Norwich director chats about Norfolk thriller starring BAFTA-winning Sean Harris
PUBLISHED: 15:35 24 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:46 25 October 2018
Louisa Baldwin spoke to Norwich director Matthew Holness ahead of the release of thriller Possum, filmed in Norfolk and starring BAFTA-winning actor Sean Harris.
Matthew Holness is best known for his role as the title character in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – a cult Channel 4 comedy which he also co-wrote alongside The IT Crowd star and Travel Man Richard Ayoade.
Possum, which is released this Friday, follows disgraced children’s puppeteer Philip (Harris) as he returns to his childhood home of Fallmarsh, Norfolk intent on destroying Possum.
The Possum is a hideous puppet he keeps hidden inside a brown leather bag and when his attempts fail he is forced to confront his sinister stepfather, played by Alun Armstrong, to escape the dark horrors of his past.
Holness has directed a number of short films, including, Smutch for Sky Arts and A Gun For George for Film4, but this is his first feature film.
We spoke to Holness about the Norwich film scene and what it was like to work with Hollywood star Harris, originally from Lowestoft, best known for his role in Mission Impossible franchise as Solomon Lane and for his BAFTA-award winning role in Channel 4’s Southcliffe.
What is Possum and why did you decide to make the film?
It’s a horror psychological film so it’s a dark story about a chap called Philip who returns to a come home to destroy a puppet created which represents more than just a puppet – it’s a horror story about someone confronting the demons of their past.
I was invited to contribute to a horror anthology by a Manchester-based publisher and they asked us to look at Freud’s book Uncanny and pick a fear and I chose the fear of dummies and doubles.
I thought about what kind of puppeteer would create a complete double of their own likeness.
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Later I was looking at film projects and I’m obsessed with silent horrors and wanted to make one for a contemporary audience and it occurred to me the character I’d written about would be perfect.
What are the themes in the film?
It’s a very visual horror with minimal dialogue. It tackles a very dark territory on child abuse and abduction and if I was going to make a horror around that subject I couldn’t be exploitative.
Crime dramas tackle the issue all the time and it’s accepted as there is an inbuilt knowledge that the forces or justice are out there to confront it but you don’t have that reassurance in horror so it’s rarely tackled in the genre and was important to make for that reason.
Whereabouts did you film in Norfolk?
We filmed in Stiffkey Marshes, RAF Coltishall and also filmed in some parts of Great Yarmouth and stretched into Suffolk too.
The landscape is stunning and completely unique and you get wonderful sunsets. I didn’t realize until after filming that Stiffkey Marshes is one the main haunting grounds of the Black Shuck [a local legend about a ghostly devil dog].
What do you think of the arts scene in Norwich?
I grew up in Kent and the arts scene wasn’t the reason I moved to Norwich but it was a delight to find it was so vibrant.
The writing course at the University of East Anglia is fantastic and I once saw Lee Child talk at Jarrold and thought it was amazing to see such famous authors at a local book store.
It’s such a great place for writers and dramatists and a lot of members of the crew on Possum were students from the university and it was brilliant to have local talent on the film. I also love Cinema City, it’s got a great atmosphere.
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Do you still get recognized for your role in Channel 4’s Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace?
People still talk to me about it as it’s so liked by fans of the show and it’s gratifying to make a programme that fans enjoy so much.
It’s quite hard to make break into more serious filmmaking if you start out in comedy but it’s less of a jump from comic horror to serious horror.
What was it like to work with BAFTA award-winning actor Sean Harris?
It was good working with Sean Harris, he’s a local boy and so knew all the areas we were filming and was able to advise on areas to film.
He’s a method actor so very much in character all the time which created an intense atmosphere.
Sean came on quite early to the project and really responded to the script.
It wasn’t the horror aspect that appealed to him but the character of Philip and with him on board it made it easier to get funding.
He brought so much to the part and with very little dialogue his performance became very visual and physical with all the trauma carried in his body.
What is next in the pipeline for you and what has the reaction been so far?
I’ve written another horror film hoping to make at some point.
The reaction so far has been really positive and I’ve done a few Q&As with audiences and they seem to be interested in what happens to Philip.
Whilst being a creepy character that the audience are at first wary of, it’s gratifying at the end to see the audience rooting for him.
Possum is released in UK cinemas on Friday, October 26.