In Richard Stanley’s COLOR OUT OF SPACE, the film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name, we are introduced to a new character named Ward Phillips, portrayed by actor Elliot Knight. Hired by the Mayor of Arkham, MA to survey the water for the building of a new reservoir, Ward quickly realizes, after a meteorite crashes on the front lawn of the Gardner family, that something very, very peculiar is afoot.
For the release of the film, we had the chance to speak with actor Elliot Knight about his latest role as Ward Phillips. During our chat, we discussed everything from his experience working with Richard Stanley and Nicolas Cage, to Lovecraft’s xenophobia, as well as what he believes the “color” is trying to show us.
To start things off can you tell us a little bit about your character and what attracted you to the role?
Elliot Knight: Of course! Originally, [COLOR OUT OF SPACE] was based on the short story by Lovecraft and the character of Ward actually isn’t in the short story. That was a character that Richard [Stanley] wanted to add for his movie adaptation basically to serve as the audience’s perspective, allowing us a view into the weirdness that happens around the family, as well as to serve as almost Lovecraft himself. Because of his nature, he was quite a bit of a loner and an intellectual like Ward is and I know that was something that was important to Richard to reflect. But, in the movie, Ward is a hydrologist from Providence that is sent by the Mayor to survey the land for the creation of a huge reservoir on the land where the Gardner’s actually live. That’s how he ends up meeting Lavinia, the daughter of the family, and learning about the land there which seems very, very peculiar.
How familiar were you with Lovecraft’s work prior to filming and was there any specific research you did, or that Richard Stanley gave you, to help get into Ward’s mindset?
Elliot Knight: I was not familiar with Lovecraft at all, I never had read any of his stories. The first thing I read was the script from Richard, and the first time I read it I actually didn’t read what character I was being asked to look at cause I wanted to see how I felt about the story first. I had never done that before, actually, but I thought it would be a cool experiment to just read through it and see if I was drawn to anyone. Funny enough, I know it sounds like I’m just saying it, but genuinely, I finished [the script] and was like, “Oh, that Ward character is really interesting.” I was gobsmacked by the script because it’s just as shocking and terrifying as it is to watch [the movie]. After that, I became more familiar with Richard’s work. I watched Hardware and the documentary Lost Souls about his journey with The Island of Dr. Moreau. Then I read the short story, Colour Out of Space, and got myself the Necronomicon and began diving into the world of Lovecraft.
Lovecraft was known for his racist views in his stories as well as also being sexist. That said, one of the reasons I love Richard Stanley’s adaptation is because he does away with those xenophobic tropes. What were your feelings towards the modern take of the film against the backdrop of Lovecraft’s intolerant perspective?
Elliot Knight: I’m glad you brought that up because there are definitely darker parts to Lovecraft’s story as a person and the time that it was, obviously. It was great to see the film brought to life not just in modern times but also in a way that is more inclusive and more representative. Even though it seems like a strange universe where that might be unimportant I think that it really does have a big impact. There are a delicacy and strength in the sensitivity that you have with a broader range of characters that help to shine a full spectrum on everything that Richard’s trying to do. He is one of my favorite people, he’s such a lovely man, and he’s so fascinating. He relates to everyone in different ways. He has this superpower of just being able to engage with anyone and everyone on whatever it is that he chooses and I think that it’s great that he had different outlets in which to do that with different kinds of characters.
To piggyback off that answer, how was it working with him and the rest of the cast?
Elliot Knight: Everyone was great, honestly, it was a dream. We had a couple of months in Portugal together shooting this. I came the latest to the production because a lot of the movie had family scenes. It was very special to come out to Portugal while everyone had already been there for a week or two and meet everyone as the family. It really set the picture for me as an outsider of the cast in terms of the character – Ward comes into this world and everything is very foreign to him. We had a lot of fun which I think is definitely useful when you are making something that is quite bleak and bizarre. It’s nice when you can enjoy the company of people and on-set energy. It was amazing to work with Nic. He’s obviously a legend and he was just the loveliest guy. He’s so talented and he led with such great, bold energy that I think it really leant itself so well to a Lovecraft/Stanley mashup world. He’s like the perfect person to be a part of that. He really helped to unlock the potential of where we all could go with this to really fulfill what it could be and I’m so grateful for that experience. Richard, again, he’s just so invested in everyone’s character and even wrote everyone their own bio’s for their characters. He’s so passionate about what he does and he loves it. Unfortunately, it can be quite rare to come across that kind of pure enthusiasm but he has it and it’s a treasure.
There are a lot of themes presented in the film, but what was your takeaway from the story?
Elliot Knight: (laughs) it’s such a journey! Honestly, I’ve watched it about five times now and every single time I feel differently when I come out of it. I think [the film] does a good job shining a light on the less desirable aspects of human nature and what it is that the color brings out of us as people. For myself, Ward’s character has the potential of being an unlikely hero which is my favorite kind of story. Something that’s brain, not brawn, is always better, like [Ward] is. It’s nice to see someone who has the smarts be the one to come out on top, not the one who necessarily is the biggest or the strongest or the fastest.