INTERVIEW: Actor, director & author Paul Davis
– By Chris Barnes
I was lucky enough to catch up with the extremely talented Paul Davis this week.
Perhaps most notably Paul is the writer and director of the excellent BEWARE THE MOON documentary and book – a brilliantly in-depth look at AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON; but with well-received short films HIM INDOORS, starring Reece Shearsmith, and THE BODY under his belt – plus a growing acting CV – I’m grateful he could find time to answer some questions for The Slaughtered Bird.
So, it’d be careless and downright disrespectful if we didn’t begin with AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON – but where do we start?! I absolutely love it and being the same age as you I’d wager we discovered it around the same time, yet you’ve taken your adoration to another level! Why?
I’d love to be able to say that it had always been a life long passion to pay tribute to the movie, but sadly, it really didn’t work out that way. I’ve been a fan of the film since I was three-years old. It was among five movies that we had taped from the TV – STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, SUPERMAN II, BLAZING SADDLES and WEREWOLF – so as a kid, I watched it a lot. The whole thing with the BEWARE THE MOON documentary in 2007 was simply because I was doing a job at the time (writing a 25th anniversary retrospective article in October 2006) and was disappointed by the lack of reference material to draw from. I felt as though AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON deserved the kind of attention that other movies with collectors edition DVDs received; so with no experience in film or documentaries, I went out with Anthony Bueno (currently making the GHOSTBUSTERS doc) and made it.
BEWARE THE MOON is a great doc that really adds to the whole experience of AAWIL. Who were you most nervous about meeting beforehand?
Honestly, Rick Baker. I had been corresponding with John Landis via email before we met, so I kind of knew what to expect on that front. With Rick, however, our interview was setup by the fantastic sculptor and artist Mike Hill – so all correspondence went through him. Rick was our first interview on our first day in LA and I was nervous as hell. We were invited to go to his old shop, Cinnovation Studios, over in Glendale, California, and just being there was enough to give my legs the jellies. He knew I was nervous when he came into the room and was very quick to try and relax me (he did the old, ‘point at the t-shirt and bop your nose’ gag – it worked). Rick was great, and to this day continues to sing the praises of the documentary and now the book.
I recently spoke to David Naughton (interview HERE) myself and he had some very kind words to say about your work. It must be great to now be professionally linked to one of your favourite films and recognised for an excellent job by your heroes?
David’s great. I’m just glad he likes it – that ANY of the cast and crew like it, honestly. The fan response has also been incredible. I never set out to be the ‘American Werewolf’ guy with either the doc or book, just like I’m not a uber fan with every differing copy of the VHS or DVD – but I’m certainly proud to be associated to it. What’s been more important to me is having the likes of John Landis giving feedback to my work as a director and screenwriter. He’s been incredible in that respect. Very honest, very direct but always encouraging. There may be an opportunity in the future in which we get to work on something original – the prospect of which continues to blow my tiny mind.
He told me about your recent screening of WEREWOLF at the Prince Charles Theatre in London – how did that go?
We had a sold out 35th anniversary screening on November 11th – which is 35-years to the day AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON opened at the Odeon Leicester Square in 1981. It was a blast. The crowd were rabid, it was the night of the full, super moon and we FaceTime’d David before we played the movie. Plus, we screened the brand new 4k restoration, which looks INCREDIBLE!
Do you have a favourite moment or story from compiling the interviews or writing the book?
There were so many great stories… if I had to pick one, it would probably be Kevin Brennan in the werewolf costume, accidentally destroying the camera operator’s balls while shooting Jack’s POV of the first werewolf attack. He couldn’t reach his arms up far enough and was just pounding away on the poor guy’s groin.
Was there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I’d probably cut twenty minutes out of the documentary. It IS too long. That’s what the book is for. Having had a bit more experience as a director, I’d probably do something a little more visually pleasing. It does its job as is though. Everyone always looks back on their work wanting to change stuff.
I know Gary and some of the lads at Dead Mouse Productions and understand they had a hand in getting your book published?
Gary Smart is the only reason the book ever happened. I saw his RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD book and loved the design. I mentioned that I wanted to do a book adaptation as far back as 2009 and he graciously offered to publish it. Was a whirlwind of a turn around. I started work on it in the first week of February and had a finished sample in hand by May.
You’ve moved onto another classic horror for your next project – THE LOST BOYS. How’s that going?
It’s going well so far. I’m still conducting interviews, but its slowly coming together. There’s a lot of fun stories to be told with this one.
I read you worked securing guests for horror conventions and festivals for a spell – did having those contacts help when trying to arrange certain things for your numerous projects?
I didn’t really book people. I was more of a middle man between a guest and a booking agent. They were always people that I’d already worked with – such as Landis, so no. Nothing that benefitted my own projects. It’s not exciting at all – lol.
Did meeting John Landis for BEWARE THE MOON have any bearing on you getting a part in BURKE & HARE?! 🙂
John called me in late 2009, while he was in pre-production at Ealing Studios, excitedly proclaiming that he had a part for me in BURKE & HARE. I’ll never forget that call. The glee in his voice as he told me that I’d be getting my leg sawn off by Tim Curry. It was insane. It’s a bitter sweet memory for me as my father passed away the week before we shot the scene – but just being there on John’s set WITH Tim Curry was a perfect distraction.
