By MICHAEL GINGOLD
In HOUNDS OF LOVE, opening this Friday, Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings and Stephen Curry go to some of the most horrifically emotional places of any actors this year. Yet they’re all smiles and laugh easily when they get together to discuss the movie with RUE MORGUE at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Released in U.S. theaters and on VOD by Filmbuff/Gunpowder & Sky and in Canadian cinemas by ABMO Films (for a complete list of venues, click here), HOUNDS OF LOVE is the highly praised feature writing/directing debut of Australian filmmaker Ben Young, who based its story on real serial-killer cases in his home country. Booth and Curry (better known for comedies Down Under) play Evelyn and John White, who keep a home in suburban Perth where they imprison, torture and murder young women. Their latest abductee is teenager Vicki (Cummings), who must call on all her wits and survival instincts to avoid becoming the couple’s latest casualty. The torment visited upon Vicki is sometimes hard to watch, but the three lead performances ensure that you can’t take your eyes off the screen.
Had any of you done a role this intense before?
SC: No! [Laughter all around] Are there roles this intense? I don’t know.
AC: I don’t think they’ve been written.
So what were each of your impressions when you first read the script and saw what you would be required to perform?
SC: Well, Emma said no…
EB: Twice. Even though Ben’s one of my oldest, best friends, and he wrote the role for me, I was like, “I don’t think I can do this.” Eventually, the third time he came around, he really explained his vision—basically that it wouldn’t be so much explicit visual horror, but more of the psychological thing. He told Ashley the same thing, and that made us all go, “Oh, OK, that’s interesting.” So I finally took it on, and then I got very scared. I was like, “Oh my God, what am I doing?!” And then we all just jumped in and made magic.
SC: I jumped at it. I was desperate to do it, because nobody ever considers me for roles like this. I actually couldn’t quite believe it. I was reading the script and thinking, “It can’t be John they want me for. This is an amazing script, but where’s the goofy guy, who comes in and just kind of falls over or something?” [Laughter all around] It was so good, and there was an excitement about being able to launch into something this intense. And from go to whoa, it has been the most…I won’t say enjoyable, but one of the most satisfying professional experiences of my life.
Ashleigh, is this the first lead role you’ve had?
AC: No; I was actually taking a hiatus from acting at that point, and that lasted about a couple of weeks. I was working 9-to-5 in a motorbike store as a secretary, dealing with all the gangs that came in.
SC: Oh, good fun!
AC: [Laughs] Yeah, I loved it for a couple of days, and then got very bored of the routine. Then this script came in, and I said, “No, I’m on a hiatus,” and they said, “Just read it.” I did, and I was like, “Oh God…” They said, “Just meet Ben,” and so I went in to the audition, and I was a little bit dubious as to how it was going to play out—similarly to [Booth], I suppose. And then, again, once he explained his vision, and he said, “It’s not about the physical horror, it’s about the psychology of these women,” that sold it to me. And he also said he was interested in hiring good people first and foremost—people good at their skills. So I was like, “Well, I have to be involved in that!”
Young researched actual serial-killer cases to write the movie. Did any of you do similar research?
EB: A little bit. I watched some documentaries about Aileen Wuornos, a few bits and pieces, and then just let it go. I went in there and attacked it with everything I had.
SC: For me, it was about sociopathy, and studying that and what it entails. There’s that thing where people talk about a lack of empathy, a lack of feeling, of being able to love anybody—a lack of all those things that normal human beings take for granted and are intrinsic within us. But I’m fascinated by the idea that a sociopath—any sociopath worth his salt, as it were—can affect those things, and this is how they achieve their goals: by being able to affect empathy, or love, or respect, or all these things that aren’t in his skill set, or in his makeup. But he knows that if he can employ them, it will be to his benefit, and that, to me, is endlessly fascinating, and frightening.
You know, as an actor, you’re always told not to act; your whole career, people say, “Stop acting,” because the moment you’re acting, we can see what you’re doing. So it was very confusing acting as a character who’s acting but trying not to act. [Laughter all around] I was like, “I maybe ought to study this a little bit,” so I’d know where that sort of sits, you know?
How did you work on your characters’ relationships off-camera? Did any of you avoid each other when you weren’t on camera together?
SC: I’m very hard to avoid. [Laughter all around]
EB: I actually played Stephen’s daughter about five years ago, in this beautiful TV miniseries called CLOUDSTREET. It was set in the 1950s, and we looked pretty cute…
SC: There was a school of thought that said I was a little too young to be playing Emma’s father, but that’s the joy of makeup, isn’t it?
EB: So our relationship was pretty awesome from that, and then, there was so much love between the three of us, and so much trust. There had to be, or we wouldn’t have gotten what we did on screen. So no, there was no avoiding, there were none of those tactics of, “I’m not going to talk to this person the whole shoot.”
SC: And we were next-door neighbors for the whole shoot, so again, Ashleigh couldn’t avoid me. It all came down to respect, and we had nothing but respect for each other, and for Ben and for the whole crew. He got this personnel around him who were remarkable. But we also had respect for the material, respect for the fact that this happens to real people, respect for each other in terms of knowing that we all had to go to a super-dark place for this film. And without that, and without that kind of support, it wasn’t going to work.
AC: We had very conscious communication before we even began rehearsals. It was about boundaries, though those didn’t really exist; it was more that we were there to honor the arc of the story, and we had to trust each other. As they said, Ben hired good people, so it was intrinsic within the entire cast and crew.
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