Indie horror icon Robert Nolan catches up with The Horror Hothouse‘s editor Emma Knock about his short film Familiar, the importance of a great script and delving into Adolf Hitler’s psyche.
Hi Robert. Congratulations once again on your recent award for ‘Best Actor’ in Familiar at the Macabre Film Festival. How did the role in Familiar come about and what first attracted you to it?
Nice to be here! Familiar (read our review here) was a project I wanted to be part of on first hearing of it. I had worked with Fatal Pictures on their previous film Worm. I was impressed with every aspect of what the company brought to that project: careful planning and preparation, a challenging and provocative script, a role that offered the opportunity for subtlety, depth, honesty and truth in a searing discomforting expression of secret familiar worlds we glide through every day unknowing of what lurks in the shadows beneath and within. That’s what gets me wanting to be in – a great script. But wait, there’s more! Richard Powell‘s masterful writing was matched by his subtle and firm direction. And then we had a superb cinematographer in highly creative Michael Jari Davidson, excellent on-site sound in Adam Clark and the rest of the superb crew assembled by the most energized producer I know, Zach Green.
You’ve done quite a few shorts, do you prefer them to feature films?
Story and script are the most important elements so short films can have brilliant story-lines and fascinating subject exploration. Many times, a short film done very well creates the desire in audiences for a longer and deeper exploration of the subject. So, short answer: I love stories first and doing short films but the feature film length (and budget) allows for a more satisfying full involvement in the story and that challenge is something I love to meet.
You’ve just finished filming two shorts and two feature lengths. Can you talk us through what they’re about and what we can expect?
I play a Doctor whose whisper is law in Silent Retreat directed by Tricia Lee. We wrapped principle photography in December, 2012. – “Janey arrives at a silent retreat in the middle of the woods for rehabilitation, only to discover that the men who run it aren’t afraid to show her what lurks beyond the trees.” – Silent Retreat has a great story of a young woman moving from victim to heroine through a series of bizarre, extreme and shocking events. You can expect great suspense, a shocking creature, blood, gore and – but I can’t give everything away! Woven into the story are themes of gender tension, suppression and outright war which gives this story a current relevance and depth. Silent Retreat should be completed by fall of 2013. My first time working with a female feature director. Tricia was an inspiring warrior throughout leading one of the finest dedicated indie film teams I have worked with. As this was a low-budget feature, the film is now in the middle of a fund-raising indiegogo campaign to finance post on the movie. You can check out the wonderful behind-the-scenes ‘making of’ video.
I just wrapped in a quirky husband role on Berkshire County directed by Audrey Cummings. – “The feature-length thriller follows a self-loathing teen (Alysa King) who reluctantly agrees to baby-sit at an isolated country home on Halloween night. But when a small boy in a pig mask appears at the door looking for candy, her night takes a horrifying turn for the worst. What ensues is a violent home invasion which forces our unlikely heroine to go beyond what she ever though capable in order to survive.” – So, not being the bad guy in this (or am I?), I get to work with two fine child actors, Madison Ferguson and Cristophe Gallander and also add some comedic touches and do a brief James Dean impression to boot! This also makes two female feature directors I’ve worked in a row with. The experience has been great with both and I’m happy to see them direct strong female actor roles in both Berkshire County and Silent Retreat – especially in the horror genre which has had far too many screaming wimps (let’s face it!). Time for the ladies of horror to scream AND shine with some surprising and innovative action scenes in both these movies!
I also recently wrapped as the strange Old Man in a world of hurt on the short My Old Man written by Max Giacomelli and directed by Ryan M. Andrews (SICK) and co-starring Adrian Cowan. It is a thematically rich story that challenges the sense of self and its dilemmas in the modern world.
