Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

This interview with Charlie Higson was one of the very last I did for Death Ray, completed for the never published issue #22 back in 2009. Here he talks about his zombie book, The Enemy. It’s really rather good. So good, in fact, it was one of three entertainments that stopped me hating zombies and begin to appreciate them.

Life After Laughs

Charlie Higson, Fast Show alumnus, has a whole new career – children’s author, and his latest is very good indeed. It’s kids versus adult zombies in The Enemy. 

Like the Monty Python team, the guys and gals of the Fast Show went their separate ways after a handful of glorious years, leaving an hilarious cultural relic in their wake. Now they’re producing new entertainments of varying kinds for we, the lucky public. Charlie Higson (Ted and Ralph, Swiss Toni, Bob Fleming et al.) has continued writing for TV, as well as penning a series of novels for adults, but it is as an author of children’s fiction that he has found his greatest success. A huge Bond fan, Higson was approached by the Ian Fleming Estate to pen a Young Bond series. It was a storming success, and Higson decided to continue writing books for kids.

Following a similar vein of juvenile protagonists and action sequences, his latest novel, The Enemy, sees Higson strike out into horror territory. Set in London after a plague has killed the majority of adults, the remaining few left as mindless, ravening beasts, it follows a group of kids as they attempt to survive. By turns gripping and horrific, we’re sure it’ll be a hit.

Death Ray: The Enemy is a great book, it’s really quite horrifying and scary.

Charlie Higson: That was my plan, just scare the shit out of some children!

DR: What’s the ideal number of kids traumatised?

CH: Millions would be nice! It’s amazing actually, kids are into scary stuff and horror. I mean, we did a launch at the London Tombs. There’s various things to look at, but the basis of the place is a walkthrough underground, through the ancient vaults beneath London Bridge, in the complete dark, while various people dressed as zombies leap out at you. My eldest two kids were there, and they are really into horror. They were pretty blase about it, they’d been to the London dungeon, and they were sort of laughing, they came out and they were absolutely shitting themselves! But the thing was they were then on this massive high for the rest of the evening, just incredibly exhilarated, talking about this stuff, so you could see that it had really given them a jolt, and I think that’s one of the joys of scary things, it is experiencing these emotions that you are not used to. What also struck me in the queue there, was that I’m going to start getting a lot of children dressed in black turning up at signings that I didn’t used to get. You realise what a big thing horror is for kids these days.

DR: Surely sneaking off to watch a horror movie without your parents knowing, has been a rite of passage for a long time.

CH: It always has been. Growing up in the 60s, for us it was Hammer Horror films, late night on TV. I mean, those today wouldn’t be x-certificate, 18s, they’d probably be 12s. Kids do have a greater tolerance for it, Harry Potter in the 60s would have been an x-certificate! You know, the worst thing was in the queue at the launch there was this tiny little girl, she can’t have been much more than ten, and I was like, ‘What’s the scariest film that you’ve seen?’ and she said ‘Hmm, I think probably Saw‘. She was really scared by the clown, I asked her and she wasn’t bothered by the gore. And her parents were there, with her! I mean, I wouldn’t let my ten year old watch Saw. I did let him watch Alien though.

DR: I think there’s a bit of a difference between, to my mind, something that is obviously fantasy like Alien and real people hurting real people…

CH: Yeah, nasty things, like you get in Eastenders! But it’s funny, my 10-year-old will happily watch Jaws or Alien, but he was absolutely terrified of Mathilda, because the teacher in it he found really scary, it was something he could relate to his own life.

DR:  Why go for horror, you’ve done Bond…

CH: I love genre fiction, I’ve got no time for literary fiction. I love thrillers, and the scary books as well. I wanted to do something that was different to Young Bond, I wanted to do something contemporary, in a different genre, something that wasn’t just repeating the same tricks. As a teenager I loved horror movies, so I thought if I can give some of that vibe to younger kids in a book, that would be good, and if you do have a book that really has a big emotional impact on someone then they will remember it for a long time.

DR: Zombies are really big at the moment. When did they get their claws into you?

CH: I’ve been into zombies ever since seeing Night of the Living Dead in the 70s. There’s something fascinating about zombies, but this explosion of zombie stuff recently, most of that has come since I made the decision to start writing the book. And my ten-year-old, he’s absolutely obsessed with zombies, they scare him, a lot, he won’t watch the zombie films, but they fascinate him.

In a kids book, particularly mine where you are dealing with ideas of violence and death, you have to be a bit careful about killing people willy-nilly, but the great thing about zombies is that you can do what you like to them. They are a nice safe target, they’re not controversial on any level. They are a perfect enemy for a kids book, because the kids can quite happily kill ’em, without getting into trouble.

