Tuesday, 13 May 2014

interview: Lynne Verrall

I met British actress Lynne Verrall on the set of Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes. Hers was one of the interviews I subsequently lost in the Great Microcassette Disaster of ‘06 so I was very pleased to be able to do an even better interview by phone shortly afterwards in June 2006.

What attracted you to the role of Haggis?
"I really, really liked the script. I hadn’t read the second one; when I went for it I didn’t realise there were two. So I went up on Jake West’s script and read on tape which was sent away - and he cast me from that."

When you went for this role did you know it would involve such a heavy make-up job?
"No. Obviously, when you read the script you know that she’s not forty! But I had never done a prosthetic make-up before. When, I think, they were very near to offering me the job Jake West phoned me from Romania and wanted a chat. And he was very clear to say, ‘Do you understand what the job is?’ and I said, ‘It’s rather a long time in a make-up wagon.’ But I think it’s always script, isn’t it? It’s always script that is the pull for any actor really. I just thought it had something."

Had you seen the original film?
"No. I’m going to have to be very honest with you. Horror is not a genre I’ve investigated - because I’m too frightened. I just get so scared. It’s funny because I’ve been to see what I think actually is a horror this afternoon. I went to see Lemming, a French film by Dominic Moll. Charlotte Rampling’s in it and Charlotte Gainsborough and I think it’s billed as a thriller. It’s not a thriller - I’m getting to know about horror now - it’s a little horror actually. So I managed to sit through that. I’ve never even seen The Exorcist. If I do genre I read thrillers because I’ve read them since I was a kid. But I have to be careful about what I see. I’m just too suggestible!"

Having got the role, did you watch the original performance?
"Oh my God, have I watched it! They sent me a DVD and I’ve just watched on my computer over and over. I just play it back, play it back, nuance it back, take three frames back - over and over and over again. That’s what I did before I came out."

Were you trying to match the original as closely as possible?
"That’s kind of what they asked me to do. Although the prosthetic isn’t quite the same, as you probably saw."

But it’s very dark. You don’t see much.
"No, exactly. Except that I am in shots outside. But obviously they’ll grade it down or whatever it is they technically do, all that kind of stuff. I’ve never actually had to do this before: do a role that has been established by another actress in that way. But I adored Florence Schauffler’s performance. I was so tremulous that I could get somewhere near there. I can’t be Florence because I’m not Florence, but I thought it was such an elegant performance and it has such power and restraint. It’s got a core of power in it. It’s such an economic performance. It’s the kind of acting I love.

"I loved her performance, I never tired of watching her, I really didn’t. And I only realised after I’d seen it: thank God I liked it, because it would have been hell if I’d hated it. It had never crossed my mind that I might hate it. And I really liked the film. I can understand, now that I know a little more, that it has a status within the genre, doesn’t it? And I can totally and utterly understand, having watched it, why it’s got that status. I now know about Stan Winston a little bit and all that side of things so I can appreciate why it has the standing that it does."

Haggis is actually quite a crucial character. A lot of people are excited at Haggis’ return because she wasn’t in the second film.
"Well, we don’t talk about that one. Jake said, ‘We’re sending you the first one. Don’t watch the second one.’ And I said to him, ‘Oh, bit of a blip?’ Yes, I think you can say that was a bit of a blip."

The second film uses the demon as a generic monster so you lose all this mysticism and morality.
"What I have enjoyed about entering the genre is that you can deal with very big themes. Because this is about how if you seek retribution and vengeance, the demon in a sense is a metaphor for: it messes with your head. It kills you, that kind of thing, because you have to come to some kind of acceptance of stuff and vengeance will never get you that. I found all that very, very interesting. Obviously it’s an entertainment but an entertainment doesn’t mean you have to leave your brain at home. And I’ve really appreciated that, I really have. Having seen Florence’s performance and the film itself, I was very pleased to be involved in it. It only enhanced what I felt about the script."

What do we know about Haggis? There’s really nothing we’re told about her. You’ve got no back story to work with.
"Well, I might have done a little bit of my own which I certainly wouldn’t share with you! I just think something has gone down for her, why she is this person. Because I see her as a facilitator; that’s what she is, isn’t she? She facilitates, she’s a conduit, without taking an attitude towards what people do, in that sense. There’s part of her that’s utterly - what’s a word stronger than exasperated? - with the human condition. And there’s another part of her that seems to have nothing but compassion for it. Do you know what I mean? She seems to be a person who totally understands the frailty of being human which means that we do seek vengeance when we shouldn’t and we’re stupid to do that. It’s not going to help us to do that but we’re human and it seems that she understands that. Our frailty, really."

