Ross Noble stars in killer clown comedy-horror Stitches - interview
The comedian discusses gory prosthetics, gruesome effects and Edwina Currie
Ross Noble stars in comedy-horror movie Stitches, in which a murderous clown returns from the dead to wreak revenge on the children who killed him. Below, Noble discusses prosthetic make-up, his favourite horror films and his scariest Hallowe'en ideas - including Edwina Currie's audio books...
Actors often complain about how long they have to spend in the make-up chair – how was that for you on the Stitches set?
Oh, that does my head in! It absolutely does my head in! When people go, 'Oh, god knows, I had to sit there and have prosthetic make up-' you're not working in a factory, so shut the fuck up!
Since I was a kid I always loved those effects in films. I used to have loads of books about special effects. My dog is actually named after Stan Winston, the guy that does all the creature effects – well, he's dead now, but the Stan Winston Studio – all that, and all Henson's stuff, I really loved those sorts of films. So when I see an actor, running around with something like that on their face, I'm like, 'Oh, you lucky bastard!' Doing the film, I was more than happy. It's actually quite relaxing, you know? You sit in a chair, you close your eyes, and an hour and a half, two hours later – I was gonna say you open your eyes, but in this I had one eye glued down and then prosthetics put over the top of the eye, so my eye's actually missing – but you know, a little while later you open your good eye, you look in the mirror and you're a rotting, decomposing slashed up clown.
The whole thing – even when you're shooting in the night, and you start at three o'clock in the afternoon and finish at three o'clock in the morning, and I have to get their earlier to get the face on and all that – but even at three o'clock in the morning, when you're hanging from a 30ft wire in a harness pretending to walk along a telephone wire, and there's a wind blowing and all the crew are in puffer jackets and you're just dressed as a clown – I loved it. 30 or 40 films down the line, I'll be like, 'Can we use a stunt double for this?' and I can see how people might get bored of it, but for me, it was literally a dream come true. I managed to tick off a whole list of things on my bucket list. 'What are we doing tomorrow?' 'Oh, we're gonna do that scene where we blow someone's head up.' Brilliant. That'll do. That's worth turning up for. There's a scene where some of the kids stamp on the clown's head, so they made a perfect prosthetic replica of my head. I had to have a head cast made - even that, when I was a kid, I was like, 'Oh, I'd love to have that done.' I wanted to be in a film where a hand comes out of a grave, in the sort of Romero style – yep, that's happened now. Brilliant. Tick. Lovely.
Did the make-up help you get into character?
Yeah, very much so. I think everyone was a little surprised because they thought I was just gonna turn up and it'd be like, 'Oh yeah, here's Ross, put some make up on him and he'll just be himself,' but I kinda went into ridiculous detail about things like, the way the character talks and the way he moves and all that. Even Connor [McMahon], who wrote and directed it, when I suggested things, he'd be like, '... Yeah, I see what you're saying...'
Normally, when I'm on stage, I'm quite animated, I'm quite... big, you know? So I sort of brought the whole thing down, and I wanted him to be sort of sinister... I wanted him to be fairly slow, and then when he came to the kill, sort of burst into action. At the start of the film, before he dies, he's just pissed off and miserable – he's just a downbeat character. So it's then very hard when he dies to come back as this real sort of gregarious sort.
He's sort of based on those old northern working men's club comics. I quite like the way that they were so gravelly, downbeat and miserable, complaining about their wives and 'take their mother-in-laws' and 'My mother in law's so fat' and their whole shtick was about complaining – but then out of nowhere, there would be a little bit of laughter. They'd get to the end of the show and then be like, 'Ladies and gentlemen, you've been marvellous tonight, we've had a great time,' and they'd burst into song or something.
With Stitches, he gets killed at the children's party, then he gets brought back from the dead by these black magic clowns. He goes to the teenage party that the kids are having, and he starts killing them one by one, tracking them down, but he kills them using these clown skills. He cuts somebody's innards out, inflates them, and makes them into a balloon dog. He gets these big shoes and he kicks the head off; he pulls a live rabbit out of one of their throats. The kills are his way of doing the show, but at the same time he's got that kind of sudden, 'Right we got some amazing prizes for you now, hey!' And you're like, hang on, a minute ago you were miserable.
So I really thought through the choices I made, and there were one or two people on the crew who were like, 'You know this is a clown that kills people?' I mean, yeah, but we've got to try and make it work. How does the arm move? It's got a spring in it when he comes back from the dead, he's got a fist that comes out on a big spring to punch people in the face. So I was thinking, how does that arm move when he's been in the grave...? At the end of the day, I'd be doing all this stuff, and the director of photography would just go, 'You know you're not actually seen in this bit? You know this is just your shadow?' And I'd be like 'Oh... yeah, alright then.'
The kills are very inventive and special effects-driven in a way that's very similar to Freddy Krueger. Is there a bit of Freddy in Stitches?
There is, very much so. There's a bit of Jason as well, cos you know, as soon as you're moving through a house... The whole thing pays homage to the America teen slasher films. It's quite American – even though it's Ireland – but there's a lot of visual nods to the American slasher films. But at the same time, it's like... The way I describe it is Freddy Kruger meets the Chuckle Brothers.
That sounds terrifying.
But not the Krueger bit. A night in the house with the Chuckle Brothers – it's like Paranormal Activity, but just...
