Every Time He Dies
by Jay S. Jacobs
It’s the goal of every young actor – landing their first leading role. Now that time has arrived for Drew Fonteiro, playing a mentally disturbed EMT tech named Sam, who is murdered on a lake house vacation and whose spirit is literally transferred into the bodies of his friends to save them from the killer in the indie thriller Every Time I Die.
It was quite a thrill and a shock to get the role for Fonteiro, who is best known for his role on the TNT series The Last Ship, as well as being in such films as The Browsing Effect and Patient Seven and TV series like Angie Tribeca, ER, Criminal Minds and Good Trouble.
Fonteiro is not the only young talent in Every Time I Die. It was co-written and directed by first timer Robi Michael and co-stars a tight young cast made up of co-stars Marc Menchaca (Ozark), Tyler Dash White (The Shadow) and identical twins Michelle and Melissa Macedo (Girlboss).
A few days before Every Time I Die was set for release, we sat down with Fonteiro to discuss his film and his career.
I enjoyed the movie.
Oh, you watched it.
What did you think?
It was really good. It was very interesting. Had lots of twists and turns.
Yeah. (laughs) It isn’t predictable, for sure.
What was it about the script that intrigued you?
The most intriguing part about it I’d have to say it was Sam. Him and his process through life and death. One of the coolest things about the character was that he dies, and then you get to see what life after death looks [like] for him. For us, as human beings, we don’t know that. For Sam, he gets to see a picture of it and it’s cool to go through that ride with him. What happens, you know? That part of the story.
Even before the weekend getaway where he gets killed, Sam was having mental problems due to a repressed traumatic memory from his childhood. As an actor, was it hard to play a man who was blacking out and forgetting big chunks of his life?
To be honest with you, while I was shooting the film, my grandfather had passed…
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
No, it’s okay. It’s life. Things like that happen. But what helped the most the experience of losing my grandfather is that life sort of felt that way. I would wake up at times and it would feel like I was one place, thinking that he was alive, and we were all well. Then you’d realize you’re not. So, it was like this whole in and out of reality type of thing. I channeled it as an artist. You have to do that sometimes. The movie helped in that aspect. It was therapeutic. It helped the role a lot.
Do you have any specific childhood memories that always stay with you, or that you’re always reaching for but can’t quite get to?
That’s actually a really good question. Umm… recurring dreams, I would say. Dreams that happened and all of the sudden you wake up and you think they are real, but they’re not. You kind of live a life… you see it, it’s there, but then you realize, oh yeah, it’s a dream. It happens but hasn’t recently. That’s an interesting question. Good question, actually.
What parts of Sam were easiest for you to identify with, and which parts were hardest for you to come to terms with as an actor?
The easiest part was the loner aspect. Sometimes I find myself… I can be a recluse at times. Just because in Hollywood, when you’re trying to do your work and you’re trying to stay focused, you pull back from everything in life. You sit in your head and you’re doing your own work, whether it be creative or non-creative. That was pretty easy to dive into.
And the tough parts?
The hardest part was probably Sam’s emotions. He’s trying to process this love that is not returned, in a sense, with this woman. With Mia. It was hard. I can relate. I’ll be honest, I can relate. But even though you can relate to something, it doesn’t make it easy. It probably makes it even harder. I think that was one of the hardest parts, yeah.
Is there anything in your life that you keep thinking you have lost but keeps showing up like Sam’s box of memories?
(laughs hard) I wish. I mean, I wish. If that was the case, I’d have all my toys and my drawings and my old writings from when I was a kid. It would be just like, oh there it is. I would just grab it. But no, sadly in real life the things that you have from your past sometimes don’t carry over. You learn that you’re not allowed to keep it. But the reason that you’re not allowed to keep it is because maybe life is evolving you past that point, of what that object was. I think the reason that it kept on reoccurring for Sam of course was because he hadn’t gotten to that point. He never was, so it always keeps him.
