Interview: Sarah Jane Honeywell

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Sarah Jane Honeywell was one of the most recognizable faces on BBC children’s channel CBeebies. As presenter of Tikkabilla, Higgledy House and Mighty Mites she soon became a firm favourite with both children and parents alike. Since leaving CBeebies she’s embraced her love of horror, appearing in a number of independent British productions, including Bloody Cuts and the Eschatrilogy. She also stars in the upcoming sci-fi short Tempus Fug’it, which has been overseen by Michael Haneke, the Oscar winning director of Amour and Hidden (and yes, a Michael Haneke sci-fi action film is something we need to see!). We caught up with her to discuss her somewhat unique career path and love of horror.

Starburst: You’ve just done Tempus Fug’it. What can you tell us about that?

Sarah Honeywell: Yes, it means ‘Time Flies’. It was done in Vienna and we also filmed just outside Bratislava. It’s about a woman [played by Honeywell] whose husband gets killed while she’s pregnant, and she finds a way that you can bring people back in time for a moment by making these windows of opportunity. You steal these windows of opportunity from other people and you build them up and remake time. She gets her husband to come back to life so that he can see his child seven years later. But, in doing so the government are very angry with her and they try and kill her.

Which is why you’ve been posting various pictures online of you with machine guns?

Yeah, which was so much fun! The people who did it are to do with the Vienna Film Academy and they are under the guidance of Michael Haneke. He teaches at that school, he’s one of their professors. I wanted to do it because it was under his guidance. It was filmed on 35mm which is really unusual. I’ve seen it, there’s some bits that are properly European and beautiful.

It’s an arty action movie?

It is quite arty but Béla Baptiste, the director, he wanted to do it because he’s sick of European films not being action movies. It’s a short, it’s like the Bloody Cuts one that I did. It’s the same sort of premise, it’s a short to do more. It’s 15 minutes long.

Is it being released online?

We’re going to film festivals first with it, and then out online.

This isn’t your first venture into genre filmmaking. You’ve also appeared in both Bloody Cuts and the Eschatrilogy

I did the Eschatrilogy first, and basically I’m in the last scene, I’m a zombie survivor, so I’m clearly a tough bird! I look about 150 in it, I nearly died when I saw it! I thought “What have they done to me?” Basically they wouldn’t let me wear any make-up and covered me in mud. I did not know I looked that old covered in mud! I get to slash somebody and be a tough girl in that.

Sarah Honeywell

Good fun for a horror fan then?

Yeah. It was more exciting than kid’s TV! It was in the woods and we had fires going and I was filthy. It made me feel like a wild person! It was absolutely freezing, it had been snowing and we were on the moors. Also, Damian Morter, who is the director and writer, is awesome. He’s in it, he’s in my scene, and also Stuart Wolfenden from Dead Man’s Shoes and George Newton who plays Banjo in This in England are in it as well. George Newton plays a zombie and he was properly scary. He ate raw liver. I saw it and it’s a really good film, and I’m not a massive fan of zombie films, it’s the one thing I’m not keen on. They’re really slow, they’re not scary!

But it’s not their speed, it’s their numbers, surely that’s what makes them scary?

They don’t scare me! 28 Days Later really scared me, and I quite like The Walking Dead because I like the concept. But this, I was a bit worried as it’s on a small budget, but they had some crazy prosthetics and it’s a really good film, people are going to love it.

And after that you did Bloody Cuts

They’re short horrors. I’m in Dead Man’s Lake but their best one is Sucka Blood which is a Victorian horror, that’s my favourite of theirs. They’re going to do thirteen and after that I think they’re going to try and do a feature film. It’s a family who do it. We literally stayed in the family’s houses, it was really cool. Millennium FX did the prosthetics for them, they do Doctor Who. It rained a lot but I really loved it. I kind of blagged my way into that. I said, “I want to make a behind the scenes film of a horror, can I be an extra?” and they said: “we’ll give you a little part.” So for two days I was there I didn’t film anything, I was just doing behind the scenes, having lots of fun, and finally it got to my scene and I could see that they were all nervous. They were really nervous for my scene, I was in a car which was all smashed up and I was mucking around and I could see that they were going “what have we done? We’ve got a kid’s TV presenter and we’ve actually given her lines!” Then I did it and (director/producer) Ben Franklin he really laughed and said, “I should have given you more lines!” I said, “didn’t you think I could do it?” and he said no! They gave me three lines and that was it because they didn’t trust me! Literally I felt their relief when I did those three lines, I just felt everyone go, “Oh thank God for that, she’s actually alright!”

What else have you got coming up?

I’ve got a film called Five Pillars, that’s a gritty Northern drama and I’ve got a full length film, Gift of Light, about depression, and one called The Attachment, but they’re not sci-fi or horror. I’ve done an online comedy as well, but again that’s not in the right genre…

Yeah, this bit will get cut as it’s not about zombies.

Ha! Exactly.

Sarah Honeywell

And you’ve worked with a former Doctor, Colin Baker.

Yes, Shadows Of A Stranger [A sci-fi reworking of A Christmas Carol]. That was amazing to do actually. Again I was only in one scene in a dream sequence…

You’re queen of the one scene cameo aren’t you?

