An iconic creature destined to haunt viewers every October, Dustin Ceithamer brings the tragic and deadly Sawtooth Jack to life in the excellent 2023 Halloween horror movie Dark Harvest, and so we were beyond excited to talk to Dustin about his performance, plus working on Obi-Wan Kenobi, Zach Snyder’s Rebel Moon, and much more.
In an extensive and candid conversation this week, Ceithamer tells HDN that the schedules for filming Disney’s Star Wars series Obi-Wan Kenobi, in which he plays the droid Ned-B, was originally going to overlap with the start of shooting for MGM’s Dark Harvest. As he was being offered the two biggest roles of his career, “Behind the scenes, it was really stressful,” he said. “This is one of those actor problems. You go through seasons where you have no work, and then you go through seasons where you get multiple offers at one time and you have to turn something down because you’re already working… So Dark Harvest and Obi-Wan Kenobi wanted to film at the same time.
“So here I’m offered Star Wars, which is an incredible franchise, and then I’m offered this role to be Sawtooth Jack in an MGM feature film. Both of them are huge opportunities for me, and they called around the same time, probably a two-week timeframe I was going back and forth with both productions… So I got the Star Wars offer first, but as we were negotiating the contract, Dark Harvest came in too. I was like, ‘Maybe there’s a world where both of these will work out.’
“I had an end date, the 20th of August I think we were supposed to stop shooting (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and then the very next day, the 21st, was the first day Dark Harvest was going to shoot. I was like, ‘There is no way this going to work. There’s no way either of them is going to sign off’… But for whatever reason, they both agreed to work it out. I was a nervous wreck as we got closer to Obi-Wan Kenobi being done filming, because I was like, ‘We are running behind.’ I’m looking at how many scenes we have yet to film, knowing kind of how long things are taking, and I’m like, ‘Oh no, Dark Harvest is going to say no, and I really want to do Dark Harvest.’ It was really nerve wracking to see how the puzzle pieces came in.
“But Dark Harvest, we shot in Canada, and they have different protocols with foreigners coming into the country because of Covid, but because of that, they had a two-week buffer window, and because of that I was able to get into the country with enough time to quarantine before shooting started. So it ended up working out but it was – It’s funny because it was such a season of abundance, but it was stressful because you didn’t know if it was all going to work out. Now I know it all works out, but in that moment, I was so stressed out.”
Dustin further reveals that his transformation into Sawtooth Jack began well before he was done portraying Ned-B. “When they did cast me, I worked with Terry Notary,” he said. “He did every Planet of the Apes movie, he does all the movement choreography for Marvel films, all these action films, he is the movement coach of movement coaches in Hollywood. They hired him to be like the Sawtooth movement master.
“So the two of us, in between shooting days of Star Wars, would meet at a studio for hours. (Dark Harvest director) David Slade had this thing, he’s like, ‘I want Sawtooth to move like ink in water. I just want it to be ink in water.’ So Terry and I would (talk about) what does that mean to be ink in water. He (Slade) didn’t want just another zombie. He wanted it to be something very intriguing. So I worked with Terry extensively in between shooting days for Obi-Wan Kenobi… So by the time I got to set, I felt very prepared with what the character was and who Sawtooth Jack needed to be in the landscape of this cool ’60s Halloween-scape.
While those unique movements absolutely help to sear Dustin’s performance into viewers’ minds long after the credits roll, the look of Sawtooth, created with stunning practical FX makeup by Gary J. Tunnicliffe (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween: Resurrection, Trick, Pumpkinhead) and Vincent Van Dyke (Halloween 2018, Halloween Kills, Halloween Ends), is even more unforgettable.
“I am so glad I had gone through Star Wars first,” he said, “because there was a certain pressure and a certain uncomfortability that trained me for the uncomfortability of Sawtooth. Very different – Sawtooth was not heavy – but it was a four and a half-hour makeup process before the day starts to get everything glued on, and then at the end of the day it’s a two-hour removal. That’s a big chunk of time to add to an already stressful day. But man, this design was gnarly.
“It’s like a rotting corpse that they put a pumpkin head on, and then it rots and molds into this human being, who then has consciousness for the first time. Sawtooth doesn’t really remember what’s going on, but everyone’s trying to kill him. He has kind of like a toddler understanding of things… He has this fire in him, and everyone is trying to kill him and he’s trying to figure out what’s happening, but he just wants somebody to help him. That’s his main motivation.”
In our discussion, of course we also talked about celebrating Halloween itself, and about Dustin’s experiences playing the villain The Smiley Man in Marvel’s X-Men movie The New Mutants, embodying the Anthony Hopkins-voiced droid Jimmy in Zach Snyder’s Rebel Moon Part 1 and the upcoming Part 2, as well as his memories from that galaxy far, far away, saving Obi-Wan Kenobi’s life, and much more about Dark Harvest and becoming the new horror icon Sawtooth Jack.
You can watch our full exclusive video interview with Dustin Ceithamer below.