Stuart Brennan is an interesting guy. An actor on both screen and stage as well as a film producer, he has gained some traction over the last few years within the British indie film environment, even garnering a BAFTA on the way (the Welsh BAFTA for his acting in Risen). He has focused mostly on horror and variations thereof, and his newest achievement in that vein is The Reverend, which sets Stuart up as a devout reverend who must confront his faith (and a whole lot of baddies) when he is turned into a vampire. You can read our review of the film here, but earlier this week I had the chance to talk to Stuart on the phone and ask him a few questions about the film, his career, working with Rutger Hauer, and that whirl of brilliant insanity that is Shane Richie in The Reverend.
This is an unusual kind of vampire film, isn’t it?
Yes, it is.
And your character plays a big part in that, this reverend. We really never get his name, which suggests a sort of morality tale. How did you and the director (Neil Jones) see this film?
For me, it was a very current topic, this idea of having a vigilante, especially after the riots (in London) and things like that, that we’ve experienced lately, just the concept of vigiliantes is a hot topic. I think, that mixing this thing with the Book of Job, giving it religious overtones and also tying in vampires, made a very interesting mix of genre with modern day politics. That’s something we tried to get across.
So many recent vampire films have just relied on the supernatural, fun side of the vampire tale, things like Twilight. Even films like Night Watch, which was a wonderful film. But I haven’t seen a film that’s more gritty and tries to tackle topics that are a bit heavier, if you like, and certainly nothing seems to have gone with the religious overtones quite how we have. It was a fun, new approach.
And your character, The Reverend, he starts out as kind of “Job” archetype in the beginning, but diverts from that path in a certain way. How did you approach the character?
What I like to do when I approach a character is to do an awful lot of research, to really understand where this character comes from. For him in the film; the journey that he embarks on, for me to make that as accurate a portrayal as possible I need to know exactly who this person is and what shaped him up until this point, when the audience meets him.
So, I started off by reading the Bible, from front to back, and then I also went online and got myself ordained as a reverend.
Yeah, with the internet these days, there’s a number of things you can do. One of them is quite a quick test to get yourself ordained as a reverend.
Okay, so you could just move to a village like the one in the film?
Yeah, there are places in the world I could, yeah. I’d have the right to marry people and all sorts… so yeah, that’s quite fun. But for me, the big part was reading the Bible and also understanding how someone becomes a reverend. I obviously took the easy option, but there are seminary schools, university courses, all kinds of things, to prepare one for such a life. I went and spoke to a number of friends who have strong religious beliefs, as well, and started to shape this understanding of complete belief and commitment. And that, really, was the centerpiece for the character.
You’ll notice, in the film, a few weeks in, where he accepts his situation, there’s a moment when Tamer Hassan‘s character, Harold Hicks, confronts him, at his door. At that point, the character has now got a conviction of being a vampire and doing god’s work with his new gift, and that confidence has come back into him. It’s that conviction that’s shaken at the beginning of the film, when he’s originally bitten.
That’s the arc for the character, having him so confident in god at the beginning, and then watching him waver slightly throughout. I have to morally and psychologically understand this affliction that he’s now got and then come full circle to deciding, “right, this is who I am, this is where I am, this is what I’m going to do with it.” All of that centers around this belief and this confliction in his beliefs.
It’s really interesting to see an approach to a vampire character who’s not inherently evil.
Yeah, that’s right. To be honest, the vampire aspect wasn’t something I had looked into at all. I mean, we discussed how we wanted a vampire to be. We didn’t want anything like 30 Days of Night. They’re quite over-dramatic. We didn’t want fangs. We went right back to the very first descriptions of vampires. If you do a bit of research, you find that they were called “strigoi.” The strigoi are almost like cannibals, basically ripping the flesh with bare teeth. That was what we found far more interesting, because we’ve all seen fangs, and like in 30 Days of Night, yeah, they’ve got great teeth. But what’s different, what’s fresh? A vampire without fangs.
And your vampire, he walks out in the daylight as well.
Yeah, that’s right. You kind of put down what rules will you abide by and which not. Garlic and daylight are ones that we didn’t really see why they would work, so we kind of tried to take a lateral thinking approach to it. We tried thinking why garlic would affect a vampire and we really couldn’t come up with a reason. And the same with daylight, we couldn’t see how that would necessarily affect a vampire. So we struck that one off. A stake through the heart, that’s gonna kill you, and turning into flames after you’ve been staked, that certainly helps you get rid of the evidence, so we put that one in.
This is based on a graphic novel, as well, isn’t it?
