24 January 2011
hammerfilms.com Exclusive Interview With The Cast And Crew Of WAKE WOOD
On the eve of principal photography for Wake Wood, we had a quick chat with David Keating, Brendan McCarthy, Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle.
[Editor's note: This article first appeared on hammerfilms.com in a slightly different form in September 2008]
Aidan Gillen is a long way from Baltimore. One of an ensemble cast that have contributed to making The Wire the most lauded show on TV, Gillen has most recently been chasing cows around a muddy paddock somewhere in rural Ireland. "It's intentional. I like to mix it up: go somewhere else, do something else, preferably something completely different." True to his word, Gillen's bovine pursuits are literally field research for his role in Hammer's first horror feature in over thirty years. "I've been out with a local veterinary surgeon. Around here they're very hands-on and not shy of physically moving the animals around. I've got involved in quite a few procedures." He's particularly proud of his stitching, though he's quick to point out that he hasn't been practising on the animals.
Gillen will play Patrick, a Dublin vet trying to hold his marriage to wife Louise (Birthistle) together in the face of overwhelming grief at the death of their nine-year old daughter. The couple move to the town of Wake Wood, and this being a supernatural horror, you can bet that things are going to get more than a little weird and be covered with more than a little blood.
Animals play a major part in the story. Director David Keating reveals they have yet to cast the dog that gets the story snarling, but one key animal part has been filled and that's by Simple the bull (his real name) who is perhaps destined to become a part of Hammer folklore. Apparently this particular prize specimen already has a growing reputation and Keating jokes that once filming wraps, Simple may well be decamping to Hollywood such are his thespian qualities.
Not too far from the muddy cow field, Keating has been rehearsing Gillen, Birthistle and Ella Connolly who plays their daughter Alice. "It's been great to watch Aidan, Eva and Ella become a family. We've had a lot of fun. But it's been a little weird also, considering some of the things they get up to as the story plays out. Ella is scarily brilliant." "And," adds Gillen, "when she wants to be properly scary she is. I have a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old, so I know all about them at that age." Keating has also been working with the "townsfolk" of 'Wake Wood'. "We had forty people in the local hall last night, all shaking." He hints that this is connected to the fictional town's bizarre and creepy traditions. "It's some seriously scary stuff."
"We've actually turned this small town in Ireland into a back lot," says Keating. "It's extraordinary strolling down the main street from make-up and wardrobe, past people being cast in plaster for effects, then out to a field filled with grave markers. And all within a five minute walk. We've even turned the local café into our commissary." The time of year is also apt. "I think we can be assured that the weather is going to be cold and wet and miserable," says writer and producer Brendan McCarthy, "and that should set the tone perfectly."
Keating sounds genuinely excited to be directing the first Hammer horror film shot since 1976's To The Devil A Daughter. "Actually I'm quite disappointed that the deal wasn't done at midnight in a crypt with everyone wearing capes." Although he says it with a smile, one gets the distinct impression that he would have been perfectly happy to go full Gothic for the historic moment that sees Hammer's return to features. McCarthy, who has lived with Wake Wood's story for longer than anyone, can't wait to see the cameras roll. "Making a horror film with Hammer – it just doesn't get any better."
Birthistle has very clear memories of the Hammer classics, "I remember being allowed to stay up late with my dad and watch Christopher Lee as Dracula. My mother would go to bed early because she's so easily scared. Watching those old Hammer films always felt like a real treat." She admits she still likes a good scare, "I love The Omen and The Shining. I particularly like horror with a supernatural twist."
Gillen's earliest memories of horror centre on The House On Haunted Hill. "The earliest time I can remember having the shit scared out of me was when I was about three. I was in my parents' bed and The House On Haunted Hill." Gillen also namechecks The Wicker Man, which Keating points out shares some narrative resonances with Wake Wood. Keating himself lists some horror classics as being among his favourites: Eyes Without A Face, Carrie and The Haunting. Everyone agrees on Don't Look Now and The Exorcist. Gillen has encountered the spirit of Hammer in a more direct way, filming at the hallowed Bray Studios for Jez Butterworth's 1996 film Mojo. "I still remember the photos of Christopher Lee on the wall. You could certainly feel the Hammer vibe there, even though our story was set in a 1950s rock 'n' roll club."
Keating's set already has the sound of an extended family, and as with the Hammer stalwarts of old, the Wake Wood team appear to share a genuine passion for horror leavened by an easy-going charm and natural wit that should allow even the darkest recesses of human experience to be examined with real heart.