Sunday, 21 July 2013

interview: Ben Grass

When Pure Grass Films went into partnership with the reborn Hammer Films to make online vampire tale Beyond the Rave, Ben Grass became the producer of the first new Hammer horror production since, ooh, ages. I interviewed him about the project for Fangoria in November 2007.

Explain how precisely Beyond the Rave will be made available to people?
"What we will do is launch it on the internet, probably with an individual partner, either a social network or a portal. It’s looking like we’re going to do it with a social network in fact. We haven’t quite closed the deal yet. And they will probably release episodes - one or two a week - and make them available that way over a period of eight to ten weeks. Then you’ll be able to access the archive episodes that you may have missed online. I don’t know yet whether they will all be available at a certain time or not. What will happen then is that, after the online release, we’ll probably make it available on DVD as a compilation and in addition the goal is to try and make shorter versions of each episode available on mobiles,"

Will people pay per episode to watch it?
"I don’t know yet. It will probably depend on a case by case basis. Some of them might be supported with advertising, others may be paid downloads. We need to get into those discussions. But the main focus is on an internet release followed by a DVD."

I assume you’re resigned to the fact that as soon as you’ve made it available, somebody will stick it on YouTube.
"What we’ll probably do is we’ll give our chosen partner a little bit of exclusivity - that might be a couple of days - and then it will be able to go on the broader internet."

How does that affect the structure? Does it have ten acts with little mini-climaxes every few minutes?
"Yes, we’ve definitely written it as a serial rather than as a film. So we’ve been very conscious of wanting to give the audience some excitement and some cliff-hangers and some payoffs in each episode to keep them hooked. In the internet world, obviously you can click away so easily from stuff, we need to keep it going and keep it suspenseful and exciting. So that’s been at the forefront of our minds - and that’s actually been one of the tricker things to do because it’s a new medium."

Will it still work as a feature?
"I hope so. We may have to adjust the edit a little bit to make it work on the DVD. There is an overarching narrative arc so, fingers crossed, it will work there too."

You did this before with When Evil Calls, directed by Johannes Roberts - was that successful?
"Yes, it was very successful. We launched that on mobile, rather than on the internet, and I think it’s up in about ten countries at the moment, and in the UK it was available on three different operators: O2, T-Mobile and Orange. We’ve also just closed a DVD deal in the UK so it will be coming out on DVD in the next six months probably."

Have you any idea how many people watched that on their mobiles?
"I don’t have exact figures but I think it’s somewhere between fifty and a hundred thousand watched it. I think in the emerging world of video-on-mobile, it’s a good result. We were pleased because that series was a finalist in the Broadcast Awards for best mobile TV show last year. It was a good experience."

On a purely practical level, how is the direction and cinematography affected, shooting something which most people will see at the size of a credit card?
"We’ve tried to shoot it at the kind of quality level that will work on DVD. Mainly what we’re going to do is adjust for the fact that people will see it on mobiles by compressing the quality of the video. We didn’t so much make a conscious decision only to do close-ups. We’ve got quite ambitious shots with lots of people in them. So we focussed on making sure this would really work on the highest possible, biggest screen size, best quality resolution.

“If you do look now at the better mobile phones these days, and certainly the iPhone, the screen’s pretty good quality, isn’t it? So hopefully, more and more over time, these things will be able to be watched well. The difficulty is when stuff’s downloaded over the air on mobile. If you’ve got anything over two minutes, it becomes an enormous file and it’s not really practical. That’s why we’re cutting down the length of the episodes but we haven’t really adjusted what we shot, with mobiles in mind."

It’s a bit like the old 8mm copies of films where you would get the whole film in 15 minutes.
"Yes, exactly like that."

The reason why this is getting so much interest is purely and simply the word Hammer. How and why did you get hold of the right to call this a Hammer film?
"As I’m sure you know, Hammer was taken over six months ago by two entrepreneurs, Simon Oakes and Mark Schipper. They not only acquired the library but they also raised a lot of money with which to make new Hammer productions. I had met Simon nine months ago because he used to be at Liberty Global, which is the parent company of Third Media who financed When Evil Calls. So when the Hammer financing came through, we had a chat about some of the projects we had in development.

“I think what appealed about Beyond the Rave, as well as the story and what we were trying to do dramatically, was the idea that, because we can release it on-line - it’s designed to be released on-line and on mobile - it could be very useful in helping Hammer to reconnect with a younger audience on those new platforms. I think it’s hopefully a mixture of: they liked the content and also the delivery is neat in terms of helping the marketing exercise which they need to do to make people aware that Hammer’s back."

Why do you think they’ve managed to get something into production within six months of buying Hammer, when everybody who has owned it before has not got anything made?
"I don’t know what the Hammer of old was like well enough really to answer that question but I do know that Simon and Mark have made sure that they have enough money to be able to greenlight productions themselves. They’ve obviously got a good track record in the content business, both of them, and so far I’m incredibly impressed with them both. They’re incredibly ambitious, focussed and capable people and they’ve been incredible to work with. Very supportive. So I’m really encouraged."

Realistically, would Beyond the Rave have happened anyway, even without the Hammer connection?
"Well, we feel that it’s an incredibly exciting project because it mixes horror and vampires with music and a kick-arse soundtrack so we felt very excited commercially that it was something we’d be able to get financed. But there’s no doubt about it it, the addition of the Hammer name has given it a real edge and a level of profile that we would have struggled to reach otherwise."

Apart from Ingrid Pitt’s cameo, has the Hammer connection directly affected the production in any way?
"I think one of the most significant inputs that they have had is in terms of script development. Hammer have got a wonderful guy called Nic Ransome who played an important role as we were writing the script this summer. He’s continued to play a role in the editing process which has been incredibly useful. He’s got a big, encyclopaedic knowledge which has really been of value. I think otherwise we would all have wanted to make this as good as we could get it.

“Our choice of director was instrumental in the look and feel of the series. He’s a guy called Matthias Hoene who’s a commercials director, a music video director. He brings a really nice sensibility about how to pack a punch in a short burst of time and how to make all these scenes at the rave look wonderful. We felt the weight of responsibility because we were bringing out the first Hammer production in a while but we would always have wanted to make this good, if you see what I mean."

Are you prepared for the inevitable nay-sayers for whom anything that isn’t a Victorian gothic romp with Peter Cushing in it isn’t real Hammer?
"I think everyone is attached to their own vision of what Hammer might be, but our view is that it’s right and exciting to make Hammer something new and to keep it evolving to bring it to fresh audiences - and that’s what we’re trying to do. If not everyone likes it, then at least we’ll know we’ll have tried our best."

You’re a young chap, you’re not old enough to have seen Hammer films at the cinema. What’s your knowledge of Hammer in coming to this?
"It’s largely shaped by the iconic images of Christopher Lee and the notion that it was instrumental in bringing Dracula to a mass audience. The classic movies like Quatermass and Frankenstein, and Ingrid Pitt. I’ve probably seen half a dozen but I can’t pretend to be a massive expert by any means in all of the Hammer catalogue. I think the horror films that shaped my sensibility are more Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and The Ring, those sort of things. Those are the films that I’ve enjoyed more perhaps than the traditional Hammer films."

