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Finally today, what follows here is a chat with Sian Breckin. She’s in a new thriller that is making some lo-fi rounds at the multiplexes and will be out on video in a couple of months called DONKEY PUNCH. For those who are unfamiliar with what this movie is about here is a short synopsis:

After meeting at a nightclub in a Mediterranean resort, seven young adults decide to continue partying aboard a luxury yacht in the middle of the ocean. But when one of them dies in a freak accident the others argue about what to do, leading to a ruthless fight for survival.

I have read a lot about the production of this film and was attracted to it for 2 reasons: 1. It was made by a first time director and 2. It was shot on the cheap. It isn’t the novelty so much as I am and have been endlessly fascinated by filmmakers who haven’t made much and want to make a splash without a whole lot of cash to do it. Reviews have been all over the board with this movie, and that doesn’t interest me so much as it does get in the way to the story, but when I was asked to speak to one of the film’s ensemble cast, Sian Breckin, I was in. She’s was a delight to talk to and, oddly enough, her filmography to those who live here in the U.S. equals 1 film. This one.

I figured that would be just as good as any of a spot to begin our talk.

CHRISTOPHER STIPP: You’ve made it really hard on me to try to find any kind of question to ask of you based on your many films.

SIAN BRECKIN: What do you mean?

CS: Apart from Donkey Punch – I don’t know where else or what else you’ve been in. It makes a hard interview.

BRECKIN: Oh, OK. Lots of theater in London.

And then lots of television in England on the BBC and ITV networks which are the main tunnels in England, but this is the first time I’ve come to LA or America I suppose because Donkey Punch has just come out here.

CS: Learning about this film I found out that it was made for a million pounds, it was really low budget when compared to some movies of its kind.

BRECKIN: I think it was 800 thousand or something. It was nothing.

CS: Nothing at all.

BRECKIN: It’s incredible that I’m here to be honest with you.

CS: Then how did you make that transition? What I know about you here is that this is basically your first movie and this is the first thing you have been in to me here, someone being from the states. How did you make that leap or why did you want to make that leap from theater to film?

BRECKIN: It was the first thing I did on screen and I think I had watched, have you seen DEAD MAN’S SHOES, which is a British film with Paddy Considine who has been in a few American things which was made by Warp Films and Warp Films sent the script out for Donkey Punch and they made really challenging films I suppose and they are not just pleasing the right wing middle class audience. They are making something I believe in.

So when I got the script from Warp I thought this was a company I really wanted to work with and they had made some interesting things I liked. So when I read the script I really identified with the characters and with Lisa particularly and then I thought this was a great opportunity to create someone very believable in a messed up situation.

CS: Right. And I think one of the things that a lot of people, these post modern critiques of horror film, is the helpless female. Looking at this, did you look with an eye towards is this person believable or she is another female trope of “Is she going to break a leg, fall down?”

(Laughs)

BRECKIN: I don’t think she’s a helpless female because she’s, particularly for the sex scenes, she’s completely in control. She’s doesn’t get Marcus, the boy she wants, so she fell for somebody else and then when Bluey suggests that Josh gets involved she very much in control and on holiday having a fantastic time and I think she’s a powerful woman who is very sexually confident. And, as an actress I have to think, “OK what are my paranoias and my insecurities?” But they are not relevant because Lisa is very much in control and is having a fantastic holiday and I have to match that. And I thought that was empowering to play rather than thinking of her as a helpless female. I don’t think at any point she’s helpless.

CS: No, absolutely not. And this film I think challenges that idea. The aim of that question was you see a lot of horror movies where women are relegated to the screaming role. This brought something a little different to the idea.

BRECKIN: Well, good. I’m glad. Because the women are really strong. There’s one woman that gives up the ghost at one point and she feels she can’t carry on, but I mean I think that Lisa realizes that she doesn’t need Nichola’s character, she plays Tammi. So there are strong women who are in control I guess.

CS: To that point of the production of the film, I’m always curious when I’m talking to someone who has made a thriller/slash horror film. About the very mundane parts of making a horror film…I read in some interview with you that you were wet, you were cold, really wasn’t conducive for abject horror.

BRECKIN: Yeah.

CS: How is that process of actually having to muster up the fortitude to look scared and panicked when in fact it’s rather so planned out and staged?

BRECKIN: I think that maybe Donkey Punch is different because it was shot in 24 days and rather than having to fly in and fly out for my scenes we were flown in at the same time and spent 6 weeks together. The girls lived in a flat together and it felt very much like a lot of the rehearsing – we were working all the time – living together we were establishing our relationship and stuff that could have been mundane wasn’t. When you felt terrified – I just had the fun stuff – but I think they did feel claustrophobic on the boat which was out to sea and there were a lot of people on the boat and you couldn’t get off that. In the beginning we had a lot of fun and really worked very hard and played really hard, that’s the reality but what we were going through was reflected in the film.

CS: One of those things about it and pointing back to one of those things I’ve read about the production of the film, that Ollie, who is a first time film director….

