I always thought Hannibal Lecter worked well because he seemed to have his finger on the pulse of humanity. He knew how to turn the screws on a psycological level and that was always more terrifying to me than someone taking a machete to a secluded campsite. Pinhead works for the same reason. There is more than a touch of humanity to the character with a macabre sense of innocence, you add that up and you have an icon of horror that is just as effective now as it was 24 years ago. Doug Bradley is the man behind the nails. He sat down with DG to talk about HELLRAISER, remakes, and the film that changed his life.
He’ll tear your soul… apart!
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: Thanks for hanging out with us for a little bit. I can’t think of a better time of year than now to talk to the man behind an iconic character of horror.
DOUG BRADLEY: Oh it’s my pleasure, happy to speak with you.
I know you just wrapped DEER CROSSING, we had one of our writers working on that. How do you think that turned out?
It went really well, I had a great time. Good cast, good crew, we’ll see how it went you know? Proof is in the pudding right? I think it went really well.
So we like to start with all of our guests in the same spot. Can you remember the first film you saw that kind of changed your life and placed you on this path?
Well the first time I was completely freaked out in the cinema was a movie you might not expect to find on my lips, I was very small. I think it may have been the first time I was taken to the cinema. My parents had taken me to see a Disney movie, one of their real life movies: OLD YELLER, seeing OLD YELLER when he had gone rabid. I had read the book a few years later and it’s rather tender. The kid just sits down and if I’m remembering it right he kills Old Yeller himself. In the film though all hell had broken loose and the father shoots the dog with a rifle and the kid is screaming for him to stop, it absolutely freaked me out completely. It was the first time I was terrified in the cinema but from a slightly different perspective.
The first genre movie as such that I remember being really scared by was a ghost movie. Now I was obsessed with ghosts as a little boy and still fascinated by them but I was terrified of them as a kid and couldn’t get enough of them. I am not sure how old I would have been but I remember watching this movie that is still terrifying to this day having just watched it recently. It’s called THE INNOCENTS by Jack Clayton released in ’61 starring Deborah Kerr based on the book “The Turning of the Screw”.
I know Jack Clayton only because he did SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES but I have never seen THE INNOCENTS.
I couldn’t recommend it enough. I remember when the movie was over, heading upstairs for a pee and having that first moment of being very aware of defensible space and peeing with my back to the wall so nothing could get me.
Did you go to the cinema a lot as a kid?
We did. I have memories of being taken to Norman Wisdom movies and Disney movies. This was in Liverpool in the UK. The classic Disney cartoons still burn incredibly brightly in my head. I don’t much care for their recent output of films but the classic cartoons are just unparalleled. I remember going to see A HARD DAYS NIGHT as a birthday treat, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, GONE WITH THE WIND, these were all kind of family outings. It was a re-release of GONE WITH THE WIND I hasten to add. I am not quite that old. So yeah, as far back as I can look the cinema has been front and center.
Do you remember when you realized that acting was something you wanted to do?
Well it was always there to some degree. Whenever there was an opportunity to do it, I did it. Right from Sunday school and infant school and on through high school. It was actually in high school that I met Clive (Barker). He was already producing his own plays in school and I got pulled into that orbit. I had no clear idea though about being an actor. I don’t think I had any notion though that this was something that you could do for a living as a job. I had a very secure and aspirational middle class upbringing and it was assumed that I was going to get outstanding results; it was assumed that I was going to go to university and get a degree. Indeed I did get the results and I did go to university where I studied English literature but at this time a group of us had kind of formed around Clive to form our own work. It was avant-garde experimental theater and we would take a year to put these together and perform them once and that would be it. It was kind of drama school I think.