Sam obviously goes to an incredible extreme to save his friends. Obviously, you can’t switch bodies – and it’s probably for the best you can’t – but how far do you think you’d go to protect your friends?
Today, now, I would literally die for my friends. I have a very close, small circle. I cherish my friends and I’ve had a lot of them from back when I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts. A lot of them from when I moved from Brockton at 17 years old to LA. I have long relationships. There are very few. There’s probably about a handful of five or seven of them. And, yeah, I would jump off mountains, I would die for them. It’s because they are more life family than they are friends. For me, yeah, I would do the same that he did. Especially if it’s love.
If you could really enter the body of anyone for any reason, who and why do you think you would do it?
If I could jump into the body of anyone? Living or dead?
It’s interesting. Part of me wants to say my grandfather, because I would love to see what he thought of in the last days of his life. He was a powerful, strong man who was a refugee in the Angolan civil war. He got himself, his wife and his seven kids to freedom. To America. I would love to know what his life was like. The legacy that he had and what he saw for himself in that last moment, while rocking back and forth on his chair. I would love to have seen life through his eyes, you know. He died at 92. He lived a long life. That perspective is something I am so curious to know. I would love to see his perspective.
You and Marc had a good connection on screen, you really bought you two as co-workers and friends. How quickly did you know that you two were connecting as actors?
Immediately. (laughs) It’s funny because we started shooting together first. None of the other castmates had come. We started shooting down in Brooklyn first. It was just me and him. The minute that I met him, it was instant. Mind you, I hadn’t seen him on Ozark or anything that he had played before, just because I wanted to go into this relationship really blindly. The minute that we started talking and just diving into the characters, it instantly clicked. I started calling him Jaybird [his character’s nickname]. (laughs again) Maybe no actor wants to be called by their character name, but it just flowed so effortlessly and embodied him so much that he was Jay to me.
The cool thing about Robi, the director, was that he allowed us to play a lot. So, a lot of the scenes you see in the ambulance, wasn’t so much that it was scripted, but it was us having fun with one another. Then from there, we went up north to Wingdale, which is about two hours away from Brooklyn. He and I were bunkmates. Me, him and Tyler, as well, who plays Ty in the film. We were all three bunkmates, so from there we were just in the woods, away from society, in a cabin with electricity that would die in the middle of the night. So, he would play the guitar late at night and serenade us. We would just tell stories and chill and work on our lines together. We found – all of us, actually – but especially me and him having this strong bond that mimicked a real friendship. I can honestly say today that I see a friend in Marc.
Did you talk with any EMT drivers or ride along with any of them to get ready for the role?
Yeah, we did. We had an EMT professional on set at all times. There was that scene, if you remember there is a scene where Sam is trying to save a life. We had an EMT on set at that moment. If you remember the scene, Sam is very, very determined, very angry and very straightforward in that moment. The reason why it came off that way was because the EMT was there, basically making sure that I understood how serious the situation was. The jargon that I use, when it comes to trying to resuscitate someone. He was constantly there, basically watching over us and watching our steps. Always making sure that my hands were in the right place. It was a really specific scene.
That makes sense.
Robi cared so much about that that we couldn’t make a mistake. So, yeah, even if he hadn’t been there. It was tough. Also, too, for me as an actor, I don’t want to disrespect anybody who is an EMT and make something look wrong, or off. If an EMT is watching this scene, I want them to see their job being reflected properly. It was tough, it was hard, but I would hope it conveyed really well at the end of the day. (chuckles)
Michelle and Melissa look so much alike. Did you ever have trouble telling them apart?
(laughs) Yeah, they are definitely identical twins. No, I didn’t have any trouble telling them apart. Like I said, all of us got along so well that you quickly learned who each one of them was. The greatest thing about that and about twins is that though they look alike, you find there are differences in them. In the way they speak. In the way they act. In the way they talk. They are very much individual women. So, I didn’t have any problems with telling them apart.
What was it like working with them?