Speaking as somebody who has never been to a rave, is this going to be accessible to the older generation?
"I hope so. At the end of the day, a rave is just a party in many respects. People want to have a good time and dance to music. What we’ve put at the core of this series is a focus on character and motivation and drama. In that regard it should be interesting to anyone that likes horror and likes a fast-paced narrative. We’ve certainly not intended it to be isolating. The story’s a good story and that’s what should captivate people, I think."

How did you go about assembling your cast and crew?
"We have a large cast and crew. I think there are about forty actors overall with speaking parts and a pretty sizeable crew. So it took us a long time to put the cast together. I met Jamie Dornan, who plays our lead character Ed, at a wedding this summer. I’d enjoyed Marie Antoinette very much which he did for Sofia Coppola a few years back and I was aware that he wanted to do more acting."

It wasn’t Neil Marshall’s wedding, was it? I couldn’t help noticing that your PR girl is the new Mrs Marshall.
"Axelle, that’s right. She’s fantastic. She got married to Neil, I think it was a couple of weeks ago. But no, it wasn’t that one. Jamie I think has a wonderful ability to connected with young audiences. He’s got a real following as a model but also now as an actor, and he blew us away at the audition. Nora-Jane Noone has got a good horror following, as you know, from The Descent and she’s in Doomsday, Neil’s new film.

“And then Sadie Frost, of course with the Dracula connection, we were excited about casting her. We were aware that she was doing trapeze and there was a part where a vampire comes down, upside-down in the rave and gets someone. So we were excited about combining Sadie’s horror connection and her interest in trapeze. Tamer Hassan, we loved The Business and Football Factory and the role that he plays is the head of this drug gang, the Crockers. He’s the perfect guy to do nasty violence and give the vampires some of their own medicine.

“Then we have a host of other great people, some of whom have been in bands to work the music connection. We have the lead singer of the Kazals in this. And we have Jackson Scott who in fact is Christopher Lee’s great-nephew. Ingrid of course, we’re very privileged to have her in this. She plays Tooley’s mother; Tooley’s played by this guy Steve Sweeney that was in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. So we’ve tried to get a lot of great people that will be recognisable. A lot of online serials have got talented people but not name actors and we’ve tried to get a few recognisable people in there. They’ve really brought a lot of quality to the screen."

What about behind the camera?
"The director I talked about, Matthias Hoene. The director of photography is Ben Moulden who’s really done a wonderful job. He really has. Great guy. Tristan Versluis has done wonderful work on the make-up effect. Our editor is a guy called Lucas Roche, who did Dead Man’s Shoes, the Shane Meadows film which we all really enjoyed. I think when my brother Tom was writing this, it was a big influence, Dead Man’s Shoes. So the writer is my bother Tom Grass and it’s co-written by Jon Wright; script editor Nic Ransome from Hammer. So it’s a very good group of people."

What’s your own background?
"Well, I’m a relatively new producer. I was at Sony Pictures for four years. I was looking after their digital division so doing distribution of movies and TV shows on internet and mobile. That’s how I got interested in the opportunity to create content specifically for those platforms. So I started Pure Grass Films in 2005. We’ve produced three series now. The first one was a martial arts series we shot in Los Angeles, then When Evil Calls last year and now this one. I’d always wanted to be more creative and I’m having a lot of fun doing this now."

It was noticeable that news on this didn’t leak out until principal photography had pretty much finished. Was that a deliberate plan to avoid raised expectations?
"I don’t think it was particularly a conscious decision. The decision to finance this was taken at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and at that time we didn’t have a fully fleshed-out script. So our focus as the production company was just to get on with our job and make it. We spent about six weeks to two months with the script then moved into production and I just felt we had more than enough going on. Word trickled out but it’s only in the last six weeks or so that we’ve made more of a conscious effort to market this and get it up on IMDB and so on. I felt we had more than enough to do, just getting the production done."

Is this a one-off deal between Pure Grass Films and Hammer or will you be doing more with them?
"I hope that what we can do, if we get a good reaction with Beyond the Rave, is develop it as a property and maybe make a sequel or a prequel. And also we do have another idea which we’re discussing with them which is a werewolf project. So I hope we’ll certainly do more things. It’s been very good so far.”

interview originally posted 30th October 2009

interview: Steve Gough

Steve Gough directed Oilman, one of the three short films on the curious anthology video Nightmares. After reviewing that video, I tracked down Steve, who now teaches screenwriting at the University of Westminster, and was delighted when he agreed to a short e-mail interview.

How and why was Oilman made?
“Cobbled together, really, with money from Welsh Arts Council, Channel Four development finance and some private sponsoring, my first film after film school (NFS graduate).”

How did you get Martin Shaw involved?
“He liked the script and wanted to be involved!”

The video sleeve says ‘A macabre story about a contract killer whose life is turned upside-down after an assassination.’ - is that an accurate summary of the plot?
“Not really as the Shaw character is more of a ruthless business man who uses murder threats in act one to secure a shady oil business business deal - the denouement is in the form of a kind of moral punishment for his sins ... He is equally cold and calculating as a father to his son who reacts by seeking to disrupt his life... Does he actually lead his father to his death...? That is the question you will have to answer.”

Why did you make a film with virtually no dialogue?
“It was partly the challenge of it, partly the idea of showing human life as a sort of animal behaviour...”

Where was the film shown and what sort of reaction did it get?
“Got to some festivals, with mixed responses. I think a few were confused and I do regard it now as a somewhat perverse experiment - though I have an affection for its eccentricities and think it has its moments as a drama.”

How did Oilman end up with two other films on a 1992 video called Nightmares?
“No comment. Try the producers?”

Would you classify the film as a horror movie? (‘Three nightmarish stories’ says the video...)
“Allegorical horror fantasy????”

Where did your film-making career go after this?
“Went on to write Heartland for BBC in 1989, then wrote/directed Elenya for Ch4, BFI & ZDF in 1989, then wrote Thin Line for Ch4 in 1992, then Washed Up for BBC in 1999... Now writing novels, two published so far!”

interview originally posted 22nd January 2005

interview: Luke Goss

Luke Goss first achieved fame as the drummer in 1980s teeny-pop mega-band Bros but later switched to acting with roles in films such as Blade 2. I met Luke on the set of the Hallmark mini-series Frankenstein when it was shooting in Slovakia in August 2003. He played the creature.

How did you get this role?
"They asked me to do it for some strange reason. I was in China filming with Michele Yeoh, and I got a call. Hallmark do a lot of great projects but you’ve got to choose the one that turns you on. There’s a couple of projects I was asked to do. Then they called about Frankenstein. To be honest with you, I’d heard about it some time before and the only role I wanted to play was the creature. Because it’s the biggest challenge for me as an actor, that I would want to go through that whole process of prosthetics again because I actually hate it. We’ll get onto that I’m sure.

