DON’T LET GO OF THE DEMON INSIDE MANOJ SAKARAPANI
For his film “Don’t Let Go”, Jimi Stewart wanted a constant rush of “sit on the edge of your seat” fright. While most horror films slowly ease into the action, this film wastes no time getting to the job at hand, which is to make the audience jump. The primary vehicle for this is Manoj Sakarapani. While the set, lighting, cinematography, and makeup are exceptional, there’s no doubt that it’s the performance that Manoj delivers as a chilling demon that delivers the greatest impact. The Indian born actor’s presence in “Don’t Let Go” belies the thoughtful, well-spoken person who created it. Sakarapani has worked with Stewart on a number of film’s and it’s easy to see based on this performance why the filmmaker has enlisted him in so many productions.
Jimi Stewart has made it his mission to create films of exceptional quality that rival any of the world’s biggest and most successful production centers. His home country of Canada has seen a boom in the last quarter century but the majority of this has leaned towards television. Stewart has focused on film as he believes the same potential will be realized in Canada in regards to film. For “Don’t Let Go” the intent was simple, get right to the action and let the audience experience the thrill ride that fans are so fond of. When you have great acting but no production value, you get a B movie. Poor production value plus great acting equals (commonly) a flop. “Don’t Let Go” kept both benevolent film facets high but with a shorter length, enabling this to happen. Jimi felt that the actor playing his demon was the keystone of the film and reached out to Manoj to fill the role.
The film was created in a very collaborative and unique approach. In a sort of reverse engineering, Stewart sat down with his cast and opened the script up to suggestions…storyboarding them at the meeting. The group focused on scare tactics first and storyline second. The skeleton of this film would be the intense moments of fright with the story as the tendons that would connect them together with the muscle (the actors themselves). From the initial stages, Manoj was cast as the demon centerpiece of the film. It was also a conscious decision of the filmmaker to not point of origin of backstory to create a mythos for “Don’t Let Go.” The object was to create constant fright throughout the entire story rather than to mix it in among getting to know the characters.
While this loose approach was exciting for Sakarapani, Stewart communicate to him that the demon should be almost devoid of dialogue. Manoj took to focusing on physicality and body language to portray the demon. Of course the obvious problem is, how does one play a demon when you don’t know any demons, you cannot talk to any demons, and you’ve never spent any time as a demon yourself? The actor explains, “As a demon I prepared my role for two weeks knowing that my part of the film would be shot with mostly facial reactions. I practiced and prepared for the role with different facial expressions and also relating to disturbing events from my own past that seemed surreal. My father had been in a very severe accident and required brain surgery. They completely shaved of his hair and then broke open a part of his skull in order to perform this brain surgery. I saw him at the hospital the next day and they didn’t patch the skull during that time because he had to recover first before they cemented it up. I was horrified and traumatized by this event. I was upset the more I looked at my Dad and I was continually crying. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen. My handsome father’s appearance was like something from a horror movie that didn’t belong in reality. I tapped into this feeling and shock to transform into this demon who was otherworldly and did not belong in the reality of the other characters in the story.”
The mental and emotional preparation was Manoj’s responsibility but the appearance of a demon requires a makeup expert to manifest. Sakarapani got used to spending hours in the makeup chair of Sara Vande Vyver. After spending so much time preparing his part and with the knowledge that the entire crew would be waiting to see his transformation, the actor admits that the process was far from the torture which many have described. While elaborate makeup work such as this does require being stationary for hours, Manoj relates the feeling to waiting to get on a ride at Disneyland or to go to the North Pole. He states, “I couldn’t believe my demon eyes as soon as I saw myself…. I couldn’t scream, jump, or laugh like crazy with excitement because I had to be careful to not disturb this amazing makeup from Sara Vande Vyver until filming was completed. Ironically, I felt like Sara was an Angel sent from heaven to do this for me and transform me into this whole different being…. a demon. It was so inspiring for me as an actor and truly helped me reach a higher level in my performance.” Vande Vyver confesses, “Manoj is the kind of actor who is very intense about his performance and as a result, doesn’t typically focus on his appearance as much. He is very bold; those types of people aren’t as visually based as others. I took that as a bit of a challenge and wanted him to really feel and see how much the proper appearance could assist his performance. I was truly pleased when he was so excited about his transformation physically to become the demon in this film.”
“Don’t Let Go” begins with two girls going to the home of a tarot/palm/ancient spirits reader to find out about their future. They see it as a lark just as much as something to which they give credence. When the girls mock the reader in a disrespectful tone, demons appear and things only get crazier from this point. The young women learn about respect and fear. For his part in the film, Sakarapani learned that if you put your heart and passion in front of you and work, even the things that seem impossible can become possible.