It was such a blast working with them, because one is your love interest, and one is getting this completely different side of you. As an actor – and her as my scene partner – you have to balance these emotions with one another. Mind you, there is infidelity and there is love and it’s unrequited love. Then you have another who is kind of a soul tie, because she is playing me, and we have this connection. There was a whole different feeling with acting with both of the twins. I think that helped more with telling them apart and who they were, just because of their relationship as co-workers. It was two different titles.
While there were other small roles in the beginning and also in the flashbacks and hallucinations, for a good amount of the movie, the cast was essentially just five people in one place. I remember one of my writing professors saying that the hardest stories to tell had limited characters and settings. Did that make things more intense as an actor?
Screenwriters call it “monster in the house.” It’s that idea that there is one setting, one monster, and a certain amount of people to get through the problem. I think for us it wasn’t hard, but it made the movie more intimate. The idea of the lake house set this atmosphere of terror. You’re starting off with five people in this house and then one by one they are just picked off. It makes it so much more intense, because one you’re seeing these characters die off, but you’re also seeing these actors, your co-workers, leave. As they are done filming, there schedule is done, they leave. They leave New York and Wingdale and they go off.
Yeah, I get that.
So, the pressure kept on mounting as the weeks go on. As these characters are dying and as we are processing the high stakes, in real life the high stakes are there as well, because we are saying goodbye to everyone. We’re watching this house transformed from something that was heavy, full of cast and crew, to now being solitary. It made the movie what it was. That house is special to all of us, because of the stories that we had there. I can’t tell you how many freakishly weird ghost stories happened there too, as well. (laughs) It was intense.
This is your first lead role. How did it feel to have the entire movie riding on your shoulders?
Ahh, you know, I look at it like this. It is my first lead role. As an actor, of course that is one of the greatest privileges someone can have. It was one of the most gratifying feelings ever, especially because as you said, I’m the lead, but Sam is not always there, even though he is there. The greatest thing about that was it wasn’t all on me to bear this story. It was up to me as an actor to introduce the story, and bring it to its climax, and then have all of us take on that role. So, it was less about me and more about Sam and Sarah and that relationship. All of us had a collective part in this.
That aside, it is kind of crazy to see the poster and see my face on it, because I’ve never had that happen. It felt like oh, this is kind of different. To see the story be focused on a man of color with a troubled past, it moves you a bit. It makes you feel so proud of the work that was put in by Gal [Katzir] and Robi, who are the writers of the film. What they thought of. Their vision for the film. Honestly, I’m just blessed and lucky to have had this opportunity. I don’t know if it’s going to happen again, but at least it happened now, and I’m running with it.
This is Robi’s first film as a director. What was it like working on the set?
Robi took us all in. Us five. He took us all in as not only as his friends but his partners in this whole thing. He did specific rehearsals in the film that most actors don’t get on set. The cool thing about Robi is that he made sure that all the actors who become Sam had to emulate the things that I did. Every role that you saw in the film, I had to do that first. The actors would watch me and then they would have to become me. Robi would come up to me and he would ask me, “Do you feel like you saw Sam in that moment?” If I didn’t feel like I felt Sam, I would tell him, and he would make alterations. We would both go in together and he would have me read the lines again. Tyler, or Marc, or Melissa, or Michelle would watch me, really closely. Ask questions. Interview. Then I would step back and they would walk in and the Robi would ask me again, “Do you see Sam in it?” And I would say yes. He involved me heavily. I was behind in Video Village watching the scenes. The cut. I was on set. This shows you the power that this director has, when he’s willing to bring his cast into this environment that most actors don’t usually get a chance to experience.
Sounds like he was good to create with.
We always joke that he’s a man of a few words. All he says is, “It’s good.” (laughs) Because he’s just really keen on watching. There was a point where I was like: man, he’s always saying it’s good. Maybe my performance is bad. So, I just went up to him and I asked him, “Hey, Robi, am I not doing a good job? I feel like there is something that I could be doing more” He was like, “No, Drew, if it wasn’t good, I would tell you. I don’t want this movie to be bad. We believe in this movie just as much as you do, so why would we let something be bad?” He said, “Trust in me and trust in what I’m giving you. That was exactly what I want, and I couldn’t be more proud of you guys.” I was like, all right. From there, all of us calmed down and just started storytelling.
