Anonymous 616 is a bold and frightening experience into the mind of a seemingly normal US soldier who unknowingly crumbles during a nice get together with friends one evening. The dark and dreaded intentions of the main character, Jason, is perplexing as he takes cue after cue from an anonymous online entity. Peeling back the layers of this complexed individual is astonishing as the abrupt murder rampage begins with relentless tenacity.
Meredith Brown recently had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel de Weldon – who portrays the brutal Jason with such intense yet convincing perplexity that it will make your skin crawl.
Meredith: Anonymous 616 is incredible! How did you prepare to play the role of Jason? He is clearly unraveling in his PTSD before our eyes… was that a difficult transition?
Daniel: The role of Jason was one of the most intense characters I have taken on. Becoming Jason exhausted every molecule within my acting instrument. In my preparation, I dug and excavated every possible creative space that I could fill with my imagination for this character, or rather finding myself within the character. I contacted three of my mentors for their advice on the character. The first was Lou Antonio, who has been my teacher for over ten years. Lou starred opposite Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke and directed over 85 productions for TV, film, and stage. I also reached out to Michael Arabian, an award-winning director who led me in several theatrical productions. And my third call was to Charlie Dierkop, who starred opposite Robert Redford in The Sting. These masterful teachers and mentors all had the same advice: when it’s drama, play the comedy and let the pain seep out.
That was just the beginning; next was to memorise ninety pages of dialogue and develop the character. There was no hiding from this mammoth challenge. I had sixty days to mould this character into a living breathing being before shooting.
The production held a table read and two run-through rehearsals to establish blocking and receive the director’s notes. Then the three week shoot began, with 15 to 18 hour days. It was like being on a rock concert roller coaster. The entire shoot ran on high octane creatively, unlike I had ever known. The character got into me, it possessed me. Something within myself was freed that had been rumbling to get out. The pain, the anger, the power, and the deepest of vulnerability poured through me. A cleansing of my true self, my creative being reaching for love and final acceptance. I knew then, as I know it all the more now, that what you’re looking for is looking for you.
Meredith: Can you explain the meaning of 616 for those who do not know?
Daniel: According to the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible, 666 is generally believed to have been the original Number of the Beast. Around 2005, a fragment of Papyrus 115 was revealed, containing the earliest known version of the Book of Revelation referencing the Number of the Beast as 616. One possible explanation for the two different numbers is that they reflect two different spellings of Emperor Nero/Neron’s name, for which (according to this theory) the number is believed to be a code.
Meredith: The character of Jason is very complex and continues to travel into pure darkness of his own subconscious. Is there anything relatable to him as far as discovering his true tendencies?
Daniel: The truest relatable circumstance for me was the pursuit of winning at all costs. Perseverance in the eyes of no other option. I constantly drove my objectives so that I would never question or second-guess any choices. My needs were paramount. This technique will always support the script, and more importantly, give way to dramatise the film or play and ultimately entertain the audience. Essentially, this is the most fundamental and primal tendency of any living things: survival of the fittest – in this case, me as Jason.
Meredith: What was your first reaction after reading the script for Anonymous 616?
Daniel: I started reading the script immediately after receiving the offer to play the lead role. I breathed in the story like some cosmic inhale. I was floored with excitement, but little did I realise Pandora’s box was opened within my soul. I read it again, and again, and again, and again… absorbed in the endless possibilities of creativity. The script was so good, I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I have been looking for my entire career. This is the universe showing up right on time.”
Meredith: You have obtained countless accolades for your role in Anonymous 616. Any strong feelings or responses to criticism you may have received?
Daniel: I am filled with gratitude knowing how much work went into the excavation of my acting craft and psychology. In order to be a voice to an audience, an actor needs to possess an understanding of life to convey an authentic, fully-developed character with memories, aspirations, fears, and goals. So I’m deeply appreciative for the accolades by critics and viewers alike. At the same time, because I dedicated massive amounts of intense creativity into my work, I’m a sensitive artist – thus any criticism is never easy to receive.
Meredith: Obviously, Anonymous 616 is a disturbing horror film that becomes quite brutal. How do you feel about this genre and what challenges have you faced?
