EXCLUSIVE | 'Huracan' actor-director Cassius Corrigan decrypts film, says he felt surreal as HBO picked it up
The psychological thriller tells the story of an aspiring MMA fighter who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder
There's this sense of consummate ease with which Cassius Corrigan speaks. The flow of thought is seamless, he knows what he's talking about. For a better word, we can call him a very articulate man when it comes to breaking down a topic. So when I talked to him on the phone ahead of the release of 'Huracán', his first feature film debut as a director, he comes across as absolutely relaxed and decrypts the movie in-depth.
'Huracan' is a psychological thriller. It tells the story of an aspiring MMA fighter Alonso Santos (Corrigan) who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka Multiple Personality Disorder), which manifests itself in his aggressive and reckless alternate personality, Huracán. For Corrigan, this film was the result of his longstanding interest in the abnormal psychology the mental illness. To him, it was a fascinating and complex illness that was never portrayed in all of its complexity and nuance on the big screen.
"I had an interest in exploring that and I was ready to make my first feature film," he said. " I had also at that time started becoming obsessed with mixed martial arts as a sport….And that struck me as a narrative that we really hadn't seen."
At that moment, when Corrigan was fusing two topics that he was keen on, the end result would most definitely not be a popcorn flick. And his very words prove the theory right. "We've seen the champion who's down on his luck, we've seen the contender who wants to become a champion, we've seen the veteran who's been out of the game, who's going for one last run, but I felt like we've never really seen the amateur to pro leap."
"And so it struck me sort of very naturally that those two interests and narratives could dovetail nicely to what 'Huracan' can become, which is a psychological thriller about an aspiring MMA fighter who suffers from multiple personality disorder." Then comes the tone of the film. The colors aren't really splashed around, there's a sense of dread, brood and the unease of something nasty waiting to happen. Of course, much of it had to do with how Alonso saw the world.
For Corrigan, the tonality was borrowed. At the time of writing, he was inspired by accompanying his dad, a judge in Miami to court. He was in juvenile court and the stories that came there were what Corrigan terms as heartbreaking. "As I was writing, I would start going into the courthouse and seeing the cases that my dad was working on, meeting the court, appointed therapist, the peer counselors, going to the halfway houses where these kids would be sent if they didn't have anywhere else to go, or if they were in between the juvenile system and the criminal justice system," Corrigan said.
"The closer I got to that system... just the reality of it really hit me. And it struck me as such a heartbreaking and tragic situation for a kid through no fault of their own, to find themselves kind of stuck in the system."
Those who have watched 'Huracan' can immediately see the work Corrigan has put in. He looks the part as a fighter, with his chiseled frame, powerful punches, and locks that are hard to get out of. If physical preparation was one part of the task, there's the portrayal of a complex, disturbed character himself. That's when Corrigan also spoke of the EMDR therapy that is used in the film. Incidentally, it marks the first time the form of therapy is shown in film history.
Corrigan considers himself extremely blessed for not having gone through a traumatic event in his childhood. He references the kids in the juvenile system again. "On the MMA side, I had already been training for several years and I knew I would be credible because I wasn't trying to play a UFC superstar in the movie. I was playing an amateur fighter trying to make it as a professional. And I was kind of already at that place from a skill standpoint. So that felt pretty straightforward to me," he remarked.
"I knew I was going to have fun staging the action, but the biggest challenge that I saw as an actor was definitely the responsibility that I felt to bring the emotional truth of being a trauma survivor, and also being at a place in my journey where I hadn't really confronted my trauma yet. And this is therapy as a narrative device was the tool to help this character confront it. That was really the weight that I felt most strongly on my shoulders." For his first film as the director, the challenge was to strike a balance between the MMA narrative that also attempts to tell a story about mental health. Except, he had help from the film's producer, Diomedes Raul Bermudez, who was creatively involved in every aspect of 'Huracan'.
As far as striking the balance went, Corrigan didn't know how it would pan out until the time the film went to the editing table. "And that's really where we were able to fine-tune how much time we were spending in each scene and how much time we devoted to each storyline."
The conversation between the two would go like, "Look, you told me you wanted to do this, or you were going for that in this scene. And this is what I'm getting from your performance. Or this is what I'm getting when I read the scene and it doesn't quite align with what you told me." As far as the striking the balance went, Corrigan didn't know how it would pan out until the time the film went to the edit table. "We spent almost 11 months in post-production for the movie. And that's really where we were able to fine-tune how much time we were spending in each scene and how much each, how much time each storyline was devoted."
Asked if it was right to perceive the film as an Alonso vs Alonso battle? Corrigan agrees. The intention was to make a thought-provoking film. The actor felt as an audience member, he loved the thought-provoking ambiguity, that could be found in films like 'Black Swan', 'Whiplash' and Darren Aronofsky's 'PI'. "I wanted to recreate that sense that leaves you with questions and intrigued."
With 'Huracan' marking his debut as a director, the fact he's made a movie is yet to sink in. "There was definitely a point when we delivered it to HBO," he laughs. "HBO gave me their server information. And I uploaded my movie directly into their servers and that there was definitely a moment there where I was like, 'Oh my God, like, this feels so real.'"
Up next on his list is an inspirational true story which he describes as more of a 'Rocky' type film set in the MMA world with a female lead. "I have a music drama TV series that we're pitching right now. You know, there are so many genres I want to explore. I guess the big takeaways from 'Huracan' is that I think what will continue to inform my future projects are ones having Latino driven stories," Corrigan added.
"It's just going to remain a focus of mine as a storyteller helping not only collaborate with exciting and often times new Latino talent, both in front of and behind the screen, but also engaging with the culture. That's something that we've really been rewarded for 'Huracan', and it's been so much fun. I've had so much pride in being able to play a small part in telling stories, featuring Latinos that you traditionally don't see in film and TV."
But there was more to 'Huracan' as well. Now, Cassius readily says he's just pushing the limit and is ready to take risks and invest in original stories. He credits Raul for that bold move. "He always encouraged me to push further and to take risks. He said, 'Look, this is a really small movie. The only reason anyone's gonna care is if you take risks. And I think that's a big takeaway for me from this whole process." Should 'Huracan' do well in his opinion, Corrigan expressed keen interest in making a sequel of the film and there's a story ready.
'Huracan' is available to stream on HBO and HBO Max.