EVENICE, Italy — Scott Haze says he spent three cold months living in the mountains of Tennessee, subsisting on one piece of fish and one apple a day, and sleeping in caves to prepare for the role of deranged killer Lester Ballard in the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel "Child of God."
"I knew that this was a role that I had to go to crazy extreme lengths," Haze said in an interview Saturday ahead of the film's world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
Haze's Lester Ballard descends into violence after being kicked off his family's land and losing his parents, moving outside the social order into caves where he abandons himself to extreme degradation. McCarthy's character was inspired by real-life killer and body snatcher Ed Gein, who also was the basis for the Norman Bates character in "Psycho," and Leatherface of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
To prepare for the Ballard role, Haze said he dropped from 195 pounds to 150 pounds (88 kilograms to 68 kilograms) on the apple-and-fish diet while living in a cabin in the Tennessee mountains, sleeping at times in caves, often without a sleeping bag, until the December temperatures dropped too low.
"I slept in caves many nights with bats all around. It was crazy," Haze said. "I let everything go, just hung out with the hillbillies and stayed as isolated as possible."
The only thing he took with him "from society": an iPod loaded with Eminem music.
Director James Franco said Haze took off for the hills without consulting the director and showed up to shoot not only looking the part — undernourished, ratty beard and disheveled — but acting it. Haze "didn't really talk to anyone, stayed to himself, and was like that for the whole shoot," Franco told reporters.
The director said audiences may think he "found some maniac in the woods and shot him. But it is Scott giving the performance of a lifetime."
Haze said he managed to stay "in the mind-state" while filming, conceding he was "not in this world." He didn't check his phone, text messages or even how his beloved Lakers were doing.
"I thought, at the end of the day, we'd have a great movie and James and I would hug each other and say we did it." Haze said. He hopes people will look back on "Child of God" as film as pivotal as "Taxi Driver," ''which was really shocking back in the day. And we get to say, 'Hey, we did something special, and I think we did.'"
Haze and Franco, longtime collaborators, are part of a clutch of young performers in Los Angeles who are not just acting, but writing and directing films and theater.
Haze said he detoxed from the Ballard role by directing a documentary about wrestler Lee Kemp, who missed his shot at the Olympics due to the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Game. He also recently built a theater in Los Angeles and started a film festival to help young actors and directors get a start.
Franco, a prolific actor, director and writer, also is appearing in Venice in "Palo Alto," based on a book he wrote about teens in his home town, directed by Gia Coppola.
Though Haze has had numerous writing , directing and acting credits, he isn't sure if he's had his breakthrough.
"Maybe James Franco. Maybe," he said. "It was big. You asked me, what is my big moment in acting? It's this. It's this movie."