From its home base in New York City, Michael O’Shea’s urban-vampirism thriller The Transfiguration has been creeping across the country, winning many admirers along the way. Reminiscent of such ’90s bloodsucking-on-the-streets-of-Manhattan indies as Larry Fessenden’s Habit and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction, it showcases a pair of deeply felt performances by its young stars, Eric Ruffin and Chloe Levine, and will next screen at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Yonkers this Saturday, May 27, with O’Shea, Ruffin and producer Susan Leber in attendance. (Buy your tickets here!)
Ruffin plays Milo, a young loner living in the Rockaways section of Queens with his older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten). He spends a lot of his time watching vampire movies on VHS and more disturbing material online, and has taken his fixation with crimson consumption to murderous extremes. The possibility of salvation arrives in his apartment building in the person of Sophie (Levine), a slightly older girl who has troubles of her own, and with whom he tentatively bonds.
Previously seen as the son of drug lord Lemond Bishop in The Good Wife, Ruffin says he had an interest in vampires before starring in The Transfiguration, though not at all to the extent of his character. “It’s a crazy concept to think about, but I believe the only vampire movies I’d seen were the original Dracula and the Twilight series.” Milo, who disdains the sparkly approach to the undead, would never approve, and once Ruffin landed the part, “I watched quite a few more, just to get into the role and understand where Milo was coming from. I saw Let the Right One In, and we watched Nosferatu a few times.”
“I was never a big fan of vampires, actually,” Levine confesses. “I really liked Let the Right One In, but other than that…”
She found a lot to identify with in Sophie, however. The two actors, O’Shea and Leber, undertook an intensive rehearsal period prior to The Transfiguration going before the cameras, “and that helped so much,” Levine says. “Sophie was a very identifiable character for me, and it was interesting to layer her situation on top of feelings that I already had. Some of her emotions and mine overlapped, for sure, so I used the role as sort of a personal catharsis.”
Taking cues from guerrilla productions like Randy Moore’s Disneyland-gone-dark drama Escape from Tomorrow, O’Shea and his stars shot numerous scenes for The Transfiguration out on the open daytime streets, amongst actual pedestrians. “That was hard at first,” Ruffin recalls, “because filming in live locations could be really distracting; I’d be close to tears [for a scene] and there’d be this old guy yelling at us for money. But in the end I actually liked it, as opposed to being in a studio or a closed environment, because it helps you get immersed in your background and your surroundings, and to get into character and into the scene.”
“I really prefer it as well,” Levine says. “The people who weren’t professional actors who were just caught by our camera, and the city itself, are so alive and put so much energy into the film.”
Fortunately, despite doing so many scenes in the midst of “one of the busiest cities in the world,” the two actors recall no issues with their impromptu extras. “We were actually pretty lucky that nothing super-crazy happened, considering we had such a small crew,” Levine says, and Ruffin adds, “Aside from the occasional bystanders asking if they were going to get paid for being in the movie, it was pretty calm for the most part.”
He did have some fun times playing scenes with Fessenden and Troma figurehead Lloyd Kaufman, who cameo as two of Milo’s victims. “I loved that; they were hilarious,” he says. “Off-camera, they’re two of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with.
Levine doesn’t have any screen time with Fessenden in The Transfiguration, but she did just wrap a role for him in his producer capacity; she’s one of the leads in Jenn Wexler’s upcoming punk-rock shocker The Ranger. “I play Chelsea, a total bad-ass who kind of uses punk as a way to run away from something in her past,” she says, noting that her recent roles have sparked an intensified interest in scary stuff. “Working on these movies, and seeing other horror films since doing The Transfiguration, I’ve definitely gained a new respect for the genre in general, and I’m more open to watching them. It’s kind of a weird thing to do, sitting down and watching horrible things happen for entertainment, but it’s very much like a kind of purge. I find that concept very interesting, and I would love to do more horror movies in the future.