This Friday sees the release of Paul Hyett’s directorial debut with intensely dark survival thriller, THE SEASONING HOUSE. The man responsible for the best and most realistic make-up effects in modern British cinema (THE DESCENT, EDEN LAKE, HUNGER), is perhaps the UK equivalent of American master Rick Baker. He also had a hand in the script in which a orphaned deaf mute (Rosie Day) is enslaved to care for the women forced into prostitution during the harrowing Bosnian war, but begins plotting her brutal revenge when the sadistic soldiers (led by Sean Pertwee) that murdered her family, come calling.
We had the opportunity to speak to one of the leads, genuine cult British actor Kevin Howarth, who plays the conflicted boss of the crumbling brothel, Viktor, who despite his despicable duties has the most fascinating journey in the nail-biting fright flick. His breakout role in Julian Richard’s acclaimed found-footage thriller, THE LAST HORROR MOVIE, winning him notable praise and genre awards, while he’s since kept busy with work in stage, screen and video-games. He’ll next be seen as the vampire-like villain of Andrew Goth’s supernatural-western GALLOWWALKERS (which coincidentally features effects work from Hyett), opposite Wesley Snipes.
Could you tell us how you became involved in the film and what drew you to it?
Well, Paul Hyett, the director is a very old friend in the business and it’s no secret that he’s one of the country’s top special-effects and make-up artists and I’ve been on a number of films with Paul that he’s worked on. We’ve been friends for a long time and he always said to me, right at the beginning that we first met that one day he’ll want to direct his own film and get into directing and he said I really want you in the film. Then suddenly this script came along, THE SEASONING HOUSE, and he said read it and tell me what you think. He said ‘I’ve always had you in mind to play Viktor‘. So I read the script, and the big test is when you sit down with the script and you go through it making comments you know you’re not onto something but I read it in one sitting, which took about an hour, hour and a half and I was hooked. I thought this is a really tight script and I phoned him straight back and told him ‘Paul, you’re really onto something with this one.’
Unlike a lot of the villainous characters in the film, Viktor seems to have some sort of conscience. Was that something in the script or a trait you brought to the role?
Paul and I talked about it and the way I work anyway, and I know I’ve played a rogues gallery of these sorts of people, playing a dark character or even any character, everyone is nuanced. No one is just dark and no one is just light, you’re everything. So for me as part of my work, I always like to get those nuances within a character. For the audience it’s more exciting I hope because you’re thinking, well, we’re not quite sure of this guy. Which way is he going. What’s he up to and what’s going on now. But you’re absolutely right, there were some elements clearly in the script to help that along with the arrival of Sean [Pertwee] as Goran and suddenly the alpha male is tilting in his favour, then me and the wheels going round. It’s all about constant objectives and how you get around then but he certainly has a different flavour to him then the rest of the guys in the film because the rest of the guys there’s no redeeming features in them at all, is there really. It’s just so dark and so black with them and you know where you are, but with my guy you’re not sure. Does or doesn’t he like Angel? Is he in love with Angel? Does he really want to protect her or is there another agenda here. So yeah, I’m glad you got that because that is exactly what I wanted to happen and what I wanted it to be.
You’ve mentioned your known for your dark roles. Does it phase you that filmmakers see you in that way?
The one thing I do want you to make clear, and I’d like you to get this in print [laughs], is that I haven’t gone seeking those roles: They’ve found me. I think after I’d played Max Parry in THE LAST HORROR MOVIE, that’s what usually happens. If you have a breakthrough role playing something in particular you tend to get scripts that have similar characters and being along the edges of being dark. I have had a lot of scripts where the characters have been really dark, edgy or there is something either not quite right, mentally or physically, so it doesn’t phase me. I can imagine if my breakout movie was in a rom-com I’d be getting a lot of rom-com scripts and everyone would be thinking of me like that. It is what it is. I’m an actor and I’d love the show off other sides to me, I really would. I’d love to do some comedy. Something romantic and maybe some drama and something ‘normal’. I did that in a film with Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Campbell Moore called BURLESQUE FAIRYTALES and that hasn’t seen the light of day. In that, I play an Angel in purgatory in the form of a real man but it is what it is. I’m not phased by it and I’m not adverse to playing dark characters if that’s what people want me to do but it all comes down to how good the character, how well drawn it is and the script and the story. Everything starts with the story and if that’s good I’m not going to stand and say ‘Hey, I’m not going to play the bad guy again.‘
Was it as intense on set as in the finished film?
