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Arts: After making a name in horror films, actor returns to stage

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Georgetown native Bill Oberst Jr. is known as the King of Creep and, as an actor, it suits him just fine. He’s found his specialty. Horror.

“I’m just glad to be able to make a living doing what I love,” he said while preparing his upcoming show “Weird Tales” at the Strand Theater.

Oberst launched his professional acting career in Georgetown 14 years ago with his touring one man shows that portrayed Mark Twain, Lewis Gizzard, Jesus of Nazareth (his favorite), and a multitude of Dickens characters, among others.

Some know Oberst for his role as General Sherman in the History Channel docudrama called “Sherman’s March.” That role opened doors.

“I got written up in the Wall Street Journal, which got me an agent in Los Angeles. The agent’s husband was a Civil War nut and saw me as Sherman, so they signed me. I’d never had been interested in film, but like every actor, I decided if I was going to try, to do it now,” Oberst said.

So four and a half years ago, Oberst moved to Los Angeles. “I thought I’d be a character actor out there. But film is a very visual medium. The camera sees you one way, so with me, the acne scars and hardness of my face, I started working in horror films,” he said. “The camera sees menace. I have a weird, disturbing presence. You learn to play your face or you don’t work.”

Oberst is happy to be working. The Hallmark Channel proclaimed him the “best actor you’ve never heard of.” With 80 film and television credits, he auditions weekly, often for heinous roles in frightening productions. He played Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln vs. the Zombies.”

His fans?

“I have two kinds,” he said. “People around here who like me are my church people, the Hallmark people and the History Channel people.”

Then there are the horror people. “Most are young, intelligent misfits,” he said.

Oberst too was a misfit as a youth. He loved the monster movies.

“I eat people. Kill people. It’s fun. I don’t believe anyone takes them seriously. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and praying about these roles, but I think they are cathartic,” he said. “No one goes to a horror movie and thinks, ‘hey I want to do this in real life.’ All fear death. In a horror movie you can face death in a safe way, a cathartic way.”

Oberst’s “Take This Lollipop,” a Facebook application with over a million hits was recently awarded a Daytime Emmy for best new approach in daytime entertainment.

He described the application: “You sign in and the screen goes dark and then there is this creepy guy, me, trying to hack into someone’s Facebook profile and it’s your actual Facebook profile. And he’s pawing your wife or your dog on screen. It’s very disturbing. Then he looks up your location and at the end he’s coming to get you with your picture taped to the dashboard of his car.”

The Emmy opened more doors.

“It helps your career tremendously to be associated with an Emmy. Right away I started getting offers for better roles, better billing, better pay.”

More kudos followed. He was selected “The King of Indie Horror” by the U.K. horror fan site Erebus Horror and was given the Golden Cobb award for best rising B-movie actor and the Best Actor award at Hollywood’s Shockfest Film Festival for his lead role as a cult leader in “Children of Sorrow.”

“A detestable film, but the kids thought it was funny,” Oberst said.

Do violent horror films influence children in a negative way?

“The thought went through my mind,” he said. “Does doing movies that have violence in them, is that an influence? I think not because I don’t know anyone who takes it seriously, but it is a question.”

Oberst sees himself as a modern day version of Vincent Price or Boris Karloff. “They were gentlemen, philanthropic, kind and altruistic, yet on screen they were terrifying.”

Price and Karloff inspired Oberst to create his new touring production. He chose favorite tales from Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft.

“I thought it would be really fun to do a stage show of spooky stories, like I read when I was a kid,” he said. “Little short stories that are strange tales of imagination. Weird tales.”

The Strand Theater, where Oberst spent untold childhood hours watching matinees and dreaming of the career he has now, will host the premiere on Jan 12. The one-man show begins a national tour in the spring.

Oberst hopes to inspire a new generation of young readers to embrace the authors. The script follows the exact texts of the stories.

“That’s important to me,” Oberst said. “I fell in love with language at an early age. I’d be so happy if one young person was taken enough with hearing these words to read more of these authors, or if one adult was inspired to go back and re-read them. That would be enough for me.”

All ages will enjoy, he said. “I encourage people to come to the show who appreciate literature and language. Come join me and be 14-years-old again.”

If you go

What: “Bill Oberst Jr.’s Weird Tales”

When: Jan. 12 at 4 and 7 p.m.

Where: Strand theater.

How much: $15. Call 527-2924 for tickets.

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