“I think they had one or two people in mind for that character, like they do for all these projects. For whatever reason, it found its way through till I got a phone call in China one night, saying: Frankenstein, the creature, it’s yours if you want it. So then I asked the obvious questions like who’s directing. Kevin Connor’s pedigree is quite impressive. It’s not feature credits so much as the work he has done which is still really good work. So then I asked, ‘Okay, I need to see a make-up design.’ Because I’ve never understood with Frankenstein - we’ll get into all this, I’m sure. They said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ and after many, many questions I read the script and it read so much like a film that I said, ‘Sod it, let’s do it.’"

Had you read the book?
"Yes, I had read the book. You know what, I’d never read the book in journal form. I’d always read the story and it’s always depicted differently. It’s always down to the interpretation of whoever’s writing it. The only true way for anybody to truly understand this story, to understand the metaphoric power that this story has - in 1816 or 2003, it’s irrelevant to me. This story, written by a woman, eighteen years old, 1816, is so relevant, if not more relevant, today. Then it was kind of simplistic: you’re rich or you’re not, you’re aristocratic or you’re not. Now you have people with some money, lots of money, stupid amounts of money - and no money. We have people that are fat, we have people that are thin. We have people that are deemed beautiful, stunning, incredible and downright ugly - a word I never use, I don’t approve of it.

“I think all of us, unless we’re afflicted with arrogance or an excessive amount of self-appreciation, feel moments of insecurity. Something about us is not right. We all go through moments of feeling a tiny bit imperfect. Mary Shelley's version is profoundly astute when it comes to people’s understanding of their lack of acceptance. The book is unbelievable motivating and insightful. That book affords you a huge amount of foundation for the character."

I understand that you got this without an audition.
"My last four roles, thank God, I haven’t auditioned for."

One reason must be because of Blade 2. How does this compare with your Blade 2 role?
"Strangely enough, there’s a similarity between the premises for me. When I met with Guillermo del Toro he said to me ‘Bring something to the table,’ basically. So I read the script. One thing that wasn’t in there was the ring. I don’t know if you’ve seen Blade 2. You know the ring that they all have? That’s my concept completely. They let me design it and everything. Because I said, there’s nothing that validates this character in the sense of proof of where he’s from. Nothing. It’s like: I’m Bill Gates’ son, honest. Well, show me the proof. So I said if we have something like a ring with a seal, right there we prove it. So when he gives that ring away, for the viewer who understands it, he’s giving away the deeds to his existence at that point.

“The whole premise of the character is that he has a very big beef with his father. I actually decided very clearly. I said, ‘I want to show that he’s not indiscriminate.’ I’d rather be in a film less than be in this indiscriminate thing. We had this little scene with a drug dealer. I said, ‘Let’s have people that prey upon people’s weaknesses that I kill. Other than my father.’ We had a big kind of moment where we disagreed, then we agreed. It’s like an alpha male thing. I’m a big believer that less is more, really - unless you’re talking about cash, then we all know that more is more! But other than that, less is more. I think the audience is much brighter than they’re given credit for, especially genre movie fans - probably the most astute fans on Earth. If you don’t have the answers for a genre movie fan, then get ready for a hiding, either verbally or through the internet or whatever.

“There’s huge continuity between these characters. He wasn’t accepted, he was a mistake, so it’s like Nomak on speed in the sense of depth. Frankenstein: most people think Frankenstein is the creature. So for the reader, as long as they understand that the creature is the creature and not Frankenstein. I have to be honest with you; for many years I thought Frankenstein was my role. But the creature is a much more in-depth, a much more tragic version of Nomak. He definitely has continuity of character, by coincidence."

You must have spent a long time in the make-up chair on Blade 2. Did that not put you off?
"No, it’s two different processes. Blade 2 was different, the make-up designer was Steve Johnson, I was very impressed with his work. We used foam for a start, foam latex, which is much more user-friendly from an actor’s point of view just because it’s not as heavy, it breathes a bit. It’s less claustrophobic. I had lenses and teeth in there but it’s still two hours longer to do this make-up, and a hundred times more athletic to go through because it’s silicone, and it’s pieces. Six pieces, and with the body-suit it’s seven. The body-suit weighs at least thirty pounds in weight, doesn’t breathe at all, and yesterday it was 95 degrees - that’s why I couldn’t work today. I’ve got a trailer that can only reduce the outside air temperature by six degree. And I was in make-up, as in ‘being put into it’ for eight hours.

“It’s not like, say, The Grinch where it’s a suit and fur - this is silicone. And the only way I can describe it to you: it’s like having thirty layers of cling-wrap around you. But the way they’ve designed the make-up, which is somewhat sadistic, is they’ve designed it so you put the suit on first. So you get into it fairly quickly, then they have to seal the edges, then they start the other stuff. It takes an hour and a half to do that, then another five and a half or six hours of painting and blending and matching the edges.

“To put it in very simple terms, if you sit in a chair right now for seven or eight hours, doing nothing - not having make-up, not having people put alcohol on your skin and paint and sticky fluid at five o’clock in the morning - just sit there and do nothing. Don’t speak to anybody, don’t do anything. You would get very claustrophobic in eight hours. Now do it in eight hours when you’re burning up, not talking, having alcohol fumes, airbrushes. It’s kind of strange, with two people - four hands - touching you. After eight hours four hands feel like thirty hands. You feel like you’re absolutely going out of your brain.

“But I have to tell you, this role was worth it for me. I hope I’m doing a good job of it. I feel comfortable, I’m very intense with the role. I’m approaching it like a feature. It’s being shot on film as you know, Panavision, and I’ve only done films, this is the first TV. It feels like a film because it’s being shot on film, so in essence it’s the same thing, it’s just being aired on a different medium. So I’m approaching it with the same intensity as I would a film, which is sometimes I think frustrating for the film-makers. Because you do have to get into character, you do have to get very deep, you can’t indulge in the funny jokes and the humour that’s on set when people are inbetween takes because of this character. If you pop out of this guy, then it’s very dangerous."

Some actors become a character when they put on a mask. Do you find that as the make-up is put on, you’re becoming the character?
"It kind of does sometimes, it’s really, really strange. The problem is, with this guy, it takes so long to put it on that it starts to become a genuine psychological thing that you have to get through. If I could be made up in thirty-five minutes then yes, absolutely it would help. The fact that it takes seven, eight hours for the full body-suit, I see so many stages of the make-up, I’m so conscious of the effects. So I try to zone out and I meditate because the Navy Seals who trained me for Blade taught me how to shut my body down.

