Contending with an immobilizing sense of loss is often an isolating and painful experience for many people, particularly as they struggle to overcome the harrowing feelings of being abandoned by those they love. Whether they live in the quiet suburban countryside or in a chaotic city, people often don’t feel as though their self-imposed seclusion would be considered normal, as their emotions don’t get much attention by any part of society. Intensely missing someone who’s no longer in your life, and attempting to forever stay connected to that person you have so longingly loved, intriguingly fuels the emotions of the male protagonist, who’s played by Cian Barry, in the new horror film, ‘Nina Forever.’ The British movie effortlessly highlights that the shame of grief people often endure for love doesn’t always force them to disengage from society, particularly if they have someone else who relentlessly sets out to prove how worthy they are of love.
Epic Pictures distributed the romantic horror comedy in America in select theaters and on such digital platforms as iTunes and VOD over the Valentine’s Day weekend earlier this month. Brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, who made their feature film writing, directorial and editing debuts with the movie, had its world premiere during the Visions section at last year’s SXSW.
‘Nina Forever’ follows the physically and emotionally wounded Rob (Barry), who’s still contending with the death of his girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), a year after they were involved in a motorcycle crash. Unable to move on without his significant other, Rob steps away from the life he shared with Nina, including leaving his math PhD program. While he frequently visits his former girlfriend’s grave, and still eats dinner with her parents, he tries to stop his suicidal thoughts and grief over not being with her anymore. On his path to recovery, he begins working as a stocker at a supermarket, where he meets, and forms a connection with, Holly (Abigail Hadingham), a cashier who’s studying to become a paramedic.
As she sympathetically watches Rob contend with his emotional conflicts, Holly’s determined to prove to him that forming a romantic connection with her will help him heal. But the first time the two have sex, Nina mysteriously appears in his bed, still looking wounded from the accident. Still possessive of the man she still believes is her boyfriend, she bluntly speaks to both Rob and Holly, saying they never technically ended their relationship before her death. The encounter drives Holly away from Rob, who’s now forced to reason with Nina, who refuses to be pushed to ex-girlfriend status.
But Holly soon returns to Rob’s home, determined to make their relationship work, even though he’s still mourning Nina’s death. She decides that the next time she sleeps with Rob, they’ll incorporate Nina into the situation. While the title character is having trouble accepting the fact that her ex-boyfriend has moved on with Holly, she readily accepts their proposition that she becomes intimate with them. Since Nina isn’t fond of sharing Rob with Holly, especially after the new couple tries to escape their reality during a weekend getaway together, the title spirit tracks them down to their hotel room. Rob and Holly soon realize that they must take even more drastic measures to completely rid their relationship of Nina’s presence and influence.
Barry generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Nina Forever’ during an exclusive Skype call from London. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was immediately drawn to play Rob in the horror film, as he found the character’s journey to be intriguing and relatable, and thought the Blaine brothers’ writing and ideas were fantastic. The performer also mentioned how he formed an instant connection with his two main co-stars, Hardingham and O’Shaughnessy, during their week-long rehearsal time together before they began shooting the horror movie. That natural bond helped them all build their characters’ relationships and motivations.
ShockYa (SY): You play Rob in the new horror romantic comedy, ‘Nina Forever,’ which follows him as he begins a relationship with her co-worker, Holly, as he’s still grieving over the recent death of his ex-girlfriend, Nina. What was it about the character of Rob, as well as the script, that convinced you to take on the role? How did you become involved in the film?
Cian Barry (CB): Well, it was a pretty immediate process after I read the script. I had never read anything else like it, so I was immediately intrigued. It was a very strange story, in a way, but it’s also easy to believe. It’s based in reality, as it deals with the characters’ realistic emotions. So I was captivated. (laughs)
During my first meeting with the Blaine brothers, I thought they were fantastic. So I realized, this is it-I’m hooked. I don’t want anyone else to have a chance at getting the role. (laughs) During that meeting, we discussed that as the character, I’d be doing things that I wouldn’t normally do in everyday life. The characters were coming from a very honest place, but at times, it can also become very deep and dark. The brothers felt it wholeheartedly and honestly, as well. So our discussion also made this an easy decision for me to want to take on the role.