You have done quite a few horror films over the years. Are you a fan of the genre?
(laughs) It’s funny, because I started looking at my résumé and I’m like, huh, there’s quite a few horror films here. There is some. Yeah, it’s weird, because one of my favorite genres is… it started out with horror. Horror is my favorite genre, I think. I remember a time where I was just a child and my parents and my aunts and uncles were home watching Halloween. As a kid, I was supposed to be upstairs, and I snuck downstairs and sat underneath the table and watched Michael Myers terrorize a hospital. From then and there, I was in love with the horror genre.
What is it you like about the genre?
The idea that these are films that are fictional, but could potentially be real, that gets me. It makes you uneasy. Then there’s that fear that you don’t usually face in this world. Some of course it’s out there, but the majority of us are blessed enough never to have to face that sort of fear. But, when a movie – a horror film – gets you to feel that way, at night, especially, it’s completely gratifying. You know that’s a great horror film, when you can’t go to sleep. I take my hat off to the horror genre aficionados. My favorites are John Carpenter, Wes Craven. I love the OGs. I think I have a few more horror movies left in me. We’ll see what happens.
You’re also making a new scare film called Ahhh! Roach!, which I don’t know much about other than the fact that is has a cool cast (including Casper Van Dien, Jason Mewes and Barry Bostwick). What can you tell me about that?
I actually shot that before I shot Every Time I Die. Yeah, I shot that a while ago. It’s still in post-production. But, it’s a cool little horror film. We’re so quick to see spirits and spiders and Arachnophobia. You’re quick to see killers with masks. This movie explores the idea of what killer roaches can be like. It’s a fun little cool film. I play a character named Chris. He goes through a wild ride trying to be a fraternity brother… It’s a cool film.
You also recently did The Browsing Effect which is about the world of online dating apps. What is it about that lifestyle that interested you? Have you tried it yourself?
I will say this, the thing that interested me the most about it was the well-written script. It was amazing, by the director, Michael K. Feinstein. It was genius. The greatest thing about that film is that it mirrors today’s society. People and online dating and apps and swiping right and all that stuff. My character is James and he doesn’t do that stuff. And I don’t really do it. It’s not my thing. But the coolest thing about the script and the character of James is that I could relate. The only difference was that James kind of had his nose up about it. I don’t. I think everyone should be able to find love anyway they can.
What was it was about the script that pulled you in?
The greatest thing about that film was that it’s a reflection of today. When you watch it, you feel like you see yourself in it. Oh yeah, this is exactly what the dating world is like. It’s hard. It’s difficult. We’re judging people based on profiles and pictures. You get there in person and they are not quite that. Love is a complicated thing to navigate. It’s even harder to do it when you’re doing it online and on apps.
You’re also a dancer. Would you like to work that into your film work more?
I actually would. It’s funny, because when I moved to LA, I thought I couldn’t be a dancer, because I had to focus solely on acting. I did it for fun here and there. Then I realized this is something that should be utilized as a profession in the storytelling industry when it comes to film and television. I think the artistry behind dance – whether it be hip hop, whether it be modern, whether it be jazz, which is one of my favorite dance styles, but also Bataga which is a cultural dance from the islands that my parents are from, Cabo Verde – I would love to show the world that cultural dance and some sort of writing in film and TV. I would love to incorporate it in some way.
What else do you have coming up?
As of right now? I am currently writing. I have decided – I finished my young adult fantasy novel early this year. It’s a book called Benthu of Ti’ago. I’m trying to get that published. Then currently I’m also writing a screenplay, a pilot based on my hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts.
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 6, 2019.
Photos ©2019. Courtesy of PMK/BNC.