“So I sleep for an hour here, an hour there and I’m not always aware. Of course it helps but wardrobe is a great thing for me and also location’s a great thing for me. But most of my way of doing things is so internal. When you’re in make-up, all you’re aware of is discomfort. With the wardrobe, all you’re aware of is weight. I had five layers, but I was given great freedom to invent wardrobe. So you’re not really aware of it, you don’t have a mirror there, it’s all in here. So it can help, because you visually know what you look like.

“But when you’re on set, like we did one scene up on the hill which was nine and a half hours of constant filming. We didn’t come back down for lunch, we just had some stuff sent up. I don’t eat lunch when I’m in character for some reason, it makes me too tired. You go past the way you look, because you don’t see how you look all day. It’s all in here, it’s all in the mind."

Have you seen many other Frankenstein films?
"I’ve seen De Niro’s film and I’ve seen Karloff’s film of course. I think Karloff was brilliant for his time. Anyone who can invoke a sympathy like that. I think the biggest dilemma I’d love to speak to these guys about - though they’re not here - I’d love to speak to De Niro about what was his biggest judgement call. It is intimidating, this role, it’s a very scary role to play because there’s so much room to get it wrong. My biggest judgement call was the language, the speaking. First, I need to say De Niro’s my idol, my all-time idol. Him, Hopkins, Steve McQueen - these are people that are truly modern legends. Not the Clark Gables and the Burt Lancasters and the Marlon Brandos. Great actors of all time.

“So De Niro is an idol, and it’s not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t go for that approach of being somewhat mentally challenged. It didn’t make sense to me. This is obviously hypothetical but you have to embrace it as reality, otherwise it becomes so farcical that: how can you play it? You know this, you do genre movies, so you understand people’s snobbery towards genre films: fuck them. Truly. That’s not particularly eloquent but it’s simple. I can’t stand snobbery towards genre films because in a way there’s so much room to get it wrong. And a lot of people do get it wrong. Look at The Hulk. Tim Burton - fantastic."

Until he did Planet of the Apes.
"Exactly - too many sets! And the DP - I don’t know who lit that movie for him. You look at his lighting and it’s so gothic, so incredibly dark and mysterious, you can’t access his worlds. But you could access this thing. And he didn’t have a rein on the performances - they were so huge. But there is so much room to get such fantasy wrong because the only way to get it right is to bring the reality to it. When I did Nomak I got nominated for that, for a Saturn Award, hopefully because I really tried to create a reality. I got criticised by journalists in London, saying that I’d taken the role too seriously; if I relaxed a bit more maybe I’d enjoy my work more. What they didn’t realise is that I would stop enjoying it if I wasn’t so tortured by it.

“He was one of those journalists who wrote for the broadsheets and was more at home discussing Chekov or Shakespeare where there’s actually more contrived performances than you’ve ever seen. There’s that tempo with Shakespeare which is wonderful but... Speech: I decided to go with the idea that he’s never spoken because he’s never needed to, he’s been in the forest. It’s something he can do, he has the mind, I decided, of a scholar - only because I think Dr Frankenstein would have chosen an ideal brain, a perfect brain. A scholar of philosophy or medicine or something. Maybe I understand my own mechanics more than anybody. I don’t care: I like to play with those ideas, that’s up to me to enjoy, not for anyone to see necessarily but for me to think about. Maybe I’m aware of my own medical condition, maybe I’m aware of my limitations so horribly that it makes my existence even more painful. But in essence I have a brain that is obviously connected.

“I didn’t go for this lumbering thing, I decided to go for a limp, because I thought: if he can sew an artery together then I’m sure he can do the rest quite easily, he can do nerve endings at least. I went for a limp at the beginning of the film because I decided simply that one of my tendons, just like a hamstring, would be too short. It gave me a limp and it gave me a fragility that allowed me to be more in awe of things. I’m not a monster, I’m a man that has been created. I don’t speak because there’s no need to. When I see Eva speaking, I speak. Sound created these huge problems for me, because how do I begin to make a ‘guh’ sound? If I go like this and you react, it’s instinctive. But because I’ve heard it, it’s almost like: how do I do it? I touch my throat because I hear a vibration in my throat that I haven’t heard before. It’s more something that I can actually do but I haven’t accessed. Although it’s not fluid yet, I don’t think it takes too long to do it - otherwise there’s no logical reason why he can become as eloquent and articulate as he becomes in such a short period of time. It’s just impossible."

He goes from nothing to quoting Milton.
"Exactly. He’s reading Paradise Lost. I’m thinking: no, it’s impossible. So I decided to say fuck it, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to have him speaking quicker and when he says his first word it’s going to surprise him that it comes out. He’s smiling but in some ways the fact that he can do this makes his life more painful because he knows that he’s actually more capable of interacting than even he thought. It’s like having a bit in his mouth and then not having a bit in his mouth; his restraint’s off. He’s very conscious of his horrificness, it’s tragic. So that was the biggest judgement call for me of the entire character: how he could be so compos mentis so quickly.

“Yesterday when I did the dream sequence I played him, not stupid but scary - because that’s all Victor thinks he has created. In a way, he’s underestimated his own abilities. And I had this wonderful opportunity to create that. I didn’t ask anyone’s opinion, I just said, ‘I’m going to play him somewhat scary.’ Because that’s all Victor thinks he was capable of creating. When he says to me on the mountaintop, ‘You can speak,’ and I say, ‘Yes, and reason.’ He says, ‘How is that possible?’ I say that I’m endowed with perceptions, and one time I added the word ‘sir’. He said, ‘You’re a monster’ and I said, ‘Which you created.’ But I said, ‘Which you created, sir.’ I call him sir because that gives me a moment of more nobility than even he has. So I played with it. It gives more weight to those moments of wordiness that we have.

“He’s very eloquent and he’s very dignified and I had to find a way of going for him. That whole unintelligible thing, I just didn’t want to do it, I didn’t understand it, I didn’t ever get it. Same with the big, huge scars. The scar is there, but we see him twice and people know what’s underneath the costume. But I’ve never been a big fan of the idea that a man can sew an artery together, but then he gets someone with mittens on and very dark sunglasses to sew the limbs together. I’ve never understood that, and I still don’t. Yes, I have a big scar here and here but I’m not going to play it up. We know who he is. We can imagine that he’s made up of a number of pieces but I have never liked that idea of making him so stupidly constructed. We’re not sewing a sail together, we’re sewing limbs together, from a man who has such a fine hand that he can sew an artery together and nerve endings on an eyeball. So I cover myself up, not through vanity but I don’t look nice. You’ve seen me. This is my face."

It sounds like Kevin has given you a lot of freedom to find the character.
"I can’t believe how much he trusts me. He hasn’t really even given me acting lessons, it’s more blocking sometimes. He’s been very, very, very generous about trust and judgements calls. I was thinking this yesterday: let’s see what happens - and we ended up going with it. In my delivery on the mountain I go from absolute range to nothing, to real restraint and control of the conversation, just to show that he does have the power of self-control. People don’t want to see the monster and hate him. People who tune in and love the story of Frankenstein will really like it."

