[ARCHIVE POST – By Liam Banks]
It’s that time of the week again foolish mortal as we begin on another entry into #HORRORMONTH on the blog. This week we thought we’d try something a little different and tackle the subject of acting in horror and interview three lovely ladies we have had the chance to work with over the past few years.
Horror is a genre that is often overlooked for the talent it produces and involves in its productions. Many well known actors and actresses began their careers in Horror flicks, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Anniston and Renee Zellweger are probably some of the most notable examples. As mentioned in our previous entry on ‘DIRECTING HORROR’ (which you can read HERE) I think it takes a hell of a lot for an actor to approach a Horror project and commit to the emotions and physical performance which are often required from picture to picture.
Kicking things off then I think it’s only right I give our lovely guests for the week the introductions they deserve. First off we have Jessica Messenger, an actress who has had many encounters with the genre, whose popularity continues to grow from project to project. Having held her own playing against Laurence R. Harvey in the award winning short film ‘RATS’ and having produced and starred in the upcoming feature film ‘SIX HOT CHICKS IN A WAREHOUSE’, Jessica is incredibly familiar with the genre both in front and now behind the camera. We most recently worked together on our 2015 Halloween Short ‘THE FINAL GIRL’. Working with Jess has always been an absolute pleasure and it always excites me when a project comes along I know she’d be perfect for. Working together has always very much been a process of collaboration and for me that’s how it should be. It’s always a joy getting to work together on a genre project, especially with someone so talented and hardworking. Jess’s passion for a project doesn’t just stop when we call cut, she gets behind every project she is involved in right from the get go and continues to push it even when it’s been released online. Every set we have been on together I am always greeted by a great sense of professionalism and 100% commitment to the role she is in, it is an absolute pleasure to have her on the blog this week!
Next up we have someone rather special to myself, my ‘Scream Queen’ better half Charlie Clarke. Myself and Charlie actually met on a film set so it’s only fitting that since we got together we’ve continued to work on project after project. Charlie just recently won an award (totally deserved) for her incredible performance in ‘GRID’ and continues to enjoy success with the various other short film and theatre work she has on the horizon. We most recently worked together on ‘GANGER’ and have plenty more projects for 2017 in the pipeline. Classically trained I have always admired Charlie’s versatility from genre to genre and stage to screen. Charlie is another actress I completely respect and love to work with for the ferocious passion and energy she brings to each set we have been on together. Charlie is a huge Horror Fan and her admiration for the strong female characters of the genre is apparent in the roles she takes on and absolutely nails on screen. It is also important to mention that Charlie has helped out in more ways than you could ever know on each of our productions, so for that SuperfreakMedia and myself will always be grateful. Truly a woman of many talents, first and foremost and incredibly accomplished actress, I feel incredibly lucky to get to work with her and I am incredibly honoured to have her contribute to the blog today!
Finally to complete the holy trinity of Final Girls and Scream Queens on the blog we have Esmee Matthews. I can’t compliment Esmee enough on her absolute raw talent and knack for nailing each story I confront her with. Fairly new to the world of short film it has been an absolute pleasure to watch her grow and hone her craft from project to project. Most recently we worked together on ‘SANDMAN’ which is currently touring the festival circuit. Horror is an incredibly difficult genre to work within and Esmee is one of those talented people who makes it looks so effortless and easy. Being incredibly capable like every each of the actresses we have introduced so far I honestly can’t wait to bring her on board for another project in the future. Thanks again Esmee for being a part of the blog this week!
Now I have gushed over these three wonderful women, lets get back on track. I will say this however, I do feel incredibly lucky to work with such amazing actors, bringing our twisted tales to life. Acting in Horror is an incredibly challenging process and not one that should be taken lightly, so I hope that some of the experiences and tips shared in the following interviews will help shed some light on the processes behind some of our shorts and the works you know and love in the genre.
Welcome to #HORRORMONTH on the blog! Please introduce yourself and give us some background on who you are and what sort of acting work you do/have done in the past.
