Brian McGuire is a a writer, director, actor, music maker, skateboarder, born in Chicago and raised in Austin, Texas. LeftHouse is his production company. Some have called him the king of independent film. Others have called him a young Bill Murray. And some have even called him one of the good ones. His latest film, 1 World 100 Lonely, is now free on Amazon Prime. Find out more about Brian and his work at lefthousefilms.com.
In 2016, after writing and directing seven feature films in five years, a great depression hit me. I couldn’t get a job. People broke promises. I chased a wild goose who ghosted me. My mind was melting.
Fortunately, the light started to shine again in 2017, as I started to replace repetitive negative thoughts with more positive ones. Editing jobs materialized, I had a few bucks in my pocket, and then my good pal Bret Roberts offered me a role in a kids film he was going to direct in France, a Christmas movie with a talking dog. Life was looking good!
Then, out of the blue, my girlfriend of four years broke up with me. The French dog movie was only a couple months away, so I planned to couch-surf until I got on the plane to France. I found a few couches, and then took a few train rides across America. I visited family, made a documentary about my love of train travel and found myself at my mother’s place in Austin, Texas.
News came that the Christmas dog film was being pushed back indefinitely, so I decided to stay in Texas until I got word of my new shoot dates. I made the most of my time in Austin and acted in Bryan Poyser’s short film Gopherit, for which I was chained up in a sex dungeon, wearing a diaper. I had no idea that this character would be one of the more relatable parts I would play in the next year or so!
After almost three months in Austin, I was enjoying myself but wasn’t making money. I was already planning my return to Los Angeles when I got a text from my producer pal J.B. Popplewell saying she was looking for a tall, thin man to wear an alien suit in Now Apocalypse, a TV show written and directed by Gregg Araki and produced by Steven Soderbergh. “When do you get back to L.A. and what are your measurements?”
Gregg Araki is a hero of mine and I was over the moon to work on Now Apocalypse. Totally Fucked Up, Doom Generation, Nowhere and Mysterious Skin have that strong, dry, punk-rock vibe I love in a film and his deep-cutting, funny-as-all-fuck films have saved the lives of depressed, alienated kids in middle America with no one to relate to. Soderbergh is someone else I look up to greatly and I’ve always wanted to emulate his ability to make both big and small films.
The timing of J.B.’s offer was perfect, as the night before I’d agreed to go back to L.A to be a dancing ninja for the psychedelic hip-hop act Mexican Pharmacy at Lightning in a Bottle, a giant electronic music festival.
When J.B. called me with more details about my character, she said, “So the alien is a little bit weird. He has a vagina with a penis growing out of it, and he rapes people. You still in?”
So, to review: I had just played diaper-wearing pervert in a sex dungeon, and I was about to be a dancing ninja and an alien rapist. Of course I was in!
I flew into Burbank Airport, headed straight to the music festival, danced my ass off as a ninja, and then went on to Hollywood for my first fitting in the alien suit. During the fitting, Michael Burnett, the designer of the alien suit and a brilliant creature designer / monster make-up guru, told me the story of when he first met Gregg. It was on the set of Nowhere, which they made together in 1997. Michael had designed the costume for the alien-like creature in Nowhere and was also the guy who wore the alien suit. I was enjoying this history lesson when Michael mentioned working with James Duval on Nowhere. “Is Jimmy gonna be in the show?” I asked.
James is a staple in Gregg’s projects; he starred in Totally Fucked Up and has been in most of Gregg’s features since, so I thought it was a little strange when Michael told me he wasn’t in Now Apocalypse. James and I have been friends for a long time. He has acted in a few of my films and we were even roommates for a couple of years, so I was thinking it would have been fun to work with him again.
On the way to my first day of shooting, I sent James a text: “Guess who is playing the alien rapist in the new Araki show?!” A moment later, I get a text back from James saying, “Yeah, guess who you’re raping?” When I got to set, I went straight to the make-up trailer and found James being made up to look like a bum. He and I looked at each other and laughed ourselves until we were almost crying. He had no idea I was playing the alien until I had sent him the text, and I had no idea he was one of my sexual victims!
On my first two shooting days, it only took a couple takes to wrap my scenes, and I couldn’t believe how painless this all was. I was starting to enjoy this rubber monster suit; I felt like I was in some ridiculous Marvel movie when I put it on.
