Having spent the last three decades as a mainstay of the silver screen, appearing in films as diverse as ‘The Young Americans’, ‘Freakshow’, ‘Judge Dredd’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’, and having also become a legendary figure in the annals of Horror Cinema, it’s not surprising that Christopher Adamson is so widely respected and hugely admired by both fandom and the film industry alike. On the eve of the release of ‘The Sleeping Room’, in which he plays Fiskin a Victorian Serial Killer with a fetish for his offspring, Mass Movement caught up with the affable gentlemen actor for a chat about ‘The Sleeping Room’, the pro’s and cons of big budget film making, horror cinema and Mean Machine Angel. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Christopher Adamson…
Interview by Tim Mass Movement
MM: “The Sleeping Room”, what first attracted you to it and how did it come about?
CA: I got involved because Jeremy Zimmerman, the casting director rang me up and asked if I’d like to be involved and he sent me the script, I read the script, liked the script, liked the character and I’d worked with Jeremy Zimmerman since Robin Hood Prince of Thieves in 1990; he was the casting director on that, so I’d worked with him for a long time, 25 years or so.
MM: So, you read the script and it appealed straight away?
CA: Oh yes, I loved it; the idea of it about this character who possesses this bloke. This Fiskin character that I play, comes back and possesses this guy Bill, and I’m trying to get this young prostitute girl, Blue back into my orbit, into my grip so I can kill her, and if I do I can get all the women relatives and kill ‘em and eat ‘em and whatever else I do to them.
MM: All manner of unspeakable nastiness eh?
CA: Oh yes, anything you can think of Tim, and I know you think about it a lot…
MM: How do you prepare to play a man like Fiskin who, for all intents and purposes, is the epitome of evil?
CA: Well basically I’ve been playing these characters in films for 25 years or more, so I suppose somewhere across the years I’ve managed to get into the soul, the psyche, into the character of these psychopathic murderers. So I can play killers, I can play lunatics, psychopaths, I can even play normal people if you want me to. Years ago when I was a young man I read about Laurence Olivier who talked about as soon as an actor hit the fucking screen or the stage or whatever the audience has to not see the actor but to see the character, so that’s how I approach it: I think about who he is, where he was born, their antecedents and so on. It’s like when you see someone in the street you make assumptions about who they are, the kind of background they have, he’s from that sort of town, or if you’re from north of the Watford gap service station, that sort of thing. So that’s what I do, I get into their psyche, go back to when they were born, go back to before they were born, their history what about the parents of the parents. So I do all that bollocks for a couple of days so that when I hit the screen or whatever there is some sort of attempt to get into a psyche.
MM: Is it difficult to shake a character like Fiskin after you’ve finished playing him, or does a part of him stay with you?
CA: No a lot of people talk about that. I had a girlfriend once who said “Chris you’re playing all these mad characters, aren’t you like that when you come home?” but of course I’m not. I had a three year old daughter I used to come home to every night and I used to climb into bed with her and read fairy stories. The thing is I’m an actor; it’s a bit like writing your stories or writing your pieces. You write it, then when you’ve finished you move on. That’s what I do with the acting; you turn it off and on like a tap. That’s the professional thing to do. If you’re letting it get to you in real life, you’re not a professional, you’re either an amateur or you’re a fucking idiot.
MM: So how closely did you work with Joseph Beattie who played Bill in the film, because you’ve got this partnership, where he essentially becomes Fiskin…
CA: Yes, he was great Joseph. What we did was about a week before we started filming we had this thing where we had a sort of read through of the script and we talked about this. I said to him, basically Joseph I’ll talk all the bits where you’re meant to be getting possessed or are possessed and that’s what I did, and he recorded all of that so when I did my throaty sort of articulated bollocks, he used that for when he spoke the lines and words in the film. So basically he recorded on his smart phone and I said all the lines for him and he sort of half used it and evolved that to make it work his way.
