Born and raised in Kentucky, actor, writer, director, and producer Chris Murray is best known for his comedic appearances in movies, commercials, web series, and shorts, some of which he has written and created himself! Now, taking on a different kind of role, Murray plays Ryan Fleege in the upcoming horror film, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, set for release October 23. We got a chance to catch up with him as he took a break from painting the walls of his new NYC apartment to discuss the movie, as well as what paths he crossed to get to where he is today.
Cliché: What inspired you to pursue a career in acting?
Chris Murray: When I was a kid, I was really into talent shows and performing. I grew up in Kentucky, so New York and LA were just sort of, a distant… you know, I never even thought about it! I just like being a goofball, and I have a twin brother, so I would drag him on stage with me. I remember one time I was Diana Ross, and we did a Supremes song. Then I wrote some sketches in high school and performed them. I [also] took a theater class. We had this performance that the seniors did every year and then I went to college, and I was a pretty serious student. My mom was a teacher and my dad was a lawyer, so acting was never really a possibility. However, I was a pretty good soccer player in high school and I had the opportunity to play Division One soccer and go study, and I guess I thought I was going to be a doctor my freshman year.
So what made you take history in college?
I really love the stories of other civilizations. I was focused more on classics—stories of Greeks and Romans and the founding cultures. There were great stories and playwrights, and I guess that little tickle that I had when I was a kid came back. Like I said, I played Division One soccer, so it was a pretty intense year with soccer and studying. Davidson [College] is a pretty intense academic environment, so I decided to try out for a play, and I got the lead role my senior year in a main-stage production! So the crossover was just wanting to see some of these stories come to life. Then I sort of just started digging theater, and I did some theater in Charlotte before I decided it was a good time to maybe move to New York. At that point, I wasn’t going to play soccer professionally, and [being] a history major, I was kind of unsure, so I figured I would try my hands at acting.
You’ve made quite a career for yourself in comedy, so what drew you to take on a role in a horror film?
Well, at first I didn’t really know what I was auditioning for. The audition was fairly improv-heavy, and I’ve trained a lot in improv. The audition had a code name, so I really didn’t know what it was. So, when I found out, it was interesting because I wasn’t sure, but then I thought, “Why not? Let’s go for it!” The director at that point [said], “It’s going to be very improv-heavy,” and it was! So whether it’s comedy or drama, with improvisation, you can either improv dramatically or comedically. So there was the training that I had with improv, but I also did several years in New York as an actor. I just found comedy to be sort of the more enjoyable form for me. I guess I’d rather make people laugh than think about serious stuff sometimes.
Did you find this role to be more challenging than others you’ve had in the past?
Everything kind of has its own challenges. I guess since I don’t have a family [of my own], I had to play the dad. So I think it took me a little while to get into that sort of “dad mentality” because it’s something I haven’t really played before, but yeah, it was challenging. But once I finally kind of clued into “dad mode,” I realized what I needed to bring to the performance.
In Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, you play Ryan Fleege, father of Leila (Ivy George) and the husband of Emily (Brit Shaw). Do you find there to be any similarities between your character and yourself?
Well, he’s probably a little more serious than I am. He’s also doing really well. He’s a quite well-off software designer, and he has a nice big house, but Ryan seems to sort of go towards the disturbances in the house where personally, I would probably go away from them. But I think we are both very curious. So in a way, if something was in my house, I would probably want to get to the bottom of it, especially if it was coming after my family. The father instinct would definitely kick in!
What was it like working with the cast? Did you guys ever pull any scary pranks on each other to lighten the mood from all the heavy acting?
Well, the cast was great! The guy who plays my brother—Dan Gill—is a very funny guy, so we had a lot of fun together. We were so busy, so we didn’t really have time to prank each other, but I remember the first couple nights it started, you know it goes from “everything is fine” to “things start to happen.” Well, the director brought a couple two-by-fours that he clapped together, but we were unaware that there was gonna be any sort of noise, so the first time that happened, everybody jumped pretty good.
Do you have a favorite memory from the film, either on screen or off?
Well, early in the shoot there was this scene outside where my brother’s trying to get fresh with the actress Olivia Taylor Dudley. I had to come outside and tell him, “Hey, I’m going to bed.” There was a stack of coupons just randomly sitting on the counter, and nobody knew what I was going to do. So I took them out with me, and since he was trying to get fresh, I said, “Hey Mike, you keep getting coupons at the house.” I guess it was just one of those moments where nobody was expecting it to be funny, but it was super hilarious. Kind of like a ‘coupon moment’ where I was trying to kind of kill his vibe with this stack of coupons. So that was a pretty funny moment for me. I was like, “Hey man, you keep getting coupons here!” Anyway, we laughed pretty hard about that one.
You have also written and created web series, shorts, and two feature films: El Cazador and Corps of Americans. Has your perspective on acting changed at all since you began working behind the scenes with writing and directing films?
Yeah! You know, it was interesting to see the whole thing come together and to see how much we would change on a day-to-day basis and how much the script would sort of change. It would almost change an hour before we would shoot, so it made me realize when writing something, nothing really should be sacred. Intuition plays an important role, kind of how each actor brings their own sort of sensibility as far as how they talk. So as a writer, it made me realize that most movies are concept and the writing shouldn’t be something that’s so… I mean, the writing is very important, but we change on a dime all the time. It was a lot like a river. It would kind of always take different turns, and we would just go down that path. So it made me realize that you have to be very flexible when making a movie, kind of go with the flow, really. It made going to work fun because we never really knew what was going to happen that day. You could have pages written, but then it could completely change that day.
When you were acting, did you ever actually get scared from what came at you or did you kind of expect it?
As an actor, you try not to anticipate anything or expect anything. But since there was no real live sort of demon, I wasn’t terribly scared. It was acting off of imagination, really. But, I’ll tell you what: being scared is difficult. To be scared for that long can tax you a little bit. Terror is an emotion that most of us don’t really experience that often.
It must have been hard to express that emotion all the time!
To try and get yourself to that terror, you kind of just have to go for it because it’s really hard to really prepare it.
How did you prepare for it?
Well, I pretty much just used the training of being terrified. There are certain tricks I have to get me really scared.
The producer of the film, Jason Blum, stated in an interview that this will be the last of the Paranormal Activity movies and therefore, all of the questions that have been teased out will finally be answered! Can you give us any further hints on what we can expect with this movie?
I don’t know that I can give any specific details, but it’s gonna be a really big, funny, scary movie with bigger effects. I think the cast is great. Everybody is really talented, and I think people are really gonna fall in love with the family dynamic and then take the ride with us.
What’s next for you?
Big things! Big things are next. I’m currently writing a project and then there are some things in the pipeline I can’t really reveal right now, but big things!
See more exclusive images of Chris Murray in our Oct/Nov 2015 issue!
Read more Entertainment Interviews on Clichemag.com
Chris Murray Interview: Photographer: Diana Ragland, Wardrobe Stylist: Jordan Grossman, Groomer: Veronica Arancibia