My first interview with Kevin Howarth was this phoner, conducted in November 2003 for a Fangoria article.
The Last Horror Movie in Manchester where it won an award.
"Yes, I heard. I was away at the time. I heard all the news and Julian phoned me and said, ‘We’ve just had this screening up in Manchester.’ Because we’d had a couple before that seemed to go down very, very well. It is thrilling."
How did you get the role of Max?
"I just went up for it like any other actor. I had a phone call from my agent saying there’s this guy, Julian Richards, he’s done a couple of feature films before and he’s doing this horror film called The Last Horror Movie. The usual route: he gave me a time and I went up to Julian’s flat to meet him. I have to say, you get so used to sometimes traipsing across to some part of London and meeting some director and thinking, ‘Oh, here we go...’ It’s just got ‘low budget’ written all over it and it’s the first thing you think of. But I have to say, the minute I walked in there it was just Julian and myself and we sat in the room and he told me all about the film. Then we actually got to talking before he did any filming of me or anything.
"We just chatted about films we liked, directors we liked, the sort of things that we liked, and I could see that he knew what he was talking about, and I think he could see that I knew what I was talking about. We actually got a little bit carried away: ‘Crikey,’ he said. ‘I’d better film you. Can you do these bits and bobs?’ I’d had some of the script faxed to me and that was the thing that really made me interested in going to meet him. The piece that I had sent to me was really good, the writing was excellent."
Was this a monologue?
"Most of the film is like that so it’s difficult to say whether it was one of the monologues itself. I think in actual fact it was the scene right at the beginning of the film where I go into the lift and I’m explaining where I did my first killing right at the top of that tower block. I think it was that piece, if I remember rightly, that I was doing, and then he asked me to do a little bit of one of the monologues to camera. And that was it. We shook hands and Julian said, ‘Great meeting you.' But we’d got so carried away with each other, just chatting like a couple of mates in a bar, that I knew I got on well with him and he got on well with me. Then I heard, later on, that literally within 24 hours he’d called James the writer, he’d called the producer and a number of other people and said, ‘You’ve got to come and see this screen test that I’ve just seen because I think I’ve found my Max.’"
"Absolutely, that is everything. We’re in the business of making films. I’m an actor, it’s my arse up there on the screen whenever I do a role in any movie. You get hired because of the qualities that you bring that make the role that you’re up for come to life. You can meet lots of people in life, but it’s like I’ve always said, so much of the film industry - especially in Hollywood - is all based around what people look like: are they good-looking? When in actual fact if you really look at most of the great actors and actresses in the world, none of them are gorgeous, none of them are those kind of people at all. Everybody’s got a little bit of something individual about them but it’s that one thing you can’t put a finger on, which is charisma or something. People never seem to be able to say what it is, they just know there’s something that makes you want to watch them.
"I think that is the key to film-acting. Because it’s so immediate. It’s not like stage, it’s so immediate, it’s in your face. When you’re on a cinema screen your head is fifty feet high and thirty feet across so everything you do is being noticed. But I’d done a lot of film work before and had got a lot of experience, and he also knew that. I was also the only one, he told me, that left a showreel. I took a showreel with me as well. He watched my performance that I’d done for him on camera, which he was thrilled with, then he put my tape on and he said that was the final convincing moment. Because there was such a diverse range of characters that I’d played on my showreel and he could see the intensity and all the other things that were there.
"I’m very prepared when I go to audition for a role and I’ve got a very close idea to what they’re about. Because I love language and because I love words, to have a narrative piece like that, which is what Max is all about. If you think about it, that is a lot of dialogue in a movie. It’s very unusual to have that much to say in a film these days. You know what it’s like: in most films there is very little dialogue and that’s because it is a very visual artform. In this film particularly, it was a very narrative piece and a lot of it to camera which is breaking all the rules of film-making because you’re looking right down the lens and you’re having to engage the audience. So there were big elements in this film which were against the grain of normal film-making."