SY: What was the experience of working with the horror comedy’s scribes and helmers, Ben and Chris Blaine, who you just mentioned, especially since they made their feature film writing and directorial debuts with the film?
CB: I didn’t know how it was going to be before we started shooting, since there was going to be two directors. Normally you think you just want one vision from one person. But Ben and Chris worked so well together, and really complemented each other, so I felt that working with them both was really beneficial.
They both weren’t attached to one idea or way of filmmaking during the shoot. We could talk about the character and what he needed to be feeling at any point, and it was always fluid and easy. You couldn’t ask for more expertise, particularly in the fact that they had written the script together. They really knew about the ideas and characters behind the story, which was great.
But they also weren’t set in their ways. Like in the scene where Nina first appears, in the brothers’ minds, they originally saw it very differently; Rob and Holly were actually running away, screaming and shouting.
But then when we started working on the scene, I felt like I couldn’t run away, and I froze. You would do that if someone who you desperately still love comes back to you. I don’t think Rob remembered Nina the way she came back, all mangled and covered in blood. (laughs) But she was still this person that he loved.
So Ben and Chris then saw what we as actors were doing with the scene. They realized that we could do something different in the scene, and it could be more gentle. So despite the fact that they had these other ideas in their minds for so long, and had written the scene differently than how it appeared in the film, they were still willing to change it. That was great, and working with them overall was an absolute pleasure.
SY: Were you all able to have any rehearsal time with the rest of the cast, especially Abigail Hardingham, who portrays Holly, and Fiona O’Shaughnessy, who plays Nina, and discuss their relationships and backstories?
CB: They’re both lovely and quite a joy to work with on the film. We had about a week of rehearsal time before we began shooting. So we were able to get to know, and form connections with, each other. We were also able to get comfortable with each other, because you obviously need to be pretty comfortable to film some of these scenes together. (laughs) We had to try not to think about some of the surface things, and really get to the crux of the matter. They were both so nice, so we didn’t have to worry about all of the normal things on the day.
On the set, the Blaines made it so great for us. Things can become very chaotic on a set, as there is a lot of stuff that’s going on. But they always made sure that there was a little bit of quiet where we could concentrate. So they made sure that we were all relaxed at the center of the chaos.
SY: What was the process of creating the physicality of your role, particularly while working with Fiona and Abigail as Nina reappears in Rob’s life?
CB: In terms of the physicality, I think Fiona had the most challenging role. But since we had that time to work together, we got to see a bit of that. I’m quite glad to say that a lot of it came to us at the time we were filming, and that was surprising to us. Since we didn’t have much time to work on it, it gave us the chance to react more honestly.
But we tried to do as much work on the characters, and build up as much as we could, before we began filming. That way, once we were put in the situation, the physicality would be as honest as possible.
The characters are in these relationships, and they want to be emotionally connected. They want to be together, but another part of them is telling them to run. This is insanity, run for the hills! (laughs) So they’re being pulled in these two different directions, which creates the drama and intrigue. I think that does affect them physically, without them realizing.
There are a lot of subconscious things in the film that you don’t necessarily think about. There are things in life that you can be pulled away from, but at the same time, also be drawn to, both physically and mentally.
SY: The movie interestingly explores how Rob contends with his grief over losing Nina. Was that an important aspect of the story that you wanted to explore throughout the entire film, particularly once she reappears in his life?
CG: That was completely important. The story explores what we keep hold of, what we refuse to leave and the habits we create. It also shows that there’s a safety you feel when you hold onto certain things.