Just wrapped on a couple of episodes for the third season of the massively popular web series Out With Dad, written produced and directed by Jason Leaver. This is the story of a single father with a lesbian child coming out and I get to play the father of the girl she is dating but not without having to deal with our difficult internal family dynamics of our attitudes, feelings and beliefs about the whole situation. The series has a huge loyal following of fans who find huge personal meaning in the show as it relates to their own lives and I’m very proud to be part of something as rare as this.
What’s next for you – any further projects in the pipeline?
Yes! I’m currently playing a doctor of high intelligence and (shall we say) morally-challlenged desire in the fast-paced 12-episode time-travel web series Out of Time written and produced by Rodney Smith. – “Chris Allman’s blackouts are linked to an implant in his head which is being experimented on by scientists. When his girlfriend Sara is killed he accidentally triggers the ability to travel in time and now believes he has a way to save her from dying.”
I’m currently in prep for Twisted Pieces written by the prolific writer Roy French and produced and directed by Ryan Ellis to be shot this summer. I play a smart ruthless doctor doing medically and morally horrific things. Can anybody stop me? Maybe Ry Barrett, Rick Cordeiro, Sandra DaCosta who also star in the movie.
How did you get into acting?
I was in the third year university English Literature B.A. program and needed one more credit. The drama course didn’t have much reading in it (I was barely keeping up!) so I took that. Fell in love with it and got hooked.
What’s been your favourite role to date?
Familiar has been my most challenging role. To get the depths and subtlety required by the fine script brought out the best in me.
If you could have played any famous horror character in the history of film – which would it be and why?
I’d love to play them all. Rasputin would be an interesting one. It is a combination of power, evil, magic, psychology, dark charisma and the power of life and death. I would like to bring out the humanity in the depths of the Werewolf, Frankenstein, Nosferatu and the Mummy. Of course these creatures are terrifying but within all of them is something we can identify with, some magnetic centre of compassion that draws us into the centre of their worlds. Yes, even in monsters!
What first attracted you to the film business?
It was acting really. I started on stage and wanted to explore all of the acting world. So curiosity is the main ingredient of attraction here.
Why horror in particular?
I was going for any role I could audition for. I was just doing my best with each opportunity and one day I was cast in a horror film. It went well and I got more and offers came as well. I wasn’t afraid to explore and find the depths of evil in myself. That’s what you have to do if you want to find the real horror in life and in yourself. A bit scary!
Are there any particular directors or producers you’d love to work with?
Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese. It is really all about the script. Once you have a fine one, then direction becomes important. I like people with very high standards of quality and creative expression. Directors who value creative input from actors and who provide the kind of creative environment that allows play to emerge. Play is the way. The play’s the thing. Out of that brilliance may emerge, inspiration may flash and new things born. These two directors allow that to happen. Hoping there are more out there like them!
If you could star alongside anyone who would it be and why?
Well, it would have been wonderful to be in a scene with Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino but there are many good actors. They delight in the work itself and in exploring all the possibilities of the story. I would love to work with anyone who does that.
You’ve also directed, edited and produced a film. What is your favourite aspect of the film business?
That was just one short film. A very interesting experience. I would like to direct someday. I’m also interested in writing and I see the great value a good editor can bring to the shaping of a film. At this point, acting is my main interest but I do like working with actors and writers and see myself directing a movie someday.
On a random note – you’ve played the role of Adolf Hitler three times. Any particular reason or has it just worked out that way?
I enjoyed the challenge of finding the humanity inside any human being whether a fictional character or a real historical figure. I see myself as a human being almost identical genetically to every other modern human being and so am capable of what any one of us can, has or will do. Playing Hitler gave me the chance to delve into the psyche of a hugely influential historical person. The other roles just happened to be available around the same time – one was a comic version, so that was interesting to play the same person in a dramatic way and again in a comedic manner.
Finally, what’s your favourite scary movie?
The Exorcist was the scariest movie I ever saw. Poltergeist (see our review here) was next. But I just recently saw Mama and that made me keep the lights on all night! It is a very fine movie that hits all the secret scary parts of you. Go see it!