Dominic Monaghan, star of Lord of the Rings and Lost, stars in new creepy thriller, Pet. In Pet, Monaghan stars as Seth, a shy and reclusive young man who passes his days working at his local dog shelter. His life changes however, after a chance encounter with Holly (Ksenia Solo), an old school crush. In a bid to get closer to her he starts stalking her and devises a plan to make her his forever, and it involves a very large cage.
Things aren’t quite as they seem as this clever film subverts expectations and goes into some very interesting territory. The film premiered in the UK at Frightfest last summer, and whilst there, we sat down with Monaghan to get a deeper perspective on the film.
Apart from Pet, what is your favourite scary movie?
My favourite scary movie in recent years is definitely Let the Right One in. I’d put that in my top ten films of all time. Then my favourite horror movie that goes back to, since I was aware that horror movies were around… that’s a toss up between Don’t Look Now and The Exorcist, which genuinely still scares me nowadays. A Nightmare on Elm Street I can watch and it doesn’t scare me any more, when I was thirteen it would make me have to go to the bathroom. Halloween and stuff like that, The Omen, I can watch now and it’s not a problem, I’m not sure I’d watch The Exorcist in my house on my own. Someone wrote a great article about there being evil in the celluloid of the film, I just wonder if I were to watch it [in my house], if I were to be introducing some sort of negative aspect into my house which is a safe place to me. It’s a superb film.
What age did you watch it at?
It’s not a good idea, but I watched The Exorcist when I was twelve or thirteen; a Nightmare on Elm street when I was thirteen, and I had a nightmare afterwards. I was so happy at the time that I was sharing a room with my brother, I don’t think I could have slept alone after it. I had this nightmare that my brother had been cut by Freddy Krueger and he was cowering the corner of my bedroom, bleeding. In my dream, I went over to check on him to make sure he was alright, and as I bent down to say ‘are you okay?’, he revealed that he was Freddy Krueger and this thing came out. It was such a terrifying dream! My brother, who I had always trusted to protect me, turned into this horrific character.
On a scale of one to ten, how scary would you say Pet is?
I actually think that Pet is more of a thriller than a horror per-say. There are horrific elements to it in terms of the things that Seth goes through, and the things that he experiences, but I always think it’s more than a horror. I always talk about it being 500 Days of Summer meets Fatal Attraction or Hard Candy.
How scary is it? I didn’t really find it that scary, I would say a solid 7.7. It’s not. I think if you didn’t like horror, like of one of my friends was like, ‘I don’t like horror movies, I’m not watching it’, I ‘d be able to say ‘its not really horror’, it’s not a guy / boogeyman running down a dark street chasing you, or monsters and stuff. It’s the psychology of someone who’s lonely.’ It’s more of a head trip movie than anything else. But I certainly wouldn’t show it to my nephew who is only two.
So was it the psychology of the role that attracted you to the project?
Yeah, part of it. A great script is always where I start with any project that I do. If I look back on the things that I’ve chosen over the years, a script gets sent to me, I read it and then I respond to it and call my agent and say ‘I loved it, who’s directing it? Who else is attached? Who’s the DOP? Where is it being shot? What’s the budget?’
With Pet, it was written by Jeremy Slater, actually written for me, which at the time I didn’t believe when he told me that a couple of years after I’d read it. I thought it was just a line. But he had seen the first series of Lost and wrote it because he thought that I could go from 0-100 quite well. Then, as I continued to get to know him and continued to hang out with Jeremy, I was further convinced he’d written it for me. It was his first ever script so that was really complimentary. Then we tried to get it made, it was at MGM, and we tried to get it made with myself and Melissa George, then there was a writer’s strike. By the time we did it again I think Melissa was working on a show. Then I tried to do it with my friend Shannon Sossamon, that didn’t work out for other reasons. It kind of just laid around, but it was such a strong script that I was always tracking it. I was always saying to my agent, ‘keep an eye on it, see where it is’, then we found out that it got bought by Carlos’ team, and then I met Carlos and a month or so later we were doing the movie.
