Interview: Holly Goss & Gemma Atkinson | THE DYATALOV PASS INCIDENT

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The following transcript is all that remains of a strange mystery that hangs like a black cloud over Starburst HQ. On Thursday 22 August 2013, one enthusiastic horror obsessed writer was despatched to the 14th annual FrightFest in The Empire Cinema Leicester Square. He was never seen or heard from again. All that was found in his hotel room were a set of interview transcripts. This is the first of those transcripts, which pieces together his movements on day two of his journey into the dark heart of cinema; with actresses Gemma Atkinson and Holly Goss.

Some say he was a victim of Big Foot, though experts argue Big Foot is not indigenous to the Leicester Square area. One indigenous predator thought to be responsible is Uncle Ian Rattray, who unmercifully bludgeons his victims to death with house bricks. The only evidence remains a fictitious short film, and the disappearance continues to confound authorities.

Starburst: What is about acting that you find so appealing and stimulating?

Holly Goss: I suppose it’s the idea of turning into somebody else; exploring somebody else's life and trying to become them and seeing them as a person and then trying to represent it. Also it’s just a lot of fun; really enjoyable. I have always done it and I have always loved it. I went to drama school, loved that and just enjoy the whole world of it.

Gemma Atkinson: Like Holly said, it is to be somebody else for the day. It's nice to have a project where you can just really get into it and try to relate to another human being. People say, "Oh it's not very stimulating to act”, but it is. I have had friends say, “Oh it’s not very hard, you just say a few lines.” Again you meet so many amazing people. When you are on set, no matter whether it’s film, TV or theatre, the banter is always the same; always the same kind of dark humoured, sick kind of banter. So I just think the people are great, and you just get to challenge yourself every day.

Is one of the points of interest about the profession for you that each day you can put on a mask, which you are then able to take off at the end of the day? Does it present an opportunity to explore yourself, and depending on if it is a dark subject matter, does it perhaps give you the chance to explore the darker side of your personality or even offer a journey of catharsis?

Holly Goss: I definitely think that you learn stuff about yourself. Whatever you are doing you are learning and you are growing. I don't know if I always think that there is something I necessarily have in common with someone just because I'm playing them. I normally like to look at the differences, and then it depends on the situation that the character is in. Normally you are in very extreme situations that I would never find myself in, so you have to try and imagine how you would cope with that? How would this person cope with that? What personality traits do they have which means that they would react in this way? So it is almost like... I don't know... Psychologically exploring a different person as opposed to exploring yourself.

Gemma Atkinson: What I like with some roles is that you get to do something that you wouldn't normally do or say; that's always good. Like Holly said there are some roles that you get and you think ‘Gosh I would have done the same thing or I would have done something different.’ It is always nice when you read your script to then have the read through. You then get the other actors opinions because you wonder how they are going to play it. It is only when you get together that it all comes together and you think ‘Oh yeah, I would have done the same or I would have done it different but that’s better.’ Everyone's working on their characters individually aren't they?

Holly Goss: Yeah.

Gemma Atkinson: As a group it all just comes together. It is good to see how different actors handle things and what they come up with.

One thing I enjoy discussing with creative people is the idea that you cannot credit one person as being solely responsible for a film. At its heart cinema is a collaborative medium.

Holly Goss: Oh, one hundred per cent. The Dyatlov Pass Incident is a great example of that. There was an American crew working alongside a Russian crew; two first assistant directors from totally different countries and backgrounds working together and two different languages were being spoken simultaneously. People were trying to help with that, plus there were American and English actors. The producers were all there and you just saw how everyone put everything into this film. No one person can have control and I think Renny is someone that really knows about collaboration. He's able to access all the best parts and bring them together, which is what a director should do. He was really great at doing that, great at bringing out the personalities of the actors and keeping the crew happy. There were situations that could sometimes be quite uncomfortable, whether it was cold, a bit dangerous or people were tired, and it is definitely an area where everyone had to come together to work and to be creative to get the best results.

Gemma Atkinson: He kept everyone's morale up; everyone's like a cog in a big wheel so to speak. We wrapped over a year ago, but just because we're not on set anymore it doesn't mean it stops. When I was flying home I was aware that they were still filming, and I wondered what they were doing and then I would get a call from the producer saying “Oh we have just got the rushes through and it looks amazing.” I’d think, “Oh my gosh, there are still people actually working on this.” Of course I’d do the press and stuff. I have never understood when a film does badly and they slate the one actor, the named actor. It's just one part of the big picture. There are lots of people responsible for stuff like that but it is a shame to put everything on one person. It is great to be part of a team. In Russia we had no choice but for everyone to muck in because there were no posh trailers. I was told this before we flew out that we were going to be in a mess so to get ready.

Holly Goss: There was no glamour and glitz was there? None at all.

Gemma Atkinson: I think the glamorous food was Burger King one day...

Holly Goss: Yeah.

Gemma Atkinson: And the hotel food. That was it.

When you received the script and you first read it, what was the attraction for you?

