Joe Egender Brings Darkness of Religious Cults to the Forefront in Holy Ghost People
“Holy Ghost People” contains a fear based religious belief that Brother Billy, played by Joe Egender, embodies and charmingly brings the darkness to the forefront.
With such an intense character the likability is difficult to see as being successfully portrayed but Egender draws audiences in with his portrayal.
“If you watch videos of various snake-handling preachers, most of time they are charming and funny and charismatic. They are performers. One thing we talked about from the beginning was we wanted to avoid making Brother Billy an outright evil villain. That’s not very interesting. We wanted him to be a grounded man with flaws (albeit very dark flaws!),” Egender said.
Throughout the film the concentration moves from character to character but Brother Billy is always lurking around.
Egender does many subtle things to make Brother Billy likable yet frightening but what was most fascinating to Egender was the snake handling.
“The snake-handling. And the idea that the handlers believe if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, the snake won’t bite you. Then if the snake bites you, they believe if you have the Holy Spirit in you, you won’t die (they don’t believe in using anti-venom). Then if you die, they believe God decided it was just your time,” Egender said.
Brother Billy takes control of a good amount of people during the services in the film. With the amount of people involved the power and charisma of Brother Billy had to be extreme.
Taking the leader role is difficult and even harder when being a religious leader that has to be preaching at the same time as being charismatic and powerful.
“As much fun as the services were to shoot, it also took a lot of energy and focus to stay sharp and lead the congregation take after take. Caffeine helped,” Egender said.
As a co-writer, Egender researched the film and made it as believable as he thought would work for the story. His role as Brother Billy had already been on his mind, the character wasn’t foreign to him and he knew what was needed to bring this righteous villain to life.
“Given I was a co-writer on the script, a lot of the research came during that period of time. However, there was one thing I couldn’t learn from reading a book or watching a video and that was snake-handling. As the leader of the church, I needed to appear as though I’d been taking up serpents my whole life. So about three weeks before production I started going to our snake wrangler’s snake shack to practice. And let me to tell, it wasn’t pretty at first. I was scared as shit and could barely hold the snake, let alone dance around with it. It took a few trips to the shack and some major internal discussions, but I finally got to the point where I was at least comfortable. Then when the cameras were rolling and the music was rocking and the people were singing and dancing it all just came together. By the end of the shoot I actually dug those slippery suckers,”
The set was not some supernatural setting in which ghost could appear or that some supernatural setting with spooky building, although some of the sets were unnerving.
The setting was secluded away from civilization and real life danger did present themselves.
“One day we were shooting near the lake and a very large snake came slithering through the grass. We checked with our snake wrangler to see if it was one of ours and when he said it wasn’t we waited cautiously until it went back in the water to start shooting again,” Egender said.
Not being very religious half, Egender took it upon his past experiences being religious to create an authentic feel to his character.
Egender brings a feel of prestige and honor to a villainous character which intensifies the self-righteous nature of a religious leader.
“I grew up Catholic but I’m not religious. My outlook on it is religion does some great things and religion does some terrible things. One of the aspects of religion we were interested in looking at for the film is blind faith. How does a group of people get to a point where they will follow a person’s lead even if it could potentially cause them or someone else serious harm?”
One of the most frightening parts is the ability of Brother Billy to manipulate the congregation into doing what he wants. The use of his “holy” preaching to unite a group of people makes him frightful.
There is very little actual super natural entities to scare audiences but the chills keep coming consistently.
“You don’t become the leader of a community or a church or a cult without having the ability to read people and appropriately adjust your behavior towards them in order to gain their trust. I just made sure throughout the shoot I stayed on focused on what the character wanted from each of the other characters and what the best way to get it would be – sometimes that involved kindness and sometimes that involved a whipping,”