If back in the 1980’s Robert Englund rolled over sweet dreams like black storm clouds, then three decades later his eye has turned to the multiplex where we dare to dream and lose ourselves in worlds removed from our reality.
In a special four part feature, writer-director Phil Hawkins, producer Alexandra Baranska and lead actors Finn Jones and Emily Berrington offer a series of youthful perspectives from behind and in front of the camera, before Robert Englund takes the stage to present the cineaste behind the icon.
Taking another step forward towards the final word on The Last Showing, Finn Jones and Emily Berrington offered their perspectives on the craft of acting, the creation of identity and its wider implications, as well as touching upon their night to forget in a multiplex.
Why a career in acting? Was there that one inspirational moment?
Emily Berrington: I got into acting late as I thought I wanted to work in politics. So I did a geography and politics degree and went to work for the Labour Party, although I was doing drama stuff on the side at university. I didn’t think it would be a proper career, and when I was working for the Labour party I thought oh, this is quite a competitive world, and I’m not nervous about that, so why don’t I give it a try. So it was a slow burn process, and then I went to drama school, and it all started from there.
Finn Jones: It was always something I’ve been fated to do ever since I was young – it is just in my blood, and I’ve never made a conscious decision to do it. I went to drama schools when I was younger and that led onto drama schools when I was older. Then I graduated from drama school and I was suddenly working, and I’m still working now.
Would you agree that each approach or entry into acting offers a unique perspective or experience that should be valued?
Emily Berrington: It’s great that people come at it from all different places, and there is not one way into it, where you don’t either have to go to drama school or have been doing it since you were two years old. I think that’s what makes it interesting, and if you are in a cast then you get different things from different actors because of the fact that they have approached it from different directions.
Finn Jones: Every actor’s journey is completely individual, and whereas one actor will go to drama school, another will approach it from a different direction. So it is hard to label them as this big pool because everyone is different.
What were you impressions of the story and the characters when you first read the script of The Last Showing?
Finn Jones: I liked the fact that it was set in the cinema, and so as you are watching it you are in the space which it is set. Phil just said it in the introduction that it’s like watching an airplane disaster movie whilst on an airplane. I like that dimension to it, but I also liked the fact that it was intelligent and more of a psychological thriller than a horror movie. It wasn’t just about big boobs and gore. There was the whole point that Stuart used to be a film projectionist and now it has gone digital, and so there was a message, which means it is deeper than your average horror movie.
Emily Berrington: You can tell it has been made by people who love cinema and love horror, because there is a lot of knowledge within it.
Finn Jones: There’s passion behind it, and it’s not just one of these big studio movies where they are making it just for the money. Phil made it because he’s passionate about what the film’s saying; the genre and the actors involved. It’s a passion project, and it’s always nice when you can see that on the page as it is something that you want to devote yourself to.
Horror cinema has always sought to take away any sense of security from the audience. The Last Showing recalls Peter Bogdanovich’s Stalker and Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead End Drive-In both of which take place in the space we watch films, and turns it into a nightmarish hell.
Emily Berrington: You’ll feel as though you are going to your average film in a safe place, and there is actually something surreal about what is going on, on screen because you can equate it to your actual surroundings. I think that is absolutely brilliant, and I remember the reason why I was so frightened when I first saw The Ring was because I was sat in my living room watching a DVD, watching the character watch a video, and that alone was enough to terrify me.
On the subject of space, watching X Moor, it makes you consider that the moor is just a wide open space, and it is intriguing how it has developed this disquieting, terrifying and even haunting identity. The philosophical expression comes to mind, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” It’s all about human perception and it makes one consider how literature and film has created these terrifying places that without us wouldn’t be terrifying. In a sense frightening spaces are only so because of human imagination and projection.