Seth is a very invisible person, he almost doesn’t exist in a way, how did you go about crafting someone who no one really notices?
Well I know those characters from movies I’ve watched. If you look at something like Being There with Peter Sellers, he’s the same ghostly character. Even Pat Bateman to a certain extent, until Pat Bateman gets angry, he is an anonymous man living in an anonymous world. With Seth, with any character, you try and create, even if they’re despicable characters, you’re trying to look for something that you can grab onto that has an element of charisma. The charisma doesn’t have to be attractive, but I was saying this earlier on – obviously Hitler is a despicable character, but there’s no denying he had charisma. There’s something about him that is charismatic. Mussolini I’m sure, and Stalin too.
With Seth, he is a lonely man and he’s trying to fix himself. That was my way in initially. I thought he’s trying to fix this huge hole that he’s got in his life. It’s not implied strongly in the film, but he doesn’t have a relationship with his parents. You don’t get to hear anything about his parents. He doesn’t have any friends. He’s never had a girlfriend. Carlos and I agreed that he’d never had sex before. Because of that, as a man who hasn’t had any of these life experiences, he’s not able to pick up on any of these visual or auditory queues that we would all know. If you approach a girl or a guy and you say, ‘do you fancy a drink?’, and they say, ‘I’m not really too keen’, we’d leave. Seth though is, ‘why not? Why don’t we try it? What’s the big deal?’ He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what we would all know what to do. In a way I find that beguiling, I find it sweet. There’s a naivety which is charming. Then he gets himself into very hot water with Holly. He doesn’t realise that he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
I have to be the straight man in this thing. Ksenia has this great ability, and plays the character so brilliantly, to be more outrageous, to be more expressive, but with Seth he is this stunted emotional stool. It’s why he works at a dog shelter and has relationships with animals, because they give unconditional love and there’s no judgement. They’re never going to reject him. They’re always going to be there. He doesn’t have the emotional strength to approach someone and get rejected and be okay with it.
He’s someone who I think is only a few steps away from being okay. If he got himself together, and if he got a job and he reformed his relationship with his mum or his dad, and got a girlfriend, I’m sure he’d be a stand up person in society. But because of where he is in his life he gets himself into a lot of trouble.
How do you think the character deals with feelings?
I think he swallows his anger down a lot, first with the dog. Then there’s another moment in the diner where he’s attempting to ask Holly out on a date and she is not keen. She tries to fob him off by saying, ‘I have a boyfriend’. He says ‘no you don’t’ and she gets pissed off because clearly he’s looked online about what she’s done. She walks off and there’s this moment where the camera stays with Seth and you just see him go, ‘okay that’s just another one of those moments I’m just going to have to swallow down. In thirty years that’s going to turn into cancer.’ He takes all that shit and goes, ‘right, fine, that’s life’. He thinks that is what it’s like for everyone. But he’s going about it in the wrong way. He’s approaching people in the incorrect way. I wanted the whole element of Seth to always have his wings clipped. He can’t even emotionally express himself when he’s genuinely sad, upset or happy. I think everything about him has been emotionally stunted.
There’s a point where Holly tries to sexually get him going, and he just doesn’t know what to do, he’s never had a situation like that ever with a girl. He’s likely to have never even kissed a girl and suddenly he’s got his hand between her legs. He feels uncomfortable. He wants it, he wants her to fall in love with him, but he’s got the emotional maturity of a nine or ten year old.
How much work did you and Ksenia do to get that relationship right?
We worked together pretty close Ksenia and I. We had a full day of rehearsing in the cage set, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but there were only maybe nine or ten scenes, quite long scenes, but we were there from nine in the morning until eight at night. We blocked everything out, made sure we knew where we were physically and how that was going to work.