Yeah. When you’re on a film and it’s a very short shooting schedule, we had just about four weeks, it’s a very very tight schedule. You’ve got very, very long days and it becomes intense because of that and not necessarily because of the content. You do find moments to have a little bit of a laugh in the green room or just go and have a moment with a bit of a respite and a joke in there, but it can be pretty intense and they’re are intense moments and very intense days. If the days were very long it could get very intense because people can also get tired as well and that’s just natural. It was equally as intense shooting THE LAST HORROR MOVIE in the same way. There’s a short shooting schedule, not very long where it is what it is. Whereas GALLOWWALKERS I was in Namibia in Africa for four months and that’s totally different. Suddenly, you find yourself with all this time on your hands, with big long gaps before your back on set again, so that was a very different kind of feeling. In some respects I like the shorter shooting schedules because you’re getting on with it, you’re moving it along and motoring and it’s great.
As tragic as it is, it was common place to have such atrocities taking place in Bosnia at the time the film is set. Did you feel the need to research to prepare for the role?
Absolutely. I’ve said to other people, and I probably sound like a broken record by saying ‘homework, homework, homework‘, but that’s what you do. Any actor worth their salt does their homework and you study the part you’re going to play. That doesn’t mean just study that man but where does that man come from. So you do look at the landscape and the Balkans and I knew about it already as I have lots of books in my library at home on the subject matter. It was a case of doing lots of reading. Doing the usual thing, looking at documentaries and also with the internet we have a lot of things at our fingertips. Looking at photographs, reading accounts from other people and I also read accounts of people involved in the sex-slave industry that weren’t necessarily from the Balkans. Places like Romania and I read one account from a guy who was running a sex trade industry, who was shipping girls across Europe, a very cold character, very business-like. So you can pick and get little bits from a lot of different perspectives from people in that world. As you say, it’s definitely something that does go on, it’s been going on, it carries on going on and now look at it. In some respects it’s like some weird zeitgeist at the moment. How often have picked up the newspapers at the minute and it’s a bunch of cab drivers in Rotherham or Oxford involved in this. Now there’s also been a gang smashed in the West End of London. This is actually going on in our backyard never mind war zones. So if it’s going on here, what’s it going to be like in places like Sierra Leone, Sudan and God-knows where else, it’s shocking and really frightening.
You tend to work with a number of the same filmmakers often. Do you find those are the ones who test your abilities better or is it just they create an enjoyable environment?
No, again it’s just how that happened. It was just chance but in some respects it’s nice and flattering to me that the same director would want to work with me again. I would like to think that says something about me and that I’m good to get on with on set and get on with things. It wasn’t sort of planned that way. I wasn’t saying ‘I’m going to Julian Richards next film‘, or something. Someone just phones up and says ‘I’ve got you in mind to play ….‘ and I just say, ‘Okay, send me the script and I’ll take a look and see what it is‘. Also, you don’t always have as many choices as you think. It’s not going on all the time unless you’re a big, big star. You’re not always getting scripts thrown at you every five minutes. Sometimes beggars can’t be choosers either [laughs].
THE SEASONING HOUSE looks gritty and is certainly harsh in its storytelling. Was that purposeful or mainly down to low budget aspect?
Paul’s vision, and you have to remember Paul is one of the countries top make-up and effects artists and now he’s moving into directing, his attention to detail is very strong. He knew before he started, and believe me, it doesn’t always happen that directors turn up and have a vision, they should do but they’re a lot who don’t and I’m not naming any names, this is exactly how he wanted this to look. A very, very, low-key, gritty feel to it. Sort of smokey grim and grimy atmosphere. You’ve seen the film and that’s what comes across. The first half in-particular, the steadycam work was fantastic to give it a dreamlike, floaty quality through the house and I loved all that. It’s exactly what Paul wanted. That was his decision, that’s what he went for and that’s what he got and he did a great job.
