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
How did you get
involved with the project in the first place, what drew you to it?
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.
what extent could you identify with Nightmare
on 34th Street's approach to both horror and Christmas?
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.
can you tell us about your director James Crow, and what was your
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
Do talk about the shoot as such, and
the on-set atmosphere!
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
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
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
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.
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
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
America I filmed Dark Cloud, directed by Jay Ness, (CutJaw Film) with
Emily Atack and Alexys Gabrielle.
through that time I have worked on numerous projects with James Crow
including House of Salem, Black Creek (also shot in the US),
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,
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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