J: My name is Jessica Messenger and I’m a film actress from Derbyshire. My motivation for choosing projects is largely based on how much I gel with the script on the first few reads. The story massively impacts my interest & investment in a project so I reject any scripts that don’t tick the boxes. I’ve been privileged enough to work with a wide array of directors, producers and on various genres, but find myself falling into horror more often than not. I have a keen interest in the weird and wonderful in general and horror movies just give you that extra something to work with.
C: My name is Charlie Clarke and I trained at EPA in Nottinghamshire. I started acting way back in primary school, starting out in theatre and that’s what I did up until I was 21. It wasn’t until after I graduated drama school that I ventured into film but it was always something I wanted to do. I split my love between theatre and film – I know a lot of actors tend to do one or the other but for me I honestly can’t pick! If I’m performing I’m living – it doesn’t matter if it’s on a stage or in front of a camera. My theatre work has spanned so many genres, from Shakespeare to musicals and everything in between. In film I have worked a lot in horror, but again try to be a chameleon of genres – I think I tend to gravitate towards horror because it’s my favourite genre to watch.
E: My name is Esmee Matthews and i am a 22 years of age, living in Nottingham. My acting work varies from extra work, music videos and mainly short films.
You’ve worked with SuperfreakMedia on a few projects. Please give us an overview of the projects you’ve been involved in and what some of your highlights were?
J: I’ve worked with Superfreak on a few separate occasions, but Horror wise we’ve collaborated on 2 projects. Liam, the brains of Superfreak, is an absolute wonder to work with. Our first short was part of his webseries “1 Minute Nightmares” which follows my character seemingly having a normal romantic dinner with the love of her life. We had great fun on a really tight nit shoot, and if you’ve seen it, I suspect you’ll understand the amount of innuendo we had. Our second project, The Final Girl, was a festival submission short that we shot as a special for Halloween 2015. When Liam came to me with the script, I jumped at the chance to take part, purely based on the 80s nostalgic vibe that he promised to recreate. I feel like he gave me all the means to really get into character, he had patience & vision. The Final Girl was one of my favourite shoots to date. The crew were wonderful, and so were the many co-stars. It was possibly one of the most demanding shoots I’ve had, we were shooting in sub zero temperatures, in October, England at about 2am, wearing nothing more than a crop top and a pair of shorts. Physically and emotionally demanding in many ways but I hope and like to think that it all shows on screen.
C: I first had the pleasure of working with SuperfreakMedia in 2012 on Haunted and never looked back. There was something very special about setting foot on a set with Liam directing – the energy is just right. I’ve since be proud to grace the screen in All Hallow’s Evil, Traffic, The #1minutenightmare series in Size Matters and cameoing in several others, Ganger, The Final Girl, Season’s Greetings, Chasing Time and Wreckage. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a veteran of SuperfreakMedia but when you find people to work with that are just as passionate about making kick ass films as you are you stick with them!
E: I have worked with super freak media on 3 occassions (hopefully more to come). The first was final girl, which was one of the toughest shoots i have ever been on, staying in a creepy wood until 2am. However the outcome was incredible. The second was wreckage. This film has a place in my heart as it was the first short id been offered the lead in. Then finally sandman.. One of the best highlights of this shoot must be seeing Matt (sandman) have to sit for hours in full white body paint, unable to touch anything, with taped on tallons. What. A. Trooper
What interests you in particular about the Horror genre?
J: I think fear is one of the most intense, underrated emotions anyone can go through. True, real fear is a fascinating experience. I have one occasion that stands out mostly in my mind, terror is probably best to describe it. I think when you have that experience, recreating that, in its truest form is incredibly difficult to do. So many actors are left unrecognised for their dedication to the genre by mass audiences, festivals and award shows. That’s why I love our genre fans and festivals!
C: I honestly think horror gets a bad rep when it comes to acting, but when actors get horror right it can be Oscar worthy. It takes serious imagination to convincingly play out the horror of a supernatural situation or being chased by a chainsaw wielding maniac because it’s so far flung from our real lives. In other genres of acting you can pull on genuine real life experiences, whereas in horror you have to push that further into a situation that is truly unreal. That for me is the most interesting thing about horror – taking up the challenge and seeing how far I can push myself. Bring it on!