So I went to university and suddenly I kind of stopped. I couldn’t write an essay to save my life. I didn’t know what to do; I mean the wind had really come out of my sails as far as I was concerned. I just kept thinking am I doing this for me? Who am I doing this for? Am I doing this for me or just because it’s the path my parents put me on? I would be sitting in a seminar discussing Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” and I didn’t want to be discussing it, I wanted to be playing Mephistopheles. This was becoming clear in my head so I threw myself out of university and it was theatre work that kind of carried the momentum. It was theatre firs that pulled me into acting and it was somewhere in the early 1980’s when we were doing one of Clive’s plays called THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL, now published, and it was very successful and I was playing the devil in a big part. I was aware that when I was doing this that I was happier and more fulfilled than anything I had done in life. So then, in 1982 when our theater company came to an end; do I hold my nose and jump into the profession or do what seemed to be the sensible thing and stop and go to theater school and I guess I was arrogant enough to think well do I really need someone else telling me how to do this for the next three years? I seemed to be pretty good at it, at least as good as most and better than some. I kind of made my mistakes on stage in front of the audience so, that was it.
So your schooling was trial by fire and learning your way through the craft in real time.
Absolutely right, yes. Going to the cinema, to the theater and just kind of soaking it up. I have never been to an acting class in my life, not one. I signed up once to go to a Shakespeare master class with Patrick Stewart in a place called The Actors Center in London. This was before Patrick had gone on to do STAR TREK but I knew him from going to see The Royal Shakespeare Company and he was pretty much a mainstay at that time. So I went really to just spend some time working with him. When I got there though, they apologized profusely, they had changed his shooting schedule and he had to be on location so they sent along another actor in his place of whom I was aware but it wasn’t Patrick. I did my piece anyway but that was it.
So in 1987 HELLRAISER came out and that was your first feature length film. You had done a few short films prior to that. When Clive was creating that character did he write the part with you in mind?
Well there were similarities between Pinhead and other characters that I’ve played with Clive. So, I intuitively knew where the character was coming from. It’s kind of a funny thing but I’ve never asked him that. He asked me to do it and then he had to argue his case with producers and casting directors. It would have been easy to put extras or stunt guys in make-up or costume. Certainly the non-speaking Cenobites like Chaterer and Butterball and even myself and got a voice-over artist to put the voice on. It must have been Clive’s call though to put the actors behind the make-up to flesh the actors out and take them from lumps of leather and latex to bring them alive.
What’s interesting to me is that in some of the iconic roles in cinema it’s difficult to see other actors in those parts. Even though Brian Cox did Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins owns that part. Even though Jackie Earle Haley played Freddy, Robert Englund owns that part. It is impossible for me to think or even consider somebody else playing the part of Pinhead.
What about Dustin Hoffman as Hannibal Lecter? That’s one I hear a lot. Hopkins was actually several choices down the line and the producers didn’t want him. You can’t imagine Lecter without him. You answered your own question in a way: could anybody else have played him the way I did? Answer: No. They would have done it their way. Audiences would have either liked it or not depending on what he was doing.
What was the feeling like on that set? That was Clive’s first film, it was your first film, and I imagine a lot of the crew were on their first film. Was there kind of an entrepreneurial spirit where people are working multiple roles? I mean it’s a pretty ambitious story to pick up for your first film.
My memory is, I mean certainly initially, it’s a steep learning curve your first day on a film set. On top of that I am dealing with makeup, the costume, contact lenses, so you have a lot of things kind of swimming around and my first job was to get beyond that to focus on the acting. It was a very happy place and a very funny place but a hard working place all happening simultaneously and that was set by Clive. He is very quick on his feet and always joking but always focused on the work as well. I think there was a collective belief in Clive when the film began. You have people on the film like Andrew Robinson who has worked with very seasoned directors and the first one that isn’t up to snuff is going to be in trouble pretty quickly. There were a lot of happy accidents it seemed to me when it came to HELLRAISER.
Clive was very lucky in that he had Robin Vidgeon as his DP. Clive didn’t know cameras or lenses, he didn’t know the technical craft of filmmaking but he had an artist’s eye and could describe and see how he wanted it to look and he could communicate that very cogently. Robin listened intently and they had very good dialogue between each other. Going back quickly to Andy Robinson, you could not improve on his performance as Larry, he is just so pathetic. It’s painful to watch and it’s just brilliantly paced. Clare Higgins as well gives an extraordinary performance. Bob Keen’s effects and of course Joanna Johnston’s costumes. Joanna worked with Clive and I in theater actually. At the end of the day though, you have that great score by Christopher Young and I always credit that with at least 50% of the film. It lifts all of us onto another level. Signing up for a project like this can be a one way ticket to hell or a one way ticket to the other place and in the case of this film it was the other place.