"Yes, but that’s the wonderful thing about making a movie like The Last Horror Movie - you know that it’s unique before you even start. You know that the script is unique and you know that the format it’s going to be filmed in is unique so what you do is you think: this is great because this throws all the books in the air again and we’re playing with some other kind of way of doing it. And I love that. I love directors and writers and people working on film like that who are willing to go out on a limb and try something new. And that’s what Julian is about. His whole ethos is about creating something a little bit different, a little bit on the edge. He’d had this idea for a while and I’m so thankful that I got the role and together we all brought it to fruition. Everybody was fantastic. I actually had some of the best times ever on a film on that film. It was great fun, even though it was very intense and we had a short filming period. It was just brilliant, we had an absolutely brilliant time. Everybody’s passion was there, everybody was involved. There were no weak links. We all worked very hard to get that right and I think we did a really good job."
Did Julian show you either of his other films?
"No, to be honest with you, when I work with a director, in some ways I’d rather not see anything that they’ve done. Sometimes I do if I’m a but curious but there are other times when I just think: you’ve got to give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s a new project and whatever they’ve done before is just their work. Everybody learns as they go along. It’s a process of learning; there’s a learning curve that you go through. And from every movie, whether you’re an actor or a director, you learn something new. You take that knowledge into the next project and into the next project and into the next one. I just felt that I didn’t really need to.
"Actually the one person I worked very, very closely with on it was the writer, James Handel. Because I also felt that there was a lot of him in there really. It was his words and his writing. He is a philosopher and you could see where some of this eloquent dialogue was coming from,. But what I also did was I watched him very acutely and I changed my own speaking patterns into the way he spoke. I wanted to get that into Max. There was a certain pattern, there was a kind of rhythm to his speech and the way he delivered his words. I wanted to get that and I also wanted to make sure we got the great balance between the humour and that very chilling stuff that Max does, those horrible, horrible murders. I really wanted to strike the balance there really well because otherwise what you end up with if you’re not careful is a film that’s either too, too grim and there’s no lightenment in it at all, or it’s too funny and it’s not shocking enough. I think in the end what I did and then what Julian and Klaus and Mark and people like that, editing it and putting the film together, did was really strike that right balance.
"I think it was really put together well, I was really surprised. Actually we had a first-run edit, a really rough edit, at one point and I was really, ‘Oh my God!’ It was very short and Julian had cut a lot out; he was just trying to make it pacy. It was just a trial effort - nobody was saying ‘This is the final product.’ It was Julian just testing the waters, just to see what he’d got, for his own mind as well as everyone else’s. But when I saw that I thought, ‘Oh, blimey. There’s not a lot of Max left there now. There has to be more of Max there.’ We talked about it and we discussed it, and James sat down; we all got together and we conflabbed it out and had lots of chats about it all, what we thought and what we didn't think. There was a longer version as well. We weighed the two versions up, then Julian just went off with Klaus with all those comments ringing in his ears and - well, he came up with the goods. Just extraordinary. But it’s all down to him, the way the film looked at the end, it really was. He did a great job on it."
"We had a ball! I actually had three movies over there. I had another feature film that was there called Don’t Look Back!, that a guy called Nick Sherard directed, but that wasn’t doing very well because he was having problems with the sales agent and it was all getting a bit awkward, that one. I had a short film that was shown there as well, called Whacked, directed by Jake West. I’ve worked with Jake twice because I was in Razor Blade Smile and I did this film Whacked with him as well, so I know Jake very well. And then we were down there with The Last Horror Movie. Simply because Julian had come up with this really clever marketing idea.
"Instead of putting some generic film poster together and putting that all over the place, he flyposted the whole of Cannes, all down the Croisette and round the back streets and everything, with these murder posters. Like a genuine copy of a murder poster with my picture on it, saying I’m wanted for murder! My car had been found at Luton Airport and I was believed to be on the Cote d’Azure. When I got there he started to get phone calls saying that people had seen me in the Majestic bar and in the Carlton and wandering around the place. His girlfriend Rosanna was getting really pissed off because it was her phone number that he’d put on the posters! It was absolutely hilarious. We couldn’t believe the response."
Did anyone actually approach you?
"No-one approached me, but Julian called me immediately, as soon as I arrived at the bus station after the flight, and said we’ve got this meeting tomorrow morning with Hollywood Reporter magazine, the daily paper that comes out every day over there. The woman who is the editor of that saw these posters and picked up on this, and thought: ‘My God, this is a really great marketing ploy.’ She just loved that, so the next morning Julian and I went and did this interview and a little photo-shoot thing with them. The next day, there I am on the back-page of this magazine and this whole article about what a brilliant marketing campaign it was. Of course, that really struck a chord with everybody.
