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Exclusive Interview: Actor Brad Dourif On His Role in the Dark Creature Feature “Wildling”

Wednesday, April 11, 2018 | Interviews


Actor Brad Dourif first caught Hollywood’s attention with his performance as Billy Bibbit in the 1975 classic One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Since then, Dourif has acquired an extensive body of work. From performances like Raymond in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Wormtongue in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and voicing the killer-doll Chucky in Don Mancini’s Child’s Play franchise, Dourif has become one of the greatest character actors.

His latest film Wildling, which comes to theatres and VOD this Friday the 13th, is the impressive feature debut from director Fritz Böhm. Reminiscent of classic fairy tales and folklore, it centres on a young girl named Anna (Bel Powley) who has been raised by a mysterious man she only knows as “Daddy” (Dourif). He keeps her locked away in an attic and tells her terrifying stories about child-eating monsters called “the wildling.” Anna is then freed by small-town sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler) who tries to help her adjust to normal life as a teenager. However, as Anna matures and reaches puberty, the traumas from her childhood return and reveal dark secrets about her past.

In this exclusive interview with Rue Morgue, Dourif discusses how fatherhood brought him to the role, his prolific career, and what really scares him.

Wildling centres on the bizarre relationship between Anna and her mysterious father figure “Daddy.” Did being a parent yourself impact how you approached this character?

Yes of course. I approached him as someone who wanted to be a father very badly. He’s this guy who comes across this baby one day and he just can’t kill it. He wants to take on that role as a father, but at the same time, he’s also aware of what she will become… It’s a very interesting relationship in that way.

You have cut back on acting recently. What in particular attracted you to this film?

When I was first offered the part, I wasn’t initially going to do it. But before I actually said “No,” I wanted to talk to the director [Fritz Böhm] first. I told him about how as a parent I was interested in the idea of it, but that I wanted to play the character in a certain way. We worked through it and after our discussion I wanted to be a part of the film. It was really the theme of fatherhood that compelled me to take it on.

Wildling has an impressive cast. What was it like working with everyone?

Everyone was just excellent. I felt like Bel [Powley] was my daughter. I clicked with her really well even just from our first rehearsal. She’s a wonderful actress and it was such a pleasure to watch her work and grow. All of the kids were wonderful on set and it was just so fun to be a part of it all.

With the release of Cult of Chucky last year, you had a chance to return your iconic role. How did it feel to go back to the character 30 years after the original?

We had been talking about it for a long time and from the original, it was Curse of Chucky  that went back to the original narrative. I think the reason why Chucky and these movies have done so well is because they’ve managed to change stylistically according to what’s going on in horror in the era. It went from camp, which is where it all started, and then to self-referential during the time of films like Scream and that kind of thing. I thought this was all brilliantly done. Bride of Chucky is still my favourite of all the Child’s Play movies. It was really well contained and solidly within itself. Then everything coming out in horror was suddenly in a series of remakes and I think Curse handled that really well.   

You’ve been a consistent presence in horror. Is there something in particular about the genre that interests you?

Haha you know… I don’t actually go to see horror films because they scare me! But I was able to pay the bills with it. It was sort of something that just happened and I said to myself, “Look, they’re offering me this, I’m doing it!” It all started from there and just kept going.

Is there a memorable scene or scare from your filmography that still sticks with you?

Well I do the Child’s Play movies in the sound studio and then they match that to the doll. So I guess the most memorable thing was when I finally wasn’t working alone. With Bride it was just so different and fun from the rest.

You’ve maintained a long career of playing sociopaths or unhinged characters. Does this ever take a toll on you?

Yes it does, and I’m not going to do them anymore. I’m capable of doing other things so I just won’t anymore. I’m also getting my pension now and I’ve got a little other money tucked away. I’m not fabulously wealthy or anything like that, but I’m doing okay. So I don’t need to work anymore financially. I’m also not looking to get behind the camera, because there are people that are far more talented than I am. I certainly can block and work with actors and I know how to construct a scene. But the camera is the poet, and I’m not so sure I’m talented in that way. I think the world has enough mediocrity don’t you?

How do you prepare for your roles now vs. when you first started? Have your methods changed over the years?

Well I’m a purist in the sense that the movie is the message. I’m not there as an actor to make my own message. I have a way of approaching things where the first question I always ask is, “What is the character doing in the movie?” or “What’s the job of the character for the story?” Then once I get that figured out, I start to do my own personal work around that. This is where I try to figure out what everything really means to me. But it all starts at a core and works its way out before I insert myself into the performance.

Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about Dune. I’m fascinated with this movie and it’s just such a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine. Almost any time this film comes up in discussion someone brings up its production history… and that it was basically a nightmare. Can you elaborate on what it was like on set?

Production wise? First of all, David [Lynch] was just such a cool guy! Everybody loved him. Despite what you may have heard, it was really just a fun set to be on. There was no hassle with production or anything like that. It was actually a really delightful set to be on. Now, there may have been wars going on further behind the scenes, but I was never part of or experienced that. That was at least all kept away from the actors.

Maddi McGillvray
Maddi is the Editorial Assistant at Rue Morgue Magazine. She is also a PhD student in Cinema and Media Studies at York University, where she writes extensively on the horror genre. Maddi is completing her doctoral dissertation on women working in horror. She is also currently writing book chapters titled "Fleshy Female Corporealities: The Cannibal Films of the New French Extremity" as well as "To Grandmother’s House We Go: Documenting the Aging Female Body in Found Footage Horror Films."