From Severance to Ghost Stories to A Small Light, actor Andy Nyman has built up a diversely incredible acting portfolio alongside his writing. So it’s no surprise that ARROW has asked him to select some horror movies for their streaming platform! STARBURST reflects on just some of his brilliant acting highlights, whilst talking about his ARROW Select movie picks on the ARROW streaming service, including Deep Red, Ringu, and Zombie Flesh Eaters…
STARBURST: but how did you first get into acting?
Andy Nyman: I loved acting ever since I was a kid, but the big change for me was going to see Jaws at the pictures. Not only was the film just amazing, obviously, but as a little Jewish, curly-haired kid with glasses, sitting there and seeing Richard Dreyfuss, a little curly-haired Jewish guy with glasses. I just thought, “Oh my god!” So that was the thing that made me want to be an actor, I wanted to be in films. And I was twelve, something like that.
Severance is a wildly violent movie, to say the least! How fun was it to work alongside Danny Dyer, and why do you think that this film still holds up today?
Why does it still hold up today? Because the script is fantastic. The funny is properly funny, but essentially the scary is properly scarily. So I think it really works, and it’s not horror comedy in a Shaun of the Dead way. Christopher Smith has got such a joy of the nasty, so that the horror in there is very dark. As well as the comedy. It’s a really well-made film. Danny Dyer is an absolute star. It’s very easy for people to underestimate what a brilliant actor he is, but he is sensational. He’s great in that film. It’s a terrific cast. Claudie Blakley, Toby Stephens. It’s just fantastic, and it was such a joy to do.
Death at a Funeral also makes humour out of something that can be so dark. What do you remember the most about working on it, and what was it like to work with humour like that?
I remember laughing. Laughing, laughing, laughing. Non-stop. It was the most gorgeous cast of people. Again, a brilliant script. It was directed by Frank Oz, so I was working with an absolute legend and filming at Ealing Studios. A dream come true. I’ve been an actor for nearly forty years, and that is an absolute highlight. On YouTube, look up the Death At A Funeral gag reel. We couldn’t breathe on that set. It was non-stop because it was a cast of gigglers as well. Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Alan Tudyk. It was just brilliant. The weird thing is, and I hear it a lot from a lot of people, that it’s their favourite film, which is such a lovely thing. However, that film was a box office smash worldwide apart from in the UK! It committed that cardinal sin of being middle class. Everyone wants to either be super posh or they want to be a hard-nosed gangster movie, thinking they’re working class. No one wants to admit that they’re middle class, and that film is as middle-class England as it gets. That’s why the rest of the world loved it. Because it was like, “That’s English!” it’s brilliant.
Dead Set is a clever idea, and it still gets talked about now. How did you get involved with the project, and what do you remember the most from reading the script for the first time?
I’d not done a TV job for ten years. I had stayed away from it because I sort of wanted to reinvent my career, so I had been going off to the States and doing movies and stuff. I got a phone call from my agent saying “Look, I know you’re not interested in TV, but we’ve had a script through, it’s called Balloon Walls, and it’s written by a bloke called Charlie Broo…” and as soon as she got to “Broo” I went “Charlie Brooker! Charlie Brooker has written a series? Yeah, let me read it” I loved Screenwipe and TV Go Home. I read the pilot, which was all they had released, and it was brilliant. So I went to meet Yann Demange, who was the director. That handlebar moustache I’ve got in the series – I had then! I just thought “I’m going to have a handlebar moustache like my dad did” I read that script, and thought “This is sensational”, but my big question, when they asked me to do it, as a horror fan was “Are you properly going to commit to the horror? Are we going to see what happens in the script, on the screen? Or will it be, sort of, softened?” they said, “No, no, no, we are going to show it all.” I was like “Oh my god. I’m in!” I just love it. I think it’s a cult favourite. Not only is the writing brilliant, it is so viscerally directed. I’m giving you lots to watch, but also on YouTube, I made a documentary about having my head ripped off in that. It’s called Andy Nyman, A Dream Come True I think it’s in two or three parts. I made a documentary all about it because it was literally a dream come true. I think they put it on the DVD of the series when it came out.
What was it like to adapt Ghost Stories into a movie, whilst being heavily involved with so many aspects of putting it together? Directing/writing/acting – it sounds pretty intense!
It was! It was eighteen months of work. The play – and the film – is like a Swiss watch, this thing is very intricately put together. Jeremy Dyson and I realised very early on, that you could not just put the play on film, because a lot of it is Professor Phillip Goodman doing a lecture to the audience, there in the moment. And that just wouldn’t work. So we had to come up with a whole construct of “Well, what could it be instead?” That’s where the whole Charles Cameron, his ex-mentor idea came from. So it has a very different path, the journey. It’s one of the most amazing, satisfying things.
You got to play Dan in the biopic Judy. What was that ‘show business’-type world like to be in as an actor, and what did you enjoy the most about working alongside an Oscar-winning performance from Renée Zellweger?
It was a very special project to be a part of. It really broke down into two bits for me, the first thing was the stuff where we went to see her in concert. She was staggering and lovely. She was lovely to every single person, the crew, the cast. The extras, there were probably three hundred extras at that, when she was singing live, and she was singing! She did it, and then she would stay, and she would be talking to people, and chatting to anyone and everyone. Lovely. We had quite a bit of time together in the makeup wagon, there’s quite a bit of prep for her. She was delightful. And then, those scenes with her were a joy to do. And I think that they live in a very special little world, those scenes. It’s like a little playlet within the rest of the film. I’m very proud of that. I think it’s a very sweet, touching storyline. And doing that with her was amazing. I loved it, and I loved working with her.
