From co-starring in major movies like Pulp Fiction, Swimming with Sharks, and The Doors, to appearing in hit TV series like Empire and Luke Cage, Frank Whaley is one of the most recognizable personalities in pop culture. Also an accomplished director and writer, the New York native won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting prize at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival for his movie, that he wrote and directed, Joe the King. This reporter recently spoke with Frank Whaley, and he shared stories about some of his past projects, as well as his latest film, Cold Moon.
Carter Lee: A film of yours that has inspired me throughout my life is Joe the King. I wrote a story about how I overcame trauma from being sexually abused as a child by the hands of a pedophile. The first time I saw Joe the King, I was a young man and still in denial of my past. But your movie really spoke to me. I saw it again many years later, when I was working through my issues, and your story inspired me even more. So I wanted to thank you for writing such a personal piece that I think is a really important story to tell. It really helped me, and I’m sure it has helped others.
Frank Whaley: Well, I’m glad to hear that. That means a lot. That means a lot to me, thank you.
CL: Presumably, the character of the story, who endures so much pain, grows up to be you. How much of that story is you?
With honesty and openness, Frank Whaley recalled what it was like creating Joe the King.
“It’s based on me. I think, at the time, I referred it to as semi-autobiographical to protect some of the people in my life; family members who were still around at the time. But that was a chapter in my life, so the events are exactly what happened. I will say it’s, sort of, the Disney version of the way things actually were.
“When you’re writing, I’m sure you might have experienced this as well, you have a little bit of apprehension, because you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or pi** anybody off. And that’s why they say you shouldn’t write an autobiography until everybody in your life is dead. At the time, my mom was still around as were some other family members, so I had to sugarcoat it in certain aspects. It was pretty bad growing up. The film was actually a bit Disneyfied in terms of the actual happenings, but it still felt pretty raw and edgy.”
This reporter asked Frank if the process of writing and creating his story was cathartic.
“Oh yeah. I was younger, and I think as you get older things come more into focus, in every aspect. But even at that period in my life—I was going through a lot of sh**, and raised in that environment with severe alcoholism, a lot of violence, and a lot of abuse—in that period of my life, the fact that I sat down and started writing, it was a release and it was also very therapeutic.
“It was intense and cathartic, but also challenging. You have to do what’s best for yourself. But at the time, I was trying to protect certain people in my life. But, I’m sure you felt this way too, there’s just all kinds of stuff that comes out. And then sharing it with people—it went all over the world to 40 film festivals. And sharing it with people like yourself, who have a connection to it, is really great.”
As genre fans know, Frank Whaley is no stranger to horror. He co-starred in what many believe to be one of the most underrated horror movies of 2007, Vacancy. On October 6, 2017, in theaters and on VOD, fans can see Whaley in his newest horror feature, Cold Moon. Critics have described the film as one of the most unique, and eeriest, horror movies of 2017. Frank spoke about Vacancy and Cold Moon, and what it’s like creating in that genre.
“I’m really pleased with Cold Moon, I think it came out great. Griff Furst is a really talented writer and director. It was great to get back into that kind of world, the horror world. I love doing those kinds of movies. The part in Vacancy was polar opposite of this part. In Vacancy, I was this creepy bad guy, and I love doing that. I think that’s a really underrated horror film. It’s so scary, and so creepy, in such a different way than what you’re used to seeing in horror films now. I was really proud of that one.”
“But similarly, Cold Moon. Because, it’s a part that they don’t ordinarily give to me. So, I got to jump into that and sink my teeth into that. I think he did a great job of building out of the book, and capturing this eerie macabre-world. It’s not over-the-top with the horror, similar to Vacancy, it’s more character driven. Which is just as scary as blood and gore. I love what he did with the ghosts. I think that’s really cool. I think it came out really good.”
Marvel fans know Frank Whaley as Rafael Scarfe, from Netflix and Marvel’s smash-hit series Luke Cage. Frank revealed what it was like filming Luke Cage and working with Marvel.
“That was one of the best times I had in a long time. Of all the stuff I’ve done, definitely over the past decade, it was the most challenging, the best time, and the most creative time I’ve had acting. Maybe since Vacancy, actually. It was a similar situation. It was a role that was written really well, and they allowed me to really play. They allowed me the freedom to find that role.
“And with Luke Cage, with every script they, kind of, gave me a little more to do in every episode. Every episode got better, and better, and better. And then we all know what happens to old Scarfe, unfortunately. Although, you may have not seen the last of him. I’ll share that. But the thing about working for Marvel is, it’s the best place to work—the best. They treat everyone so well, and they are set on hiring the best people, the best crew, and the best cast. It was a remarkable time.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I had done Gotham, and stuff here and there, but nothing that was this large. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be the best time. I got to go to Comic Con in San Diego; that’s a memory right there. Just to get that intimate, and hangout with the fans and talk with them, and I got to bring my kids. I’ve never been to anything like that before, so, I’m hoping I get to go back and do that again. It was just amazing.”
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Closing the interview, this reporter asked Frank Whaley if he has a motto or a quote that he lives by, and his answer revealed yet another side to the talented artist.
“Black lives matter.”
[Featured Image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images]