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An Interview with Pierse Stevens, Star of Nightmare on 34th Street

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2023

Films starring Pierse Stevens on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Nightmare on 34th Street - in a few words, what is it about, and what can you tell us about your character in it?

 

I play Santa in Nightmare on 34th Street, which is great fun. The film is broken down into four distinct stories with Santa linking them together as he explains them to a young boy he encounters on his “rounds”. However, this Santa is not your usual jovial, kind and happy Santa – life has taken something of a turn for him and he is out for revenge!

 

What did you draw upon to bring your character to life, and how much Pierse Stevens can we actually find in evil Santa?

 

Santa is on the warpath having been “fired” and he wants revenge. There is a Macbethian element to his single minded determination. I was lucky enough to play Macbeth a few years ago, and I’ve played other tortured souls seeking revenge and redemption, so I was able to draw on those themes as well as my life experiences of divorces (again a part of what drives Santa) and loss. I would like to think that there is not much Pierse in Santa as he really isn’t a terribly pleasant chap in this film!

 

Quite honestly, how much fun was it to play an evil Santa?

 

Santa. An evil Santa! A murderous, scary, evil Santa! I couldn’t think of anything more fun to play!

 

How did you get involved with the project in the first place, what drew you to it?

 

I had worked with the writer and director, James Crow, on a couple of other films (House of Salem and Black Creek – shot entirely on location in the US), so when he called me to discuss Nightmare on 34th Street and offer me the part of Santa I jumped at the opportunity. James has a truly extraordinary imagination, and his films are always a challenge to work on and bring the characters to life. That is exactly what every actor wants in a role.

 

To what extent could you identify with Nightmare on 34th Street's approach to both horror and Christmas?

 

It is difficult to “identify” with Nightmare on 34th Street’s approach to Christmas as it depicts a Christmas that none of us would want to have! I have always enjoyed horror films, both as an actor and as a member of the audience, so I concentrated on that aspect. Though the film is tongue-in-cheek it has to be played straight, like any good comedy, to get the right feeling and emotion. That is particularly important with horror as the audience have to buy into what is happening, even when that is absurd, otherwise you lose them. I think Nightmare on 34th Street does that very well.

 

What can you tell us about your director James Crow, and what was your collaboration like?

 

As I mentioned earlier I have worked with James a few times. He takes the time on shooting days to listen to ideas from the actors about aspects of the scene being shot. Whilst James writes the script (in most cases), he also understands that it is the actor who inhabits the character and who is bringing them to life, so they have to have a certain amount of freedom in the character’s development process. There have been many instances when I have said to James that the style of a particular line for the character doesn’t feel quite right, and he is always open to discussion about it and, more often than not, we will amend the line. Some directors forget that you have to take the actor on the story journey with you, James is always thinking of that journey and works with the actors rather than being too dictatorial. I really enjoy and appreciate that collaborative approach.

 

Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!

 

It was a fun shoot to work on really. I was the first actor involved as we shot a Christmas pre-shoot trailer for it about six years ago as a fundraiser, so I have been intimately involved with the project since the off. As with all James Crow shoots it is a collaborative process, so we were always chatting about angles, lighting, minor adjustments, and I was always at ease on set. James is really good at setting up shots and keeping everyone engaged and happy. Though staying warm was sometimes an issue when we were shooting in Norway!

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

I have a busy year next year on stage, both as a producer and actor. I am working on a South African play called Missing by Reza de Wet which opens in February 2024, then I go straight into Midsummer, which is a reworking of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I fell in love with this play when I saw it whilst performing in Edinburgh last year. We will be the first company in the world (other than the original American production at Edinburgh) to perform this show and we are really looking forward to it. Whilst we are working on Midsummer we start rehearsing As You Like It, which will be touring in the summer. And I will be back in Edinburgh again performining in two plays, Locusts and Ghost Light. As I say, a busy year in 2024!

 

What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I was really lucky actually, I got picked out of the crowd whilst working for a local exhibition and have never looked back since! Although I have done some formal training most of my learning was done on the job, and I have been fortunate enough to play some truly awesome characters, both classic and modern, on stage, and have travelled around the world for film shoots so I realise just how lucky I have been.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Nightmare on 34th Street?

 

My first on-screen work came when I was asked to appear in a training film being produced by a company owned by the great John Cleese. That was an invaluable experience and taught me so much about the art of working in front of the camera.

 

I was then lucky enough to travel to Italy to appear as John Gower in a post-apocolyptic retelling of the Shakespeare story Pericles, Prince of Tyre with the extraordinary director Roberto Quigliano and Kamel Film. On a similar theme of post apocalyspe I also appeared, again in Italy, in the multi award winning short film, Adam (Lines Pictures), as the ruler of the world who had decided that nobody, whatever the circumstances, was allowed to die!