Ksenia and I bonded a lot on music and film. We’re both kind of movie nuts and love music, so we swapped a lot of music. I also said to her, ‘look while you’re in the cage – because she was locked in, because I had to move it and rattle it around so you couldn’t have the door open – she was locked in and I said, ‘if you need anything just ask me and I’ll get it for you.’ I wanted to dote on her in the same way that Seth would. So she was constantly saying, ‘can you bring me my dressing gown?’ because she was barely clothed, or ‘can you bring me my slippers,’ ‘can you bring me my tea?’ because she was screaming a lot, or food. I would always run and get it and try and get down on her level and talk to her. I wanted to be the person that was her link to the outside world.
Then at the weekend I didn’t hang out with anyone. I’m a relatively sociable person when I feel like it, but I didn’t hang out with anyone apart from Ksenia. If she wanted to hang out I would l say, ‘hey listen, Saturday / Sunday I’m not doing anything, so whatever you want to do…’. She would bring over her dog and we’d hang out. Again without really telling her, I was just, ‘I’ll do whatever you want, just tell me’, I wanted to be her slave a little bit. It worked. It’s nice being a slave to a beautiful, intelligent, attractive girl. I’m okay with that.
Seth manages to find out an awful lot about Holly through social media, have you been checking your privacy settings?
I jumped off Twitter a while ago, then I jumped back on to do this film festival. When Twitter first came out I was okay with it. I thought it was a fun medium, a great way to just directly talk to people. But I noticed recently, in the last couple of years, it’s just become a lot of noise. Just a lot of natter and gossip and stuff that I’m not interested in really, like urban myths and bullshit facts. Just chatter about nothing. So I jumped off Twitter because of that.
I am on Instagram, I think Instagram is much more of a simple medium. You post a photo, you look at photos that people post. You don’t need to read everyone’s comments…you can comment on whatever you want. I think that’s much more of a simple thing. I think social media has its place. I do think its interesting, and I love the fact that we explored it in the film, that (laughs) it’s okay to stalk people on social media. It’s not okay to stalk people…but it’s okay to stalk people on social media. I’ve been with people, or I’ve said to people when we’ve gone to dinner, ‘I kinda did stalk your Instagram a little bit to have a look’, and they don’t mind. They’re like, ‘oh that’s cool’, because they did it too. That’s okay. It’s alright that people do that. Social media has changed a lot of our language in a way. The word friend has been completely revolutionised by Facebook. You can say, ‘Oh I know that person, they’re a friend of mine’ – no they’re not, you follow them on Facebook! That’s different. A friend is someone you know and spend time with. I do think the medium is interesting in the way that we talk online is interesting. But I think you have to be careful about not getting too enamoured with it, because ultimately it is a lot of just static. It’s not real news. I’m still really good friends with Billy Boyd, he’s the closest friend I’ve made in acting. I see him all the time in LA, he lives there. He watches news constantly. He’s always watching CNN and NBC, he doesn’t watch Fox News, but he watches a lot of news. I’m constantly saying to him, ‘You have to get off that because it’s just like a broken radio station.’ Not only is it the same news every hour, but it doesn’t mean anything. You see a terror threat – I’m still going to do the same thing. I’m still going to get on this plane if I have to. I just think it’s a good idea to disconnect from that every so often.
Holly implies that Seth’s attraction to her is because he senses the darkness within her, how true do you think that is? Was it more of a longing for the past?
I think he does find her mysterious and dangerous and attractive. I think at first when he sees her on the bus, because obviously Ksenia is a beautiful lady, just from seeing someone like that he’s like, ‘oh look it’s that beautiful girl from school’. I just think it’s that simple. But then when he reads the diary, which is a huge turning point for Seth, he thinks there’s something wrong with this person and he instinctively knows that there’s something wrong with him. Seth needs to be fixed. Maybe his job to get fixed is to fix someone. It’s like a jigsaw. I think if he were to read a diary that was just normal, about ex or current boyfriends, I think that would scare him a little bit because he’s not in that world. I think he finds her dangerous and attractive all at the time.
Was it fun to shoot the heavy gore scenes?