So the makeup effects in HELLRAISER are always striking to me, they are just incredibly effective. How long did it take for you to get suited up and ready to shoot?
Early on it was like 5 or 6 hours partly because the makeup that Geoff Portass designed was fairly complicated. As the shoot went on though it got down to around 3 hours or so.
Pinhead has always had like this misplaced innocence and you had a chance to maybe tap into that in HELLBOUND when you played Captain Elliot Spencer. Was the role of the Captain going to be a bit larger originally?
Innocence is a very interesting word to use when describing Pinhead and I wouldn’t disagree with that. I’ve often said that I knew what I was going to do with Pinhead after about 20 minutes of playing in the mirror with the makeup on. One of the senses that kept coming back to me was a sense of extreme sadness and melancholy about this character. I had talked to Clive about Pinhead and about the fact that he was once human but we hadn’t established a backstory but I didn’t know when or where. It was there though that I hung the melancholy that he had an awareness of humanity and he related to it in general. I think that’s why Pinhead is endlessly fascinated with humanity. There was going to be two additional scenes with Eliot in the Indian street bizarre. There was some financial crisis though and New World couldn’t make the money up so HELLBOUND became a much less ambitious film than it would have been.
In HELLRAISER III you were working without Clive but your performance in that film is one of my favorite in the series. It has this kind of playfulness to it that is both horrific and bizarre. Can you talk about that film and what that was like doing that character without Clive?
The whole beat of that film was different. The A-team that had been in London that was responsible for HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND and also NIGHTBREED was no longer there and instead I was in North Caroline and it was completely different. The whole idea was that Pinhead was free of the box, now it’s a different game. The scene where Joey comes back to the nightclub and comes into the room where Pinhead comes around and says something about the suffering of strangers and the agony of friends is one that always stands out as some of the best work in the series.
What are your thoughts on the next sequel HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS? I can’t imagine they’re entirely positive.
No, that was offered to me and I turned it down. It just didn’t seem like a serious attempt to revive the franchise or move it forward. My understanding is that it was made for political reasons. It was shot in two weeks and had a minuscule budget. I read the script and it was okay but it was 8 years since I had the latex and nails on and I had drawn a line in my head with it. I was looking for somewhere to go with the character, something new. The screenplay just didn’t have it. It had a germ of something but it wasn’t screen ready but good luck to everyone involved. Clive was talking about writing a sequel but I don’t think that will happen now. I am very much opposed to the whole climate of remakes. I meet the fans a lot. If I had a sense that there was any enthusiasm for remakes I would think the studio was justified, or if the fans came up to me and said a movie they watched 25 years ago was just okay I would think they were justified. After all, it was pretty much that same gap between Universal’s Frankenstein and Dracula and Hammer’s remakes which did reinvent those films. We are just in a different age now, films don’t go away. Back in the day when a film played the cinema it just went away and you didn’t see them again.
When fans that weren’t even alive when we filmed HELLRAISER are coming up to me and saying they saw it and couldn’t sleep for two weeks, that leads me to believe that there is really no need to be doing it. There are a few exceptions like Del Toro’s DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. The remake of THE CRAZIES I thought was really good. The original, sorry George I love you, but it’s inferior to the remake. The job of the executives is to find and nurture new talent and not to take a ride on the backs of others; find the new Clive Barker and the new Del Toro and don’t tell me they’re not out there because I could send you three or four scripts right now that should have already been made.
Well said. I think that’s a great place to wrap this up. We really appreciate you taking the time to hang out with us. We are huge fans of your work so it’s a pleasure to speak with you.
Well hi to everyone out there and thank you so much for having me.
Thanks again to Mr. Bradley for hanging out with us. He was a cool cat and we look forward to hooking up again soon.
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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