Freddy Krueger takes a certain glee in the killing, because that's what he does. Whereas Stitches, the only reason he's doing this children's party at the start, is partly for the money, and also for the off-chance he can shag one of the mums. That's basically this character's motivation – he just loves shagging the mums, and he's more than happy to take payment in kind. The opening scene, you see him shagging this woman in a dirty caravan, but he's in full clown make up, smoking a fag and just about to go out... So when he gets brought back to life, the black magic clowns use that as sort of a contract: 'A clown has to finish his show.' When he's killing, in my head anyway, he's doing it because he was contractually obliged to. He's just like, Oh for fuck's sake, I've got to go kill these kids, otherwise I've got to go back to being dead. His catchphrase, basically, is, 'Oh, for fuck's sake.' He keeps getting stabbed, and they keep sticking knives in him. And instead of him going, 'Argh!', he's already dead so he's just like, 'Oh for fuck's sake.'
From that point of view, it's a bit like Freddy Kreuger has turned round to his friend and gone, 'You know what, I'm going away for a couple of weeks. I know you're not qualified, but could you do a bit of slashing for me?' And his mate's just gone, 'Oh, for fuck's sake, I've got to do this for Freddy.' So there's no... there's only a tiny little bit of joy, when he actually kills the kid; the lead-up and straight after, he's not bothered, but there's just the split second of joy when he's actually getting revenge. I've properly thought this through!
What are your favourite horror films?
I do like Freddy, I must admit. I do like a slasher. Are you aware of the Maniac Cop series? When I was a kid I was a big fan of the Maniac Cop franchise, but they're a little bit more obscure than the Nightmare on Elm Street ones.
I quite like stuff across the board actually: I like a good bug movie, a monster film. I just went and saw the new Resident Evil yesterday. Things that's faces open, I do like that. When I was younger ones that really used to scare me was stuff like The Thing, you know? Stuff that was a little bit more set in reality, but just skewed slightly. When I was very young, obviously, things like Gremlins had a huge effect, and American Werewolf in London – the sort of stuff that, I know this sounds daft, but the sort of stuff where it's sort of believeable.
I love Neil Marshall's stuff as well – The Descent is such a scary film. By far the best potholing horror I've ever seen. When it comes to potholing movies, I don't think there's better! But that sort of, not only being hunted down by these creepy underground dwellers, but also the fact it's so claustrophobic, you know? He's just mixed up that... Dog Soldiers as well. I could sit here and just reel off all the, 'Oh, I quite like that, and oh, that's quite good!'
Have you seen the Neil Marshall film Doomsday? It's worth a look. Being Scottish, I think you'll really like it. There's been this outbreak and Hadrian's Wall is reinstated, so down south it's all gone to shit, and then everyone past Hadrian's Wall is like Mad Max with a bit of medieval stuff. I think it might be used for the push for Scottish Independence. If anyone could do that on YouTube, I'd love to see that – Doomsday mixed with Alec Salmond going, 'The time has come that we must go out on our own,' and then just have this shot of a massive guy in a kilt...
Stitches is being released in time for Hallowe'en – do you have any classic costumes from the past?
Not really, I've never really dressed up that much... I've got this dilemma now of, when Stitches comes out... It was at FrightFest in London, which is just this big horror one, and it went down really well there, and it showed at Cannes and people really liked it. It's one of those things, it's so hard to know cos it's such a crowded market whether people will get to hear about it and get to see it, but the problem is, if it's really well received, and Stitches actually becomes an iconic character – cos it's getting released in America as well – if it takes off, then I'm left with that dilemma of, 'Do I turn up to Hallowe'en parties at Stitches forever?' Robert Englund, does he do that? Does he go as Freddy Krueger? Or as Jason, as a clever little in-joke?
Aside from films, do you have any favourite Hallowe'en entertainment? Scary albums? Books?
Any of Edwina Currie's books, read on audio book – I reckon if you were to mix Edwina Currie reading out her book, and just put the sound of dripping water behind it. You know those sex books that she writes? I find Edwina Currie to be one of the creepiest beings on the planet, and the fact that's she's got this weird sex thing going on... You know that sort of, 'She walked into the room, her lips quivered' - if you imagine that, with like, 'drip... drip... drip...' and the occasional creaking door, I think that'd be the most terrifying thing on earth.
Finally, do you believe in ghosts?
No. Well... It's one of those things where I wouldn't rule it out, but... no, I'll go on the record and say, no, I don't believe in ghosts. And the reason being that I think, there could be some sort of energy that the dead release that maybe we don't understand. Every culture has their folklore, their myths, and if you look back through history, it's all based on stuff they didn't understand. They've just filled in the gaps and went, 'Well, if it's this or it's that, it must be ghosts then.' I think there's something there that we don't understand, and we just call them ghosts. We only call them ghosts because we've got a word for it, and we've got loads of films based around it.
Mind you, I did stay in a hotel, up in Scotland actually, although I can't for the life of me remember the name, but we stayed in this country house, it was like a castle, up in the Highlands somewhere. They had this big picture, and one of the family members in the picture, the husband, his face had been scrubbed out. It was a giant oil painting on the wall, and his face had been scrubbed out, because his wife had caught him having an affair, so she got some paint remover … And this picture is hundreds of years old, and they never restored it. So there's this giant oil painting, and the face is missing, and then the wife threw herself over the balcony, and apparently her ghost has been seen in this one room, this tiny little box room which is supposed to be the most haunted room in the castle. So I was up there doing some gigs in the Highlands and Islands, and my crew were like, 'Oh, that's really scary,' and I was like, 'Ah, don't be silly, give us the key,' and I slept in that room for the night. I must admit, when I turned out the light, I was like, 'Errr, this is a bit creepy.' So I do think it's all in the mind.
I would like to remember where that was actually, so if you could print that, and people could tweet me and tell me where the hotel is that has that picture with the husband's face removed, that'd be great.
Stitches is released on Fri 26 Oct, and Ross's Mindblender tour calls in at The Playhouse, Edinburgh on Mon 1 Nov, and the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow, on Tue 2 & Wed 3 Nov.