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Interview With Suri Krishnamma Director Of The Dark Tourist
By James Whittington, Sunday 25th August 2013
The Dark Tourist (pictured) is a challenging, bleak and emotionally charged film that is getting a special preview today at FrightFest. It boasts an incredible script, bold performances and superb direction from Suri Krishnamma. Here Suri chats about this incredible movie.
HC: What attracted you to The Dark Tourist?
SK: What attracted me? When I read the script I ‘saw’ the film – it literally leapt of the page as if a hologram were attached. It’s hard to analyse why that happens sometimes - it just does. It also scared me a little as the layers of the obsessive central character peeled away revealing the horrifying truth of his character. Something in the writing was honest, too – the darkness clearly came from a real place. But ultimately what attracted me to it was the mind of the writer, Frank John Hughes. I spent 3 hours talking to him the morning after I read it – 3 intense and inspiring hours during which I understood his desire to make a film about intimacy (or a man’s search for and lack of) and about a kind of extended voyeurism. In the script, Jim Tahna (Michael Cudlitz) conjures the image of a dead serial killer who had once taken revenge on those who abused him in childhood. I was hesitant talking to Frank at first. I wanted to be absolutely sure that I wasn’t about to jump on board a gratuitous, ‘slasher’ movie – but that feeling evaporated quickly. For Frank, the film is about Intimacy (or lack of) and holding up a mirror to a sensationalist, morally bankrupt society. It took balls to write this movie. I knew Frank had had to look into some pretty dark places and I wanted to be part of it.
HC: Was it a difficult movie to get backing for?
SK: The film was fully funded when I came on board, so from my point of view the answer is ‘no’. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. All films are difficult to get finance for – and for a film of this kind that’s even harder. But even after I became attached the funding road was not a smooth one due to financial shenanigans where so-called ‘partners’ to the main investor stole money and walked away. The film would have collapsed entirely if it hadn’t been for the rock-solid support of our financier.
HC: How did you go about casting the movie?
SK: The script was written by Frank John Hughes specifically for Michael Cudlitz so he was already on board when the project came to me. He and Frank were good friends, having acted in Band Of Brothers together. After doing due diligence on Michael’s ability as an actor I was confident and comfortable with the casting – but it was only after sitting down face to face that I began to really understand why Frank had written this for him and what the possibilities were. But because of the history I also made it clear to Michael that he was a ‘blank page’ as far as I was concerned and that he should try to forget about any pre-existing conversations about his character – something that seemed to liberate him. When Melanie Griffith’s name was put into the frame for Betsy I knew this would be perfect, perfect casting. Her involvement followed her reading of the script which we’d managed to get to her quickly through friends of Frank’s. Frank and I then spent several hours with her discussing the role. This was a brave choice for Melanie – playing a woman carrying deep pain but who remained optimistic. This was not a glamorous role in any sense of the word – playing a character that Jim Tahna needs to be both attracted and repelled by. I think she needed to know that she’d be in good hands – that we were serious in our desire to make an intelligent but disturbing film that seriously looked at the issues of voyeurism and of what can become of disturbed people who are neglected by society.
HC: The film has a stunning central performance from Michael Cudlitz, did he stay in character between takes?
SK: You mean did he beat up the crew over lunch? No, but he did put his heart and soul into the performance which is palpable when you watch the film. As for ‘staying in character’ that’s a tough question to answer and only Michael can really share his method with you (something an actor often keeps private). Having said that I’d say it’s hard, if not impossible, to simply switch in and out of character when playing someone who has such deep, deep anger and, ultimately, is unrestrained in his capacity for violence. Quiet moments alone, before and after the most demanding scenes, were probably necessary. But I always felt that I was able to speak to Michael and not his character if that answers the question – even when his character begins to lose his grip on reality and, more shockingly, succumbs to the demons that inhabit the sewers of his mind.
HC: What was the atmosphere like during the shoot?
SK: Shooting a film on such a tight schedule is a challenge and everyone needs to be on their game. Our crew gave 100% and were good natured and extremely well focussed. There was simply no room for error – no opportunity to go back and limited scope to shuffle the schedule even in extreme circumstances – such as when Michael Cudlitz broke his hand in a scene where one of his punches went astray and caught the wooden base of a bed. With a swollen, broken hand he continued through the night, punching and acting - just bearing the pain. This kind of commitment rubbed off on the crew and I remember little grumbling. And of course they were incredibly respectful during the more intimate scenes when the cast were required to bare all in front of them.
HC: Did the script change at all during the shoot?
SK: Not significantly, no. In fact the only changes I remember us making were for logistical reasons. Frank John Hughes and I had a close working relationship and from an early stage we understood we were making the same movie. Frank was by my side throughout the shoot, so where dialogue changes occurred or other small tweaks were necessary he was fully supportive. Changes did occur in the cutting room – in fact the whole opening sequence was restructured and some cuts made to keep the story’s trajectory unambiguous.
HC: The film leaves the viewer with a sucker-punch ending; you must be pleased how the film faultlessly builds up to this?
SK: Thank you, I am. We intended the film to have a measured, unhurried beginning but once it takes you by the throat to not let you go. Too many films cop out when dealing with this kind of grotesque subject matter and we resolutely refused to do that.
HC: Are you nervous about the movie showing at FrightFest?
SK: I’m nervous/excited about every screening of every film I make – but anticipating seeing Dark Tourist in front of what I’m told will be more than a thousand people – and on the biggest cinema screen in the UK - somewhat enlarges that feeling! But I’m excited more than nervous. I love our movie…
HC: What do you think will be the next big thing in horror?
SK: Horror is not my area of expertise at all – but having now attended some of the terrific Frightfest Festival I’m learning!
HC: What are you working on at the moment?
SK: Developing a number of projects including an adaptation of Hamlet, a story set in the ‘60’s/’70’s on the Isle of Wight (the place of my birth), a conspiracy thriller set in the north of England and an urban gang-related story set against riots in London. I am also attached to direct a couple of other films – but as Woody Allen famously said – the best way to make god laugh is to tell him your plans for the future! I also teach at Norwich University of the Arts and am studying for a Science degree at the Open University, currently working on an Astronomy module.
HC: Suri Krishnamma, thank you very much.
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