I think that’s a problem nowadays. People think Frankenstein's creation is Herman Munster, but you look like the book's description. Muscular but tall and thin.
"He’s meant to be very strong. I’ve just finished a movie where I’ve been fighting Michelle Yeoh and I’ve been trained by masters so I can press 200-odd pounds. I’m very strong. But the look is actually quite true to the book. This idea was mine, when you see him like this. It’s deliberate, because I’ve said - it’s not on record in the book or anywhere - it’s one of the most sacrilegious things anyone can do. This looks like a shroud; it’s deliberately unstained, there’s no blood, that’s deliberate. I didn’t want to do this [holds hands out]. One of the conceptual things; I said I don’t want that, if I want any empathy from anybody it’s never going to happen if you do that. Let’s use visual poetry to try and get that.

“So I suggested an idea in the scene where I’m holding Elizabeth. She’s limp so she’s obviously dead, but I’m looking at her with a look of longing. That’s not just: he can’t have her because she’s no longer animated in life. He couldn’t have her anyway. A lot of us have seen a woman across a room that you would want, in a dream, to have but she’s, in that horrible modern-day expression, out of your league. I have experienced people saying: bullshit, you’re an actor, you used to be a musician. But without wearing a name-tag and without going over there and introducing myself and giving her my resume; if I went over there, just a scruffy guy in a pair of jeans and she didn’t recognise me, then she might not have the time of day for me either. Without knowing my resume and seeing my account book!

“I see people all the time who are painfully shy and don’t have any way to bypass that. I wanted to show what he couldn’t have. There are very poetical moments in this story and there’s almost a kind of religious connotation to it. I’m such a bloody fan now. I liked it before, like everybody else did, but now I’m genuinely amazed at how profound the writing is, how relevant it is. As I said before, it’s more relevant now than probably when it was written."

Let’s go back to the start of your acting career, on stage in Plan Nine from Outer Space: The Musical. How did you land that?
"I was asked to do that. I’d been asked to do West End before. I said to my management, this is kind of a big leap. I’m being asked to do this because of who I am, not because of what I’m capable of doing. I’d just written a book at that point which was a bestseller and got great, great reviews. I said, sure writing a book can’t be compared to the fame I had but it’s still me. I’m very proud of that first little contribution that I’ve individually made without my brother being involved or Craig or anybody; it was just me. I’m proud of it.

“It’s somewhat academic because I involved myself somewhat cerebrally on a very honest, candid level. I didn’t put any vanities in there. I employed censorship on other people’s behalf because I didn’t think it was right to mention names, but I still told the story without being specific with names. I put the censorship in after I wrote it. In the end I decided not to censor the book. I decided to take the names out and show myself as vulnerable as I was at the time.

“So then when I did theatre, Marina Caldoni, the resident director at the time of the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, said to me, ‘You’ll be right for this.’ I said, ‘Look, I’ve not done it before. It’s a great experience but I don’t know whether I’d be able to do it.’ So she said let’s just talk, let’s try out a few things. So we tried a few lines, we tried a few scenes. She really liked it and I had a few private coaches. I continued that for many years, one on one. But then I did an interview, strangely enough, the only person I’ve ever interviewed in my life. Sitting in the same position as you but the other way round. And that was Michael Caine. Because they asked me would I do this interview and I said there’s only two people I want to interview, and that’s Clint Eastwood or Michael Caine. They said okay, and an hour later they called back and said, ‘Michael has agreed to do it.’ I was like, ‘Oh shit...’"

For TV?
"Yes. So I interviewed him. I asked him, I said can we have a talk before, because I’ve not done this, so he said, ‘Sure, come to the office.’ The office being his bar, the bar in the restaurant that he owns. So we went there and he was everything that I’d dreamed he would be. He said to me, ‘You know what? If you want to do it, and you’re curious, then jump in. Away you go.’ No snobbery, no aloof kudos. My acting coach, Jenny McCracken, gave me the best direction ever. She said, ‘You’re a natural actor. Trust your instincts because your instincts are honest. Every time you question them, you’re off. So trust your instincts.’ That was the best advice I’ve ever been given. So I did Plan Nine through an offer, again. I was asked to do it."

Were you familiar with the film?
"Yes. Ed Wood, with Johnny Depp. I’d watched the movie Ed Wood, strangely enough, a few weeks before. Such a stupid amount of time before. I watched the movie as a result of doing the show. I became very, very familiar with Ed Wood and all his work. I can’t help digressing, I’m so enthusiastic about things. But I think Ed Wood was the Tarantino of his day, though he didn’t have the budget. People say, ‘Don’t you think he was a crap actor?’ No, he was a great actor. He made films for nothing, and you can’t actually make a film for free. You can’t do it. It’s physically impossible.

“People say, ‘What about continuity? Day and night?’ Well, absolutely, but it was either that or not make the movie. The man was not going to be compromised: ‘I am a movie director.’ I actually got tearful watching the movie at times because his resolve was so incredibly motivating. God bless Ed Wood because he was going to make that movie regardless of anything put in front of him. Even, who knows if his ability was not worthy of being a movie director."

He believed in himself.
"We’re still sitting here right now, talking about the guy. Kudos to that. You’ve got to take your hat off to that. Because he had a great idea about these mad films. He didn’t have the technology at his disposal, he didn't have the budget, he had nothing. He didn’t even have actors. He had to resort to the church to get funding. So I think he was like the Tarantino of his day, or I optimistically think of him in that way. I don’t know whether he ever would be, but maybe with the budget and some belief he could have made a great movie."

You were doing stage work, Plan Nine and Grease, then you made this huge leap to Blade 2.
"I did an independent English film first. I did Two Days, Nine Lives, which was a big, big learning curve for me because I was filming during the day and then doing theatre at night. That movie was written and directed by a guy called Simon Monjack who was a big workshop fan. He would put us into the scene and he would walk around. If we weren’t saying anything specific, we would sit around in group therapy on the set. He would say, ‘So, Saul’ - I was playing the lead in this film - ‘What do you think of Star?’ ‘I think she’s an arrogant bitch,’ - and she would be all, ‘Fuck off, Saul.’ ‘He would say, ‘Why does he think that?’ She would say, ‘I don’t care.’ He would evoke questions and it would perpetuate and perpetuate, very heavy. People would say stuff and we would all be in the zone. Cameras at the ready, and then, ‘Okay, let’s shoot this scene.’

“A great benefit of low-budget films - this was about a million quid - is that you have that luxury of spending that kind of time before a big scene. Which you don’t in Hollywood with studio pictures,because you’ve got producers and line producers breathing down your neck, trying to bring things in on budget. We didn’t have a fucking budget! It’s like a glider: what have you got to worry about? The engine’s not going to foul. The wings could fall off - it’s unlikely - but there is no engine. You start flying without an engine."

