With his excellent new stalker horror-thriller Pet premiering at Fright Fest (reviewed here) Horror Cult Films spoke with its star Dominic Monaghan about the role, the rehearsals, social media and being a hobbit. Please note that the interview has been heavily edited to avoid spoilers, though there are still allusions towards events in the second half. As such, if you want to go in blind then read no further.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how scary is Pet
I think Pet’s different from a horror – there’s horrific elements to it, in terms of what Seth does. But I think it more as a thriller. It’s exciting, but maybe not that scary. So I’d call it a solid 7.3. But if one of my friends said they don’t want to watch horror, or they don’t like horror, I think they’d still be able to get into it.
What attracted you to the film?
A great script is always where I start – if I look back on the things I’ve chosen it’s always a solid script I read and respond to and Jeremy Slater did a great job. It was his first ever script too, but he couldn’t get it off the ground, with things like the writer’s strike. But it’s such a strong script, I kept mulling it around and tracking it to see where it was and who’d been reading it.
How did you go about crafting a character like Seth?
Even when playing despicable characters there’s got to be a charisma – the charisma doesn’t have to be attractive, but there’s got to be something about them. With Seth he’s a lonely man and he’s trying to fix himself – that was my way in. Though it’s not implied strongly in the film he doesn’t have a relationship with his parents, he hasn’t got any friends, never had a girlfriend. We agreed he’s never had sex. So he doesn’t know how to act. Things we know you shouldn’t do, people would ask him not to, and he’d say ‘well why not?’ He just doesn’t know what to do. In a way, I find that beguiling: the naivety is his charm, and he gets himself in obviously very hot water.
That makes sense because at points it seems he isn’t quite aware of what he’s doing.
He’s stunted emotionally. He wants to be with animals because they give him unconditional love – he doesn’t have the emotional strength to deal with not having it. But he’s only a few steps away from being ok and putting himself together. There’s a moment where she reaches out to grab his hand and he just doesn’t know what to do – he’s never been in that situation ever. He wants it – he wants her to be in love with him. But he’s probably got the emotional range of a 9 or 10-year-old.
Much of the film is a two-hander. How did you and Ksenia Solo achieve that chemistry?
We worked together pretty closely – we had a full day rehearsing in the cage set, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but we were there for 9 or 10 scenes from the early morning to late night. I also said while she’s in the cage, ’cause she’s locked in, if she needed anything then just ask me and I’d get it for her. Because I wanted to dote on her in the same way Seth does. I wanted to be her link to the outside world. Then on weekends I wouldn’t hangout with anyone, instead I’d call her and say ‘listen, what do you want to do?’ So again, I wouldn’t really tell her, but I’d try and be there for her: be her slave a little. And it works, it’s nice to be a slave to a beautiful, intelligent, talented lady.
Given how easily Seth learns about Holly, has it made you check your security settings?
I jumped off twitter a while ago, then jumped back on for this festival. I used it at the start, but now it’s become a lot of noise: bullshit facts and people chatting about nothing. So I jumped off it and went on Instagram because it’s a more simple medium – you post photos then you go over to comments. I think social media has its place, but it’s come like its ok to stalk people. Obviously, I don’t mean it’s alright to stalk people, but on social media you can and it’s sort of alright. It’s changing our language a lot – the word “friend” has been completely revolutionised by facebook, hasn’t it? People say I’m friends with this person and it’s like ‘no you’re not – you follow them on Facebook’. A friends someone you can physically meet.
What originally attracts Seth to Holly?
I think he finds her mysterious and dangerous, but first he just think she’s a beautiful lady. Then once he reads her diary he thinks there’s something wrong with this person and he instinctively knows there’s something wrong with him. So he makes it his job to fix her to fix himself. He also thinks he’s got her in a cage so how dangerous could she be?
When he puts himself in more danger do you think calling the police is ever an option?
There’s a moment where he’s building the cage and he stands up and looks at it: in that moment I always think he’s thinking ‘I’m going to do this – I’m about to put a girl in a cage’. And the only way he’d let her out is if she’s well again.
Is it true that it was filmed in the same location Saw was?
Don’t know – might be right. I’ll ask the writer Leigh Whannel some time- I know him.
It’s interesting how Pet sets itself up as torture porn film then pulls the rug out.
Yeah, it’s got more to it. I loved the first Saw movie – it had a lot of great ideas. It’s interesting with Pet because the things you want to tell people are the things you’re not allowed to. I mean it looks like boy meets girl, it doesn’t work out so he gets a bit weird. But its more boy meets girl, girl is a monster but you can’t tell people how because you don’t want to ruin it. Last night (at the premiere) I said to the audience ‘if you like it don’t spoil it’. It’s nice to be surprised. I’m a huge Star wars nut, It’s why I got into acting, so I watched episode 7 thinking I know what it’s going to be. But then there’s that bit you don’t think’s going to happen happens and you think ‘fuck’. And fair play to JJ for doing that and shocking people: ‘t’s art. I’m a real art snob in a lot of ways. It’s great being along for the ride, then you’re like ‘shit, you got me’
You said you got into acting with Star Wars, but for a lot of people that’s going to be Lord of the Rings. How is it having that behind you?
It’s a weird one to actually be in it and not be able to step outside it. Obviously I’ve had people come up to me and say Lord of the Rings is my version of Star Wars, I prefer it. Or lot of the time they say it’s the best trilogy and I say ‘no, Star wars is’. And they say ‘no I like it more’. I love Lord of the Rings and I’m so happy I was in it. But it’s so much more than a movie for me – it was my life – so it’s hard for me to look at it through those eyes. I remember Pete said to me he was thinking of getting hypnotised for Return of the King because he wanted to watch it as a fan and we were all so into it – ‘you should do it Pete’. So he could watch it, then when the credit comes up think ‘oh I directed that!’ But he didn’t do it and I asked him why later and he said that same thing Paul McCartney said about taking acid: ‘I was on such a roll I didn’t want to lose it’.
Any inspiring message for aspiring actors?
Yeah, people ask me a lot on Twitter and I always just say ‘act’. Because that’s all you really can do. I immersed myself in it – I went to plays, was in plays, badgered my teachers at school to do more plays: we did 1 a year, let’s do 2. I studied Deniro and I’d watch him over and over again. I’d pause stuff and see if I could do his faces. When I was a kid I watched a lot of stuff I probably shouldn’t have, then I got a notebook and I’d write stuff. I’d go to the movies a lot – I just immersed myself in it. Get into plays, watch them, study them.