Truly understanding the inspiration behind the actions of a deranged serial killer can be challenge for many people who are unable to relate to their motivations. But versatile Australian actor John Jarratt, who made a name for himself in the horror genre with the help of one his career defining roles, Mick Taylor, in ‘Wolf Creek,’ is proving his talent once again the new horror thriller, ‘Shiver.’ Based on the 1992 book of the same name by Brian Harper, the film, which was directed by Julian Richards and is now available on DVD and VOD, is another great character study by the actor into what possesses a person to torment and kill innocent people.
‘Shiver’ follows Franklin Rood (Jarratt), a serial killer who goes by the alias The Gryphon, who has a flair for the dramatic–and a grisly trophy case of victims. But when he sets out to add shy, young secretary Wendy Alden (Danielle Harris) to his macabre collection, he gets more than he bargained for. Unfortunately, Wendy’s escape from his first assault only deepens the killer’s twisted obsession–and affection–for her. Always one step ahead of pursuing Detective Delgado (Casper van Dien), the brilliant psychopath penetrates police lines at will, circling ever closer to the target of his deranged fantasies. Until, finally, the only thing standing between Wendy and the Gryphon’s unthinkable desires is her own desperate, indomitable will to survive.
Jarratt generously took the time to talk about filming ‘Shiver’ over the phone recently. Among other things, the actor discussed how characters like Franklin and Mick Taylor are fascinating to play because people like them really do exist, but are also challenging to portray because you have to find out why they do what they do; how he always gives his characters a developed back-story, and work out their psyche, so he can have a very strong idea of who the person is; and how he had strong working relationships with his co-stars, particularly Harris, as he thought she gave a tremendous performance.
ShockYa (SY): You play the killer, Franklin Rood, in the new thriller, ‘Shiver.’ What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role?
John Jarratt (JJ): Well, for me, there are three things that carry a good film-the script, the script and the script. It was a very good script and a challenging role. I liked the fact that he was very different from the Mick Taylor character I play in ‘Wolf Creek;’ he’s a nerdy, verbose, middle-American, middle-aged guy. Also, I got to use an American accent, so those were all good reasons to do the film.
SY: Speaking of the fact that before appearing in ‘Shiver,’ you also starred as the killer in ‘Wolf Creek,’ what is it about the horror genre that you enjoy working in so much?
JJ: Well, the kind of characters who go to that extent and delve in evil are fascinating because they do exist. It’s a great challenge to find out why they do what they do.
I never understand it, but somehow as an actor, I have to find some justification for it, and not judge the guy too much. I try to make it believable, and to be able to do that is quite an achievement, as I don’t feel anywhere close to those kinds of people. So it’s a challenge, and they’re so interesting because they’re so complex.
SY: You were cast as Franklin in the film before the movie’s director, Julian Richards, signed onto the project. How did you become involved in the film-what was the casting process like?
JJ: It was good in a way that it got delayed and we changed directors. Then I was able to live with the character for awhile, and I was able to get a strong back-story on him. It also allowed me to work on the accent, because I don’t have an American accent. I have a sound going for him-I pushed my teeth forward to have that nerdy kind of, “How are you?”-kind of accent. So it was interesting.
SY: The film is based on the 1992 book of the same name by Brian Harper. How familiar were you of the book before you signed on for the role of Franklin? Did you reference it at all while you were preparing for, and shooting, the film?
JJ: I never read a book that concerns a script, because generally if you tried to film the book, it would take about 20 hours. The scripts are a precise version of the book. It tends to make it worse for me if I read the book. So I just go off what the script is, as sometimes the book isn’t like the script at all. Then it’s more confusing than helpful.
SY: Since Franklin is the main antagonist and killer in ‘Shiver,’ how did you prepare for the role? Did you do any particular research for the part before you began shooting?
JJ: I always give them a very strong back-story. I had the experience of playing Mick Taylor, so I worked out the psyche of the individual. I give them a story from when they were born to what I call page zero, which is just before page one of the script. So I have a very strong idea of who the person is.
It was a little more difficult with Franklin, because I’m not an American. I have been to the States a few times, and I watch a lot of the Hollywood stuff. I just prepare and try to make the human being real. That’s what acting is-impersonating human beings very well. So I make sure I’m comfortable with the human being before we start.
SY: While the book was based in Los Angeles, the movie’s setting was changed to Portland, and the film was actually shot in Oregon. What was the experience of filming in Oregon like overall?
JJ: It doesn’t matter where a film’s made, unless it’s Antarctica or somewhere extreme. But Oregon was bloody cold. We shot the film in November and December. Whenever we worked outside, it was muddy and wet and cold and miserable. (laughs) That was uncomfortable, and everyone there kept saying it’s nicer there in the summer. So I’d like to experience it in the summer-it was very beautiful.
SY: What was the experience of shooting the action sequences in the film? Did you do any of your own stunts?
JJ: Yeah, I did most of the bashing and hitting and fighting. I did a bit of the stunt work in the cop car-I did as much as I could without being insanely stupid and hurting myself. I’m no young; I’m 61-years-old now, so I better be careful!
SY: Danielle Harris plays Wendy Alden, the killer’s latest victim who finds the courage to fight back and escape. What was your working relationship with Danielle on the set?
JJ: I got along with Danielle; she’s a very feisty and strong actor. She didn’t take any backwards steps, and she gave a very brave performance. I loved working with her; she has a great sense of humor, and we had a lot of fun.
She’s only 4’11″, but she gave a tremendous performance. I hope to have the opportunity to work with her again. She’s very good at what she does, and I was very please she was playing opposite me.
SY: Casper Van Dien plays Detective Sebastian Delgado in ‘Shiver.’ What was your working relationship with Casper on the set as well?
JJ: Casper’s great-he’s got a great sense of humor, too. Unfortunately, we only had one scene in the entire movie together. But he gives as good as it gets, as well.
I think the whole film was cast really well. I thought everyone did a great job. Casper had the detective down pat, and played him extremely well. We’re lucky to have had such good people on the film.
SY: ‘Shiver’ is currently available on DVD and VOD. Are you a fan of watching independent films On Demand, and do you feel that the platform is an important medium for indies overall?
JJ: I think it’s the way of the future. But we’ve got to figure out a way to make money out of the Internet. We’re being robbed blind by downloads, but there’s got to be a way to make a dollar out of it. They need to legislate downloading somehow, in order to save independent filmmakers from going into the abyss.
So the future is the Internet, but people have to look after us and stop the illegal downloading, and pay for the product. Illegal downloading is a bit of a problem, so please support independent filmmaking, and actually buy the movie.
SY: Speaking of making ‘Shiver’ independently, did having a smaller budget influence the way you shot the film overall, or pose any challenges on the set?
JJ: No. I come from Australia, and we’re the kings of low budget, independent filmmaking. Like ‘Mad Max’ was made for next-to-nothing. I’m very used to that pace that you have to put into making an independent, low budget movie like ‘Shiver.’
These are some of the best experiences, as they’re very gritty. You don’t have time to be precious about going back to your trailer, or whatever things Hollywood guys do. It’s great filmmaking, and I like working, especially when there’s a good cast and script and director.
Written by: Karen Benardello