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Interview: Hounds of Love stars Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry

05.15.2017by: Eric Walkuski

Ben Young's directorial debut HOUNDS OF LOVE is one of the best films I've seen so far this year, and I have no doubt it'll be sitting in my Top 10 when December rolls around. A chilling portrait of two lovers who psychopathically get their kicks by kidnapping, sexually abusing, and murdering teenage girls, it works not only as an intense thriller but as heartbreaking drama, as Young (who was inspired by a real-life serial killer couple from his native Australia) infuses these characters with humanity and vulnerability. Which, of course, makes them even scarier. The film forces us to spend a handful of days with the couple, John White (comedian Stephen Curry) and Evelyn White (Emma Booth), and their latest victim, a headstrong schoolgirl named Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings). Without being exploitive, Young crafts a chilling, realistic dynamic between the three, as Vicki tries to reason with her captors and the relationship between John and Evelyn becomes strained and distrustful.

HOUNDS OF LOVE has made waves at the various film festivals it has visited, with Young and Booth coming away award winners at the Brussels International Film Festival, Cummings earning Best Actress in a Debut Film at Venice, and the film nabbing the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Overlook Film Festival. It's currently in theaters and on VOD in North America and Australia, and film lovers - not just genre fans, but cinephiles of all stripes - would do themselves well to give it a look. Just don't forget to breathe (as Curry apparently did when he first viewed it).

During last month's Tribeca Film Festival I had the pleasure of sitting down with Booth, Cummings and Curry to talk about their incredible work in HOUNDS OF LOVE, the vision of Ben Young, the psychology of monsters, and much more!

Hounds of Love Emma Bell Ashleigh Cummings Stephen Curry
Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Emma Bell

What was the atmosphere on this set like on a day to day basis?

Emma: It was awesome. Steve is a comedian, and he's so funny. We'd have these moments where we'd be shaking after we'd finished a scene, and he'd come out and crack out some dance moves and a song for us.

Steve: Every so often.

Ashleigh: You were very sensitive.

Emma: He was. There was so much love. We adore each other so much, there was just love and trust there, and moments where we'd have to go off and be on our own. Oh boy, did we have to go to some places emotionally. It was exhausting, it was a tired-but-wired feeling I'd end up with. It was claustrophobic and very hot.

That kind of adds to it, right?

Emma: It did add to it, but we knew we were working on a winner - or we hoped we were working on a winner.

Ashleigh: Once we got on set with Ben, it was extraordinary. He's pretty extraordinary.

Steve: He really is. Kind of genuinely the nicest guy you'll ever meet in your entire life.

Ashleigh: You can't believe he came up with this!

Hounds of Love Emma Bell Ashleigh Cummings Stephen Curry

Steve, you're famous for a lot of comedic roles back in Australia. Is this going to be a surprise for your fans, to see you playing such a dark character?

Steve: Yeah, I think so. I usually play bumbling idiots who can't get laid. First and foremost, it's just something I don't get considered for. Hopefully that might change now, but certainly before this film I would never have imagined I'd be considered for this. I think it's very brave for someone to cast someone like me in this role, because on paper it's a bad idea. It really is, it's a bad idea. When it came into my lap, effectively, I couldn't believe it. From the moment I read it, I was desperate to be in the film. At the start of the film, I was a little nervous, I was feeling a bit weird about a few things, and one of them was... I don't ever do kissing scenes. And there's a pretty brutal kissing scene in the film. And I was kind of nervous about it-

Emma: I think I just brought it up. I'm like, "So, should we discuss the..?"

Steve: Yeah, and I was like, "I'm just feeling nervous, I don't really know what the rules are, what are the rules, what do you do?" But if you're in the company of such respectful, and considerate, and supportive colleagues, it's amazing. You just feel safe to express yourself and try things you otherwise might not try. I was either gonna succeed or go down in flames. I wasn't going to be dying wondering on this film.

Emma: I felt that way too, I thought, "Is this going to kill my career? Or is it going to do something good?" I remember my first scene with you, and thinking, "Fuck, he's good." Then you, and I was like, "Fuck, she's good." But most of acting is reacting off of the other person. I know what I'm like when I'm really present with other brilliant actors, and it was really about making each other bigger and brighter and better, everyone was so fantastic.

Ashleigh: Ben would give us the room to improvise. He's so insightful, just the details...

Ashleigh, what was it like for you, because it's such a prolonged state of trauma you're in. Are you able to shake it off at the end of the day?

Ashleigh: I was very conscious of that going into the project, and I knew I've been doing this long enough to have the tools, but it was very confronting. A lot of the time you go, "It's fiction, it's fiction." And though these are fictional characters, it happens to real people, so the magnitude of that hits home every night. I didn't even experience one percent of what these people have really experienced, and yet it was traumatizing just to imagine the horror people go through. There were a lot of existential crises for me. I had a very strong network of friends that I could call, but also on set. These guys were phenomenal.

Did you guys do any kind of research into real people and cases?

Emma: I watched loads of documentaries on serial killers, female serial killers, couples. Whatever I could find on Netflix. I'm obsessed with true crime, I just find it fascinating.

Steve: That's what this film is concerned with as well, the psychology behind it. It's not the act itself, it's not the actions of the characters, it's the reasons behind it. That was interesting to me, the idea of sociopathy, how that manifests itself. One of the really common themes with sociopaths is lack of empathy or lack of love, and one of the really common themes is the ability to effect it. One thing Ben and I discussed at length was finding ways for John to effect whatever he needed to effect, to achieve his goal, and his goal is always about his power.

It's all a power game, and of course John has no power outside of the house.

Steve: That's what we discussed, this guy wants to be king of his domain, and the moment he steps across the precipice, he's nothing, which then informs his intrinsic need to maintain that power.

Ashleigh: Which I love about Ben's writing, they're such 3D characters. And of course these actions are inexcusable, they're monsters, but you start to learn the root cause of it. These issues can be addressed with love, with their upbringings, and I think that speaks a lot to rehabilitations and prisons and so on. We tend to point fingers and call them criminals, but there's a vulnerability there, especially seen in Emma's character.

Hounds of Love Emma Booth Stephen Curry

What was it like for all of you to watch the movie for the first time?

Emma: It was horrifying. It got to the scene where I was nude, and my body was changed quite a bit in the film, so it was quite confronting seeing myself in the film. It wasn't me, but I was happy they had done that because it was so much more realistic, I had my breasts slightly changed, I had fake teeth, I had contacts, my skin was really damaged up. It was very interesting to see Evelyn on the screen for the first time, and I was very proud, because it wasn't like, "Let's just go there a little bit," we fully went there. I didn't know what was happening in front of me when I watched it for the first time.

Steve: I think I forgot to breathe the whole time? I was so exhausted at the end of it, because there are a thousand ways to edit this thing, there are probably infinite ways to stuff it up, but I just found it so compelling and so engrossing, and there's just absolute pride in the piece of work. It's really a super intelligent and incredible piece of filmmaking. I don't think I've seen a better debut.

Emma: We're all proud of each other and Ben. We can't believe the response. It's a film of love; we didn't have a lot of money, but we had a lot of love, and I think it shows.

Steve: Everyone in Australia is getting a bit grumpy, because it seems as though everyone else has seen it. All these lovely reviews are coming out and they're going, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where's the love?"

Emma: "This is our story."

Extra Tidbit: A list of all the U.S., Canadian and Australian theaters currently showing HOUNDS OF LOVE can be found HERE.

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