in this country, in this continent. That’s how I feel. I always feel like if I’d stayed in Poland I’d be playing Hamlet. Except I still would have died! I die all the time. I either kill someone or I die! Lately I’ve been playing a few more psychiatrists and rabbis…”

A while ago we did a feature on serial sci-fi guests stars and I’m sad to say we didn’t include you!

“I’m just one of those guys you know. I lived in England for eight years, I lived in America and I live in Canada. It’s sort of Canadian syndrome. There’s a whole bunch of British actors like that too, where you go, ‘I think I know that guy, I’ve seen him a million times but I have no idea what his name is.’ It’s that kind of thing, I don’t know if that will ever change but that is what my life is.”

I had a moment like that when I was watching Defiance a few weeks ago.

“You watched it?”

Yeah! It was the best episode so far. Your role was spot on.

“I had a great time doing that! Loved it! It was so much fun! Now they killed me too! I was sad they killed me because I thought there was potential for my character to mess things up in the future. But maybe I could come back to life. I think I looked quite good in the white hair and make-up!”

Let’s talk about Mama . It’s more old school psychological horror than blood and guts, isn’t it?

“Well I think, I think it’s more Guillermo del Toro’s kind of groove. I like things like the kids ate cherries, and when they go to the house it starts to rain cherries and stuff like that, I think that kind of stuff is brilliant, you know?”

Is that the kind of horror film you prefer?

“I’m not really a horror film lover, but this is more up my alley. I would have watched this if I wasn’t in it. It’s a more romantic kind of version of horror. It looks very… lush. I thought the director of photography was great. I think Guillermo and Andrés Muschietti, the director, they have a very good eye. I’ve worked with a bunch of Spanish and South Americans lately, all the greatest people, all so much fun... And talented in a different kind of way. Like I was just in RoboCop with this guy José Padilha, and it was the greatest atmosphere ever. He just wants to make a cool film with interesting visuals. It’s sort of fun making movies in that kind of atmosphere. I like it. I should work on my Spanish.”

How was Andrés Muschietti as a director on Mama ? He was making a full version of his own short movie, wasn’t he?

“Yeah. I think it was his first time directing anything for him basically. He had a cast with some very veteran qualities and he was very good at listening to the cast. And I think that’s a humility thing, a humble thing which was very much to his credit. But he was also in control. I’ll tell you one thing that I really liked about him. I think he has a very good ear for truth. Like he would go, ‘No, that’s just not right. You didn’t get it. It must be this.’ And I trusted that and I think that probably went a long way with him.”

When you’re playing the role of a psychologist do you do lots of research or do you go with the script?

“I do trust the script a lot. And I am a father and this script was dealing with children so that helped me get the tone and all that stuff. But I do know a number of psychiatrists and psychologists in my life and I tried to ply them with enough questions, mostly to do with their tone with their patients and stuff like that. And I think that was all I needed to do.”

Obviously horror films are based on high melodrama and you get a lot of moments of heightened tensions so do you end up just bursting into laughter because you just can’t keep being so serious much longer?

“I think you burst into laughter after it but in the moment you believe it. It’s not hard to believe it when something horrifying is in front of your eyes. I often think of my dad: he had to get his leg amputated when he was 90 and me and my sister were going, 'You can do it Dad, you have the courage, you can face it, come on.' Saying, like, these most clichéd lines ever in the history of the world, crying and all the drama. In real life when it comes to crunch time, it actually gets very clichéd and very heavy. There is no limit, so yes, I totally believe it in the moment and laugh afterwards.”

“It happens. I peaked early, yeah [laughs]. I didn’t care about Aliens as much at the time when I was doing it. I was very much in a theatre head space going, ‘I’m just doing this for the money.’ But it ended up being this landmark thing for so many people and it’s nice to actually be a part of the fabric of moviemaking in America. People care about that second movie particularly! And I was part of it and that’s all fun.

“And I don’t care that people only notice that. The problem with it was that it was my first screen job. It was a great job to have, but it tainted me for a long time in my career because I was like, ‘My god, this is the sort of movie anyone wants to get!’ you know? And then I had to go back to the grind and be a normal actor.”

You did mentioned briefly RoboCop earlier – what are you playing in that?

“I don’t die!”

You don’t die in it?

“I’m actually giving you that! Now you know so much about the plot. I’m the corrupt cop!”

But you don’t die!

“I don’t die! Not that they don’t try. I am a corrupt cop, but I don’t die, so that means I can be in the next one! The really angry corrupt cop!”

We will look out for you and I will be petitioning for you to be back on Defiance as well!

Mama is available to buy from 17 June 2013 on Blu-ray and DVD, both with UltraViolet, and digital download. Pre-order here now .

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.