Delving into the past can lead to an inner-darkness ultimately coming to light. That’s certainly the case for actor Jaz Deol’s character in the new horror film, ‘Darkness Visible,’ which is now playing in select theaters and VOD, including iTunes, Google Play and Amazon, courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment. The supernatural thriller was directed by Neil Biswas, who also co-wrote the script with Ben Hervey. In addition to Deol, the movie also stars Sayani Gupta, Salóme Gunnarsdóttir, Neil Bhoopalam and Seema Biswas.
‘Darkness Visible‘ follows London-raised Ronnie (Deol) as he embarks on a journey to India after his mother goes missing and mysteriously ends up there in a Kolkata hospital. Before Ronnie can unravel the mystery of what brought his mother back to her homeland, she dies in what appears to be a ritual killing. As he uncovers a series of similar murders from the past, Ronnie’s own inner-darkness comes to light as all roads lead to the feared witch of Kolkata’s insane asylum.
Deol generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Darkness Visible’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed that he was drawn to portray the protagonist in the drama, because he was intrigued by the fact that the character determinedly traveled to India to discover the truth about his not only his family, but also himself. He also shared that he cherished the opportunity to fully collaborate with both Biswas and his co-stars on the development of their characters and the story, in order to make their emotions, motivations and relationships fully developed.
The conversation began with Deol explaining why he was interested in portraying Ronnie in ‘Darkness Visible.’ “The opportunity for this film came, like with all opportunities when you’re an actor, as a meeting. My agent put me forward for the project, and I put in a self tape, because I was busy with another project,” he divulged.
“When I first read the script, I found it to be quite interesting. I liked the premise that a British-Asian Londoner goes to India to find out why his mom died under such mysterious circumstances,” the performer further shared.
“I found that I could also relate to (Ronnie’s) journey. Not to say that my own mother has passed away in India, but the idea that a Brit goes to India to discover the truth about something” appealed to Deol. “Any Asian who’s born in another part of the world, but has roots in India, can relate to that, so I found that to be very intriguing,” he added.
After the actor read the script and submitted his audition, “Neil saw my tape, and we met for a workshop, to see how we’d work together. I also knew his wife, Manjinder (Virk), before the project, so it was nice to have a friendly face in the audition process.”
Then further speaking of collaborating with Biswas, as both the co-scribe and helmer, during the project, Deol admitted that “The circumstances in which we were filming were amazing and intense at the same time. This is an independent film, so the budget wasn’t necessarily one that we liked to really tell this story. But that was where creativity really came through, which made the experience really intense.”
The performer added that “It was really great to have Neil as both the director and writer. He was with the script for many years before we shot it, so it was churning in his head for quite some time. As an actor, when you come onto a project, you’re always trying to understand the writer’s intentions, and what they’re trying to communicate through the script. So having him both direct and write the film really helped us when it came to certain scenes. I think we were both trying to figure out what the truth was,” he also revealed.
“We had a lot of creative discussions about what we thought would be the right direction to go in. When you’re about to shoot a film, both the actor and director are intensely preparing for it,” Deol then noted. “Then the fun comes when you’re there, and something spontaneous comes out. So it was a great creative collaboration in discovering new things, which was a beautiful process.”
The actor then admitted that he’s “actually afraid to watch horror films, so I hardly watch them. So it was very interesting to work on this film. On the one hand, it is a supernatural thriller, which is on the page. But on the one hand, for me, it was more about the psychology of someone breaking down. So piecing that together, and Ronnie coming to grips with who and what he is,” was an experience that he cherished.
Deol then further delved into the experience of making ‘Darkness Visible’ independently, which he called a great experience. “This being a low-budget, indie film helped in telling the story. If we maybe had all the money in the world, we might not have had the same struggle to make it. But there was a certain struggle and momentum behind making this film, partly because we were also shooting at night in India, and there was beautiful chaos around us. There were certain circumstances there that added certain elements of suspense to the film,” he shared.
“So I think the struggle was definitely real, which certainly helped me as an actor. My character just kept going deeper and deeper down this rabbit hole of terror and fear,” the performer further disclosed. The protagonist had to ponder “what was going on, and why people kept dying around him. So for me, being the lead actor in the film, there was a certain amount of pressure that I had on myself. With the circumstances that we shot in as a low-budget indie film, life began to mirror art.”