Early in the shoot, I was on my way to set in a passenger van full of actors from the show talking about their scenes. There were two twin brothers dressed as scientists, and one called out, “Has everybody here done a sex scene yet?” His twin said, “I had a boob in my mouth the other day. I don’t know what the hell I am gonna tell my wife! I’m gonna have to say it was my brother.” I thought to myself, “Jesus, does everybody in this show have a sex scene?” but then I remembered I was on an Araki show, and I was playing an alien who rapes people, and it all started to make sense again.
Things were a breeze at the start of my time on the show, but that changed when I shot the scene where the alien is dead on an autopsy table, bloody alien guts everywhere, in some strange military lab. This easy, piece-of-cake job suddenly became claustrophobically stressful. I was lying down in the rubber suit, with the lights beating straight into my eyes, and two mini fans shoved into the alien’s mouth to give me some air. My eyes dried up. The suit was relentlessly hot and I was sweating head to toe. Endlessly waiting while they prepped the shot, my breathing went. I freaked out, and had to sit up and rip the helmet off my head. Michael realized what was going on with me, as he had been there before as the alien in Nowhere, and gave me a moment to calm myself and get back in. Finally, they got the shot and I was wrapped for the night.
On my big night, I had two scenes: the rape scene with James Duval and a scene where I carry Avan Jogia, the show’s lead actor, through a smoke-filled parking lot. While shooting with James, I didn’t feel like I was doing a violent rape scene, even though that was what was happening. James is a silly, fun and hard-working actor. Knowing him as well as I do made this surreal moment feel very comfortable. We did a few takes, and when Gregg laughed, we moved on. (Normally, if you hear Gregg laugh, that means he’s got what he wanted from you.)
It was about 4:30 a.m. when we shot my second scene. I only had to carry Avan about five steps, but I was struggling. I am no muscle man, by any means. My arms were shaking, I was leaning back, my hip bones were grumbling. I could feel Avan slipping out of my arms, each time a little faster. Finally, after about five takes, Gregg laughed.
Even after I wrapped all my remaining my scenes, I had to wear the alien suit again for a photo shoot with the main cast members of the show. It was a long, hot day and I was glad when it was all over, as I had grown completely sick of the suit. I was ready to move on from being the rapist alien, and decided I would not be returning if there was a second season. The suit had become too painful and I was not sure if my body could take it. I was being paid as a glorified extra and being the alien was kinda like being the sixth man in basketball. At the Now Apocalypse wrap party, though, J.B. came up to me and said, “If we go to season two, you’ll be part of the cast and paid as such. You deserve it.” I smiled and thought, “Well, I’ll see you on season two!”
The months started to fly by. The Christmas talking-dog movie was on a permanent hold and I found myself riding more trains, again landing in Austin. Suddenly, it was November and I heard that Now Apocalypse would be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019. I texted J.B. to congratulate her and she wrote back: “The alien should go to Sundance.”
Three days later, I was on a conference call with 11 people discussing a promotional tour that would take the alien to Sundance and SXSW, with a few days of L.A. promo in between.
Wearing the suit for promo was much different than wearing it on set, as previously I’d never had to wear it for long periods. The suit started falling apart, and Michael stayed up all night repairing it and making it more comfortable. The cold in the mountains of Utah made the suit colder. The humidity in Texas made it hotter. Little kids in Los Angeles came up and pointed at its vagina and said, “You go pee-pee?” Drunk women tackled and slapped me in the streets. Jeff Goldblum sang a gospel song to me while the press oohed and aahed.
The entire experience was brutal, but fun. As much pain as I was in, I also enjoyed it. When you’re the alien, you’re there but not there. When I was out of the costume, people who’d taken photos with the alien didn’t recognize me. During the press tour, I started to feel like a real alien whenever I put on the suit.
A few months after the promo tour ended in Austin, I got a call from James Duval, who told me Now Apocalypse was not getting a second season. This was a bummer, and not the news I had expected to hear. I texted J.B. to thank her for bringing me in to the project. She was sad, much like many members of the cast and crew. The chance to work with a legend like Gregg Araki was amazing, a dream job. I will always look back on being the rapist alien on Now Apocalypse as a special time in my life.
By the way, I am still on hold for the Christmas talking-dog movie.
All photos courtesy of Brian McGuire.