When it comes to character actors, very few are as accomplished and revered as Rory Kinnear. From acclaimed TV series such as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, where he played the Creature, to the 007 franchise where he played M16’s Chief of Staff, Kinnear has the gift of shape-shifting into unique and memorable characters. In his most recent role in Alex Garland’s visionary nightmare, MEN, Kinnear takes on the challenge of playing multiple roles that are each more insidious than the next.
In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to have found a place to heal. But someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread becomes a fully-formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with actor Rory Kinnear for the upcoming release of MEN, where they discussed everything from his conditions to take on the multiple characters to the homework he did before arriving on set, and which manly incarnation was his favorite to take on.
Editor’s Note: There are SIGNIFICANT spoilers in this. Proceed with caution.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Rory! I can’t imagine that taking on multiple roles was easy, so what was your reaction when you learned you’d be playing a variety of characters?
Rory Kinnear: There are not many actors who wouldn’t be excited about the prospect. But I was also aware that the decision to cast one actor was not one that [Alex] had taken lightly and that had a meaningful impact on the telling of the story above and beyond how interesting it is to see an actor play lots of different parts. The first thing I said to Alex was I’m not interested in a film whereby people go away talking about how many different accents I can do and how chameleon-like the actor was. Each character has to exist entirely by and of itself, and it has to be just as credible as the next and has to exist credibly within the landscape. As well as being aware that me playing all of them has a creepy and incipient and growing weirdness to it, that is there for a reason beyond and much more importantly than just me getting to play lots of different people.
Speaking of Alex, was he helpful in preparing you for these roles? Were there certain elements or nuances that you brought to each of the characters that may not have been written into the script?
Rory Kinnear: Geoffrey, the vicar, the policeman were all kinds of emblematic figures of authority, which is why [Alex] was using them. It was my job to flesh all of that out and make them individuals. Once I signed on [to the film] I took the time to write a biography for each one and then sent them to Alex to see that I was in the right kind of area. And he seemed to like those so I sent them all to the Head of Hair and Makeup and Head of Costumes so that they could begin their creative process in at least an idea of which path I was thinking each character was going down. And no one was saying this person needs to look like this or I think they wear this because I don’t strictly work particularly visually. It’s more like, this is where they grew up, this is the events in their life, this is the thing that they feel challenged by, this is music they like. Then they were able to respond with their creative visions and create mood boards for each [character].
So it’s a process of several months of delving into who these people were so that when it came to being on-set each day, and sometimes obviously jumping from character to character within a day, you really sort of knew who they were and felt comfortable in who they were rather than having to discover it on the hoof on set.
WARNING SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER WARNING SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Seriously, turn back if you don’t want anything spoiled or so help us!
You still here? Okay, it’s your funeral.
The film features one of the wildest body-horror moments of the year. Can you talk about how your birthing scene was crafted and executed?
Rory Kinnear: There was a moment when The Green Man character emerges after the car crashes and his foot snaps and I thought to myself, how are we going to do this [Laughs]? That’s when Alex told me to go for it. Afterwards, there’s a soundtrack throughout that kind of uses Jessie’s voice that has been haunting us as an audience throughout the film. But for me, each [character] had their own kind of primal vocal response to what was going on. And each one had a need for something that led them toward Harper. And then obviously finalizes with the character of James asking for her love. But each [character] was sort of asking [Harper] for maternal love, to look after them, to be comforted, but doing that in their naked primal state so I had to be aware of what that was for each one.
Then there was the raw mechanics of it. They dug a shallow grave and put a mound of barley on top so the vicar emerged through that, so I was crouched in this grave with a belly on top of me [Laughs]. Then they built this sort of I don’t know what the hell it was but it was some kind of skin-like aperture that was attached to the top of a slide which Geoffrey had to slither down. By day five/six, people were being so nice to me and the quality of snacks was getting more and more extraordinary as they realized I could blow at any point given what they’d put me through [Laughs]. We all got there with good humor in the end.
To wrap things up, out of all the different men that you played, which one was your favorite to perform as? Or did they all possess a quality that was fun to play around with?
Rory Kinnear: It was a really jolly set whenever Geoffrey was around. Everyone wafted around singing when it was a Geoffrey day. It wasn’t like I was staying in character in-between takes, but people found it quite difficult to take me seriously as Rory when I was dressed as Geoffrey [Laughs]. But when I came on set as the vicar people were really standoffish and people gave me my own space. And then there were a couple of characters where people didn’t actually realize it was me so they sort of completely ignored me. I just had to keep reminding everyone that it was still me, it was still Rory, and that there is a distinction between Rory and these people. It was instructive to see how much the surface look of someone completely affected what people presumed that person to be.
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