Did you get to spend much time with Pegg, Serkis and Curry, other than him sawing your leg off?!
I was introduced to Tim in the makeup trailer before we filmed the scene. He was absolutely lovely. Very personable and very approachable. I remember John telling him all about Beware The Moon while they were lighting the set. As for Simon and Andy, I didn’t actually meet them until the wrap party and then again at the premier. Simon and I stayed in touch a little bit after that. I remember being at the premier of KILL LIST at FrightFest in 2011 and not wanting to be THAT guy to go up and say hello… he ended up coming up to me and saying hi. I thought that was so cool. Great, great guy and I’m so pleased that he’s living his dreams. He’s an inspiring chap, that Mr. Pegg.
I saw HIM INDOORS a little while ago and didn’t realise it was the same BEWARE THE MOON Paul Davis until recently! How was it working with Reece Shearsmith, David Schofield and PollyAnna McIntosh, and how did you get them on board?
HIM INDOORS was interesting because I was working on another project that eventually fell apart, but while meeting with financier’s, it was established that I needed to make a short film to show I could direct actors. I had met Reece Shearsmith around Christmas time 2011. He was moderating a Q&A with John Landis at the BFI Southbank and then we all ended up going to dinner afterward with Edgar Wright and Chris Cunningham – was a very bizarre and awe inspiring night. Thankfully I made an impression as I was able to reach out to Reece directly and pitch the idea of HIM INDOORS when the time was right. What can I say about the guy? A total professional – without a doubt the best actor I’ve worked with. Reece really propels himself into a role and just to watch him on set, going over his lines and perfecting every aspect of the character was just thrilling. To boot, he’s also a total sweetheart. He loves his horror movies, so we always have something to talk about. I remember very fondly, having a discussion about THE OMEN in between setups. I’m always looking for parts I can hire Reece in any script that comes my way.
As for Polly and David… I’d actually met Polly very briefly on BURKE & HARE – she played one of Isla Fischer’s girlfriends. However, I later saw her in Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN (read my interview with Lucky HERE) and thought she was just brilliant. She was an absolute joy to work with. She got the material and just had fun with it. David was really just twenty-five minutes in an ADR booth. He’s great fun though and agreed to play the voice of the judge with no hesitation.
You’ve worked with Reece since on DOCTOR WHO (written by Mark Gatiss), I believe?
That was very strange! I had gotten a call at the very last minute to come in and play the King Sandman monster in an episode of DOCTOR WHO. Going in to the makeup shop, I had no idea that it was a) written by Mark Gatiss (who I’d previously met for a horror anthology I was developing at the time) and b) that Reece would be in it. These were things I found out in the two weeks prior to the shoot. It was great fun though. Reece was in great form and Peter Capaldi was a total gentlemen. We had some great chats about Hammer horror films. I wish one of the stills guys had taken a picture of me in this giant, cruddy, monster suit talking to Peter. Must have looked completely ridiculous!
I read a quote from you about getting drunk with George Romero. Er, what?!!
A friend of mine was looking after Tom Savini while he was in the UK for a convention in 2005 and I was invited to the hotel where he and a bunch of other horror stars were staying before they flew off to another show in Germany. I was in the bar with my friend and we were talking about the Romero zombie movies. He started talking about how DAY OF THE DEAD was a weak film and I immediately jumped to its defence. After I got done rambling about the socio-political satire that I felt DAY was, this voice from behind me said, “Let me get you a drink…” I turn around and George fucking Romero is standing there with a beaming grin. I think I mustered a ‘thank you’ but was completely stunned. A group of us ended up sitting in the bar that night just talking about politics, the world, movies, everything! I remember I told him I wanted to visit the Monroevill Mall from DAWN OF THE DEAD – he responded with a very blunt, “Why the hell would you want to go there!?” … I did end up going in 2008.
You starred alongside the excellent Peter Pedrero (interviewed HERE) in Jake ‘DOGHOUSE’ West’s ESCAPE FROM LONDON – did he just wander around set diving through windows and setting himself on fire?
Peter’s great. I didn’t spend so much time with him on Jake’s short, but he did go on to be my stunt co-ordinator on my second film, THE BODY. He’s great at what he does. Total pro. Will definitely be working with him again on future projects.
I know you’ve also worked with James Moran who wrote the excellent SEVERANCE – man, you get about!
That’s a bitter sweet tale. James is a great writer and back in 2011 I had an idea for a HOME ALONE inspired zombie movie called SILENT NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I approached James with the idea, not thinking he’d be interested as he’d just finished on COCKNEY’S VS ZOMBIES, but he dug the idea and after a couple of creative meetings, he smashed out a first draft. Sadly the project never saw the light of day, but it lead to HIM INDOORS, THE BODY and the projects I’m on now, so wasn’t a total loss. I still have all the time in the world for James and wish him every success.
Finally, are you really 6’8”?!
Well… I’m currently standing up. Too bad this is an email interview. 😀