E: One of the main things which has always interested me in the horror genre is the many routes you can go down with it. May it be paranormal, slasher or psychological. And being an actor, its exciting to be able to be involved with all these different exciting possibilities.
Has your time on set been how you expected it to be, in particular when filming a Horror picture?
J: Yes I guess it has. I’ve never been opposed to hard work and that’s exactly what a horror film is. It’s hardest of the hardest because you have a whole host of things to include and to challenge you. It’s the least glamorous you can probably get. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve had fake blood in my eyes…it stings…a lot. Equally it’s great fun and some of my best relationships in the industry are fellow horror junkies. It’s fantasy really. Who doesn’t want to take part in their own fantasy flick?
C: Yes and no. Yes because it’s exhausting. It’s physically demanding and it’s mentally draining. You get covered in blood on 90% of horror projects and it’s always awesome if you get to sit in a make-up chair and get transformed by prosthetics, but no because when I first started out I really underestimated how much I would laugh on a horror set. You make amazing friends on film sets if you’re lucky and it’s those friends who you learn to just throw yourself into ANYTHING with.
I will never forget working on Haunted with SuperfreakMedia when Liam handed me a prop knife and just said “I wanna see how you’re gonna lose it in this next scene” So there I was stood in the middle of living room, slashing a knife through the air and screaming my lungs out. It was SO cathartic and afterwards we all ended up killing ourselves laughing because in reality it was just ridiculous. Me + a knife, screaming like a mad woman in my now Mother-in-Law’s living room – I think I left an impression!
E: I definitely didn’t think id be holding treacle in my mouth and frantically spitting it everywhere whilst playing a zombie. But being on set of a horror was a nice surprise. There was no pressure, the whole crew was on board to make you feel as comfortable as possible. And there was no way I was getting those zombie contacts in without the love and support of the crew!
Do you have any tips for other Actors/Actresses who might be looking to take on a Horror project?
J: Understand horror as a genre. Do your research and understand what the director is trying to achieve. I ask A LOT of questions, particularly with a new crew. You want to get a mind map of what vision they have and how you can play into that with your own vision of the character.
Horror films are incredibly political, and challenge all sorts of social, economical structures both past and present. It’s not just blood, get into the nitty gritty of what’s being said and you’ll open up a whole load of things you can really use.
C: Simple – commit to the moment and don’t hold back! Horror is the most fun, challenging and brilliant genre to work in. It makes you be brave, it makes you push yourself and you discover ways of channeling emotions that you didn’t know before. Also, do your research! There are some INCREDIBLE horror films out there with some of the most iconic actors in Hollywood in them, so learn from them. If you’re working on a slasher learn from Jamie Lee Curtis, if you’re playing a psychopath find your inner Anthony Hopkins…watch as much horror as you can and take notes!
E: My one tip would be, play it as subtle as you can. It’s very easy to want to over play roles, especially in horrors where emotions should be played incredibly heightened. But keeping it subtle, and making the eyes portray the most fear or pain can make a piece into something very powerful.
On set, do you have a process to prepare for a demanding scene? Horror usually entails heightened emotions, etc.
J: I’ve read a lot of books. There’s a ton of ways to get into character, I like to steal ideas from both Stanislavski and of course Meisner. But I read a lot of self help books like Dale Carnegies How to win friends. It’s all part of my arsenal to better my understanding of people. Essentially that’s where I work from. I case study the general public on a day to day basis, I learn a lot of biology, I try to get into the mind of that person and find what within them I can Identify with. It’s a process, I’m not a one click of your fingers cryer. I do find understanding people on biological level is important. Science is a starting point.
C: If I am prepping for something that’s highly emotional I will often take myself away and listen to music. I have what I call my “Emosh Playlist” on my iPod and so I take myself away from my fellow cast and the crew and I play those songs I know I have an emotional connection to. If it’s a physical scene I will try and get pumped by jogging on the spot to get the adrenaline going. I usually try to get all the questions I have about the upcoming scene answered by the director first, then have a few moments to myself to make sure I’ve processed everything ready for action.