Holly Goss: As a young actress looking to start my career you are always going to be attracted to any film that comes your way. I just felt so lucky to have got this part, especially the leading role which is incredible. In terms of the story, the fact that the 1959 Dyaltov Pass Incident is particularly interesting; people still don't know what happened to those people and it's frightening. I think for a horror film you want it to be on a subject which is terrifying. There is also the added bonus that Renny Harlin is directing it. I wanted to be Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight. I went out and I bought the brown eyes, eye shadow and the bright pink lipstick. I wanted to shave all my hair off and dye it blonde. I just loved it; I loved him and I thought yeah it was such a great opportunity to be a part of it. I couldn't believe my luck. 

Gemma Atkinson: I was the same. When they told us we had got it I thought it was just too stupid to be true; the fact that it was American and it was Renny. The script was based on a true story. It's filmed in Russia, it was a seven week shoot; it was everything rolled into one. It was brilliant. When you do it as an actor you just want the opportunity to prove yourself in a different way to your last project and hopefully open the door to more in the future. So hopefully the film's well received and hopefully... I say that but we've seen it and we're happy. I'm happy anyway. Obviously other people's opinions are good but I think if you read the good reviews you might get big headed, and if you read the bad ones you'll be stressed.

Holly Goss: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and all of those opinions will differ. If you can sit back and say I'm pleased with my work, I'm pleased with what I contributed to this, then that's all you can ask for. So much of it is out of your hands and it is over to the audience, especially now.

When you read the script did you have any idea of the emotional and physical challenges that would confront you during the shoot?

Holly Goss: No, I don't think I did. Also the script changed quite a bit from the first time we read it; so no. It was a good challenge. You can't imagine the places where you are going to be and which are going to be like that. There were some incredible places. One of the places Krasnaya Polyana where we filmed is where the Russian Prime Minister goes skiing. It's breathtakingly beautiful. I mean stuff like that is amazing to see. I suppose I didn't really think about the emotional scenes until I came to them. Then I thought well this is the journey I have taken so far and I'm at this stage and what would happen, what would the character be doing?

Gemma Atkinson: There were days when it was emotionally tough for all of us, because you kept thinking to yourself, ‘I’m so lucky to be here’ but some days you would open your curtains and it was white and you knew you would have to get all your gear on again and go out in the cold. All of us individually, even Renny had moments where we were “Oh my gosh! Todays that day where I’m down and I want to go home.” Then the next day you’d be fine and you’d think ‘It’s amazing again…’

Holly Goss: ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’

Gemma Atkinson: You want to take it all in while you are there and appreciate it, but mentally it was draining at times.

Holly Goss: You dream of all this when you want to become an actor and you want to work and you want to go away. The reality of it can be quite difficult. You are away from your family; you are with people you don’t know and you’ve really got to try and toughen up and get on with it; get on with people and do the best job that you can.

Gemma Atkinson: There was no Wi-Fi was there?

Holly Goss: So there was no connection to your family and also Russia is a very hard country. It’s cold there for eight months of the year and the people they represent that. One to one they are very friendly and lovely, but on a mass scale they can be quite daunting at times.

How much research did you do into the 1959 Dyatlov Pass Incident? How familiar were you with the incident?

Holly Goss: I did quite a lot of research just because I’m playing someone that’s making a documentary, and so her research would have been vast. I just read anything I could on the subject and then I read all of Vonnegut’s books because obviously she is a Vonnegut fan in the film. I did a lot of research on universities in Oregon, created a back story, but you create a character and then you try and research the incident through her by thinking okay what she’s thinking, how’s she piecing this together?

Gemma Atkinson: I just did research on the real thing, but there is so much information on the people and stuff and I wanted to research what happened, but then I wanted to keep out of it because it might be… It was weird.

Holly: Yeah.

You were trying to create a dramatization of the event rather than a documentary?

Holly Goss: Yeah.

Gemma Atkinson: It was good to have bits of information just so you wouldn’t offend anyone when you got there.

In bringing this story to the big screen, and having done the research, has it changed your perspective on what actually happened?

Gemma Atkinson: We still don’t know what happened; it’s really annoying.

Holly Goss: I don’t know. I think I’m just one of those people that would like to think there is a logical explanation for everything, but maybe there isn’t, or maybe the explanation is that…

Gemma Atkinson: Right; because you don’t even know if the medical reports are true. Everyone is trying to base facts on the medical reports but how do you know that they are even true, the broken bones and stuff, everything has been…

Holly Goss: You don’t know. The fact that there are some reports that said they had orange skin and their hair had turned white; really spooky stuff. I don’t know. We don’t know what’s true. Nothing would surprise me because I imagine, and I’m sure you felt the same seeing Russia, you can tell it has definitely been a country of secrets.

THE DYATALOV PASS INCIDENT (or DEVIL’S PASS as it’s known in the US) is out now on DVD/Blu-ray. For an interview with director Renny Harlin check out our latest issue, on sale now!

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