Daniel: I think Anonymous 616 falls under a new “psychological/philosophical thriller” genre. I compare Anonymous 616 with The Shining or Silence of the Lambs as a film that in that uniquely pushes the boundaries of the horror genre by depicting a relatable “normal” lead character who not only goes off the rails but deep into the darkness. Since the film explores new realms of graphic violence, the challenge for me has been screening it for family and close friends because its savagery is not for the faint of heart. My circle does not recognise the characterisation of Jason – which I suppose is the truest form of flattery as an actor!
Meredith: Can you share your beginnings in the industry and how you got into acting?
Daniel: Following a six year masters program in theatrical arts at HB Studios with Uta Hagen, Howard Fine, and Michael Arabian, I auditioned for The Actors Studio. I chose a scene from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and was received as a lifetime member by board members Martin Landau, Mark Rydell, Barbara Bain, Al Pacino, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel, and Lou Antonio. This moment was a major turning point for me.
The Actors Studio is best known for its work refining and teaching method acting. The approach was originally developed in the 1930s based on the innovations of Konstantin Stanislavski. At the studio, actors work together to develop their skills in a private environment where they can take risks as performers without the pressure of commercial roles.
Lee Strasberg, co-founder of The Actors Studio, developed sensory and relaxation techniques that forced me to delve deeper into myself and discover how to play true behavior. Another key lesson at The Actors Studio is to “know thyself” – that is, start by asking yourself, “What would I do in the circumstances of this script?” and from there the actor can begin to layer the character with behavior. For example, consider what animal you are, or what type of disabilities your character might have, etc. These combined studies challenged and expanded my craft, and made me who I am as an actor today.
Meredith: What were some of the highlights in your career?
Daniel: I had been a member of The Actors Studio for a little over a year when it was announced that Al Pacino would be moderating a Friday session at the Los Angeles branch. It became an exciting opportunity, not just for the studio, but particularly for those who would be performing that day and receiving Pacino’s critique. As fate would have it, there was a cancellation of one of the two scenes to be put up that Friday, and I was next in line with my scene partner to take the stage. For context, it usually takes up to three months to secure a Friday session slot. Friday arrived and so did the pressure. Pacino drew out the crowd. More than a handful of recognised star name actors attended to observe this legendary icon teach.
I remember pacing the stage back and forth, warming up, and trying to chi myself with the space. The audience continued to pour into the theater taking their seats. Everyone was excited in anticipation of Pacino’s entrance to the theater. As I continued to pace and stretch, I kept looking at the vacant front row center seat where the designated moderator would sit. I ran my lines in my head and tried to think of the choices that I had worked on.
The theater was at full capacity, including people seated on the aisle steps and surrounding stage floor – but that one front row center seat was still vacant. I thought to myself, “Where’s Pacino? Is he still coming?” I was on stage by myself as my acting partner was off stage preparing for his later entrance. So I paced… stretching and trying my best to relax.
It seemed as though hours were passing as I waited while hearing the mumblings in the audience. And sure enough on my tenth or so lap, I looked down and magically Al Pacino appeared, sitting in his front and centre seat. I totally missed him walking in. I distinctly remember him sitting low in the chair (like in Carlito’s Way) sipping a coffee and holding a notepad. We were face to face. I made direct eye contact with him, his glasses slung low on his nose as he looked at me directly in the eyes. I thought, “OMG, Scarface is staring at me.” I immediately stopped pacing and took my seat on the stage and began the scene to its completion.
Now the moment of truth: the critique. I was looking down Pacino’s barrel, loaded with his iconic reputation and experience. As he began his assessment, he talked about how to move forward from the exact choices we made in the scene. To my surprise and encouragement, unlike any critique I had ever received, Pacino stayed on point discussing how to improve upon the scene, and he never once said what we should have done or ask why we made the choices we made. He kept pushing us to move forward from where we had arrived.
It was as if Pacino had some secret knowledge. I thought to myself, “Well, he is Al Pacino – one of, if not, the most revered actor in the world. I have sat in front of great artists who critiqued my work at the studio, but the approach Pacino used made me feel like I could do anything; there was no criticism, even though I knew the scene did not go as well as I had hoped. To his credit as a teacher, he said to us, “Just keep asking questions for your character and that will bring out real behavior.” He continued to encourage and praise us for what we had discovered thus far with the scene.