"So the first screening that we had in the Palais was absolutely packed out. Julian was turning people away. Then the next screening we had was absolutely packed out and we ended up turning 20th Century Fox and Miramax away because they turned up late! There was this old French woman on the door going, ‘Non, non, you cannot come in!’ They were getting pissed off and saying, ‘What do you mean it’s full? We’re Miramax.’ And Julian and I were just laughing in the corner, thinking this is getting out of hand, this is ridiculous. It was great for us.
"Then Julian got a phone call one night when we were sitting in a restaurant from Matthew Freud of Freud Communications. There he was on his yacht, and he’s a marketing guy, so he said, ‘I’ve been seeing all this marketing thing. Absolutely fantastic! We love it! Is this for real? Is this guy really wanted? Come on down!’ And we all went down to his yacht and had a knees- up on his yacht. So we had a really good time and I think that really kicked it off. And then with Alan Jones and people from Frightfest and they got the buzz about it. It just went from strength to strength. I think a lot of it came down to Julian’s persistence and his hard work, and just me being around Julian when it was necessary helped as well I think.
"And then Bill Gavin of course who is just one of the best sales agents in the business without a doubt. Absolutely superb. He’s an older guy, he’s got 45 years in the business, knows exactly what he’s doing. He really went for it and he really knows how to deal with these people. So it just picked up such great interest there and it just went from strength to strength. What can I say? It has started to get picked up for all these other festivals. And the reviews. I’m sitting here because I’ve just printed off this press package that Julian’s put together. We haven’t had one bad review, it’s unbelievable. I’m thrilled and flattered and everything, but you just think: ‘Woh!’"
"I think it’s heading that way. I’ve got a strange feeling that if it’s handled in the right way by Metro Tartan and they really give it a big push, I think yes, it could turn out to be something really extraordinary. It could end up going through the roof. The only thing that seems to crop up now and again is you do get people going, ‘Hang on, it’s meant to be a video.’ But in all honesty, when you sit there in the cinema and you watch it, you forget all that. I think people look at it and just take it for what it is. If people just do that and take it for a film, and just get into it, I think that it really doesn’t make any difference. I sat there at Frightfest and I watched 460 people go absolutely ballistic about it. Now, if you can do that in one cinema, you can do it in any cinema."
I just was glad I didn’t rent it on video.
"I had a joke with Julian: maybe we could make some real money out of this on the side. We could set up parties for city boys because they’d want to frighten their girlfriends and then we turn up at the end! So we had a real laugh about that. We really have had some fun. But I was there at Frightfest and I saw the response, it was an extraordinary response. And I was there at Raindance and well, look, we won Best UK Feature Film. We couldn’t believe it! We just started thinking: this is really cooking."
It’s one thing to get awards at genre festivals, but Raindance is a mainstream festival.
"What was interesting about that is I went along to the awards: ‘You must be there, Kevin.’ I was so tired and I was almost falling asleep. I was so glad that they had the awards before the feature film that was going to be shown. I knew that we were in the running with three other movies for the Best UK Feature and I knew that we were possibly also up for the Audience Award. I think that was the one that we thought: well, maybe we’ll win that one. We really didn’t think that we’d win Best UK Feature simply because of the genre of the movie and the way it is. When we looked at the panel of judges that were judging the Best UK Feature at Raindance, you’d got Stephen Woolley, you’d got the Guardian’s film reviewer, Sadie Frost and Samantha Morton, Trudie Styler who’s a producer, the guy who wrote the script for East is East.
"But I’ll tell you what, when I was working on it, there was one particular night. You know the monologues that I do to camera when I’m sitting in the room, I did all of those monologues in one night. That’s the way I work. If I get a script I get it so under my belt that I even know everybody else’s lines. Even more so on The Last Horror Movie, simply because I had to make sure as an actor that the words were coming out of my mouth as if they were just coming out of my mouth. I’m not trying to be egotistical here but there are a lot of actors that would probably have got that wrong, and they would have just fed it scripted. And the whole point of that is that it’s really happening there and then, and you have to believe that this guy is just talking to you, there and then. It’s just coming out of his mouth and he’s making it up as he goes along. I wanted to make sure that was a big, key element so knowing the lines and everything was crucial to the whole thing. And all the car monologues, even though they were at different points in the film, I did all of them in one night as well. So we worked very hard on it and we wanted to get it absolutely right.
