If you are a fan of modern horror then you’ll have almost certainly crossed paths with actor Richard Brake. He has starred in such films as Doom, Outpost and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and 31. He’s also been a part of non-horror themed projects Water for Elephants, TV’s Ray Donovan, and his was one incarnation of The Night King in that little show Game of Thrones. His newest project Perfect Skin is keeping in with the horror theme and get’s its world premiere at Arrow Video Frightfest on Saturday 25th August 2018.
In Perfect Skin, directed by Kevin Chicken, Brake plays Bob Reid, an American tattoo artist living in London with a reverence for his craft. Bob has a secret desire to leave his mark on the world and soon after meeting a young Polish woman Katia (Natalia Kostrzewa), believes he has found the perfect canvas. Cue kidnapping and carnage. Bob isn’t your typical horror villain though, and Richard Brake’s turn in this is simply superb. He manages to make Bob completely human and, despite the questionable choices, he elicits empathy from the audience.
After witnessing such a strong turn, we sought out Brake for an interview which he very graciously accepted. When we spoke with Brake whilst he was on location in Rome filming, but was more than happy to chat about Perfect Skin and Rob Zombie. Be warned the below does contain mild spoilers for the film.
How did you come to be involved in Perfect Skin?
I think initially it was about two years ago I got sent the script by my agent. I think they had been funded and were ready to go, and they asked me to have a read of it to see if I wanted to play Bob. I read it and really liked it from the beginning. I particularly like films that are very psychological. It sort of reminded me of those sixties British films, there’s not loads of violence, but there’s always a sense something’s going to happen. Just this overwhelming feeling that something bad is going to happen. That’s what I got with that. There’s not a load of violence, tons of shit going on, it was just building tension between these two characters. So it was mostly just going to be me and Natalia doing all those scenes. Right away that got me. The fact that it was pretty much just a two-hander in many ways. Then I met Kevin [Chicken] and Fiona [Campbell] and Cordelia [Plunket] for a drink, and we just sat an talked about it. His vision of it was very much like how I had thought when I read it. In fact he’s very much into the Peeping Tom films, those British films from the sixties that I mentioned. Those psychological thrillers that came out. So just talking to him about and how he saw the movie being not this horrendous violent piece, but really actually quite human, a very human piece.
Bob is very real to me, he’s not like some psycho. Well he’s pretty fucked up, but he’s a man driven to this point. To do this, this work of art of another human being, and there was a kind of humanity to Bob that I felt. That’s how Kevin felt too, he wasn’t going to portray Bob as just another crazy kidnapping psycho. So I definitely wanted to do it. The dates worked great so we pretty much started almost a month after I met those guys. I think I met them in August I believe, and then we were shooting by August / September.
Yeah, because I basically had to prepare, because it’s not… there’s a lot of specific things. Especially the tattooing. Tattooing is such a big part of the film that I was hoping it would get an audience from the tattoo world. There would obviously be tattoo artists watching it and I didn’t want them to think ‘he’s nothing like a tattoo artist’ (chuckles). So I spent a lot of time working with the people at The Family Business. They had designed all the tattoos for the film at that point. They also offered to let me come and basically watch, learn and train with their tattoo artists so at least I could look like I knew what I was doing. I don’t think they would actually let me put one of those needles anywhere near another human being, nor would another human being want me to, but I got to at least look like I could do it. I spent a lot of time with them. I spent almost everyday for a couple of weeks going down there and learning and watching.
Then I watched a lot of videos, talked to people about it. Just kinda of understood the history about it and the art of it. I never realised that they was this old-school tattoo style and then there’s the new. Tattooing has become huge in the last decade or so, so there’s so many young new tattooists, but I wanted Bob to come from and old-school way because he’s obviously a lot older. He’s an American guy who has moved here in his youth. He’s very much an old-school tattooist. There’s little techniques I would learn that the old guys do that the new guys don’t do. I tried to put those into the film. It was fun doing that, just discovering all this about a world that I really didn’t know anything about. I mean I have a few tattoos, but I don’t really know much about it.
Tattooing has been around in some form or another for centuries, but are probably most popular today, what do you think it is about them that makes them so appealing?
God, I think at one time it was just the sense of being different. Almost being a rebel. I think that’s not the case anymore. I think there’s a sense too… because the ones I have it’s a sense of claiming your individuality, who you are. For me it’s about documenting moments of my life. I do that on my body. It’s sort of this sense of claiming your individuality I think, your sense of uniqueness and a way of visually being able to do that on your body. I mean I can only really speak of my own experience I got my first one like twenty years ago, it was something to do with one of my children who had just been born, a way for me to record that. I also quite like the human body as a piece of art. Now I’ve got quite a big one, all of which had to be blacked out, and they put something else on top when we made that movie.
You yourself, have become a tattoo, there are many people with Doom-Head ink on them. How does that feel when people come up and show you, yourself on them?
I actually love it (chuckles). I never in a million years thought that would happen in my life. That I would end up on people’s back. Someone sent me a picture of a massive one the other day on Instagram of one he put on his back. That was a real commitment. But yeah, I kinda love it. I love seeing the different ones, the different designs. It’s been fun and then when I go to different conventions, people actually come up and I’ve seen them. I just love it because it’s fun, but also that particular character was one of my all-time favourite characters to play. The fact that it’s had such an impact on a segment of people has been a real thrill for me.