DR: Another thing that is highlighted very well is that the book is that these are the people that used to protect them.

CH: I like that idea of sort of kids versus adults, it taps into the games you play with children, the classic game of being a scary monster and chasing kids around the house and them hiding and them getting too scared, getting overexcited and crying. And then you get a little bit scared doing it, because you have scared them so much. That goes right back to fairytales, little people facing up to ogres and giants, and the ogres and the witches and the giants trying to eat the children, basically. I mean that kind of idea, of adults being scary, out to consume you, is quite a potent one.

DR: What used to scare me as a kid was the feeling of being helpless in the face of something much stronger than you, which you touch on, but your kids aren’t helpless are they?

CH: I wanted to give them a sense of empowerment through the book. It’s not like Lord of the Flies, which is about children turning into savages when left to their own devices, it’s about actually children ganging together and helping each other and being strong in the face of all this. There’s a more positive message there, it’s not utterly bleak.

An unpublished interview with Eoin Colfer, from the never finished final issue of Death Ray. This piece comes from 2009, and was written when Colfer had completed his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy sequel.

It’s a brave man who’d attempt a sequel to one of the best-loved humorous book sequences of all time. Step forward Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl author, and possessor of the best in Irish pluck.

Best known as the (highly successful) author of the Artemis Fowl series, concerning the adventures of a youthful criminal mastermind (lately reformed) and his dealings with technologically-advanced fairies, Eoin Colfer is a firm favourite of kids worldwide. His novels, humorous affairs with a touch of darkness, have been compared to Douglas Adams, so it’s perhaps natural that his agent and Adams’ agent should hit upon asking the writer to pen a sixth book in the Hitchhikers series, an idea Adams’ widow and daughter were both keen on, being big fans. Colfer, however, was less than enthusiastic at first.

“Originally I said this is craziness, and what’s more, nobody should do it, not just me, but not anybody. But my agent said think about it. I thought about it, and I started to have a few ideas and I thought, you know, I could have a blast with this, it could really rejuvenate me as regards enjoying writing, because I had been feeling a little, not jaded, but not as enthusiastic as I normally am. A bit wrung out after 10 years and twenty books. I was a little bit knackered, I think is the medical term!”

Feeling invigorated at the prospect of a challenge, Colfer said yes, but only on condition that the deal could be done quickly…

“It can take months to get contracts for these things sorted out. But I knew there’d be a big reaction to this. I wrote it really quickly, in about six months, so it was a weird experience to go into someone else’s universe. I just wanted to get it over with quickly, because I reckon the brown stuff is going to hit the air disperser and I just wanted to put my head down and weather it. There’s so much outside interest, there are a lot of fans, and the Hitchhikers books mean a lot to them. I want to try and win them over without crawling to them, because I don’t want to be craven, you see.”

By that he means that fans should not expect his take on The Salmon of Doubt – Colfer was offered notes culled from the fertile archeological grounds of Adams’ hard drive, but declined them. He also wrote in his own style, and did not try to imitate the man.

“A lot of people try to write like Douglas Adams when they’re doing intros to his books or an article about him,” he explains, “and I really wanted to avoid doing that because it rarely works. I think Neil Gaiman did it once, just a few lines in the intro to his book Don’t Panic!, but he’s the only guy that I’ve seen who could do it, and then he didn’t do it for the whole book, just a little fond thing at the start. Other than that, forget it, Douglas Adams’ is the master, just leave it alone, so.”

Colfer puts his own reticence to try and ape Adams’ style down to their vastly differing backgrounds.

“I think my style is probably similar but diluted. Douglas had a way of doing this zany prose that was a lot to do with where he went to school, with footlights in the 1960s, the 70s, where there was this very much kind of upper class British humour, laced with social consciousness and absurdity that I don’t have. I mean, I’m a lower middle-class Irish country boy, so it would be ridiculous for me to try and pretend that I had these years of going to Cambridge. Douglas did all these things, he wrote for Monty Python, he jammed with Pink Floyd… There are four or five things you should not mess with in English entertainment culture, and that would be Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Pink Floyd, Douglas Adams, and Tony Hancock. You don’t mess with them because they have transcended their medium to become a part of people’s lives, and it doesn’t really matter in a way what they are any more, because they’re a memory for people. If I try to ape Douglas at all I’d just be totally shooting myself in the foot, and the series as well. So I just thought I’d bring something of myself to it, with the odd little nod, one or two sentences here or there, like Neil Gaiman did, just a little taste hopefully to show my respect for the original. I imagined Simon Jones or John Cleese reading what I was writing out loud, if it sounded right, then I knew I was on the right track, and I kept doing that until I got into it.”

