Without giving too much away, tell us about your Smile character.

I play Carl Renken, who is a frequent visitor to a psychiatric facility. Carl keeps coming in and out, trying to figure out his way in the world. His thought process is a little bit off, and it’s very sad for him. On set, people would call me “poor Carl.”

How did you land the role?

The casting director gave me two sets of sides, which is a few different papers you have to memorize and perform on tape. My wife is a psychiatrist at Duke Hospital, so I borrowed some of her scrubs and we worked on it together, then we sent the tape off. We have a family debate over who actually got the role.

Were there any moments that felt scary while you were filming them?

It is not, like, overt fear. But when you leave [the set], you have to kind of let yourself come down. I would drive home and talk to friends, and I really love chocolate milk, so I’d always have a chocolate milk when I got home, as something comforting. I was always really afraid of horror films. I don’t think I’ve gone to a theater to see one in a while. But after working on [Smile], you see the creativity in it. I think there’s a freedom to it. [Horror films] can talk about things that you aren’t always allowed to tell in other mediums. So this movie has kind of opened up that genre to me.

Do you think the movie has any “real world” application or meaning?

I really like how the film deals with our own traumas and how we handle and process them. It plays with the idea of getting someone to believe that something is going on, and the whole concept of having to convince people of our truth.

Have you gotten recognized? If I didn’t know you lived in Durham and I saw you walking around, I would be a bit spooked.

Not too much, because luckily I don’t normally look like Carl. But I actually went to get a poster at a print shop recently, and the guy was like, “You look familiar,” and I was like, “You’re going to die.” He freaked out. We took pictures. So he maybe didn’t actually recognize the face, but he recognized me once I said the line.

Do you have Halloween plans?

My sisters think that I should dress up as Carl and walk around. But I don’t want to give too much away.

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Follow Staff Writer Lena Geller on Twitter or send an email to lgeller@indyweek.com. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.