Actually, the graphic novel came around at the same time. Neil wrote the script for the movie and then he said, “You know what? This would make a really cool graphic novel.” So he took the script and turned it into a graphic novel, which comes out in October. He based some of the shots and things around the graphic novel, which is how it is then based on the graphic novel, but essentially, it originates from the script.
You’ve done a fair bit of horror in your career so far. What draws you to this genre?
I think the wonderful thing about horror is that you really get to explore the dark side of your imagination. For me, it’s always quite fun, just the idea of what would happen if there were a zombie apocalypse, or what would happen if you had vampires living next door to you. You know, a dark question. The other side of the coin is that as an actor, you get to go through extreme emotion. In a horror film, there will be a moment where you’ll have to be scared, there’s a moment where you have to go batshit crazy. It’s a challenge, because you have to take the audience on an unbelievable journey, and you are the rock that grounds it all and makes the whole film believable. And so many people write off horror.
Talking about batshit crazy, Shane Richie is quite colourful in The Reverend.
(He chuckles.) Yeah, isn’t he just?
He does quite a U-turn from his usual type of character in this film.
Yeah, he does. Working with Shane on this movie was great fun. He got picked up straight from the set of EastEnders, driven straight over to us, when we were filming in Cardiff, and he literally jumped out of the car, ran over, gave me and Neil a hug and said, “I’m so excited to be here. I’m full of ideas. Look at this,” he said and opened up the boot of his car and started pulling out- he had the hat with him, he had the coat with him, clothes, and he had with him all kinds of little props and bits of costume. He said, “I’ve got this vision of what I want this pimp to be like. I want to work with the costume girl now and show you what I’ve got in my head.” We’re like, “Yeah, y’know, cool. Just go for it.”
He came out a few hours later, from costume and make-up, with this craaazy, crazy kind of take on the character, and it was wonderful. He was convincing and powerful. He said, “I’ve done a lot of stuff in my career, and people don’t remember much of it. They seem to remember the show on TV more than anything, but I love to act and this is a chance to show people that I am an actor and I can do other roles, and I’m really thrilled to put this one down on tape.” It was great, it was fun.
He really bought into it, then?
Yeah, he did total conviction. You know what, this is the first and only time I’ve ever actually been gobsmacked by a performance. I literally- when we first said action in the pub scene, when he came storming in on me and Emily Booth, I was just like, “Oh god, this guy is mental!” And it took me a couple of seconds to register that I was meant to be acting. What were my lines? What was I doing? He is such a powerhouse, it was such a wonderful, all-encompassing performance.
The film also features Rutger Hauer in a small role. How did he come about?
We had a wish list of who we’d like to play the Devil. And Rutger was obviously top of that list.
Yeah, I mean, we’re huge fans of his. Blade Runner, for me, is an iconic film, and The Hitcher, Batman Begins, the list just goes on and on with him. We got in touch with his agent. He was incredibly busy, shooting a number of films. We said, “Look, can you read the script and get back to us?” And he read the script and she (the agent) said, “He really likes it. He’s really interested. He’d like to watch your previous films. Can you send them over?” So we sent them over and she said, “Yep, he really likes them.” Next, we had a Skype call with him, which was very thrilling, and it went really well. Then he read the script again, and had another Skype conversation. He was bombarding us with questions, what we were doing, and how we were approaching the film and the character, and then he said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
We managed to squeeze him in between De Heineken, which he was doing in South Africa, and Dracula 3D with Dario Argento. He just came over for a couple of days. We were able to work with him, which was just one hell of an experience. He is a creative powerhouse. That’s the only way I can describe him. Full of ideas, full of interesting takes on things, a real scrappy kind of energy to him. Whenever we said “action”, he became so focused, he became the coolest cat on set. He was really quite incredible to work with.
You’ve worked with more dramatic powerhouses already, like John Noble (in boxing drama Risen). Is your wish list emptying out, or do you still have your dream, a fantasy project?
I still have a long list of actors that I admire. I’m a huge acting fan, I have a whole list of actors from stage to screen that I would love to work with, and I’ve been lucky that in each film I’ve got to tick an actor off the list. John Noble was just wonderful to work with. I’m such a big Lord of the Rings fan. And then on this film I got to work with a number of people. I got to work with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Doug Bradley, Emily Booth. I got to see Shane again, of course, but then there was Tamer Hassan. My younger brother is a huge Football Factory fan. He used to watch that almost every weekend and to work with Hassan was very thrilling.
The Reverend premieres in select cinemas this weekend and comes out on DVD on August 6th.