Colfer says that it was not a big leap from YA fiction to HHTG. They’re ostensibly adult books, but he says most people discover as teenagers, and that he’d always written his novels to that kind of level, although writing in Adams’ milieu meant that he no longer had to hold back when the odd bout of swearing or explicit topic came up. What he did find challenging, however, is thinking about how the fans might react to his trespass of some of SF’s holiest ground.

“People are very emotional about Hitchhiker, I know I am because it was a big part of my youth, and when something becomes a big part of your teen years it just stays with you. I don’t want people to have this great fondness for it and then suddenly, bang, here comes this guy and it’s all glib one-liners and it doesn’t mean anything, I think it the reviews so far have said exactly what I’ve wanted, they’ve said it’s not Douglas Adams writing, because he’s gone. It’s not somebody trying to copy Douglas Adams but it’s a funny book, and it’s a nice addition to the shelf. And that’s the best I can do. But I’m, I’m very worried about tours. I’m not worried about the US tour, but the UK tour is going to be tough, because you have to face Douglas’s real fans, the guys who love him. I’ve met a lot of them now and they’ve been very nice, so maybe I’m being worried without foundation, but I think they are going to ask me hard questions, and they’re right to do that. There’s a lot of guys who are going to say, listen, I don’t agree with the idea of this book, and so I’m not going to read it, and I would say, fair enough but I don’t accept it’s a horrible book unless you read it. I was at Comicon, San Diego, a couple of weeks ago, and this guy came up to the stall and he took a proof and he said ‘I’m going to read this before I hate it,’ and I said ‘Thank you very much.’ He was kind of funny, but he kind of encapsulated I suppose what I was afraid of.”

Colfer says there might be further sequels, but that he will not be writing them, once as a tribute is enough, he says, any more than that and it would look like he was trying to take over, something he’s really keen to avoid, and he doesn’t not want people to think he took up the pen simply for the cash, either. “It’s definitely not a financial thing, I am very well paid for what I do, and I would have been better off writing another of my own books. I turned down an earlier opportunity to write a sequel book, in fact, because then I wasn’t established and it would have looked too much like I was jumping on a bandwagon. The main reason I did it, I suppose if I’m honest was that Douglas’ agent said that he wanted, and Jane, his widow, wanted Hitchhikers to be introduced to a new generation, and that I could probably do it for them. It’s hard to say no to that.”

Ronald D Moore and David Eick have impressive pedigrees as creators of television SF. I was lucky enough to speak to them just after Battlestar Galactica ended, and go their final thoughts on the series. We also spoke a little about the prequel, Caprica, which at the time we did the interview was being produced. Sadly, it was cancelled before the end of the first season. From Death Ray #18.

All this has happened before, all this will all happen again…

It’s out with the old and in with the new as Battlestar Galactica comes to a final end and production on Caprica ramps up. The Adama clan will be off our screens for the best part of a year, before we are introduced to their immediate ancestors. We were lucky enough to get creators of both shows, Ronald Moore and David Eick, to talk about writing the climax of one, and the beginning of the other.

You’d have to travel halfway to Kobol to find an SF series that has been as consistently good as Battlestar Galactica. Basing their show on TV maverick Glen A Larson’s space-take on the Exodus, veteran SF producers Ronald Moore and David Eick succeeded in crafting a tale fit for our times, an action-packed saga of the near-extinction of humanity, wrapped up with fat agnostic bows. Battlestar’s complexity, cast of diverse characters and willingness to ask some tough questions about religion, loyalty, belief and societies under stress (not to mention some kick-ass space battles) have earned it numerous Emmies, Saturns and Hugos, as well as the prestigious Peabody Award. They kept us guessing until the end, and now it’s over. Not to worry, show creators David Eick and Ronald D Moore have a spin-off, coming soon.

We spoke to Moore and Eick about the series, where some of its major themes came from, its legacy, the fans and that pesky writers strike that threw US TV for six back in 2007. It’s not just the timing: this really is the last word on Battlestar Galactica. (more…)

I’m something of a fan of Ray Wise. He’s not that widely known, but when he does appear he has great screen presence, and his turn as the devil in Reaper was brilliant. This interview was done off the back of the film Infestation. You can read reviews of both by clicking of the links. From Death Ray #21, the very last issue.

Better The Devil You Know

Ray Wise, the player behind telefantasy’s best recent character, um, the Devil! Smooth and sharp, he’s our kind of guy.

