GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH KERR LOGAN
Victorian Dublin, in the heyday of the macabre practice of post-mortem photography, finds renowned memorial photographer, Brock Blennerhasset (Michael Smiley), drawn into an investigation of a series of suspicious deaths.
The six-part series DEAD STILL, begins when an unfortunate accident with his coachman Carruthers (Jimmy Smallthorne), forces Blennerhasset to take on his would-be actress niece, Nancy Vickers (Eileen O’Higgins), and a new, eager assistant and former grave-digger, Conall Molloy (Kerr Logan), to help keep his macabre memorial photography business afloat. Meanwhile, Detective Frederick Regan (Aidan O’Hare), of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, is interested in advancing crime scene photography with Blennerhasset’s help, but is also pursuing the case of a murderer who appears to be cashing in on the sordid market for ‘snuff’ imagery. With the trail leading to Blennerhasset’s door, he and his niece and new assistant soon find themselves drawn into the lurid mystery.
In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Logan discussed the art of performance, from finding and expressing empathy to embracing the challenges of the fast paced content creation in television, and finding the truth in the comedy of DEAD STILL.
FRIGHTFEST: The art of performance is about wearing masks and playing around with identity, a privilege afforded to actors. What is the thought process in choosing to play a character and how do you compare Molloy to your other characters?
Kerr Logan: I’ve been very lucky in my career that I’ve never been pigeon holed into playing one particular type of character. I’ve been given opportunities to play lots of different characters, that are maybe inherently good or bad. I suppose I do tend to play more dark or damaged characters for some reason. But the skill and also the fun is to be able to play these people that would maybe act very differently from you, morally or emotionally, and to find the truth behind it.
The actions the bad people in this world are taking are not necessarily bad - they have been able to rationalise all the choices and decisions that they’re making, and they have a reason for doing it. They don’t think they’re bad people, they think it’s the right thing to do.
What’s wonderfully expressive about acting is that you have to find an empathy with those that are making the wrong decisions, or are even just making different choices than you. It’s about finding an empathy with what they’re doing to make it your rationale, as though that’s the thing that you want to do, and that’s the bit I really enjoy.
It’s not necessarily a mask you put on, you don’t necessarily act your way through it, perform and pretend. The art of it is to embody the characters by believing what they believe, and making all of their actions your own. This is all part of the craft, and one of the things I adore about playing these characters is that they are so far removed from myself.
FF: When you finish a role is there a sense that you finally understand the character, that brings with it a wishful thought, if only you were able to go back and do it all over again?
KL: Nowadays with fast content, and small budget television shows in particular, although a lot of television has gone this way, we don’t very often have the luxury of any rehearsal whatsoever. You’ll get a part and you might read through all the episodes once, and then in a couple of weeks time you go for a few costume fittings, and then a couple of weeks later you start on day one.
You’re playing a new character, all your relationships are completely different and you haven’t rehearsed much of it. So of course all of these characters and all of these processes do tend to grow organically as you’re filming, which is frustrating in one sense. But I always find that the first series of shows have a bit of a naïveté, and maybe gives you a bit of character development for free. All of the actors are finding their feet and growing into the role as the show develops, and I agree that at the end of the series you do think, ‘I’ve got this character. I feel like I’m finally there with him.’
I suppose for all actors that’s why we would love, if we did get the opportunity, to go back and do a second series of something. It’s a second opportunity to get to step into those old shoes of a character that you grew as you were filming the first series, to go back and rediscover the character and develop them even further. So there is a bit of a strangeness with this high level of content creation at the moment, that it’s all done so fast that you’re character development happens as you’re working on it, rather than before. But it’s all part of the process and all television has gone that way. So you learn and you have to tread your first character steps very carefully, and just see where it goes from there, but that’s also part of the fun of it.
FF: The dynamic of the characters is interesting because while the performances convey an awareness of the humour of the scenes, the characters themselves are not fully aware. Although Eileen’s character Nancy is perhaps the one that sees the humour in the scenarios that plays out between Molloy, Blennerhasset and Carruthers. The series if it chose to could be quite slapstick or self-consciously aware of its humour, but what it does is it effectively balances a seriousness of tone with comedy.
KL: Absolutely, and that was certainly one of the things that drew me to the series. When I read the script there was a lot of elements of slapstick, and for me it very much read like the actors were very aware that they were in a comedy, and that it should be played for laughs. And there are lots of comedies out there that do give lots of winks and nudges to the audience: “Look, this is very good writing; we’re being very funny.” But with many of these TV shows and especially in comedy, to get the actual chemistry right, to get that balance right, it’s so dependent on luck and a lot of it actually comes down to that.
They cast me and Michael, Jimmy and Eileen, but none of us read through for the audition process, so you all just arrive on the first day and you’re working with the director, the producers and the writers, and you’re asking, “What is the tone of this show exactly? How aware am I as the actor that this is very funny?” We all just came to the conclusion when we were working on it that actually the comedy should lie in the truth of it. If you don’t believe these characters are real people in this time period, then the writing will not be as funny. So we all made that decision as part of the process, that if we all believe it and we all commit to these characters in these situations, then hopefully the writing is good enough that the situation will be funny. You can tell that we know some of these things are funny, but you believe it at the same time, and that was certainly the thread that we were trying to work on.
It always comes down to being such a cocktail of who the writer is, who the director is, and what their sensibilities are. Comedy is one of the hardest forms of expression because in the end comedy doesn’t work unless its funny. But what makes something funny? Is it that the performer knows he’s being very funny and he’s telling the audience, “Look how funny I’m being”, or is it that the audience have to believe that the characters are in a situation, and then they laugh at that? It’s such a precarious line to walk down, and we think and we hope that we have found the right balance. But as you say, we’ve ended up with something really quite quirky in its style of performing, and hopefully that has come across to make the show successful. If we were ever given another series or the show developed further, that kind of individualism of what the tone is would hopefully be cemented even further, and the show would become even more of its own thing.
The first two episode of DEAD STILL premiered exclusively on Acorn TV on Monday, June 29th, and will be followed by two episodes weekly through Monday, July 13th.