College of Charleston alumnus Michael Smallwood ’09 (right) has seen Halloween Kills four times now. No, he’s not some sort of horror movie freak, although his wife, Jillian Clayton-Smallwood ’10, assistant to the dean in the School of Languages, Cultures and World Affairs, is. Smallwood is one of the stars of the latest Halloween saga, so he and Jillian first saw it together at the splashy premier in Los Angeles at famed Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, and three times opening weekend (Oct. 15): twice with friends in Charleston and once with his parents in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“This has been the easiest it’s been to watch myself onscreen,” says Smallwood, who majored in theatre at the college. “I think it’s because I’m finally finding confidence in my film experiences. And the audience reactions have been incredibly fun and overwhelmingly positive.”
Smallwood, who just finished directing the CofC student play, Pipeline, at the College’s Chapel Theatre, plays a survivor who teams with other victims to finally put an end to relentless masked killer Michael Myers’ evil ways.
“We’re basically going to have an intervention with him,” says Smallwood. “That’s the plan, but this being a horror film, things don’t go great.”
This is actually Smallwood’s second Halloween film. He had a small, three-line role in the 2018 release (Face Your Fate), and the producers expanded his character’s role this time around, which pleased Jillian to no end. She’s such a fan of the franchise that she used the series’ iconic piano theme as her ringtone in high school.
“He was in the first one for less than a minute, but it tied him to one of my favorite film legacies,” she says. “When we found out just how much that role was getting expanded, I was obviously excited for him and his career. It’s so awesome that he gets to join the company of memorable characters in this massive cinema lore that’s beloved by so many.”
Smallwood spent a month in the fall of 2019 shooting the film in Wilmington, North Carolina. He’s appeared in numerous short films and plays, including his own of both, but Halloween Kills is his breakout role. The shoot was somewhat difficult given that all the scenes were shot at night, but Smallwood loved every second of it.
“It was a very different experience to be a part of a film set for that long,” he says. “I was very used to being a day player where you come in, hit your mark, say your lines and are done. It was very eye opening to be part of the machine. I learned so much, like new terminology such as ‘the martini shot.’ It’s the last shot of the day because the next shot is out of a glass.”
And being on his first red carpet at the iconic theater on Hollywood Boulevard with Jillian was a heady experience, too. The premier was a costume affair, which the two cosplay hobbyists thoroughly enjoyed. Michael went as Shadow-Man from Princess and the Frog, while Jillian dressed as Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones.
“It was so surreal,” he says. “I got to do some press interviews and reconnect with members of the cast.”
Although Smallwood wasn’t a fan of the series, or horror films in general, growing up, he appreciates them now, especially from a film history point of view. In fact, he just finished writing, directing and starring in a short horror film, What A Beautiful Wedding, about a Black man who attends a wedding at a Southern plantation and is haunted by its history. He also recently finished a screenplay about vampires.
Smallwood got hooked on performing when he played Santa Claus with pillows tied to him in the second grade in his Baltimore, Maryland, elementary school. His family moved to Union, South Carolina, in the Upstate right before he started high school. An older classmate who attended CofC would report back on how great the theatre program was, so when he toured the campus, he never gave another school a second thought.
Today, in addition to working on plays, screenplays and doing virtual auditions for various Hollywood roles (he just filmed two episodes of HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones, which is shot here in Charleston), Smallwood is part of the core ensemble at the Pure Theatre, the arts editor at the Charleston City Paper and just did his first narrative podcast. Part of the excitement is he never really knows what’s next.
At the request of Janine McCabe, chair of the College’s Department of Theatre and Dance, he returned to CofC last year as a guest artist to direct a virtual monologue project called Our Voices. It went so well she brought him back to direct Pipeline, which had a sold-out, five-night run (two virtual) in late September and early October at the Chapel Theatre. Late one night after a rehearsal, wearing a backpack, he stood on the corner of St. Philip and Calhoun streets, and for a moment he was back in school. (His first and last plays at the College were in the Chapel Theatre.)
“I was struck by how much time has passed, but how it felt like no time had passed,” he recalls. “I almost called a friend of mine to say, ‘Hey, do you want to grab a bite?’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, she’s not in that dorm. We’re not still students.’ But it’s been very cool and very rewarding to come back. It’s been strange to be on the other side, but I couldn’t have asked for a better return to campus.”
And no Michael Myers anywhere in sight.
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