"One night, when we were doing the monologues, it was about half past three in the morning and we were still working away and the First AD came in, this Australian girl, and she said, ‘Okay guys, we’ve got to go soon. We’ve got to get out of here. It’s getting a little late, Julian. Are you going to carry on going with this?’ And we all just totally ignored her! She realised that we were in this kind of zone and she just walked out of the room and left us to it. In the room were me, Julian, Chris St.John Smith who’s an absolutely brilliant cameraman. You have to give him a mention because he’s not just brilliant at what he does but such a lovely man. So calm, so generous, so ready to alter things if necessary in a really lovely way. We were all in this room, and the sound guys, and we just thought: let’s carry on with this, we’re just doing it and we’re in this zone and we’ve got to get this. Everybody has the same passion about it as I did. There was no one weak link, you didn’t have some sound guy whistling and scratching his arse. Everybody was really focused and really involved. And I can’t thank all of them enough. They were absolutely brilliant, everybody was brilliant on it."
What’s this you’re doing in Cornwall right now?
"I’m shooting Cold and Dark with Luke Goss, who I believe you know. I’m seeing him tomorrow; we’ve got a scene on Perranporth beach. I’m playing the co-lead with him. He’s playing an undercover cop and I’m playing an undercover cop but I’m playing his boss. I’m playing this character called Mortimer Shade and he plays this character called John Dark. But my character, Mortimer Shade, is really, really mysterious. He’s this guy that all the other cops look up to, almost in awe. He’s not married, he doesn’t have any children, and he has this extraordinary wardrobe. He loves clothes and there’s all these scenes in this tailor’s shop. He’s just got this extraordinary outward appearance with all these clothes and everything - and yet at the same time he’s this really cool vice cop.
"Am I allowed to give the story away? He ends up with this kind of virus inside him called The Grail and of course all hell breaks loose. He becomes then a cop who can’t die. And Luke is this guy who’s trying to come to terms with this: ‘How do I deal with this? He’s my boss and I go along with him and I understand his theories and what he’s thinking and all the rest of it - but what do I do about this? He’s taking me into territory where I don’t want to go.’ In the end, his character betrays me and then I come after him. It’s looking fantastic. Andrew Goth is the director. He did a film called Busted, I believe, with David Bowie and Goldie. He’s absolutely fabulous because he’s one of these directors who, visually, knows exactly what he wants. He’s a great fan of Sergio Leone and David Fincher and he wants to shoot this movie almost like a sort of spaghetti western look about it. Big close-ups on eyes, and stuff like that.
"It’s got a decent budget, there’s a lot of people behind this one and it looks like this one’s going to go big time as well. They’ve made pre-sales already and we’re only a week into filming. And of course because Luke’s in it and he was in Blade II and Frankenstein and what have you, New Line Cinema are tracking the movie, keeping an eye on it. Luke is cooking at the moment. But it’s a great role to get, this Mortimer Shade, a totally different role from Max, a different kind of darkness about him, and this is very filmic: big 35mm stuff and looking beautiful."
"The thing about Julian is that I know he’s a director but he’s become now such a close friend that you don’t really divide the two sometimes. What I do love about Julian is he knows what he wants, and he knows what he wants visually as well, but he’s a wonderful actor’s director. From my personal experience with Julian, as an actor, he appreciates and understands my creativity and my input. He knows that I know what I’m doing and he allows me to do what I do. It’s just little things that he needs to tell me and I love that. Because I’m one of these actors who doesn’t like to be directed too much; I like to comes up with the goods and I like directors who allow me to give them anything they want. I can play around and give them lots of different versions of whatever they want, and I can come up with that without them having to tell me too much. The most I want a director to tell me is: faster, slower, louder, softer. That’s about all I want to know.
"Because I’ve done my homework as an actor when I turn up. I’m ready and I’m ready to go when they shout, as simple as that. That’s my job and that’s what I get paid for, and I’m ready to do it. What I love about Julian is he knows that about me now. I’d love to do another movie with Julian and I think he’s got things in mind to do with me again, which would be great, and some of them, funnily enough, aren’t horror films. He’s actually got a script of a sort of darkly romantic comedy; he wants me to play the lead in that and I’d love to because I’m an actor and I want to play different things. I don’t want to get tied into some sort of horror genre thing.