Forty years in the crazy business of Tinseltown and still going strong, if you need a lawyer, president, or murderous father, Ray Wise is your man. Often attracted to horror projects, (you can see him in Dead End and Jeepers Creepers II, for example) Wise has played not one but three diabolical creatures: The Devil in Reaper, Ludlow the Demon in Charmed, and Leland Palmer in David Lynch’s frankly disturbing TV classic Twin Peaks.

Recently appearing in Kyle Rankin’s big bug movie Infestation, Wise talked with Death Ray via transatlantic satellite.

Death Ray: Infestation: We enjoyed it. Notice you have done a lot of SF and horror, what attracts you to that kind of project?

Ray Wise: I like to be frightened along with everybody else. I like to feel that titillation, that adrenaline rush when I think that something really frightening is going to happen. I like the anticipation of it, even more than seeing the actual event. Except that so much of the horror today is so… volumes of blood and ripping and slicing and cutting and tearing. It’s not frightening any more, it’s just gory. I prefer the old school horror.

DR: Infestation, like a lot of your movies, contains a certain degree of humour. One thing we really like about your acting is that you have a fantastic sense of comic timing. Where does that come from in you?

RW: Thank you. I really couldn’t say. I’ve always had that sense of humour, ever since I was a little child. I couldn’t explain it, except that that’s the way I view the world, it’s slightly askew, and it makes me laugh a lot.

DR: Whenever you’re on screen you’ve got such a little twinkle in your eye, like when you were playing the Devil in Reaper.

RW: That little twinkle is important. When you watch an actor on film, the eyes can tell you everything. If you’re not thinking the right thoughts, you’re not going to convey to the audience what you want them to feel. The eyes are windows to the soul, right?

DR: So what kind of thoughts were you thinking when you were playing your version of the Devil, then?

RW: Oh, devilish thoughts, you know! Haha. I have an incredible imagination, and I’m able to fabricate little scenarios in my mind that can back up any acting situation that I might find myself in.

DR: Can that be emotionally draining? We think of your turn in Twin Peaks, it must have been distressing playing Leland Palmer, who kills his own daughter…

RW: Totally distressing! You had to get your head in the right place to be able to portray that scene properly, so it can be stressful. I’ve learned over the years that downtime in between scenes I’m able to relax, and joke around with the people on the set. We try to keep it as light as possible when we’re doing heavy stuff like that. David Lynch kept a very laid back set.

DR: Like tunes, the Devil had all the best lines, our favourite has to be ‘I’m not a carjacker Sam, I’m the Devil!’

RW: Right! I had so many good lines and I enjoyed saying every single one of them. In my mind the Devil was a cross between a really good games show host and a used car salesman. He’s sartorially resplendent, and he has a kind of smooth way about him, and he’s able to cajole and talk you into just about anything. That’s the Devil to me.

DR: If we include old Leland in there, this is the third time you’ve played some sort of diabolical entity. Have you carved out a niche in the market?

RW: Yeah, I think so. I think Leland was the perfect prep for leading to the Devil in Reaper. I still watch those episodes today, and I’m still blown away by them. And Ludlow, another demon. He was pretty spectacular. And Charmed is a lovely show. Yeah, so I have a short short history in demonology.

DR: A lot of your other characters seem to be authority figures, vice-presidents, presidents, fathers, that kind of thing. What do you think the overlap is between the demon characters that you play and that sort of politician/ dad type character?

RW: Hahaha, well, I think the big overlap is the actor playing the characters! But there’s a little bit of demon in every good father, and certainly in every politician. I don’t see much difference between some vice presidents that we’ve had and the Devil in Reaper.

DR: The devil has a better suit…

RW: That’s for sure!

DR: And you also got the impression that he wasn’t all bad either. He was in a weird way a mentor to Sam…

RW: There are certain aspects of good and evil in every character. I try to keep that in mind, you have to find the good in the bad and the bad in the good it, seems to me. Yes, he was a mentor, and adviser, he was like a big brother… He wanted to see the kid blossom, though he would prefer that the kid would come his way. I don’t think the Devil has to be all bad all the time. I think he likes mixing it up with the humans here on Earth and having a good time with them. And that entails having some good things happen. Don’t forget good and evil is all a matter of choice anyway isn’t it?

DR: In Infestation and Reaper and others you are often paired off with younger actors. Do you find yourself performing that sort of devilish mentor role for the younger actors?

RW: Yeah, I think so. With younger actors, I am mentorish. And of course I have my own children too, well, they’re grown adults now, but I went through the same process with them. I like passing on what I know to the next generation. It gives you another reason to be on this planet. It ties you in a little bit more to everything in life. It’s a wonderful thing.