From there you went to Blade 2 and now this.
"Well, ZigZag was first. I’d filmed ZigZag before Blade 2. That was John Leguizamo, I’m a massive Leguizamo fan, Oliver Platt, who I love, Natasha Leone, Wesley Snipes and myself. I did ZigZag in Hollywood first, which was filmed in Hollywood on location. So that was my Hollywood break. That was written and directed by David Goyer, and he called Guillermo. I had been given the script for Blade 2 the day before, by coincidence. I had read for David Goyer and a few people from Franchise, and they called me after an hour and a half and offered me the role, from the audition.

“I actually auditioned for that. It was written for a Hispanic character and I did it in American. I walked in and said, ‘Hey, how are you?’ He said, ‘You have a great voice.’ I said, ‘Thank you, I got it for free.’ Afterwards, he said, ‘Could I hear it in English? Do you mind?’ I went, ‘Er, okay.’ To most people that sounds easy, but I’d never done it in English. There’s this one line in the film where I say, ‘You know what it’s like running this. You need a goddam computer to schedule round these fucking menstrual cycles.’ I just went heavy on the phrase ‘fucking menstrual cycles’ and I came back down and I composed myself. He said, ‘Have you finished yet?’ I’d completely zoned out, and he loved this. It was in English but he loved it, and an hour and a half later they offered me the movie.

“Working with those people was like: oh man! Then I had a phone call saying that David Goyer had said, ‘I think we’ve found our Nomak.’ They’d been trying to find it for a long time, to find someone who could stand up to Snipes visually and with the dialogue. I was asked to come in, but I didn’t technically audition for that role. I met with Guillermo. We talked very, very candidly about the character, with loads of enthusiasm, like two kids in a candy store. I love Guillermo’s work, I love his ways and I love him as a man. He’s a very generous man which makes him an incredibly generous director. And his enthusiasm, his childlike manner, combined with his ability to control a ship, as in a hundred million dollar movie, without even blinking - it’s just incredible.

“He said, ‘I think you could be fucking great for this movie.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘It’s not my decision, but I think you’d be fucking good for this movie.’ A lot of people had cast approval on that character, including Wesley. But I got the role. I got the phone call that said, ‘It’s yours’ and I was one happy motherfucker! Because I was a big fan of the first one. So I just got that through meeting. I obviously had to read for the casting people because there’s a political thing there, and a respect because they’re good at what they do. I had to read for them, and I got offered the role."

Is there any sort of plan to your acting career? Blade 2, films with Michelle Yeoh...
"There’s Charlie as well, which I think is going to be put out by Warner Bothers. No-one knows that yet, but Warner Brothers want the movie badly. A couple of big companies, the people who took Blade, want it. You know Peter Yates, the director of Bullitt? He’s gone on record as saying it’s the most honest gangster movie he’s ever seen. It was reviewed recently, saying, ‘Forget The Krays, this is going to be the one English classic gangster cult movie.’ It’s got the most glowing reaction. the movie’s called Charlie and in a 94-minute movie I’m in about 89 minutes of the film.

“There is no good guy or bad guy. I play Charlie Richardson who’s still alive. It’s about Charlie Richardson, it’s set in the 1960s. It’s the true story of his life: the trial, everything. He had business in London and Africa; it’s shot in London and Africa. A sixties period piece. A full-on gangster movie. And Peter Yates’ son edited the movie. It’s just been received with open bloody arms, man. I saw it at a private screening about three weeks ago, and I’m in every scene. But it’s just a bloody good gangster film. If you like The Long Good Friday... I’ve just been offered The Long Good Friday 2 as well, they’re making another one. I don’t know if people know that. But I’ve just been offered that as a result of doing Charlie. I’ve been offered a film called Cold and Dark because of Charlie. There’s another movie that’s filming in Egypt with Stanley Kubrick’s cinematographer who did Full Metal Jacket; they’ve just offered me that film. And another movie called Shadow Dragon, an amazing script, another genre film. The lead guy is, not like Blade but that kind of role, a stoic superhero. Very, very powerful, very cool. They want me to do that."

Are you actually aiming your career anywhere, or just holding onto it as it hurtles along?
"It is actually gathering speed, I do notice. I’m top-billed on this and that’s not easy. To be honest, I think the creature deserves it, but Victor’s in it a lot but people think of the creature so realistically I think anyone who plays this character should get that. But now that Donald Sutherland’s doing it, William Hurt, it’s like a blessing. Then I’ve got Cold and Dark; Tim Roth I think has said he wants to do the movie. He’s only got a nine-day shoot on the film; he plays my partner in the film. It’s another lead role, a starring role. It’s called Cold and Dark, and I play John Dark.

“The thing about movies is: you can only read them and hope they come out how they read. There’s as much chance of that happening as moving your own tail, which you don’t have. But you can be responsible for reading it and enjoying it and hoping the directors and the DPs and the editors and the set designers and everything bring it all together, bring it to fruition. Look at Daredevil. I was going to do that, I was going to be Bullseye. Obviously they had an option on Farrell, 20th Century Fox, and they optioned that, but I was going to do that role. Of course Colin Farrell has got more of a name.

“I had a different slant on it; that didn’t turn out how I imagined. The conceptual art was bloody fantastic: dark, like Batman, the first one. It was so gothic. I watched Daredevil and there’s loads with the kids. I don’t want to see the kid for too long, maybe a couple of minutes to establish, but then let’s get back into the darkness of this character. I would just enjoy the loneliness of that character so much. I think you have to try and choose roles that test you, put things on the line a little bit, when you get an opportunity, like with this one. And like with Nomak.

“You know, I can photograph quite well. You can take a picture and I can look half-decent; I don’t always look like a bullfrog. But if the role means I have to look like one, I sometimes in this perverse way like doing it. I’ve played a couple of roles, like when I played a drug addict, when I looked like shit. With Nomak, I looked like shit. And in this film, I don’t look like a pretty boy, to say the least! But he has great presence. And that’s what it’s about. So I enjoy going against type, I like that, which is bizarre considering I started in Bros. I’ve been acting longer than I was ever a musician. I was in Bros for five years and in three months I’ll have been acting for ten years. But I’m playing character roles, which is a blessing for me.

“Because when I started acting I was offered all these ‘eyebrow’ roles, and now I’m being offered these parts. I get excited, and not in an immodest way, it’s not an arrogant thing. I get excited when I hear people say they want an actor who can do this role, so they call me. I guess intensity has paid off. I need roles that I feel: I would want to watch them. They don’t have to be safe bets; not all of them are. I don’t know who said it, it may have been Anthony Hopkins because he says many wonderful thing, like, ‘We get paid to wait and we act for free.’ It’s so bloody true, somebody said this, maybe it was Malkovich. He said something like, ‘At the beginning of your career, your roles choose you. And then you get in the wonderful position where you choose your roles.’ It’s just so true. If you’re in that wonderful position of having more than one option - and I am at the moment - you can make a choice of, say, the best of three options. But you’re going to work.