I’m that stupid girl where everyone goes, “She obviously can’t act but we’ll get her in because she tweets about it!” I play a girl where you’re not sure if she’s an angel or not. [Directors] Chris Clark and Richard Dutton got in touch with me on Facebook because Chris has got kids and had seen me on kid’s TV and said: “We really want you to do this part, will you do it?” It was literally just after I filmed Mighty Mites. It was in Lincoln and they asked me to come up the night before filming for rehearsal. So in the middle of the fens I was driving out at 10 o’clock at night to this barn on an old farm down this country lane thinking, “I wonder if I’m actually going to get killed?”

You drove out to a remote house in the middle of nowhere to meet someone you didn’t know?

Yeah, I thought, “This could be a snuff horror!” Luckily they were genuine and they did not kill me. What was amazing was they built a bluescreen in this barn themselves. They did everything themselves. They’re still directing and editing it now because they’ve done all the animation for it themselves. It’s amazing, it’s got people in it like Colin Baker. They also let me film my music video ‘Karma’ on their bluescreen studio and they animated it for me. What I loved about them is they got this film, they decided, “we’re gonna do it” and they just did it. It was in this old barn, it was raining, we had to keep waiting for the rain on the roof because it was a tin roof, they’d got a caravan off eBay that you went to the toilet in. I love them for going for it and not being held back by money. Hopefully that’ll be out this Christmas.

Doing horror is quite a departure for someone best known for CBeebies. Was it a conscious decision to take your career in a more adult direction?

Well after my picture appeared in The Sun [in 2011 Honeywell posed for a slightly raunchy photo-shoot, which was featured in several national papers] I kind of knew that my kid’s TV career was over, so I thought I should seal that fate with the one in Trafalgar Square [where she took part in a semi naked publicity stunt for animal rights charity Peta]. I was kind of glad because they’re very strict at kid’s TV and they kind of want you to be a child yourself, and I’m not. I remember when I got tattoos they were horrified and I don’t think I ever really fitted in there. I remember doing a magazine questionnaire when we first went on tour with CBeebies Live. They asked us: “What’s your favourite song”. Justin Fletcher put “The Grand Old Duke of York”. I clearly didn’t get where I was in life because I put “Anarchy in the U.K.” I thought “Yeah, I’m not in the right job here!” So it was lucky I did break away. I’ve always loved horror, and I’ve always wanted to be a scream queen. And I love stuff like Twin Peaks. I’m obsessed with it, I’ve been obsessed with it since I was a kid, so I wanted to do something that dramatic. Also, I’ve always wanted to be like that guy who plays Gollum.

Sarah Honeywell

Andy Serkis? Doing performance capture?

Yes. Because I do contortion and acrobatics, I feel like I’d be good at that sort of thing. Just to create characters. But there is something I really want to do in a horror movie, and someone’s really got to let me do it. I can lie on the floor and I can get up without any arms. It’s the perfect zombie move. Somebody needs to put that in a film. I’ll be a zombie or a vampire. While I can still do it someone needs to put it in!

In the past you’ve worked in both West End shows as well as kid’s TV, both of which are seen as more respectable, and presumably pay better than low budget horror. Do you think it’s important to support independent filmmakers?

Yes, really important, and I like the way Bloody Cuts have done theirs. They’ve done their 13 shorts to prove they can make a good film and then they’ll do a feature, and by then they’ll have got their fanbase, which I think is really clever of them.

Despite your small roles, you’re often among the most recognisable faces in these films, and your name’s used quite prominently in their publicity. Do you think that lending your profile to these films helps them out?

No I don’t think it did! I think with horror it doesn’t matter. Maybe people would hear about it that wouldn’t normally hear about it, but I think people like George Newton and Stuart Wolfenden would have more of an impact with publicity.

You’ve got a bit of a weird dual career. On the one hand you’ve done kid’s stuff like CBeebies and panto, on the other you do horror movies. Which do you prefer and do you see these careers as contradictory?

I like doing both extremes. You don’t have to be just one thing. Essentially I’m an actress, so whether I’m playing Peter Pan at Christmas, which I’m doing this year, or I’m killing zombies, I’m just acting. And I quite like breaking the stereotype.

Is there anyone you’d love to work with?

John Lydon! And I want to work with Shane Meadows, it’s my dream to work for him. I would of course like to work with David Lynch, and Oliver Stone. At the moment Shane Meadows is my goal, even if he just gave me one scene!

Sarah Honeywell

You said once that you’d like to be in Doctor Who?

I’d love to be in Doctor Who! I’d love to be either the Doctor or the Doctor’s assistant. I’d like to be the Doctor!

You’ve missed your chance at being the 12th, but next time it could be time for a 5ft tall, female, blonde Doctor?

Yeah, it’s what the fans have been waiting for! I’d quite like to have been in the Sarah Jane Adventures. Surely with my name I could have played her younger sister or daughter?

Finally, you’re a big horror fan. What kind of stuff do you like?

I’m really into The Strangers at the moment, with Liv Tyler. What I love about it is that the soundtrack should have won an Oscar because it’s actually scary. I also love Session Nine, which stars David Caruso. I love [REC], and I think of things like Twin Peaks as a horror as well because it’s quite surreal and scary.

Tempus Fugit and Shadows Of A Stranger will be released later this year. The Eschatrilogy is available on DVD shortly. Dead Man’s Lake can be viewed online or purchased on DVD from the Bloody Cuts website.

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