When Pacino finished talking, the audience was instructed by the stage manager to clear the theater to prepare for the next scene. I went backstage to gather my belongings, and when I came back out on stage to exit, Pacino was alone in the empty theater. He looked at me – again face to face – and reached his arms out to give me a hug. We embraced, and as he patted me on the back, he said, “Good work.” He was like Santa Claus, he was so present, so heartfelt, so confident, powerful, and humble – similar to all the characters I had seen him play for decades. I told him, “Thank you.”
Meredith: Could you share a dark moment during your profession where you questioned your choices?
Daniel: I was hired to play the lead in Tennessee Williams’ play Kingdom of Earth. Williams based the character Lot Ravenstock off himself and his own life circumstances living as a gay man in 1950’s rural Memphis where he was rejected and discriminated against. That in and of itself is a lot to take on, but Lot is also dying of tuberculosis and is a cross-dresser. As you can imagine, this role was loaded with deep layers. To unravel. Lot’s psychology, I had to be as vulnerable as possible to reveal a wild character that the audience could actually relate to. At the time, this really confronted my instincts because of the risk of laying it all out there – literally and figuratively. But in hindsight, the role catapulted me into a greater understanding of my own humanity and self-worth.
Meredith: Who are your influences?
Daniel: My most personal influence is my father Felix de Weldon, knowing all the challenges he faced during his lifetime and as an artist. He succeeded through focus and unwavering hard work. I am also influenced by my acting teacher and mentors including Martin Landau, Mark Rydell, Lou Antonio, Barbara Bain, Al Pacino, Uta Hagen, Michael Arabian, and Howard Fine.
Meredith: Tell me about some of the other films in your roster and what are you most proud of? I see you are part of at least 6 projects that are in production right now – anything you can share with your fans?
Daniel: I’m really excited for the debut of One Must Fall – a feature film directed by Antonio Pantoja that will premiere this Halloween. The premise of the film is relevant to today’s shift in society where women are standing up to abuse and forging ahead. I play a character who is fighting for his life and defends the female lead.
Another film coming out this year is called Red Kraken directed by Andrii Lantukh where I play the Red Kraken (aka The Devil). My character confronts a serial rapist – like a Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby type – and disciplines him for his atrocities against women via spiritual purification, to put it mildly.
There is also a film called Underdog directed by Ritchie Greer due out this year where I play a supporting role. My character is a Compton drug dealer who slings meth to a female addict – the lead – who transforms her life to become an MMA world champion fighter.
Finally, I just wrapped playing the lead character Doc Holliday in the pilot for a new TV drama series called Badland Wives directed by Stephen S. Campanelli.
What’s interesting to note is that all of these projects focus on the progressive moment furthering women’s rights. I am extremely proud to apply my creativity toward positive social change.
Meredith: You started in many shorts which many folks don’t realise…can be even tougher than acting in a full feature. What are your thoughts on film shorts and do you prefer the full features?
Daniel: I feel short films are a wonderful creative gateway to feature films. The short films I worked on early in my career truly prepared me for larger, feature film sized projects. I liken the experience to being akin to on-camera acting being rooted in and developed in live theatre. It’s all a collective effort and process to arrive at a deeper understanding of one’s own acting craft. Acting on film in feature-length projects has taken me years to understand, especially playing a lead role where the character has a definable arch, climax, and resolution. I strive for the audience to imagine being in my character’s shoes on the imaginary journey asking “What if?”
Meredith: If you had a chance to work with anyone in the world, who would that be? Even if he/she is deceased and you had the power to resurrect them…who would you kill to work with?
Daniel: Freddie Mercury. He epitomises high octane creativity for me, certainly as a musician but also as a performer. His creative essence was unquantifiable, a true juggernaut of artistic expression. He met pure craft with pure spontaneous reactions. This is what I strive to do in my own work as an actor: meeting craft with spontaneous expression.
Meredith: If you weren’t an actor, what do you see yourself doing for a career?
Daniel: If I wasn’t an actor, I would have become a fighter pilot. After high school, I was accepted at the United States Naval Academy but quickly discovered that it did not quench my desire for speed. A more accelerated and exciting ride was in store for me as an actor.