BRECKIN: Yea, that’s right….which is amazing.

CS: How was that?

BRECKIN: It was amazing because he was very interested in the actors and what we could bring to our characters and wasn’t exclusive with the script. He had his script and had an idea at least of what he wanted and then would let us give as much input as we could, what we wanted to create for the film, which for my first time on screen was incredible because I felt very loose and very free with what I could bring to the film rather than restricted by someone who knew more.

CS: And how was that coming from the theater – the performance you would give – given the film as opposed to the theater? Is it more nuanced? Do you find yourself falling back into the ideas of theater acting? Making things grandiose? Or did you find there was an adjustment period?

BRECKIN: It’s incredibly different. I think I did go through an adjustment period and when I watch the film and know how we filmed in sequence, I can tell where I am much more used to the camera and where I’m not. And when you are on the stage and used to an audience which is far away from you and to do something on the screen, everything you do is smaller and much more focused and intense and it took me a while to get used to that.
But, I knew who Lisa was and I knew what I wanted to portray and I worked with 6 other actors who had worked on film before and were young and I really learned a lot from them and watching them all the time. Because Ollie was new he let me on the set a lot to watch what was going on and I felt it was OK for me to learn and I did learn a hell of a lot doing that film.

CS: And you mentioned working with other actors, ensemble acting…

BRECKIN: Just thinking in terms when you work on a script for theater you maybe spend four or maybe two weeks before you start rehearsing and researching the character – how they walk, what they wear, what kind of person they are and because I came from that training background, I brought that into the film and I think again, that was the thing that carried me through. I was very clear of who my character was. Maybe I wasn’t so skilled at working on camera but I was very clear on what I wanted to achieve and I think that helped me through.

CS: And you mentioned working with the other actors, ensemble acting. You are not the only person up there. This isn’t a movie with one or two people. How was that? You are not just acting by yourself but having to act within these other people.

BRECKIN: It was amazing. I felt really lucky to have that experience. The whole thing was an ensemble feel to it and it just meant I could learn from the experience from the other actors and they were very accepting into the things that I brought to it. And it was about a group of young people having a lot of fun. And that’s great isn’t it? For a job - go out and have fun. Yeah, I was really lucky.

CS: They say to never shoot on water. It’s one of the first things they say…

BRECKIN: Yeah, that’s true. That water that we jump into was freezing cold and we had to pretend it was boiling and we’re having a wonderful time. That was really tough because it wasn’t. It was very cold.

CS: Yeah, talk about that. I read that the divers that had to be in there with you got hypothermia.

BRECKIN: Yeah, hypothermia, checking for jellyfish and the tide and current was really strong and you are trying to look like this is great, we’re having a lovely time. Not “Oh my god, there’s a jellyfish and it’s really freezing” but I guess that’s the part that makes you a tougher actor.

CS: Being on the boat, you mentioned it being very claustrophobic. That’s one of the hardest things to do is make a movie in such a confined space. Talking with Ollie, how did he explain that he was going to make something so thrilling and so horrifying in such a tight, confined area?

BRECKIN: I’m not involved in that as much. My part on the boat is not as claustrophobic. I don’t know that he explained to the other actors. They would do night shoots and of course they were tired and stressed shooting on the boat just helped added to the fear and experience and I think it was a positive thing. I don’t think it was something he ever explained. We got on the boat on the first day of rehearsal and we knew then, “Oh my god – we’re out in the middle of the ocean.” I think it was very trying at times but I think everyone is happy with the end product. We all contributed to what we created in the end I guess.

CS: Looking back at this, I’m interested to know if you’ve seen your own work and whether you watch it and see imperfections that you might – some people look at themselves and don’t want to see what they’ve done on screen – anything you would have done differently?

BRECKIN: Sure. This is my first screen experience. So for me, to watch it was…different – I’ve never seen myself on screen and then I’ve watched it maybe about 12 times in different screenings and with different audiences and the main thing for me is watching the other actors and learning from them and thinking what works and what doesn’t and hopefully I’m just bringing something truthful to the character that you can like…I think that’s important for Lisa…and something you can believe in – that’s my main goal. There are bits that I’m incredibly proud of and bits that I think are awful and I would change that but I’m only 26 and it’s all about experience and learning from that and everything that I’ve done.

CS: I know our time is short but I want to ask one more question and that’s seeing what I know – obviously me being from America I only see one thing that you’ve done here so basically in my eyes this is my first introduction to you. You now made yourself on a world stage and said, “This is who I am.” How do you look toward the future and what you want to do going from here?

BRECKIN: The thing that Donkey Punch as brought me is introduced me to a lot of companies that I’ve always watched their movies and thought I would love to work with them. And that’s British companies and now because Donkey Punch is being publicized in America it has allowed me to come out here and hopefully I can establish myself out here. I think American television is fantastic and would love to be involved in that and I think I’m young and I don’t know how – I think of this in terms of longevity – could involve different things – could involve acting, directing, producing but learning as I go along.

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