FrightFest 2016 Interview: Dominic Monaghan Talks Blood and Stalking in PET
Best known for playing a loveable hobbit, actor Dominic Monaghan goes defiantly against type to play the lead in Carles Torrens' new horror, Pet.
Monaghan takes the role of Seth, a friendless loser who develops an obsession with a girl he used to go to school with after spotting her one day on a bus. Seth’s stalking leads to a series of increasingly creepy encounters before things turn extreme and the object of his affection, Holly (Ksenia Solo), ends up locked in a cage in a hidden room below the dog pound where Seth works. So, is it a straightforward story of a rejected loser exacting revenge on a helpless female captive? It looks that way until a shocking twist takes the tale in an unanticipated new direction…
Monaghan flew from his Los Angeles base back to his native England to appear at FrightFest, sitting down for a roundtable with gathered journalists to talk about his latest role.
Note: I’ve avoided Pet spoilers, however, Dominic does talk about the Star Wars: The Force Awakens reveal.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how scary would you say that PET is?
I actually think that Pet is more of a thriller than a horror. There are horrific elements to it in terms of what Seth goes through and the things that he experiences but I always think of it more as (500) Days of Summer meets Fatal Attraction. But how scary is it? I wouldn’t say that it is that scary, it's a solid 7… point 7! If you didn't like horror I think I could say it’s not like a boogeyman chasing you down a dark street and monsters and stuff, it's the psychology of someone that’s lonely. It’s more a head-trip movie than anything else. But I certainly wouldn’t play it to my nephew!
Was it the psychology of it that attracted you to the role?
Yeah, part of it. I mean a great script is always where I start. If I look back at the things I’ve chosen over the years what happens is a script gets sent to me, I read it, say I love it, call my agent and find out who’s directing it, who else is attached, who’s the DOP, where is it being shot, what the budget is but really it’s when I like the script and who’s directing it.
With Pet, it was written by Jeremy Slater, and it was written for me which at the time I didn't believe. I thought that was just a line, but he had seen the first series of Lost and wrote it because he thought that I could go from zero to 100 quite well. As I continued to get to know Jeremy and continued to hang out with him I became convinced that he had written it for me. It was his first ever script so that was complementary.
It was at MGM, we tried to get it made with myself and Melissa George, there was a writers strike and then Melissa George was working on a show so we tried to do it with my friend Shannyn Sossaman, and that didn't work out and it just lolloped around but it was such a strong script I was always tracking it. I told my agent to keep an eye out for it and it got bought by Carles’ team and about a month later it got made.
You said that he was an invisible character in a way. How do you go about creating a character that no one really notices?
I know those characters from movies that I’ve watched, if you look at something like Being There with Peter Sellers, he plays the same slightly ghostly character. Even Pat Bateman to an extent, before he gets angry, he is an anonymous man living in an anonymous world.
So with Seth, any character that you try to create even if they’re despicable you’re trying to look for something that you can hang on to that has an element of charisma. The charisma doesn't have to be attractive. Obviously, Hitler was despicable but there’s no denying that he has charisma there’s something about him that’s charismatic. Same with Mussolini, or Stalin, but with Seth he’s a lonely guy who’s trying to fix himself and that was my way in.
He’s trying to fix this huge hole he’s got in his life, you don't hear anything about his parents, he doesn't have any friends, has never had a girlfriend. Carlos and I both agreed he’d never had sex before. Because of this he’s not able to pick up on these visual and auditory cues that we would all know. How to approach a girl or a guy and you say “Hey do you fancy a drink? And they’re not so keen. Seth’s like, “Why not, why don't we try?” He doesn’t know what to do, what we would all know.
In a way I find that sweet. It’s beguiling, there’s a naiveté, which is genuine. Then he gets himself in hot water with Holly, he doesn't realize he’s bitten off more than he can chew. There’s a moment in the diner where he’s attempting to ask Holly out on a date and she is not keen and tries to fob him off saying, “I have a boyfriend” and he says, “No you don’t” so he clearly has looked online. There’s a moment where the camera just stays on Seth and you see him kind of go, “OK. That's another one of those moments that I’m just going to have to swallow and in thirty years it will turn into cancer.”
He just takes all that shit and goes, “That's life, that's what happens in life” He thinks everyone has those rejection moments but he’s going about it in the wrong way. I wanted Seth to always have his wings being clipped, he can’t even emotionally express himself when he’s genuinely pissed off or sad or happy or upset. I think everything about him has been emotionally stunted.
How much did you and Ksenia work together?
We had a full day of rehearsal in the cage set which probably doesn't sound like a lot but there’s probably only 9 or 10 scenes. We were there at 9 in the morning until 10 at night and we blocked everything out and made sure where we were physically. Ksenia and I bonded a lot of over music and movies but I also said to her, “Look while you’re in the cage, if you need anything ask me and I’ll get it for you” Because I wanted to dote on her in the same way that Seth did.