The heavy gore scenes… I was that kid… you know when you eat an ice cream and you don’t eat it fast enough and it goes down your fingers? I was that kid that would have almost a slight anxiety attack when I would get my fingers all full of ice cream. It was weird, I don’t know what that was and I’m still a little like that now. I’m constantly washing my hands and I have hand sanitiser in my car. I am a little clean. So the blood thing gets interesting.
We had a blood room, which was a replica of the cage room, but it was allowed to get bloody. There were just pools of blood, gallons of blood. They just poured it all over me, I was covered. So in the folds of your skin you are sticky, and your ears, your fingernails. It becomes like an orangey stain everywhere. They had a shower in the place, but it didn’t do anything, it just made the blood wetter and moved it around. Also, over the course of the day, the blood gets covered in dust and fur and crap and hair and stuff like that. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was the most fun, although as a crew when we were in there, we just kind of charged through. We were like, ‘okay it’s going to be two days of fucking nonsense and it’s going to be horrible, but let’s do it.’ It’s an important part of the film because it’s a great moment.
In many ways Pet could be compared to the first Saw film, what are your thoughts on that?
I mean that’s a great compliment. I love the first Saw movie. I thought it got quite derivative quite quickly, but I thought the first one had a lot of great ideas. Setting the movie only in one room, and having the mystery to solve was something really compelling when I watched it the first time.
There are comparisons between those two movies for sure. It’s interesting with Pet, the things you want to tell people are the things you’re not allowed to because it would ruin the film for them. I think people would look at the poster and go, ‘okay, boy meets girl, doesn’t work out, it gets a bit weird.’ Watching movies nowadays I think it’s nice to get surprised. It’s nice to have those head-turning moments. I’m assuming you watched Force Awakens? I’m a huge Star Wars nut, that’s the reason I became an actor. I came into that JJ movie thinking, ‘I kinda know what this is gonna be’ It’s gonna be Han and Chewie, and Luke and Leia are going to be there. There’ll be the semblance of a Darth Vader type character and it’s going to be good against evil. But I did not know that was going to happen to Han Solo. It took my breath away when it happened. I was upset. I just thought it was amazing that I can sit in a movie theatre in 2015 and still have that feeling with these iconic characters. At no point did I think that’s going to happen on the bridge. Fair play to JJ for him to be brave enough to do that. He knew that he had to do that to really shock people, but that’s the beauty of art.
You got into acting because of Star Wars, but for a lot of folks now that would be Lord of the Rings, how’s it feel to be part of something so iconic?
It’s a weird one to actually be in and not really be able to step outside of. Star Wars is definitely the most influential film in my life because it turned me into an actor. It’s probably not my favourite, that’s Apocalypse Now, but Star Wars was the reason I said I want to do that for a living. I’ve had times where people have come over to me and said ‘Lord of the Rings was my version of Star Wars’. I prefer that trilogy to Star Wars, it’s my favourite trilogy ever.’ I guess that has happened for people where they prefer Lord of the Rings more.
I love Lord of the Rings and I’m so happy that I was in it, but it’s so much more than a movie for me. It is my life. It is my relationship with Billy and Elijah and Pete and Ian and Orlando and all those people. Living in New Zealand and surfing and sky-diving, it’s everything. It’s not just the movie for me. It’s hard for me to look at it through those eyes.
I remember being in Japan doing a press tour with Pete, and Pete said to me he was thinking of getting hypnotised for the premiere of Return of the King because he wanted to watch the film as a fan not as a filmmaker. We were all so into that, but he didn’t do it. I asked him why later and he said that same thing that Paul McCartney had said when all the Beatles started taking acid where he said, ‘I was on such a role that I didn’t want to take acid and have lost it,’ Peter said that he didn’t want to get hypnotised and suddenly that thing that made him a good filmmaker is gone. I understand why he didn’t do it, but I think we all, in smaller ways, feel the same way about Lord of the Rings. It’s so much more than a movie for us that it’s hard for me to gain any real perspective on it.
Do you have any messages to aspiring actors?