With Ronnie traveling from London to Kolkata to find his mother, ‘Darkness Visible’ was filmed on location, which was an experience that Deol loved. “Kolkata is such a busy place. For someone who’s visiting there for the first time, it can be an assault on their senses,” he admitted. “But that really added to my character’s relationship with India, because in a way, he doesn’t have a real connection with it. He grew up in England, because his mother did everything she could to sever that connection to India.
“So when Ronnie travels to Kolkata, he’s a fish out of water, and the stakes are high for him. They were also high for me, because it was my first time playing this type of character, and leading a film…So adapting to those circumstances on set was great,” the actor also acknowledged.
Kolkata’s “also a rich location, because there’s a lot of colonial history-it was the center of the British empire. So there were all of these beautiful locations, including buildings that were falling apart, but were full of history. Even though we were in India with all of this modern technology, there was still so much history around us,” Deol gushed.
“There was one location that looked like a mansion, but it was falling apart; there were trees and greenery growing through it. There was also a family living there in those conditions, so it was just like, wow, you can’t make this up,” the performer further recalled with a sense of awe. “So those circumstances were right for this kind of film. There were locations that were rich with history.” He added that “adapting to those circumstances was great. I really valued that time on the set, and became open to that energy, so that I could do this film the best that I could.”
The conversation then turned to Deol explaining what his collaborations were also like with the rest of the cast. “The only two characters in the film that I have any sort of relationship with are (Ronnie’s) mother and girlfriend. So I made it a point to try to get their contact details once I knew they were cast in the film,” he confessed.
“That way, we could establish a relationship with each other, and talk about the relationship between the mother and son and girlfriend and boyfriend. That way, when we all landed in India, there was already a pre-existing connection between us. That wasn’t just for the characters’ it was also for us as people to get to know each other before we got to the set,” the actor added. “Neil allowed us to have time to rehearse with each other, and everyone was very fun and open to be with during the production.”
Deol also appreciated that “All of the actors on the set were so collaborative. We were all so excited to make this film, because to my knowledge, there hadn’t before been a horror film that’s set in India and told to a Western audience…Everyone brought such a realism and rawness to their performances.”
Since ‘Darkness Visible’ is such a physical film, the performer had to be “physically fit. So the production kindly got me a trainer, and we did a lot of cardio and exercise, so that I could prepare myself physically, and mentally, for the duration of the shoot. So there was a lot of moving around.”
Deol added that “In terms of the physicality, I worked to understand (Ronnie’s) art, which is spray painting. So I talked to one of Neil’s friends, who worked on the designs for the film. We met and started spray painting, so that I could get into the mindset of who my character is, and what his artistry is overall.”
The actor also “spoke to Neil about what kind of artist he thought (Ronnie) was like, and he gave me a list of names. So I researched them and looked at their artwork, and hoped that some of that would absorb into me. That was definitely useful.” He added that “As an actor, I try to absorb as much information as I can, so that way when we film, something organically comes from that.”
With ‘Darkness Visible’ now playing both in theaters and on VOD, Deol praised the release model, calling both forms of distribution as “valuable. It’s hard now for smaller films to compete with the Marvel movies and other big franchises, because they obviously have bigger budgets, and a lot of money behind their marketing. So it’s nice that Video On Demand has come along, because it gives a broader scope to these smaller films that are being made. It helps everyone a chance to see these movies,” he pointed out.
“But it’s also nice to have the theatrical release for the smaller films, to help give them a prestige,” the performer humbly admitted. ‘Darkness Visible’ “is a film that definitely works well in the theaters. I personally saw it in a screening room with some friends. Neil organized a last-minute, impromptu screening for us. So seeing it on my laptop, and then in the theater, was great. You can’t beat that cinematic experience, and this film is definitely cinematic. But obviously, because of the budget and restrictions we had, the fact that we even made it into theaters is a miracle.”
Deol also pointed out that “Cinema’s becoming more accessible at home, because more people have a cinema set-up in their houses. So they can enjoy watching it on a bigger screen in the comfort of their own home, and have the best of both worlds.” He added that he’s happy that the film “is reaching so many people on so many platforms, and I hope everyone can see it anyway they can.”