“I don’t believe in any actor who says, well, I’d rather not do that. Don’t be stupid: work. Don’t do shit - I agree with that. But work if you can, because you’re learning. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning. But I’m praying for that day when I’ve got these wonderful things on the table. Imagine the ideal situation: to have five great scripts on the table and I want to do all of them. To say to the producers, well, I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to do all of them. But can you wait two years for me to get round to this one because we have to do this? And they say, yes, if you can sign a contract now saying you’ll do it, we’ll do it. And I want that, that’s the dream: to be in that position."

Tell me about Silver Hawk. I am so impressed at making a film with Michelle Yeoh.
"It was one of those wonderful things again. I had just been offered The Crow, another Crow sequel. I said no to it, and they said, ‘What could we do?’ I said, ‘You’d have to rewrite 80 per cent of it.’ They said, ‘Can we?’ I said sure. So I came up with this whole idea about: the boy needs to see his father killed, and so on. I think they’ve used all that now, so if they like it, great. Lance Mungia, the director, is a really great guy, I really like him.

“We were in the middle of negotiations for The Crow and I got a call from Thomas Chung, the film’s producer and Michelle’s partner, as in not husband but partner. And partner in business too, because Michelle’s also a producer on this movie. He called me and said, ‘Would you be interested in playing the male lead in this movie Silver Hawk with Michelle?’ And I’m like: with Michelle Yeoh? Are you serious? I said, ‘Send the script round.’ I got it on very funky new, 17-inch, Superdrive Powerbook - which I’m completely buzzed about. I read and it and said, I love it. Two weeks later the deal was done, including every part of the negotiations - and I flew to China.

“I play this part of Alexander Wolfe and she plays a kind of vigilante in a way, a modern-day kind of Batman. It’s near-future, stretched and sometimes not stretched, due to both the director and the budget. I play a character that wants to take over the world but I immediately decided not to play him like this. People don’t walk around thinking they’re villains and Alexander Wolfe doesn’t walk around thinking he wants to take over the world. He walks around thinking he wants to make the world a better place. In his delusion, he’s actually a dictator and an evil guy, and through his actions he’s someone not to be fucked with. She has every right - you’ve got to get rid of him. But he doesn’t walk around like that, he intuitively believes he’s doing the right thing.

“So in my back story I invented this thing that was not on the page: his father died young, he inherited a few billion dollars. Through his trust fund and people looking after him, he’s kind of buffering. He has never really made any mistakes, and he sees people make mistakes daily, which is the wonderful thing about life. I decided to play him like that, really. He looks at life and sees people make these mistakes, and through this subliminal suggestion that he’s in - in other words, complete dictatorship - he can save people from making these mistakes. And put himself in a position of power; he has to be in power to implement that kind of control. But he doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything wrong. It’s almost like he prefers any idea of utopia. Whether it’s communistic or complete dictatorship, that can’t exist without taking people’s freedom away. Unfortunately he doesn’t see that. But I don’t play him like this at all.

“There’s this thing where he’s in an explosion and he’s lost his arms from the elbows down, So he has these metal gloves that are handmade; he doesn’t always show them. He has his underground lair with all these computers, he operates his empire from them. She takes care of business. A couple of cool things in the middle of the movie, and I haven’t told anyone about this because I went straight from China - a 26-hour day - I got on a plane and flew straight here. Three months in China, no days off, through SARS and everything. Straight to here, not one day off. Reading a 300-page script.

“There’s this panda, a real panda they let them use. Because it’s a co-production between Hong Kong and America, they let them use a panda. These people are trying to steal a panda, and she’s on a bike, on this souped-up BMW, hurtling along. She’s doing her thing, wire-work as you would expect. She stops the truck and you actually see her with the panda. You can’t use pandas, they’re an endangered species. But Michelle Yeoh is in the cage with this panda biting her arm!

“And another great thing, another great vibe, is that they actually jump the Great Wall of China on a bike. It wasn’t CG, it wasn’t a set, they were actually given permission and they did jump the Great Wall of China for the movie. It’s so extravagant, for a few seconds of slow motion in the film, and then back into action - they go to the great expense of jumping the Great Wall of China. I don’t know how the whole movie’s going to turn out. Michelle is wonderful, generous, incredibly talented. I think Thomas is a very lucky man and he knows it. I also have to say credit to him on the record. He’s a wonderful guy. i think of them both as personal friends."

How did you find the Hong Kong production compared with Britain or Hollywood?
"Incredibly, incredibly lonely. Incredibly isolated. Being in China for three months without hearing your native tongue is very hard to explain. Being on a movie set where nobody speaks English, not even ‘good morning’, not even ‘hello’. On that level it was very isolated. Through the SARS thing, which was a bit unnerving at times. Every twenty minutes you had to disinfect your hands. Wearing masks inbetween takes. Having temperature checks three times a day. Thermal imaging camera just before you go into stores or your hotel. Having temperature check before you go into anywhere. My driver got the flu so I had to go to hospital and have X-rays on my lungs to make sure I wasn’t contaminated, like everybody did. If you had flu, just normal flu, you had to be quarantined for 14 days. I didn’t get flu or a cold once, thank God. You had to be quarantined for 14 days and you’d get six, seven, eight calls a day to check you’re in your room. It’s very, very tense.

“But the only difference is that you have to be able to do stuff. Luckily, I’d trained to be in Blade. For Silver Hawk I did two weeks’ training with the ex British champion in wing chung, and I did four weeks’ training with one of their guys from Hong Kong in Shanghai. You have to be able to fight because they don’t do three- or four-move combinations, they do 15-move combinations. There’s a scene where Michelle’s on a wire and it’s simulated to be like a bungee, and she does go up a hundred feet on a wire. Sure, her double does some of the dangerous bits where she crashes through window, but she does do the hundred feet up in the air.

“When you do stunts, when you break glass, when you turn from explosions, you do that stuff. Hong Kong teams, they do stuff that would literally make a producer’s nuts fall off in America. It’s true. And rightfully. Unless you’re as capable as some of these guys, who have been fighting since they were six, a producer in America would be right to be scared. Because you shouldn’t do it on a movie set. As Wesley once said to me: it’s just a movie, don’t ever put your life in danger. But those guys, they’re as hard as nails.”

interview originally posted 1st December 2007

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

interview: Neill Gorton

Special effects on short-lied TV series Strange were the responsibility of Neill Gorton (whom I had first met on the set of Breeders). I spoke with Neill during my set visit in October 2002. This was another joint interview with David Richardson of Starburst.

What’s your brief for the show?
"Not a lot of money and make it look spectacular. It’s been a bit crash-bang-wallop because we only started the first week of September building anything. And as you can see, on the stage over there we’ve got a 14-foot high tree demon with 30-foot armspan, all moving. It’s dangerous stuff. But ‘get it done’ was mainly the brief. We did some sketches, sorted out the different things. It was trying to find a design ethic for the whole show. Because everyone’s seen Buffy and those kind of things - people are always going to make those sort of comparisons - so it was trying to do something a bit different.

