Here we go with the start of our Frightfest 2015 coverage. We're kicking off in fine style with an interview with Mark Murphy, director of Awaiting, a claustrophobic tale of terror set in the remote English countryside. The movie stars mega-talented Scottish character actor Tony Curran who delivers a chilling performance in the role of Morris. He's joined by ex-X-Factor contestant Diana Vickers and Rupert Hill who popped up in 2012's Entity. I'll be running a review of Awaiting after its Frightfest screening and would like to thank Mark for taking the time to answer my questions.
AOTD: Tell us a little bit about your experience shooting Awaiting. How many days did you shoot for? Did the script change at all during the shoot? Were there any disasters or did it all go smoothly?
MM: We shot for four weeks up in Yorkshire, in the summer, 2 weeks on location, 2 weeks in the studio. Shooting in the studio allowed us to fly through the scenes, but shooting in the forest, in the pleasant weather was great fun. Usually, if it’s a happy shoot there’s aways a great comradery amongst film crews, and this is was exactly that, we had a lot of fun, and a lot beers in the evening. No major disasters, apart from nearly losing the main location a few days before shooting was due to begin, but after I sent a few saucy photos of myself, everyone was happy, and we were back on track. I think we were fairly lucky, the Gods must have been smiling upon us.
AOTD: Awaiting is for much of its runtime a chamber piece. Did you write the script with what was presumably a very low budget in mind?
MM: A couple of reasons really, it definitely helped with the budget by keeping the locations minimal, although that being said we had several sets built, which became an expense, but also the heart of the film is about isolation, for all three of the characters, Morris, being a social outcast, Lauren not having anyone in her life beyond Morris, and Jake who gets taken from the life he knows and trapped in the grisly world of Morris and Lauren.
AOTD: Tony Curran is a well-established character actor while Diana Vickers is obviously better known as a pop singer. It’s an interesting mix. Tell us a little bit about the casting process. What were you looking for and did the cast you ended up with mirror your expectations?
MM: We’ve got three different generations/sources of actors for sure, and all brought unique and valuable elements to the film. Tony, as you say, is an established Hollywood actor, having worked with Spielberg, Scott, Mann, etc. etc. and he brings a wealth of experience and talent, film is in his blood, and he brought Morris to life as a fantastically charming yet nightmarish character. Rupert has years of TV experience, having been in Coronation Street for six years, and his approach was slightly different to Tony’s, more analytical of the character, and worked hard to get under the skin of Jake. Diana, of course was in X Factor, and had her music career, but she also starred on stage in the West End in Little Voice, so had the acting chops on her. When she auditioned, I wasn’t aware of her singing career, not being an X Factor fan, but my mum was delighted when she found out. All three made the characters their own, and I’m delighted with what they brought to the party.
AOTD: There’s a particular scene of self-mutilation in Awaiting that I don't want to spoil. I'm sure you'll know which scene I'm referring to. Did you research whether the method used by the character to achieve his grisly goal would actually work or did you simply think, “Fuck it…it’ll look cool.”
MM: Honestly, a bit of both. I wrote it because I felt it was an imaginative, and original plot twist, but when it came to the prosthetics, we did have to research how and if it would work. I wouldn’t suggest anyone giving it a go, to try and prove me wrong.
AOTD: Tony Curran handles the accent very well and is a truly terrifying and convincing psychopath. Did he bring any of his own ideas to the table?
MM: Well it helped that Tony’s a terrifying and convincing psychopath in real life, so he was able to bring that personal experience to the table… I jest, but Tony did ring me up out of the blue from Los Angeles, a week or two before shooting started. I didn’t recognise the number and he was testing out his Morris persona, it scared the shit out of me, it took a few moments to realise that it was Tony, and not some guy called Morris who I owed money to and wanted to kill me.
AOTD: Did you ever consider allowing him to keep his native accent? Because surely there’s nothing scarier than a Scottish madman.
MM: I didn’t want the film to be that scary to be honest, so thought I’d make it less terrifying by keeping him south of the border, seriously, the scariest film character of all time has to be Begbie from Trainspotting. We did play around with the accent, but I wanted it to feel like this is where Tony had grown up, and if we kept it Scottish, then Diana would have to go with it as well, now that would have been scary, a Blackburn girl trying on the Scottish accent. Actually my mother’s family is Scottish, so there were definitely a few inspiring relatives I could base Morris on.
AOTD: Awaiting isn't your first foray into the horror genre. Is it a genre you feel particularly drawn to and if so why?
MM: I don’t think so, to be honest, I feel I let the side down with my first film, The Crypt, I’m definitely very proud of this one though, I’m not genre-centric, the film I’m shooting this summer is a comedy. The one after that, hopefully, a war drama, but who knows, I’ve still got a couple of interesting horror scripts on the table, so may try tackling it again soon. For me I’m more led by the story, if it’s engaging with interesting characters, less so by the genre.
AOTD: Are there any past masters of horror cinema, or just cinema in general, whose work you particularly respect and who have had an influence on your approach to film-making?
MM: For sure, I’d say my favourite director is David Fincher, and Seven was hugely influential for me making this film. Silence of the Lambs of course is another one, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want Morris to be as chilling as Hannibal Lector, and probably my favourite film of all time is Jaws. I once met David Fincher when Girl With the Dragon Tattoo came out. I told him that Seven was one of my favourite films, he replied; “I hope the police know where you are at all times.” Happy times :)
AOTD: Are you going to stick with horror or are there other genres you would like to try and would you be comfortable directing from someone else’s script should the opportunity present itself?
MM: As with the earlier response, I love horror films, but wouldn’t pin myself down to one specific genre, I love films and I love film making, and if I can get to experiment with as many genres as possible I’ll be a hugely happy and lucky guy. Maybe not musicals though. For sure I’d be happy to work on other people’s scripts, although I’d definitely ending up re-stirring the pot to try and put my signature on it.
AOTD: Awaiting is screening at Frightfest in London next month. Do you have a message for the audience?
MM: Love me. No, just that I hope you enjoy the film and that it rattles around in your head for a day or two after. If you don’t like it, I apologise profusely and promise my next one will be better.