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Interview: Leonardo Nam on His Phobias and More

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Interview: Leonardo Nam on His <I>Phobias</I> and More

by Erica Corbin 21 March, 2021

What if someone not only knew your biggest fear but was able to use it against you? That’s the premise behind new horror movie Phobias, starring Leonardo Nam (Westworld, Pacific Rim: The Black), Hana Mae Lee (Pitch Perfect, The Babysitter), musician Macy Gray, and more.

The film is an anthology à la cult classics Creepshow and Trick ‘r Treat, with each story centered on a different fear – "Hoplophobia," "Vehophobia," "Robophobia," "Atelophobia" and "Ephebiphobia." The short films are then connected by a larger narrative entitled "Outpost 37." Each story also has a different writer and director, guaranteeing uniquely spooky points of view.

ScreenPicks spoke with Leonardo Nam about his experience starring in the short “Robophobia,” as well as the overarching “Outpost 37.” We discuss not only the fun of portraying fears on film but very real fears happening offscreen.

ScreenPicks: How did you get attached to this project?

Leonardo Nam: In the industry, you look for people who are creating interesting work. One of those people for me was Eric [B.] Fleischman who runs Defiant Studios. He is the one that kind of brought this project in my direction. I’m so grateful for that because when you work with people who are in their own way changing the game and are changing the game with their own power this young dude formed this incredible production company and is making innovative films and was able to work with the people behind “Ready or Not” and the new Scream movie you know that their doing interesting work. So, my entryway into this was that I knew Eric and I knew Joe Sill, who directed and wrote “Robophobia,” and was one of the five collaborative filmmakers that worked together on this film.

ScreenPicks: And why were you interested in doing it?

Nam: I was always interested in this genre. I like playing in all spheres, and this was just a fun, interesting way to talk about fears and phobias and human nature!

ScreenPicks: You talked about there being five different directors. Who did you work with and how was it working with multiple directors?

Nam: I worked with Joe Sill and I also worked with Jess Varley. The majority of the work I did was with Joe in the “Robophobia” segment, but then I also worked with Jess in the through-line story. … It’s always so interesting to see how different people approach the same work. It was just really cool to have Joe, who was someone I formed a sort of shorthand with and we worked in a really dark, dark place. Then to have someone like Jess, who is a fantastic actor in her own right, too, but kind of making her way into directing. She was so collaborative and, there is no other way to put it, “jazzed” to be working together. And I so appreciated it! It layered in a new kind of freshness because, you know, if you’re working on a genre piece especially horror and thriller it can feel so one-note or just only pushing in one direction. But having another director, another creative stepping into that world, kind of expands you.

ScreenPicks: How was it working with the other talent? Hana Mae Lee? Macy Gray?

Nam: Oh, Hana was great! I love Hana, man. We laughed all the time. Also, Lauren [Miller] Rogen! I really enjoyed working and jamming with all of them. You get this little family kind of setup happening.

But Macy was such an interesting creative to work with. Like the way that she created her character and how we played together was so exciting to me. You never quite know how someone is going to be as an actor, especially when they’ve crossed over from another industry, but she was super fucking fun to play with. She had a sort of mystery about her …

ScreenPicks: Without giving too much about the movie away, that mysterious quality probably lent itself well to her character.

Nam: Exactly! Exactly! I just thought that she did a fantastic job. Such an interesting decision from the producers to include someone like Macy Gray, too!

ScreenPicks: Taking a hard turn here. The film is about these very out-there stories, but it opens with your character being assaulted by a group of white men.

There is so much rampant violence going on against Asian-Americans in this country right now, to the point that the president had to address it and condemn the previous administration’s rhetoric. How did it feel to play out that opening scene? Did it feel prescient or topical at all at the time of filming?

Nam: First of all, thank you so much for even asking the question, bringing it up and giving me the opportunity to speak about it in the context of this.

I’m so grateful to be under this administration now, where you have the president blatantly calling it out. I’m so appreciative of having leadership like that because it incites conversations like we’re having now.

When we were filming the project, there was no sense of, “Oh, this is topical and ‘now.’” Joe Sill is also a person of color, and so we had that kind of commonality, and we understood that this is the kind of thing that happens. It didn’t take me very long to connect deeply to what that must feel like, to portray it on screen. I’ve experienced this myself and it is something I’ve experienced throughout my life. I’ve lived not only in Australia, but also here in the U.S. [Note: Nam was born in Argentina, raised in Australia, and currently resides in California.]

It’s so sad that it has come to this place, but I’m so grateful, again. I choose to look at the positive. We can make a change and we can make a difference, and now is the time to do that. I am very empowered, and it warms my heart to see different communities come together as allies, to help each other and have each other’s backs. I can’t tell you how many people, not just from the entertainment industry but all industries, who have reached out directly and said, “Hey, you know, mate, I really want to do something. Is there something I can do? I’m looking for guidance.”

And initially, it was kind of overwhelming to hear that from so many people. But when I took a step back and was able to receive that in the manner in which I believe it was given which is in the sense of love and creating bridges and wanting to change for the better I was so grateful to offer some leadership in that. I have, throughout my years, had connections with people who have created grassroots movements. So, I was able to point people in directions of different funds or organizations that give voices to those that are underrepresented, specifically focusing on the Anti-Asian and Asian-American violence that is happening.

Overall, my heart just explodes with love when I see the different communities coming together. You hear about the people that have helped elderly people walk home from the subway. That makes me cry from love! So, we can choose to talk about only the violence and condemning the violence and that is important! but I also believe it’s important to focus and amplify the positive that has been happening. The individual, whether you are Asian or not, any human, any American can understand what it feels like to be otherized and what it also feels like to be included. That’s one thing I believe in my journey as an American and that is at the core of what it means to be an American: to include and to uplift.

ScreenPicks: So, that kind of violence is obviously a very real and warranted fear. To bring it back to Phobias, though, if you were trapped in a government facility like in the movie, what would your phobia be that is used against you?

Nam: My phobia would be bad food! [Laughs]

ScreenPicks: Just bad tasting or gone off, expired?

Nam: Probably bad-tasting more than anything! [Laughs] I think that’s the way you really mess with someone – you give them really shitty food!

In all seriousness, one thing I have really learned to appreciate over the years, and especially in this last year, is this concept of self-care. With so much going on in this world especially with what we talked about already in the quiet, quiet, darkest moment, we can either choose to make decisions that bring us down or uplift us and make us feel positive. I think if you’re able to choose the food to have in your body and to give yourself that … that to me is, in a way, self-love and self-care. So, in a government facility where all the food is being dictated by others, that to me IS the fear!

Check out Nam in Phobias, in theaters, on-demand and digital on Friday, March 19th.