Finn Jones: That’s an interesting concept, and I have never really thought about it before. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. With Jaws, the sea is already quite terrifying, and that film makes it an even more terrifying place. Should a filmmaker be allowed to terrify humanity? [Laughs]
Emily Berrington: There will eventually be nowhere safe…
Finn Jones: It’s all entertainment and the filmgoer has to be savvy enough to not believe that it’s reality. But I think it is nice to then go into these environments that you thought were safe, and have the tinge of something that you imagined and saw created in the cinema, because that is the true essence of storytelling. It’s putting different streams in our heads, and then when we go out into the real world that stream that we saw in the cinema is still running through our mind. That is the beauty of storytelling, and so I’m all for it.
Emily Berrington: There was a horror film made on the London Underground about ten years ago called Creep. I had just moved to London at the time, and I loved getting the Underground – I thought it was so cool. There was just something brilliant about Creep because every single time I got on the Underground I thought about that film – it was frightening.
Finn Jones: I like it when the dream enters into the real world, and as long as you are sane enough to know the difference between a movie, and you’re not literally thinking, oh my God there are aliens everywhere…
Emily Berrington: It would ruin your life!
One of the reasons horror endures is because it taps into our primitive instincts. Fear is an important part of our survival instinct, but from your point of view why does horror endure, and why do people seek out terrifying experiences?
Emily Berrington: If you think about where we came from, there used to be a lot of genuinely scary things happening in life. But I don’t have that experience living in my flat in Hackney and coming to work as an actor. There is not much genuine fear in my life which makes me fortunate. But I do think there is a desire to feel that tiny part of your mind that otherwise doesn’t get tapped into.
Finn Jones: The trend is the happier the culture then the more horror films there are, because people need to be pulled out of that world. But the grimmer the world is then the more they want to escape into fantasy. That’s why I think Game of Thrones is so popular at the moment, because the world presently is an abysmal place, and we do just want to lose ourselves in this fantasy realm so that we can forget.
Actors have told me that no matter how dark the character you need to essentially find a part of yourself in the character that you can connect with. How vital is that from your perspective?
Finn Jones: I’ve never had to go quite so dark with a character, but from my point of view is that it’s not about adding the character to you, it’s about finding the character in that one story. As an actor you have to be careful to not go too far, because I’ve had a few friends who have played certain parts, and you can tell it has really took hold of them as they have put everything into it.
Emily Berrington: The only thing I’ve struggled with this year is when I did 24 where I had to kill a lot of people. I remember thinking at the time, how do I connect with this – I’ve never killed anyone or genuinely wanted to.
I remember hearing an interview with Adrian Lester once when he was doing a Q&A and someone asked him, “How do you find the desire to kill someone?” He said, “All I ever think about is that feeling you get when there is a mosquito in your room and it has to die so that you can sleep.” I thought that was a good bit of advice because that does sort of take over. I don’t have mosquitoes, but I do have spiders, and if there is a spider in my bedroom I will feel guilty for killing it, but I will do it so that I can go to sleep. So you don’t necessarily have to find your inner murderer…
Finn Jones: You have to find the reality of the situation.
Emily Berrington: Yeah, the scenario where you have the urge to do something.
As actors you have the opportunity to put on all these different masks, to create a multitude of onscreen identities – you can explore your own personalities with that safety net, and it is such an intimate process.
Finn Jones: It is, and we are very lucky to have that. The opposite side of it, and there is always an opposite is the fact who do you then become? If you’ve got so many identities on screen that everyone connects with, and so when people see you they know you as one identity or the other, who do you then become? What is your personality? For me becoming an actor, learning how to address that was one of the toughest challenges.
If I’m out and about most people have seen Game of Thrones, and so most people think of me as this certain character. What do I then do? Do I put on the show of Finn the actor or… It’s an interesting concept and the counterbalance can be useful.
Emily Berrington: I’ve found it liberating, particularly when I went to drama school where I had to go to places that a quite naturally and slightly reserved shy person wouldn’t necessarily go to. I remember really being pushed at the beginning to find the levels within you, and actually it was kind of liberating. Filming The Last Showing I got to scream my head off night after night, and there was something really cathartic about that, because if I had been at home I wouldn’t necessarily have been doing that.