When I did it, I enjoyed it, I knew it was going to be a decent film. I was really proud of him. I love working with Rob so when the reaction was what it was, the tattoos started coming and such; it was a really exciting time for me to see the film had that reaction.
The opening of 31 is pretty spectacular, it’s an interesting way to start a film like that, it felt almost very arthouse in a way.
They shot it in black and white too if I remember.
Yeah they did, I just love that opening, it’s just so powerful.
It was great. Rob kept talking about it. Often with Rob’s films you can ad-lib a bit. He’s quite free with it if you want to change things or add stuff. In fact he encourages you to. But with Doom-Head he had written, the best thing he had written, one of the best things I’ve ever come across so I honestly didn’t change a word. Definitely in that monologue I didn’t need to change anything. In fact, I think I said every word exactly as he wrote it. For me, ninety percent of that opening is just how well written that monologue is. When I first read it I was like ‘Holy shit!’ Then he filmed it. He kept saying ‘I’m going to basically keep the camera on you.’ He kept saying that before we even got to that scene. He goes ‘I can’t wait to do this scene, it’s just going to be you, your face. I’m going to try and hold that for as long as I can before I pull away.’ That’s what he did and when I saw it I thought ‘wow’, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of in all the work I’ve done.
I saw it at Frightfest...
I was at that. I’m glad it got into Frightfest so that people could actually see it in the cinema.
My mum is a massive fan of Rob Zombie and his films, and was so jealous I got to see it there.
So she’ll be looking forwards to the new one?
Oh yeah, she’s already asked me if it’s out yet.
I think we’re figuring hopefully the spring. You never know with Rob. I know he’s on tour right now and then he’ll get back to editing it, and we’ll see it at some point early next year I’m hoping. It’s going to be great though. honestly we all think – and I think he thinks so too – that it’s going to be his best film. It was an amazing, amazing shoot.
Bob is very different to Doom-Head, as you mentioned before, he’s not the conventional villain. How did you go about creating him?
I think that’s the other reason this role really appealed to me to. I had just come off of doing Doom-Head, I think it was coming out around the time that we were shooting. I’ve also played a couple of other psychos before that, really, really twisted people. So reading Bob I think a lot of what appealed to me was that he was much more human. I started with Bob in that, when I was looking at the character I think he comes from, I don’t think he inherently has a psychotic or psychopathic instincts like other characters that I work on and develop. They have pretty much since childhood been torturing animals or doing things that falls into pattern. I’m playing one right now, I’m playing a serial killer at the moment and that’s very much someone that has always had these qualities. Some would say they were born with them, I think with Bob it was much later. It was really the events of his marriage break-up, of his Parkinson’s. For me it was all about his art, his desire to create this piece of art. To leave something for after he goes, after he dies. It sort of began to warp his mind in a way so he ends up kidnapping a woman and doing what he did. It wasn’t really out of pleasure of torturing her. There was none of that. Whereas Doom-Head finds pleasure in dominating people and making them suffer, Bob has none of that. In fact Bob has real compassion and real love for Katia and thinks that he’s falling in love with her and the work of art he’s creating on her. For me it’s very different people.
Bob is very different from many of the psychopathic characters I’ve played over the years. He’s just very human, very sad. The thing with Bob too is that I really want the audience to feel a certain compassion and sadness for him. Whether anyone can ever really feel compassion for someone who kidnaps a girl and puts tattoos all over her body is a pretty tough call to do, but I was hoping there would be at least a moment where people feel a little sorry for him.
You say that, but that’s pretty much how I read it. It wasn’t a Hostel or a Saw level torture thing, it was in a warped way you kinda of got why he was doing it. Especially when you find out about his condition. That must be terrible for somebody, anyone in any sort of artistic profession knowing that the things that you express yourself with are going to betray you and this it is his last chance to leave a mark. I definitely got the tragedy of the character, which you don’t normally get in a genre film like this.
That’s good, I’m glad that came over. One of the thing’s that struck me at the time too was that I remember, god back when I was in high school, a teacher talking about Hemingway and why he killed himself. His theory was that Hemingway, the way he held his world together, was through his art. Through his writing, kept his mind and whole being together. Then as soon as he started to deteriorate so he wasn’t able to write in the way that he had before, it all started falling apart. So in a way it was the loss of his art that made him ultimately go ‘you know what, I can’t live anymore’. That’s his theory of course, I’m not that that’s definitely right, if any Hemingway people heard me and are like ‘bullshit!’ that was his theory and it really stuck with me. I thought in a way that’s like Bob. Once he knows he’ll no longer be able to create art, his tattooing kept him, his being together. It was that being taken away from him that led to making him unravel. So that story from my teacher all those years ago stayed with me and I tried to have a little of that in Bob.
You’ve made a lot of horror films over the years, what is it about the genre that keeps bringing you back?