She was constantly saying, “Can you bring me my dressing gown”, because she was barely clothed, or “Bring me my tea” and I would always run and try to get it. I’d get down on her level and talk to her; I was the person who was her link to the outside world. On the weekend I wouldn't hang out with anyone, I’m a relatively sociable person but I didn’t hang out with anyone but Ksenia. And again without really telling her I was like, “Look, we’ll do whatever you want”, I wanted to be her slave a little bit. And it worked; it was nice being a slave to a beautiful, intelligent, attractive girl!
Is it fun to shoot the heavy gore scenes?
The heavy gore scenes… I was that kid, do you know when you eat an ice cream and you don't eat it fast enough and it runs down your fingers? I was that kid that would almost have an anxiety attack, I would be like, “Muuum! It won’t come off” It's a bit weird and I’m still a bit like that nowadays, constantly washing my hands and I have hand sanitizer in my car.
So I am a little clean in that sense so the blood thing gets interesting. We had a blood room; with a replica of the cage. It was allowed to get bloody, I mean gallons of blood, pools of it. And I was covered in it, in the folds of your neck, stuck behind your ears, in your fingernails, it becomes like an orangey stain, I mean everywhere. We had a shower in the place but it didn't do anything, just made the blood… wetter.
Over the course of the day the blood gets covered in dust and hair and crap so I wouldn’t say it was the most fun, but as a crew, when we were in there we just charged through, two days of fucking nonsense, and it’s going to be horrible, but let's do it!
I read online that you used the same room they filmed SAW in?
Is that right? I don't know that, you might be right. I know Leigh Whannell the guy who wrote Saw, I should ask him where they shot it.
This is a lot like the first SAW movie...
That's a great compliment; I loved the first Saw movie. I mean they got quite derivative quite quickly but I thought the first one had a lot of great ideas, in setting the movie in just one room and having the mystery conundrum to solve was something really compelling. There are comparisons between the two movies for sure, the things you want to tell people are the things that you’re not allowed to because it would ruin the movie for them.
I think people would look at the poster and go, “OK, boy meets girl, doesn't work out, gets a bit weird.” I tell people who have watched it, tell your friends you like it, but don't ruin the amazing twist. It’s nice to get a surprise to have those head-turning moments.
You’ve all watched the recent Star Wars movie right? So, I’m a huge Star Wars nut, it's the reason I became an actor. And I came into that J.J. movie thinking, I kind of know what it’s going to be; Han’s going to be there and Chewie and Luke and there’s going to be the semblance of a Darth Vader-like character and good vs. evil. I did not know that that was going to happen to Han Solo. And I just thought it’s amazing that I can sit in a movie theatre in 2015 and still have that feeling with those iconic characters, I had no idea that was going to happen on the bridge. Fair play to J.J. for doing that, and he knew he had to do that to really shock people but that's the beauty of art.
How I make the distinction between good art and bad art, this is just a layman’s point of view, is does it make me feel anything? If I don't feel something I dismiss it out of hand. If I feel something, if it moves me then I like it as a piece of art and that Star Wars movie, I’m just enjoying it, I’m along for the ride, in the Millenium Falcon and whatever and then, “Oh fuck, he got me!”
You say you got into acting through STAR WARS but for a lot of people that touchstone will be the LORD OF THE RINGS. What’s that like, being a part of such a huge franchise?
Yeah, it's a weird one to be in it and not really able to step outside of it and look on it from that angle that others are able to. Star Wars is definitely the most influential film in my life as it turned me into an actor, it’s not my favorite, which is probably Apocolypse Now, but Star Wars is the reason why I said I want to do this for a living. Obviously, I’ve had times when people have come up to me and said, “Lord of the Rings was my Star Wars, I preferred that to Star Wars, it’s my favourite trilogy ever!” Lots of times when they say that I say, “What? Haven’t you seen the Star Wars trilogy?”
I love Lord of the Rings and I’m so glad I was in it but it’s so much more than a movie for me; it’s my life, and my relationship with Billy and Elijah and Peter and Ian and Orlando and all those people and living in New Zealand and skiing and skydiving it’s everything, not just the movie for me so it’s hard for me to see it through those eyes.
I remember doing a press conference in Japan with Pete and he said to me he was thinking about getting hypnotised for the premiere of Return of the King because he wanted to see it as a fan and not a filmmaker, and we were all so into that! We said you should do it, so when the credits come up he’s like “Oh, I directed that!” but he didn't do it, I asked him why later and he said that same thing that Paul McCartney said when The Beatles started taking acid, that I was on such a role I didn't want to lose it. Pete said I didn't want to get hypnotised and suddenly that thing that makes me a good filmmaker has gone.
I think we all in small ways feel the same about Lord of the Rings, it’s so much more than a movie for any of us, it’s hard to gain any real perspective on it.