 

In America I filmed Dark Cloud, directed by Jay Ness, (CutJaw Film) with Emily Atack and Alexys Gabrielle.

 

All through that time I have worked on numerous projects with James Crow including House of Salem, Black Creek (also shot in the US), The Wicker Children and numerous others.

 

Besides making movies, you also have an extensive resumé as a stage actor - so what can you tell us about that aspect of your career, and how does performing in front of a live audience compare to acting in front of a camera? And which do you prefer, actually?

 

I am happy on stage and in front of the camera, though they both offer very different challenges. On screen everything is contained, the camera is focused in very close to you much of the time so reactions/thoughts/emotions have to be equally contained and your performance is largely focussed in the eyes and the voice. It is tough though, each scene can be shot so many times it can be hard to keep the concentration and emotional levels at the same pitch across an endless variety of shots that the director will need – long, mid, close, extreme close up, face on, side on etc. One scene can take several days to shoot, and keeping the emotional intensity can be tough. When I shot Pericles in Italy I remember one long monologue that took 12 hours to film but when the director of photography reviewed the shots overnight he noticed that the quality of the sunlight had varied so much that the seperate takes could not be stitched together to make a whole, so we had to reshoot the whole thing again a few days later when the weather was more stable!

 

Stage work, though, is much more immediate and pressured. Yes you get more rehearsal but when you walk on stage you are on your own in front of real people and there is no opportunity to stop, go back, and correct a mistake. That challenge makes it so satisfying when the curtain comes down at the end of a great show though.

 

How would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?

 

I like to think that I am an easy actor to work with and am always approachable. I am only too aware that I have the easy job – I have to hit my mark, remember my line and deliver it with conviction. It is the people behind the camera, who are rarely appreciated, who do the hard work. Without the director, the lighting and sound crew, editors, caterers etc. etc. I would be standing on an empty set, in the dark, in silence and hungry. So I will always make a point of speaking to everyone on set, cast and crew alike, to make sure they know how much I appreciate their hard work.

 

All actors prepare in their own special way. I learned a long time ago, when I first started writing, that you have to know your characters back story. I don’t mean the scripted back story, I mean the off-script story – what made the character react to the situation we see on film? We are a product, as humans, of our life experiences so one has to draw on one’s own life experiences to develop the character you are portraying. As an older actor I have a wealth of life experience. All characters have to be rooted in truth or they are unbelievable for the audience. Even Bond villains were children once and what happened then changed their future. It is my job as an actor to convey that truth.

 

Actors (and indeed actresses) who inspire you?

 

I could list a whole plethora of well-known actors who inspire me - Sir Laurence Olivier, Helen Mirren, Michael Caine, Judy Dench, Buster Meredith to name just a few – but my first inspirations were not so well known. I started in amateur theatre in my teens and was immediately taken under the wings of two extraordinary men, Julian Agnew and Greg D’Souza. These two fine actors taught me the basics of stage work, characterisation and the power of stillness. Julian and Greg set me on the path to becoming the actor I am today and, whatever the future holds for me, I will always be indebted to them.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

There are perhaps two films that I consider to be the finest films ever made. The Elephant Man with John Hurt was such a powerful film with a truly iconic central performance by John Hurt. It is also a testament to the courage of a man, John Merrick, who suffered in life but showed greater humanity and resilience than I ever could. I have played Dr Treves, Merricks doctor, on stage which was a tremendous part, and I have a personal connection to John Merrick in that his skeleton was on display outside my aunt’s office when she worked in the Royal London Hospital. The Elephant Man touches me deeply and always has me reaching for the tissues.

 

On a lighter note is The Italian Job (the original!) - I love everything about the film, particularly the performances of Michael Caine and Noel Coward who bring a 70s “campness” to the film which is a perfect counterpoint to the criminal caper aspect. And of course there is probably the best and funniest car chases in cinematic history. It also has one of the most iconic final lines in any film, who can hear the words “Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea” without picturing a red, white and blue coach teetering on the edge of a cliff?!

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

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I don’t really deplore any films, if I am not interested in the story I can still appreciate the work that has gone in to them. There are, though, films that baffle me and make me question how they have become such iconic films. Forrest Gump is a prime example. The whole story is based on some clever technician being able to insert Tom Hanks into various pieces of real news footage. The first time it happened in the film you though “oh, that’s clever”, but by the third time it was done you realised that the whole film was basically just a “one trick pony”, and it very quicky, to me at least, became very boring.

 

Your website, social media, whatever else?

 

@piersestevens

Facebook.com/piersestevens

Spotlight.com/6693-8944-6268

www.piersestevens.co.uk

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.

 

There's No Such Thing as Zombies
starring
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry

 

directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke

 

now streaming at

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
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the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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