Finn Jones: I think it’s a double-edged sword as it can be liberating, but then at the same time it can be very restrictive. It’s weird, but there are total highs and total lows, and I’d much rather live a life where I have highs and lows. I think that’s what draws certain people to their careers – daredevils who want to feel those extremes.
Does the interest in actors derive from the multitude of personas behind which that one true persona is hidden? Is the appeal of actors that we never truly know them?
Emily Berrington: I think so and ultimately people would be a little disappointed if they really got to know us. I think it is quite good to keep things a mystery, and especially when you think back to the Golden Age of Hollywood where the studios would do anything to protect the true personalities of their big actors.
Finn Jones: But now you have a direct relationship and the personality that someone, anyone puts on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram; is it their true personality or is it a digital perception of them?
Emily Berrington: I think it is a digital version, and I don’t think you can help it being a digital version.
Finn Jones: But then do you start to become the on-line digital version of yourself? It’s a crazy world we are living in.
Emily Berrington: I’m losing my mind.
Finn Jones: It’s like the Matrix.
Emily Berrington: I have completely lost my identity in the course of this interview.
A filmmaker recently remarked to me that “Everybody has the capacity to create characters, and people on the phone talk and behave in a particular way.” All of us in our everyday lives create characters and perform; we just don’t necessarily acknowledge it.
Finn Jones: The liberation comes when you get to strip all of that back, and it is only once you have done all of this that you can then play other characters. So it is important to do a lot of the personal work such as this.
Does performance allow you to explore yourself and come to understand yourself more fully?
Emily Berrington: I think that’s what I have always felt about the theatre and the cinema – how by watching how other people behave you learn about yourself. It is a weird example, but I remember going to see Mean Girls at the cinema and thinking oh my God this is what my school is like. It’s amazing because you put a mirror up to nature and you get an even more close-up version of it.
The film strikes an effective balance onscreen with its young cast versus the veteran actor – the young blood versus the old blood as it were. Phil described it as the “two engines.” The creative process is such a collaborative process, how valuable is to have an opportunity to work with such a multi-talented range of people?
Finn Jones: So valuable. I can speak from my experience on Game of Thrones where I’ve worked with the kids on the show who have just got into acting to seasoned professionals, to actors that are my age and those who are older than me and have kids. As an actor to have an opportunity to work with a variety of actors allows you to learn so much – how to behave and how to be an actor. You learn so much that you could never learn in drama school.
On The Last Showing it was wonderful to work with Robert who is such a seasoned professional and an icon. The more the variety in a cast the better and the juicier it is.
Emily Berrington: It was great to see Robert not resting on his laurels. Every day he was testing himself and seeing what else he could find. He didn’t turn up and think I’m going to be Freddy Krueger. He continues to stretch himself when actually he probably doesn’t have to, because people would have loved him whatever he did in this film. But he wanted to learn.
Finn Jones: That was inspirational, and someone like Robert who I don’t know how many years he’s been acting, but he still has that passion, and that’s the thing about actors. No matter where you are on the scale or as far as fame or money are concerned, an actor is an actor at the end of the day. I’ve seen the richest actors, the most famous actors and the lesser known, and no matter what, they’ve all got the same thing in them – the passion to tell a story. It was wonderful to see that so many years down the line Robert still possesses that, and that’s what I want.
Emily Berrington: It makes you think that if I ever lose that I have to stop. I have to hold onto that desire to continue to want to tell a good story and to do a good job.
Finn Jones: Thinking about it, and not resting on your laurels as you said.
Emily Berrington: I went to the Edinburgh festival last weekend, and it was great to see people out in the rain doing a show they’d spent all their money on. Sometimes on film sets you find people winging about the food, but then you go to place like that where you see people doing anything to get their story on and told. It really rejuvenated my ambition.