I think it likes me, it keeps bringing me back. What I really love is that they can tell us so much about ourselves, but in a way we don’t expect. We think we’re going to see a horror film and think we’re just going to get our rocks off, or just go and get scared shitless. But in truth, a good horror film can tell us bout all kinds of things. I remember thinking that when I was younger and I was watched Texas Chainsaw and all these films about mayhem and madness and society unravelling. All those seventies, and that’s why I love doing them. Especially as I say I love working with Rob and that whole crew. Then working with Kevin on this; his is very much a psychological horror in that I think just so much more can be told. Because we think we’re watching a film just about entertainment, there is actually about a lot more and can be done very subversively. Which I think is one of the big pluses of Perfect Skin. There’s a lot there worth talking about, but in truth we can also just be entertained by this crazy story.
The thing I really love about horror films is, in my experience, the people that make them, you would think are absolutely crazy, dark, fucked up people. In my experience they’re the absolute opposite. Kevin and all those people on this are just the loveliest bunch of people. Then of course my biggest surprise was when I first went to Halloween II expecting Rob Zombie to be this nutty, rock and roll tattooed crazy man, and he’s actually this chilled out vegan (chuckles). We were just sitting there discussing vegan cheeses outside my trailer and I’m sat there thinking ‘This is Rob Zombie?’ Him and his wife are lovely. We were laughing once because there’s quite a few of us that don’t drink anymore and those guys that are vegetarians, they’re vegans and we’re all there thinking ‘there’s a bunch of sober, vegan / vegetarians making a film about madness and mayhem’. It’s great, completely the opposite to what people think.
Perfect Skin screens at Frightfest, you’ve mentioned that you’ve been before and your’re therefore familiar with the audience, how excited are you to share this film with them?
Very. It’s a great, great group of people – the people that run Frightfest and the audience. When I came and did 31 I just had the best time. I think it’s an amazing festival for horror films for the UK. There’s so many films that probably wouldn’t be seen at all in some cases, like 31 wouldn’t be seen in cinemas over here. I’m really, really pleased that they’ve picked Perfect Skin for everyone to see. Nowadays so much gets put straight to Netflix or streaming, so that a lot of these films don’t get seen out of home on big screens so I’m glad we’re going to have at least one screening. Hopefully more in the future, but I know there’s at least one where people can go watch Bob put his needle into Katia on the big screen.
There are several films screenings over the festival and people spend ages trying to generate their pick lists, why should they add Perfect Skin to their watch-list?
I think if someone’s looking for something out of the ordinary, something they wouldn’t normally expect to see. So it’s not a slash and bash horror film, but something they want to come out thinking ‘wow I’m really glad I popped in’, and say that because ‘it’s totally not what I expected.’ Then I would definitely recommend going to watch it. I really hope that when people come out of it they’re like ‘wow, I’m so used to seeing so many straight horrors to see something that was just twisted and dark all the way through’. It’s very character developed. I think anyone that likes films that really have good characters, really developing characters, it’s definitely worth seeing Perfect Skin.
I also just want to know what people think! I’d love to know what all those Rob Zombie fans, or anyone that goes to see it, to see their reaction. I was very proud of the work we did because it was tough. Most of these films are done on such low budgets and under such difficult circumstances, fast shooting times. I think we had like a month to shoot this one. It’s a really cool that it’s out and that people can see. It’s just intense, and there’s some great performances. I mean Natalia was amazing to work with and, God bless her, she had to stand up for like four hours while they put tattoos on her. I think one day she just fell, she just couldn’t do it anymore, she just collapsed into a faint. What she went through for that role was admirable.
You just don’t think of stuff like that when watching.
It was tough, and you’re trying to shoot on a very tight schedule and they’ve got to put six hours of tattoos on her, I mean it’s incredible what goes into any of the films – probably most of the films at Frightfest – even when they have a film like with Rob, a more well known filmmaker, we shoot those films in twenty days. On minimal budgets now, because they know Rob can do it so they say ‘if you can do it once you can do it again’. With 3 from Hell it was the same as 31, we had twenty days and not a lot of money. Everybody just works incredibly hard and what I love is that and we did this on Perfect Skin and Rob’s is like that in a way, those problems – lack of money, lack of time – actually become creative pluses. Because you have to go ‘well we can’t do this because we don’t have time to do this,’ or ‘this machine isn’t working so what are we going to do?’ You just have to find another way around it and nine times out of ten, if not more, the way around it is actually better. I find that all the time with Rob, and too on Perfect Skin. What you think is a problem is actually a plus. I love that most of the films at Frightfest are in that realm. I encourage people to see as many as they can. It’s sad that we’re not getting to see many of these films on the big screen anymore. So I’m, really, really grateful to the Frightfest people that they do this. Go see any film, but if you want, please go see mine.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a show called Sanctuary that Matthew Modine is in. It’s good. It’s an eight-part series, a Swedish production. It’s an English language piece, but it’s based on a Swedish thriller novel and it’s great. There’s some great scripts and an interesting Icelandic and Italian director doing the eight episodes. Hopefully it’ll be out next year. It should be fun. I play a very, very bad man, so it’s fun.
Don’t miss Perfect Skin when it plays at Arrow Video Frightfest on Saturday 25th August.