E: With sandman, my character (sandy) had to look incredibly terrified. Getting into a ‘zone’ to a lot of actors is the hardest talent to posses. And it was for me. However the ‘method’ way of acting is what helped me get into that place. On the set of sandman I just went away and had my own time alone. I find that helps void out everything around you and find the emotion.
What is your dream Horror project/your dream Horror role?
J: I’d love something like SuckerPunch with an even darker edge. That or a full prosthetic get up like Meg from Legend. Granted these are fantasy, but there’s a real surreal tinge of horror streaming right through it. Whatever I look for now, I look for uniqueness, for roles that will stand apart, for strong female leads that challenge the horror status quo.
C: In my dreams it would be a mad, crazy project that crams together all of my favourite moments from my favourite horror movies, but that wouldn’t work in a million years! I think truthfully I would have to say something similar to Switchblade Romance or something directed by James Wan.
E: I have always wanted to be involved in a psychological horror.. I have always, as a viewer and actor found this genre so intriguing and exciting. The silence of the lambs is an all time favorite!
For people looking to direct Horror what tips would you give to them to get the best out of you and provide you with the perfect environment to capture the best performance?
J: For me it’s telling me what you want and expect out of the scene. I’m pretty easy to direct in the sense that I like open dialogue. I take direction well, I’m not here to challenge you but to bring what the project needs to the table. Tell me what you want!
C: Don’t be afraid to push your actors, but please be understanding of what you are asking us to do. The energy on set has to be right, an actor needs to feel 100% supported by the director and if they are we will give you our very best performances. If you click your fingers and expect us to just do it without any rehearsal or prep – it will not work. There needs to be a balance between getting the job done on schedule and guiding your actors through the script. Also, I really really love when a director lets you do an off-the-cuff take and then collaborates with you to get it to where they want it and where it needs to be – if that makes sense!
E: I’d always say communication is key with anyone that directs me. Its great when you can run through a scene and swap a few ideas and try different things out. Also knowing exactly what he/she wants from the scene, working together to create the best shot possible. And definitely an energetic and fun atmosphere! Everyone feeds off the energy and that’s when everyone is at their most imaginative. (also pizza helps)
What is a highlight for you being a part of the making of a Horror movie?
J: Seeing the end product. Knowing that all the hard work it took to get there is worth it. It’s a proud moment for all involved to see what survived only in your mind, now come to life for other people to enjoy.
C: The blood. I honestly think I am one of few actors who doesn’t care about having blood throw all over them and running around screaming or crying. I think it’s because it’s so out of the ordinary to a “normal” day I totally revel in the situation! I think when I watched Carrie for the first time the famous prom scene must have had some kind of profound effect on me because I live for my “Carrie” moments on a horror set!
E: 100 percent the reaction of the audience. Its the best feeling when you scare the s*** out of people! My mum still to this day hasn’t watched ‘sandman’ as she refuses to pull the pillow from her face…
Finally, do you have any last nuggets of advice for future ‘Scream Queens’ out there?
J: Work hard, be thankful and a humble person. Leave any thoughts of what you THINK you are at the door and get down and dirty in the mud with everyone else on set. Get drinks. Carry equipment. Look after other people. Love being on set. You have to love it. Otherwise you’ll find a lot of things to dislike really really quickly. As for the art of scream, I’m not much a screamer myself. Times are changing. The genre as we know it is changing with the socioeconomic changes we see in our day to day lives. What we expect from our heroin is different from previous eras. Think what it means to you and try your best to emulate that in your work.
C: Believe in yourself, believe in your talent. Find good people to work with. Watch horror and do your research. Finally – be grateful for every opportunity you get and be humble!
E: Last piece of advice? Work with SUPERFREAKMEDIA of course!
Thank you for taking part in the interview and being a part of the blogpost.
So there you have it folks! It was an absolute pleasure as I said to interview these wonderful women of the genre and find out a bit more of what makes them tick as actors. If I want you to go away from this blog post with anything, it would be to never underestimate the hard work and talent that goes into the performances you see in Horror films. I love my strong female leads and the genre thrives on them, another reason I love Horror so much! So if you’re thinking about taking the plunge and auditioning for a Horror Project, go for it! But be ready for one crazy experience that’s sure to be fun and push your limits.
Keep it Creepy!