You hold onto something that reminds you of the person you’re grieving, whether it’s a memento or a memory. In Rob’s case, it was actually going to see his ex’s parents every week. That way, you can still feel involved and connected in some way. That runs throughout the film, as I think it’s something that I think a lot of people can connect to. If you let go of what you’re holding onto, you’re taking a risk. You may fall forever, or you may be able to stand on your two feet, and feel strong, again. So I think there are a lot metaphors like that throughout the film.
SY: What was the process of shooting ‘Nina Forever’ independently-did it create any challenges on the set, or did it help with the movie’s overall creativity?
CB: I think it really benefited from it. Everyone was pulling together, and you feel like this band of brothers. (laughs) You’re all in it together everyday, fighting for the same thing. You all want to make it as good as possible. So the experience was great. We had a lovely bunch of people. It’s rare when you get along with everyone on the set, like we did on this film. (laughs) That was so important for this film.
SY: How much of the horror comedy was filmed on a set, and how much was shot on location? Do you have a preference of filming on a set or on location?
CB: A lot of the film was shot in a studio, so there weren’t that many location moves. We did go down to the coast, but the majority of the film was shot in the studio. I think that was beneficial, because it helped concentrate everything. All of the film was set in a room with two or three people.
There might be some crazy things happening, but it’s all a part of the relationships between these people. The story shows how they’re dealing with these things in their lives. But it was nice to get away occasionally after that. (laughs) It was a bit like a pressure cooker at times.
With the set design, I thought the places where we did shoot were beautiful. There are some places that you would never know were just five meters (approximately 16.5 feet) away from each other. We were able to create a whole new world so close to each other.
SY: The Blaine brothers have mentioned how important they feel the sound design is for this type of film. Once you watched the movie as a viewer, did you feel that the music they included helped build the emotions of the characters and story?
CB: It was incredible and amazing to hear it all together. What was great was that the Blaine brothers gave us all the music before our rehearsals started. They sent us songs, as well as ideas and pictures, to add to the background and how we formed our characters. They didn’t necessarily tell us where all the bits were going, but they wanted to give us the general feeling of different parts of the film. It was amazing to then see it all come together in full.
We do our bit as actors, but then we have to walk away and do other things for awhile. Then we come back to see the final film. During that time, the Blaine brothers were working on editing the movie for months in a little room. Everyone worked so hard to put the sound into the right places, and give everything the right feeling.
A lot of people have been saying, “The soundtrack is amazing. I want it!” (laughs) So the music is something the Blaines had in their minds for a long time. The music brings you instantly into a general feeling of things. It helps stir things up in people’s memories, and helps them connect with the story.
SY: ‘Nina Forever’ has played at several film festivals, including having its World Premiere during SXSW’s Visions Section last year, as well as FrightFest and Toronto After Dark. What was the experience of bringing the movie to the festivals?
CB: The festival circuit has been great. I’ve been to a few of the festival screenings, like at FrightFest here in London. I was also delighted to go back home to Ireland and see it there at the Cork Film Festival. You never know completely for sure how audiences are going to respond.
Like you said, it premiered at SXSW, and I wasn’t able to make it over there, as I was working. So I was waiting late at night to see what the internet was going to say about the film. I was also getting emails and messages that said, “Thee are people here who were lining up to see the film, and they liked it!” I thought, “Thank God for that!” (laughs)
So it’s been amazing and fantastic to see other people appreciate the film in the way that we hoped. You never know if other people are going to see it in the same light, and get some of the things that you were trying to do. It’s been so gratifying to hear some of the things people have said
SY: Besides ‘Nina Forever,’ do you have any other projects lined up that you can discuss? Are you interested in starring in more horror films in the future?
CB: Yes, I’d love to make another horror film. When they’re made in such an interesting way, like this one, it’s really appealing. I love how ‘Nina Forever’ is so non-genre specific, and so open to a lot of people.
The horror community has also opened their arms so lovingly towards us. We were worried because it’s not typical horror, and doesn’t fit into all the rules. So we thought people may be expecting something else. But they said, “No, it takes an interesting look at things.” So I’d love to be involved in things like that again.
Written by: Karen Benardello