How long did the make-up take to put on?
"About three and a half hours. Well, the first day was ages because Mitch Coughlin and I were both novices together with it and there was painting to do on it. But a lot of the painting got pre-done. I was there at the beginning of the month and then went back out to do the stuff in Haggis’ shack that was in the end of the shoot of III and then I caught the beginning of the shoot of IV because those sets were in existence for that period. By that time, I think we got it down to about three hours. I used to put part of my costume on, go away and put the rest of it on. I didn’t sit in the costume all the way through because that would have been ... hell! Mitch and I managed to sort it, really. We learned an awful lot on the first day, we made a sort of modus operandi and that’s how we did it. But he was great, absolutely wonderful and hugely supportive.

“He was joined, when I came back, by two other artists who came out, who work with him. They’ve all worked together before and they all knew each other. Sometimes they would do my hands and they would also help take it off because that would take about an hour and a half. The first time we did it, I said to Mitch, ‘My skin really likes make-up. It will stay.’ But he used full-strength glue - because you would - and when I went back the second time, we were down to half and half. My skin really does like make-up! So it would be about an hour and a half, hour and a quarter, depending on the day, for getting it off afterwards.

“But we had a lot of fun. We all got on, the three of them and the one of me. Mitch was obviously the main artist for me. I just loved them, they were fabulous to work with. Very, very skilled and a lot of fun. For somebody who has not done a prosthetic before, it is strange being in a mask but they made it really good, a fabulous experience. The whole job has been lovely. I’ve had a very, very good time on it. It was very harmonious, I don’t know if you picked that up on the shoot when you were out there. We all got on very well. People just got on with it and Karri O'Reilly runs a very good ship. I think it’s very nice that we’ve got a mix of nationalities as well."

How did you find working in Romania?
"I liked it very much. I’d not been to Bucharest before. It’s a fascinating city. I liked working with the Romanians that I worked with - very skilled, very good. Everybody was just trying to make it as good as possible. Erik Wilson the DP is Norwegian so one was working with Romanians and English and Americans and a Norwegian. What a nice mix!"

What were Jake West and Mike Hurst like as directors?
"They were lovely! Very different because they’re different people. They work differently but both of them are hugely approachable and that’s what you want from a director; that you can actually ask them something and be able to talk to them. I found them very supportive, very good and very nice."

Last time I saw you, you were up a twelve-foot tree stump, which looked pretty perilous.
"I thought: my goodness, I’m such an innocent, I’ll trust anybody. I just trusted that I would be looked after and it was all right. I didn’t fall off! That’s the main thing."

Did you have any scenes with the Pumpkinhead demon itself?
"I’m in a scene with him, yes, in IV."

How did you find acting opposite somebody in a body suit?
"Well, we didn’t shoot in that way. I think it will look differently but it wasn’t shot in that way. And obviously I know the person in the suit. I stayed deliberately and watched bits because I was very interested to see how he worked in the suit - because that’s a whole different ball game as well. How the eyes are worked and all that sort of stuff. It’s fascinating and it’s artistry as well, everybody’s coming at it from different angles but trying to be as truthful as possible, whatever it is you’re doing."

If these do well and they want to make V and VI, are you up for that?
"I am an actress! Come along! I don’t trust anything until I’ve signed the contract! But I’ve come back and all my friends have been, ‘How has it gone?’ It has been such an enjoyable job. I’ve really come back feeling very full. It’s been a blast. I think it’s very nice to come off a job and have no moans. I didn’t have any moans while I was there and I’ve just got on with it and really learned a lot. I just hope that people are not disappointed with this because when you have made something like the original, you can’t repeat it. You can’t because we’re twenty years later and we’re not the same people. Well, Lance is, bless him. It’s a different time and you can never replicate anything like that but you hope that you’ve remained faithful to the spirit of it, which I really hope we’ve done. Because it deserves it. I just hope that people are as thrilled by this as they were by the original.”

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