An interview with Jamie Bamber (Apollo) conducted just after the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica for Death Ray #21.

The End of the Affair

Actor Jamie Bamber, lately multi-talented space jock Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama, talks philosophically about the end of the very much brilliant (and very much lamented) Battlestar Galactica.

Pilot, captain, lawyer, politician… but some of Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama’s jobs on the Galactica. The career of the actor who portrayed him, US/English Jamie Bamber, is less diverse, being mostly restricted to actor, but we could add the label ‘environmentalist’ to him. For Bamber, BSG was a grand allegory for the problems facing us right now on our dear old Earth. Ask him what the show’s greatest achievement was, and he’ll say ‘relevance’. (more…)

I am so close to the end of my Death Ray archive now. This interview comes from Death Ray #20. It’s with Rachel Luttrell, who played Teyla in SG: Atlantis.

For some reason, a lot of actors insist they are shy. And while that’s probably true of some, it’s hard to equate the bubbly Rachel Lutrell with a shrinking violet. She portrays Teyla in SG: Atlantis, one of the only characters who made it all the way from season one to season five, and one of only two humans on the regular team who were actually from the Pegasus Galaxy, where the series was set. It’s all over now, though a TV movie is coming our way soon. She tells us this as she chats easily away and laughs down the phone. We’re not buying the shy line.

“It’s true!” she protests, “I don’t trust very easily and so there’s only a certain aspect of myself that I will share. But I’ve gotten to a point where I’m more comfortable talking to people that I don’t know immediately, and I enjoy that.” Well, she’s doing just fine right now. We’re not getting any kind of stand-offish vibe here. Right now, she’s feeding her young son Caden, whom she had while on the show. It’s like ringing your sister.

DR: You’ve said you empathise with Teyla because she’s an outsider – she’s human but she’s not from Earth, she’s telepathic so she doesn’t really fit in with her own kind. Do you feel like an outsider yourself?

RL: Not now, but I was born in Tanzania, and my mum is from a very small village When we first moved to Canada, yeah I certainly did feel a little like an outsider. Thankfully in this day and age coming from a bi-racial family is like: ‘So what? me too.’ But back then it was a bit more unusual. My father is from Louisiana, he grew up with a lot of racism.

DR: Talking to my mum, she says that my dad was always harassed by Tanzanian men for taking their woman, it’s so silly! But he was very welcomed over there by her family, with the exception that occassionally a small child who had not seen somebody as fair as him would run screaming, they’d think that he was a man without any skin! When I was in Louisiana there was a lot of staring and ‘You know, what’s going on there?’ But not so much any more. I don’t want to paint Louisiana as a place that’s horribly backward! But there was a feeling from a certain element there, shall I say. So, you know, I don’t feel like an outsider, but I can empathise with Teyla.

DR: Obviously Atlantis the series is over, but you just appeared in a TV movie. Do you think your role as Teyla is going to run and run and it’ll be a nice pension fund?

RL: Hahaha! Oh God! If that happens, I certainly wouldn’t say no, I mean, why would I? But I have no idea, there may be just the one movie and everything might be neatly tied up… I’m not sure what their plans are to tell you the truth, but we’ll see. I would very much like to do my own thing as well, but if there does end up being more movies I would love to do them, because I adore Teyla.

DR: Were you a big SF fan before this?

RL: Yes, yes, yes! I love it. My family and I will always be the first in line for big blockbuster science fiction action. My father instilled that in us way back. He’s a big fan, and he just devours science fiction novels, and I’m that kind of a person now too. I couldn’t wait to see the new Star Trek movie.

DR: Would you like to do a Stargate movie like that?

RL: Oh please! That would be fantastic! And I think the fans would love it. In a way I think it’s a missed opportunity that they haven’t done it. And I think if they don’t do it, then in twenty years, someone else will.

DR: How was it when the show ended?

RL: It was a mixed bag, but it was sad. I think none of us were really expecting season five to be the last season, we were all anticipating that it wouldn’t have gone beyond six, but for it to all of a sudden come to an end like that, I was quite saddened by it.

DR: Do you know that that was going to be it then when you were filming that last scene?

RL: Filming the last episode we all knew. We had all been told about a month before. Maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe it was just three weeks, but we all knew that, okay this is going to be my last scene. we were all so keenly aware of it. And when it came time for my last scene I was so scared that I was going to lose it that I was just kind of steely , until they announced: ‘Alright, this is a series wrap’ and then oh, I just wept, and everybody was hugging everybody. It was very emotional, it was a big deal, a huge, huge part of our lives.

DR: Everything comes to an end eventually.

RL: Yeah, but do you know what? Change is a good thing.