Few indie horror films are generating as much buzz in America this year as Australian filmmaker Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones. I recently caught up with the film's star, Xavier Samuel, who plays the hapless Brent, a self-mutilating teen who finds he must tangle with the crazed Lola, a power-drill-wielding would-be prom princess who's more than a little obsessed with him. Find out what Samuel had to say about working on the film, and his next thriller Bait – about a shark in a supermarket – after the break.
Could you talk about Brent and what appealed to you about the character?
Yeah, well, I remember reading it going, "What kind of sicko came up with this idea?" It's always good to read a script to generate any kind of response. To be honest, I thought, "Wait, he doesn't say much. Where's the dialogue?" That was one of the things that attracted me to the film. He spends a large majority of the film not talking. He gets injected with this Draino and it kills his vocal chords. So just from an acting perspective it was kind of interesting to spend the entire film trying to convey a gamut of emotions without saying anything. And when I spoke to Sean about it, he was really excited about making something that would kind of rock the boat a little bit. So it was cool to be working with people who were interested in shaking things up.
Were there levels on which you found yourself identifying with Brent?
Well, I've never spent prom night in the torture chair. [Laughs.] But there are elements to the guy that I think everyone can identify with. He's kind of grief-stricken, and he's a bit of an outsider. I guess those elements are ones I think a lot of people can identify with. I don't think anything can prepare you for a power drill aimed at your forehead.
What was your own worse prom experience?
It went off without a hitch really. The girl said, "Yes," and we had a good time. There was no torture involved, thankfully. Unfortunately it was quite an enjoyable experience for me, now that I look back on it. [Laughs.]
Your performance is all the more impressive then.
[Laughs.] There was nothing that I could draw on from real life experience, unfortunately.
Can you talk a little bit about your castmates?
Yeah, when I met Robin she'd been doing a lot of really amazing theater in Sydney. I'd seen her perform and I was really amazed by her. I think she's really talented. She brought a ferocity to the character that really makes it jump from the screen. So I really can't say enough great things about her. She's really wonderful. We had a really great time. Funnily enough, when we're covered in tomato sauce and screaming at each other. It was awesome [laughs]… Victoria's really lovely. We really got on well together. We don't actually spend a lot of time on screen together. But it was really great working with her… Richard Wilson, Jess McNamee, John Brumpton – it was just a stellar cast, and we all had a really good time shooting in the five weeks that we did.
How did writer-director Sean Byrne explain his vision for the film to you?
I guess one of the interesting things about the character is that he's a self-mutilator. It's one of the ways he deals with the grief of his stepfather. We were always careful about dealing with that, because it's a real thing. People do that, and you want to make sure you're not overstepping the line in the film. But in a funny way his self-mutilating prepares him for the torture that he's about to undergo. In some ways, Lola kind of picks the worst guy, because he's sort of ready for that level of pain, and he's not gonna go easily. Yeah, talking with Sean about it we just discussed the kind of battle that ensues between these two complex characters. Also, I remember looking at the rushes and looking at that kind of kitchen with the mirror ball and the balloons and it was like peering into this grotesque doll's house. All the imagery in the film is really startling.
Is the prom experience, and to a greater extent the whole high school social experience, different in Australia than it is in the US?
I think everyone kind of identifies with it. We call it a formal in Australia, or a school dance. I think it's a bigger deal in America, but certainly in Australia everyone's talking about "Who are you going to take to the dance?" and all that sort of stuff. I think it's something that appeals to most people, wherever you are.
Were you a horror fan growing up?
Absolutely. I wasn't a dedicated horror fan, but I really enjoyed things like Rosemary's Baby and Misery. All the films that you weren't allowed to watch when you were a kid, and you kind of would record them on VHS when your parents weren't looking… That's a blast from the past. I suddenly feel not totally in touch with this issue. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] You're more in touch than many people… What's next for you?
I just finished a film called The Grandmothers, well, tentatively The Grandmothers. It's not quite a horror film. It's basically about these two young guys who are in love with each other's mother. So it's kind of a dramatic love story. We filmed over in Australia with a French director. It's definitely a change of speed from filming The Loved Ones. Then there's another film called Drift, which is basically about these two brothers who kind of change the face of the surfing world for good in the ‘70s. Loosely based on the Rip Curl, the genesis of companies like that. There are a couple of other things in the pipeline that haven't been confirmed yet. I'm kind of waiting to see what happens.
Can you talk about another film you'll appear in, a thriller named Bait?
Oh yeah. Are you ready? [Laughs.] It's basically a shark in a supermarket. The guy that I play works at the local supermarket and a massive tsunami hits the town, and it just so happens that his ex-girlfriend is in the supermarket, and someone's holding up the supermarket at the same time. So all these kinds of mystery characters end up trapped in the supermarket together on top of the shelves, and it just so happens that there's sharks lurking below. So they've got to find a way to get out of there without getting eaten alive.
In real life, what's your greatest fear?
It's probably not as gruesome as most fears can be. I guess laziness is probably my greatest fear. [Laughs.]
May you always be active then. [Laughs.] Thank you so much for your time, Xavier.