MM: How big a role in the atmosphere of the movie do you thing the setting plays: the old brothel, the props with the two way mirror and the mutoscope etc. How much do you think that added to the incredibly haunting atmosphere of the film…?
CA: I think it all adds to it obviously. It’s like they found these flats in this Victorian or Georgian square in Brighton; there were a lot of original fittings there and the art department painted the walls in dark colours and dusty corners. I quite like the props and things they did for the Sleeping Room; I loved the whole mutoscope idea, I thought they were great fun. I spoke to the post production guys up in Cardiff, because there was a big show up in Cardiff yesterday or the day before. She talked about how she put the flicker in for the mutoscope to give it that flicker quality. I loved all of that and thought it really added to it but what was interesting to me, seeing the film again, is that Fiskin isn’t really in the film hardly at all…
MM: No, but the film revolves around him…
CA: Yes, the presence of Fiskin is there throughout, you feel him all the way through. In fact people have been saying and blogging to John Shackleton the director that he needs to make a prequel with the story of Fiskin because it’s all up in the air isn’t it? That’s an interesting story, who is Fiskin and what he got up to and why.
MM: I was going to ask about that, the scope for a prequel is huge.
CA: This is what a lot of people have been saying, and I hope they do it, but the character of Fiskin basically belongs to Ross the writer. Ross sent this story round for a couple of years before it got picked up, and the production company evolved it with Ross, kept it in Brighton and made it a real Brighton story which is right because Brighton is a character of its own. And so if Ross can be convinced – I don’t know the ins and outs of these things – but I think it’s got legs. If Sleeping Room gets a bit of a reputation, and people like you give it a good review, and people start buying the video, I think there is a good chance it could get made.
MM: Was it a fun film to make? What was the atmosphere on set like?
CA: Was it fun? Well it’s all work isn’t it Tim? It’s all labour, but the fun, the enjoyment, the fulfilment that I get out of it comes when it’s all over and done. Last Friday when I was in Cineworld in Cardiff they showed this print and it was a great projector so it was a really good picture and wonderful colours with tense dark things coming up so the whole imagery was fantastic, and they had a great sound system so the soundscape was really fantastic. And I thought fuck me what a great film this is in parts, it’s amazing, and it looks great.
MM: Are you a horror fan?
CA: A little bit. I’ve said elsewhere that I’m getting a bit old for all of that, but I do a lot of horror films of course. But then I watch the original 1930s James Whale Frankenstein films again and I fall in love with horror all over again because they are just so good and so atmospheric, like Bela Lugosi in Dracula, wonderful stuff. So in a way I am a fan but I’m not so much a spectator at the football match, I’m a player on the field as it were. So a lot of it’s to do with work. Like I’m off in a couple of weeks to do a prequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I’m going to be spending most of May doing that, playing a mental hospital director / manager / doctor who is crazed as everyone is in these films. I watched the 1974 and the 2003 versions and I preferred the 1974 version to be honest it somehow had an innocence about it.
MM: The modern version is too overt if you know what I mean? As far as the gorier aspects are concerned… The original has a creeping feeling; the horror of the situation evolves slowly…
CA: Exactly Tim, you said it, you said it mate. I’ve done a couple of films – I did a thing years ago called Freakshow. Basically I was running a circus and at the end of it this poor character gets cut up and at the end she’s one of these circus freaks. No arms or legs or face really, and it was all a bit gross, I didn’t like the idea of it really. But at the time the people making it thought this was how it should be and this was the future of horror, but I thought it was a bit much. But people do what they do, don’t they?
MM: Are you more comfortable working on huge movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise or on smaller, indie projects like the Sleeping Room?