Going back to THE LAST HORROR MOVIE, we’re you surprised at how well-recieved it was and did you feel it opened doors for you?
It did in some respects. It was the breakthrough movie for me, a breakthrough role and it’s still a cult movie, it wasn’t a mainstream movie by any standards. It certainly got my name out there and noticed more and especially with people within that genre. Which is probably why I’ve had such dark scripts sent to me by people involved in those types of films. But no, it certainly put me on the map in a small way. I wouldn’t say enough in a big way. I would like to think that THE SEASONING HOUSE is going to do more me to be honest with you. I think that’s punching way above its weight and I’m hoping it’s going to show off a bit more. I like to do good work with good people and if that get me another film acting role, or another acting role with people that I admire and want to work with and getting really decent scripts is the key. I keep saying that as that’s really what it’s about and if you get really enthusiastic filmmakers you’re off to the races, If they can get the money. It is very business-like the film industry. All the stars have to align for something to come into place but going back to THE LAST HORROR MOVIE, it opened a few doors to peoples minds about me. People talked about it and I won a number of awards around the world for it. It went to so many different festivals but yeah, that was the one.
Also coming from what many believe is becoming a tiresome format/sub-genre, how do you see just where found-footage has come being that particular effort is one of the trailblazers?
Well, before THE LAST HORROR MOVIE came on the scene you also had THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and MAN BITES DOG. We all noticed there was a lot of compassion with our movie and MAN BITES DOG but the thing that interested me about doing it was that whole idea of breaking the fourth wall, you know. Where you’ve got the actual actor talking to the audience at home or in the cinema, like Michael Caine did in ALFIE. I loved the idea of doing that but I do agree with you, as it’s become fashionable and everything, it gets used to death. I do think that is a pattern in filmmaking though. I mean, look at film right now and zeitgeist is for apocalyptic-type films. Everything seems to be about the end of the world and all these awful things are going to happen but they’ll soon get fed up with that and another fashion will come along and make a film and suddenly they’ll be another fashion and that’s the way it goes. To use that sort of cinema-verity I think is what some call it, filming someone as they talk to the camera, you’d have to come up with a brilliant idea or make something different because what else could you do with it. I think the only route they could go down with that, is new media, with YouTube and people filming things on their iPhones, but even that has been done in some movies now so that’s not necessarily something new. I think what has to be something new is the storyline. If you can come up with an idea of something that is unique then you might be onto something. There’s always ways to twist something somehow but it’s probably been done to death in the the horror genre.
Looking at the future, you’ll next be seen in GALLOWWALKERS. Was it different working alongside a more seasoned Hollywood star in Wesley Snipes?
No, it didn’t phase me at all. I didn’t mind all that and that would never bother me I don’t think. You’ve just got to get in there, get stuck in, you know. Clearly, if you go into a film with say, Robert De Niro or Al Pacino, you’re obviously going to be a little bit nervous but you’ve got got to mask that and get in there. I didn’t have problem starring opposite Wesley. He was a good guy. You’re just a couple of pros from the opposite sides of the pond and you’ve got to get on with it. It really is like that and if you’ve got good people surrounding you, you can get on and make a decent movie. That’s really all that matters and you’ve got to be good at what you do.
Anything in the current pipeline you’re able to talk about that we can next look forward to seeing you in?
Nothing I can mention too much at the moment but there is something definitely whispering in the wind. There’s also a couple of scripts I’m reading at the moment that I’m interested in and we’ll see what happens after that. I don’t want to say too much as you don’t want to jinx these things [laughs] and if I open my trap it normally never happens so I’ll try not to say too much. It’s more a case of watch this space!
THE SEASONING HOUSE is released in cinemas from the 21st June.