Sleep No More (2018) – Interview with Keli Price

Keli Price Talks a Life in Film, Making a Difference Through Art, and Sleep No More

Keli Price

Headshot Courtesy of KeliPrice.com

By Christopher M. Rzigalinski

The best acting roles are those that allow artists to build on the best parts of their personalities to develop authentic characters. The characters that develop are more relatable and strengthen the projects to which they contribute. Keli Price (Side Effects) relies on his own resilient drive and determination to portray Joe, the leader of a graduate student cohort performing a sleep study under dubious ethical circumstances, in the horror film Sleep No More. I had a chance to talk with Keli about his creative approach and making the film ahead of its October 2nd release on DVD ($27.97), VOD, and digital platforms.

His strength comes from his view of filmmaking as a way of life. “I’ve always seen things like a movie. I’d be walking as a kid or listening to a certain song and I’d think, ‘This is a great scene for a movie…..I just love everything about film.’”  Keli’s ability to situate himself firmly within the realities of his characters makes Joe’s desire and vulnerability relatable.

When the university pulls the plug on his cohort’s sleep study, Joe motivates his team to use a two week school shut down to push the study into hyperdrive. What could be a cliché motivational speech from less genuine actors comes off fresh and earnest when delivered by Keli. “Joe has a lot of balls,” Keli says. “He’s the type of guy that has dreams and aspirations.” Joe is committed to a sincere belief that finding a way to end the need for sleep would increase productivity, enabling more time to find scientific advances.

But Keli argues that Joe’s ambition is tempered by a love for his friends. “What’s interesting about him is that he’s not all about the business. There’s a tightrope there,” Keli believes. “Joe wants to complete the study but he also feels guilt. He’s putting his friends in danger, since it was his idea to go back and do the study again.” Moral ambiguity between right and wrong, as well as self interest and group success, start to weigh on Joe. But this is where Keli remembers channeling his original connection to Joe in order to keep the character convincing.

Official Sleep No More Movie Poster

Poster courtesy of Incendiary Features

Jason Murphy’s writing is what originally drew Keli to the film. “The script was a big draw to me. I thought the dialogue was so beautifully written,” he recalled about personalizing the role. “My audition scenes were scenes where Joe was talking about his mom being sick in the hospital. I have a very close relationship with my mom. I saw how it affected him and I could see how it would effect me.”

Sleep No More also presents a timely cultural problem. Despite being set in the 1980s, the theme of fending off sleep is extremely relevant in today. The concept of FOMO and the struggle to distance ourselves from 24/7 connectivity facilitated by mobile technology addiction has made sleep an enemy.

Christine Dwyer (left) and Keli Price (right) in Sleep No More

Photo Courtesy of Incendiary Features

A 2017 study on the correlation between cell phone usage and sleeplessness found that “Individuals with a longer average screen time were more likely to have poorer sleep quality and less sleep overall: About 35% of those who used their smartphones for shorter amounts of time than average had sleep difficulties, compared with 42% of those with average or greater use. And poor quality sleep was more likely for participants who used their smartphones near bedtime.” These findings suggest that about half the cell phone using population suffers from sleep deprivation.

Whether for work or play, it is easy to see why a “cure” for rest like the one Joe and his cohort are searching for would be appealing today. However, Keli worries admits that he too struggles with detaching: “I personally think it’s very important to have that time away from your cell phone and turn it off when you go to sleep. But I have trouble disconnecting from emails or whatever I have to do.”

Stephen Ellis (left) and Keli Price (right) in Sleep No More

Photo Courtesy of Incendiary Features

It is from this real life struggle that the horror in Sleep No More emerges. The cohort decides that their only hope in completing the study is if they themselves become the subjects. Ingesting the experimental drugs to fend off sleep, they enter a dark world of ghostly visions from which some of them don’t return. Even the ones that do are never the same. “I think Sleep No More fits into the horror genre,” Keli clarifies. “But there are also psychological thriller elements and suspense elements to it, too.” It’s those twists and mind games that keep the movie interesting.

Before our interview ended, I asked Keli about how the film translates into his larger body of work. He discussed his filmography by saying, “My draw to entertainment is taking issues and things that are important to me and being able to put them into art.” With that perspective it’s easier to find a link between the contemporary relevance of Sleep No More and a tease he gave about an upcoming project: “I’ve just produced a documentary that comes out in the winter. It’s an important cause and something close to my heart. It’s about equality, not just in sports, but in life in general.”

Brea Grant (left) and Keli Price (right) in Sleep No More

Photo Courtesy of Incendiary Features

Keli is an inspiration for young artists learning how to navigate all of the entertainment platforms available in 2018, from social media to the Hollywood system. “If you have a voice or issue that you want to get out, you don’t always need a studio or label to do it. We’re able to create art and get it out there. Then those film companies can come afterward.” He reminds us that the greatest gift artists have today is community: “If you have a voice or a specific story that’s important, you should do whatever you can to get it out there and not be afraid. There’s going to be a group of people that can relate to that same issue or idea and they will use their platforms to help spread it to the next level.”

Make sure to catch Keli, along with Brea Grant, Christine Dwyer, Stephen Ellis, and Yasmine Aker, in Sleep No More. The film is directed by Phillip Guzman and produced by Incendiary Features in association with Arcanum Pictures. It’s distributed by RJLE Films.

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