People ask me a lot on Twitter – ‘I want to be an actor, what should I do?’ I always say ‘just act’. That’s all you can do if you want to be an actor. You just have to act. I just immersed myself in it when I was a kid. I read plays, watched plays, was in plays – badgered my teachers in school to do more plays. We used to do one every couple of years, I got them to do one every year. I was trying to get them to do two a year, but we didn’t get that far.
I had favourite actors. I studied De Niro when I was a kid. I was a De Niro obsessive. Anything that he had done, anything. I think I’ve seen every De Niro movie. I’d watch them over and over again on video. I’d pause it and try and do his face with my mum’s mirror. I would have a little notebook and I’d write stuff and study the actors that I really admired. Daniel Day Lewis and Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman. I went to the movies a lot. It was just something that I surrounded myself with.
When people say ‘I’m interested in being an actor, what should I do?’ I just tell them to find out where their local youth theatre is, join it, get them to put on plays that you like. Read plays, write plays, watch plays, go the theatre, watch movies, find your favourite actor, study them – why are they good? Do they have integrity? Are they doing it for the right reasons? I think a huge amount of any job that you want to do is your dedication to the cause and how much intention you put into it. You have to have a little bit of natural ability, but a lot of that can be taught.
Also, at these youth theatres, if you’re not necessarily going to be a professional actor, it will teach you things like speaking in public which I think at times we all have to do. Or being able to have confidence in a room full of other people, or giving a speech correctly. You might not make it as an actor, but it might give you skills that are helpful in other aspects of your life.
You do get Robert De Niro moment in Pet with Seth looking in the mirror…
Yeah there’s a bit of Travis Bickle there, there’s a bit of Pat Bateman in there to. Again, that’s another thing about this idea of his emotions being pushed down. He can’t even scream. He wants to scream in that moment, but he’s too nervous. He’s too nervous someone will hear him. He’s too embarrassed that if he expresses himself like that that he might look silly in the mirror. Instead he has this silent scream, which I think if you silently scream some of it comes out, but a lot of it stays in there. Thanks that you think there’s a Travis Bickle moment, I love that.
Anything else at the festival that you’ve enjoyed?
I saw I am Jeeg last night, an Italian movie which I thought was brilliant. It’s like a superhero movie for adults, and a real one. I like Marvel movies just fine, but there’s a fantastical element of them that feels like you’re not living in a real world, it couldn’t happen to you. In this film a guy falls into a river, kicks over a radioactive barrel, it makes him sick and then the next he wakes up and he has superhuman strength. There’s a part of you that thinks ‘well I could fall in a river’, I might go look for a river after this actually. It could happen. I thought it was really well acted and beautifully shot, great camerawork.
Great thing about film festivals, especially these type of film festivals, with this type of audience, because they’ve already committed to the love of the genre, they love horror, they love thriller, they love zombies, they love getting scared that when you say to them, ‘hey sit down, watch a scary movie’, ninety percent of the work is already done.
Would you consider doing another Marvel film?
Yeah I totally would. I campaigned to be in Ant-Man, but it didn’t work out. I keep ants and I’m obsessed with ants, they’re my favourite animal. I have two ant farms at home and I keep bees and a whole bunch of other animals, but ants are my favourite animals of all time. I know a lot about ants, not that that necessarily speaks to Ant-Man – he’s just the size of an ant – but I’m friends with Edgar Wright and I was able to say to him when he was attached, ‘let’s sit down and talk about Ant-Man‘, he was like, ‘it’s a long way off’, obviously he eventually fell off of the project.
I would do Marvel stuff, I was in X-Men, and that might put me into a situation where someone goes, ‘well he’s already been in a world, so we’re not sure we’d put him in another’. I just don’t know how many superheroes there are left really. They’ve done a lot of them, and they seem to be scrapping the bottom of the Marvel barrel now, but I’m sure they’ll mine a few more out.
Catch Dominic Monaghan in Pet which is available to download now and own on Bluray and DVD from Monday 13th March 2017. Read our review now.