CA: I really enjoy both to be honest. The main difference is, apart from the amount of money you earn, the main difference is in Sleeping Room I’m a big fish in a little pond while in Pirates of the Caribbean I was very much a small fish in a big pond. Pirates of the Caribbean, for two years I was going back and forth from Los Angeles to the Bahamas doing various scenes. I’m not in the film hardly at all but I’m there in the background, say a few lines, start whipping Orlando Bloom, little gem moments like that, as one of the monster pirates. So I’m right in the middle and the thick of it, doing scenes with most of the main actors but they took the forefront, they are the money makers, they are the ones getting millions and millions for their efforts, I’m only getting thousands and thousands of dollars for my efforts. Whereas with The Sleeping Room, I’m very much a presence throughout the film and when I actually am on screen I think, in its own way, the character dominates the narrative.
MM: That’s right, because whether you are on screen or not, it’s very much Fiskin’s film, it’s all about him.
CA: And Blue, the story of her parents…
MM: I have to ask you about this Christopher because I’m a massive 2000AD fan. Judge Dredd, how did you become Mean Machine Angel?
CA: Well. In 1993 or there abouts I did a film called Young Americans which was about drug dealers in London. I was Keith Allen’s sidekick, so a sort of drug dealer, gangster. That film was directed by a young director called Danny Cannon, who wrote and directed that movie. He took the script to Hollywood where they gave him 1/3 of the budget and Harvey Keitel but he raised the rest of the money and put the film together with Working Title and got Young Americans off the ground. Now I think some of the producers really nurtured Danny Cannon and they came to him with Judge Dredd and asked him if he wanted to do that, and told him they had Sylvester Stallone and Danny said yes. So I went to a screening of Young Americans and I’d heard he was going to do Judge Dredd, so I said “Danny I love Judge Dredd, I’ve got every single comic that’s come out since 1978/79, I’ll do anything on the movie, and I’d just love to be involved”. And it was true I still have the first issue as well as all the issues going up to the late 80s up in the loft. Danny said he had an idea for a character and he asked me to come in to read for Mean Machine and I got the job.
MM: Do you think the film’s been treated unfairly, and that its reputation isn’t really justified…
CA: The problem was at that particular moment, and you will know if you’re a 200AD fan that Judge Dredd doesn’t take off his helmet for any reason. As soon as Sly took off his helmet which he had to do because he’s Sly (although I think he shouldn’t have done) as soon as he did that lost a lot of the Judge Dredd audience – or at least they were put off by it. Then it also came out the same weekend as a big Batman movie (Batman and Robin) so Batman really was a big opener and took around $25m on its opening day or whatever and then of course Judge Dredd didn’t do the same thing and only got around $5-$10m. I think there is a truth that in the Danny Cannon version there is a point where he almost loses the audience, with all the special effects and everything going on, Armand Assante is doing his job, everybody is doing their job but it just doesn’t quite hold together. It’s funny because I was talking about this with Danny Cannon, because he’s the guy who went away and came up with CSI, he very much wrote and directed the first few episodes and it’s totally his idea. I think he’s copping a royalty every time this goes on. So anyway Danny said – I spoke to the guy who put up the money as well, Ed Pressman – every night Ed Pressman was on the phone and every night, Danny had to justify every second of the day’s shoot and it rattled him. There were one or two other Hollywood people there breathing down his neck all the time and they should have just left him to it. I think that affected the shooting, and it didn’t quite hang together. You know the best bit for me, the most interesting part of it – Sylvester Stallone was so encouraging, there was a big scene we were working on together for about a week, a big fight and he was the best stunt director I’ve ever worked with – and I’ve worked with a lot of stunts as I’m always doing fights and things in films. He was one of the best in his own way, and he was so supportive. Even more interesting was Max Von Sydow, he was the Laurence Olivier of Scandinavia. The better you are of course, you don’t have to prove yourself at all, and he didn’t have any temperament on set. And they didn’t look after him that much which I was really surprised by. I had to do this big thing with him where I stick my knife in his arm and pick him up by that, and we were working all this out together on our own with nobody to help. And I said “hang on can somebody come and help us” we had a 70 year old man who was falling around in this filthy dirty set which was really nasty. I wasn’t very impressed by the way they treated him at all and he was the classiest person on set by a long way.
The Sleeping Room is released on DVD on May 11th.