“So with the tree, we started out with human-sized things and slowly built our way up and in the end said, ‘Let’s do something impressively huge that will take up a good chunk of the room.’ That’s when you go, ‘Okay, it’s got to be twelve feet tall...’ Then we just did some sketches, some models, got a quick approval and just crashed into building it. We just sculpted about half of it, fabricated the other half. It’s on the stage, on a platform there. All the arms are on big bungee cords coming down, the head’s on one big pole. There’s some mechanical stuff. The more you can just drive directly with rods and poles and things, the safer you are. The more cables and pulleys you’ve got, the more chance they’re going to snap."

Are the guys in green suits operating it?
"Yes, they’re operating all the arms. But the whole point is: what’s great about this show is we’re working with a company called No Strings Attached, which is Alan Marques. Alan and I have known each other about twelve years and we’ve worked on loads of shows together. When I came on to this, they were talking digital and I suggested they go to Alan. The good things is I know that I can build something and do it a certain way and I can just call Alan and he’ll go, ‘Yes, do this and I can get rid of those rods and poles.’ Between us, we can make this work. It’s very much a marriage of what we’re building and what Alan’s going to do to get rid of all the people and the rods and make it work. It’s good to have someone like that as back-up. There’s several things on the show where we’re just working hand in hand and it really helps."

What other things have you built?
"We’ve done a Frankenstein monster kind of thing which is an amalgam of various characters who have been chopped up and put together. That was a full body prosthetic on an amputee. His left arm at the shoulder is missing, so the idea is that the creature is unfinished. We did full-body prosthetics, but the head had to be the head of a specific character so we did a likeness prosthetic of the actor to put on the amputee, and then on the actor we did a shoulder prosthetic, so we could cut between the two. That took us five hours to glue on all the prosthetics.

“We did an animatronic hand. There’s a character with a samurai sword which grows out of his arm, so we did a mechanical hand which splits open and this samurai sword shoots out. Next week we’ve got lots of ageing make-ups on Sam Janus. She goes from her regular age to fifty-something up to eighty-something. That’s all been a challenge with the prosthetics. This is film quality, not TV, because that’s what I do, mostly film. So hopefully we’re bringing a film quality and a film look to the show. The whole production has a film mentality and a film look, so hopefully we can give it that movie quality.

"This thing, the big tree demon, it was a hell of a challenge to get that up and going in the time. We’re about halfway through our list of things and so far, touch wood, we’re doing well. I’m looking forward to the ageing make-up next week - it’s something I specialise in so it’s going to be a nice thing to do. The whole thing’s been great fun. Great scripts, great team - fingers crossed, it could be a really good show."

Is there anything where you’ve had to say ‘we can’t do this’?
"We never say, ‘we can’t do this’."

Or even where you’ve said, ‘We can do this and do it better than you want’?
"Oh yes, we do that all the time. I never say to people, ‘we can’t do that’ because there’s always a way, but there are times when we go ‘well, you want just this but look...’ I mean, this tree demon was not defined and was thought to be a little thing and we went, ‘Look, we can make it as big as the room’ and everyone’s going, ‘Can you do that?’ ‘Yeah.’ What would be nice if the show carried on to more series, now that Andrew Marshall has seen what’s possible, he could let his imagination run wild and we could have even more stuff to do.”

How do you plan the effects for each episode, in terms of what will be real and what will be done digitally?
"What’s nice about this project, working with Alan, is that we’ve known each other for 12 years, we’ve worked together loads. He knows what I can do and I’ve got a good idea what he can do. So you sit in a room, in a meeting, and it’s sort of: ‘If you can do this, I can build this.’ We know how to augment each other’s work and you just find a line. If I run into a particular problem - like if I’ve got this giant creature and I’ve got to make the arms move - either I get into mechanics and hydraulics and stuff you just don’t want to get near, especially on this schedule, or you go: well, the simplest way is a rod, and CGI can deal with that. There’s just lots of little areas where we can help each other out - and that’s the way it should be.

“Unfortunately too many CGI people go, ‘We can do everything.’ I don’t sit there claiming I can do everything - I’m not that stupid - but some people, because it’s a newer tool, will say, ‘Hey, let’s use this tool.’ No, you use it where it’s going to work. Everyone got all excited about Jurassic Park and the CGI dinosaurs; yes, but they still had Stan Winston build lots of animatronic ones - and they used them. They wouldn’t have bothered if they didn’t think it was the best way. Even by the third one they were still doing it."

It must be easier for the director and actors to actually have the tree demon there.
"Well, imagine. We had a situation when we first got it on the stage. Sam Janus came in and they’d shot a scene the day before where she walks through the door and reacts: ‘Oh my God!’ And she walked in and looked at it and went, ‘Oh my God! I’ve shot the scene before this and I just didn’t react anywhere near big enough. Wow!’ That’s the thing. If you don’t see it, you just don’t know exactly how to react. You can interact with it, it’s physically there, there’s slime dripping off it. It gives the actors something to play off against. If it was all computer-generated the actors would just be staring into space or looking the wrong way."

What happens when you’re done with something that big?
"We were hoping to burn the bloody thing! The whole thing is meant to go up in flames but because it’s all polyurethane foam and the size of it, you couldn’t actually burn it on the set. We’re going to have a lot of flame pods around it. Neil Champion is doing all the flame work and will do all that safely so we don’t burn it. Then the suggestion was: we’re going to drag it into a field somewhere and set fire to it, and film that. Then the digital guys can take elements off that, because it will burn in the right shape, and they can overlay that in. But I think they’re just having trouble finding a field to do it in. I was quite up for it. People were saying, ‘Do you really want to burn it?’ Well, I’m not going to put it in my living room!"

Until they need it again for series three.
"Oh, we’ve got the moulds. I keep some things but you just can’t do anything with something that size. These kind of things are always the favourite things to have at the end of the shoot. I did From Hell and all the directors and people had the body parts. Marilyn Manson did some of the music - he’s got one of the dead bodies in his living room, under the coffee table. People want them, but if I kept everything I wouldn’t have any room to move in my workshop. I’m quite happy to see the back of most of it."

What else have you done recently or have you got coming up?
"Currently we’re also working on Tomb Raider II, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen out in Prague with Steve Norrington, bits of TV stuff, just prosthetics here and there. Some bits and pieces for Jonathan Creek. Earlier on this year we did a movie called The Sin Eater with Brian Helgeland out in Rome. I do a lot with Steve Coogan as well. We just shot a thing of his called Cruise of the Gods, which is a thing about science fiction fans on a convention cruise; we just did some prosthetics for him. We also did Steve as a fat Alan Partridge for the new series. Before then we did Steve as Dr Terrible, so I’ve seen a lot of Steve Coogan this year. 24 Hour Party People last year. Very, very, very busy and it’s just getting busier. It’s been a non-stop year.”

interview originally posted 17th May 2006