Recently, you were part of the miniseries A Small Light playing Hermann van Pels. Can you tell us what it was like to work on and how you think this World War II story stands out compared to other TV narratives within that genre?
That’s a big one. I’m very proud to be a part of that. It’s my heritage. How does a brilliantly adapted show, that tries to teach the perils of anti-Semitism to people in the current climate? I mean, it couldn’t be more needed because these are perilous times. I’m very proud of it, and I think that they did a truly brilliant job on that adaptation. It took what is a sort of sacred ‘story’ and made it very human. It’s very profoundly touching in a whole new way. It’s brilliant.
Talking of war, what was it like to play a younger version of Winston Churchill in Peaky Blinders?
I went in to audition, and it was very quick, because I was doing a matinee in the West End, and it really ran late. I said to them at the audition that I’d got two minutes because they were half an hour late. I said, “I’ve got to go, otherwise I’m not going to get on stage in the West End!” They were like, “OK, you can go in!” I went in, and I met the director, Otto Bathurst. He had directed one of the very first Black Mirror episodes, called The National Anthem, where the prime minister has it off with a pig. I said to him, “Oh my god, I’ve just got to say that I love that” and because Black Mirror was with Charlie Brooker, he knew about Dead Set. He said, “OK, I just want to say I love Dead Set. Should we do the scene?” So, I read two scenes. I had listened to Churchill quite a lot, but I tried to do me as Churchill, not a Churchill impression. Anyway, I then got a call a few days later saying that they thought I was great, but they wanted to make it more like a lookalike thing. I was like, “OK, cool!” then two days later, I got a call saying, “You know what, they’ve changed their minds, they want you to do it!” So, I got to do it! I was only available for the first series. Every time they asked after that, I was busy doing other stuff. I only worked with one person, which was Sam Neill, what a legend! He was amazing and I’d been very lucky. It sounds like I’m just kissing arse to everyone, I’m not. Honestly, he was a delight. We got on like a house on fire. I knew I liked him when the first scene I shot was at the end of the first episode. Churchill is in bed. It was the last thing they shot on that day, and Sam Neill waited all day so he could be in the room and do the off-lines. I knew that he was a good bloke from then. Then we met again on The Commuter, which is a recent action movie starring Liam Neeson and myself. He was on that, and it was five years later, so I thought he would never remember me. I walked on set, and he said, “Andy! How are you?” It was just wonderful. He is great and it was a joy.
Let’s get stuck into some of your ARROW Select choices. A handful of them are Dario Argento movies. Can you tell us a bit about this style of film?
The Dario Argento movies are The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red. They’re Argento’s early films, and they are called giallo thrillers. Giallo is Italian for yellow, and they were called giallo thrillers because they were a particular type of murder mystery. So when you bought the book it had a yellow cover, so you knew that it was that type of Edgar Wallace mystery, where you were seeing things from the POV of the killer. So, Argento was after Mario Bava, who was the guy who pioneered the movies. What’s amazing about Argento is he also wrote Once Upon A Time in the West, with Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone. The three of them wrote it. But, the way he uses mystery, violence, and the camera, is amazing!
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is an amazing murder mystery set in an Italian art gallery. But if you’ve never seen any of them, the one to watch first is Deep Red (Profondo rosso). It is another one of my ARROW choices, which I rented as a VHS during the video nasty era. Not knowing what to expect, and it’s mind-blowing. I don’t know which version they’ve got on ARROW, but if they give you an option, don’t watch the director’s cut, watch the theatrical cut. It is phenomenal, as a murder mystery. Because what is most amazing about it is that he doesn’t cheat. What happens is, and it’s something that we tried to do with Ghost Stories, is that you are in exactly the same shoes as the protagonist in Deep Red. Something terrible happens, and he witnesses it. I’m not spoiling anything, and he has a nagging feeling that something he saw isn’t right. As do you. And when you get to the end of the film, and it is revealed to you, you are shocked! And that’s truly what I experienced when I first watched it, I was fifteen. It completely changed what I thought about theatre, film, and storytelling. It’s amazing. Not only that, but the soundtrack! The beginning of the Ghost Stories play is the Goblin soundtrack from Profondo rosso. The way he uses a camera, honestly, you won’t believe it, it’s amazing. So that’s Deep Red, that was the third of his, kind of, murder mystery ones. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is one that was before that, and it’s also brilliant! But when you watch it, there is a cheat in it, but it’s still phenomenal. Watch Deep Red first. It’s really amazing.
What can you tell us about Zombie Flesh Eaters?
Zombie Flesh Eaters is a piece of its time. I have a very special love for it. Lucio Fulci, who directed it, is a mental filmmaker. But within his madness are moments of absolute brilliance. Iconic images infiltrated cinema from then. So the look of zombies that we all know now as in Dead Set, Shaun of the Dead, right the way through to the remake of Dawn of the Dead. That look was invented for Zombie Flesh Eaters. And it was invented by an effects artist called Giannetto De Rossi. The reason I tell you this is that I did a movie for NBC years ago, a war film called Uprising. It was filming in Slovakia. I got there, and there were lots of big stars in it. Really super famous people that I was excited to work with. But with my death in the movie, I went down in a blaze of glory. I get burnt to death, but I come out on fire, and take a Nazi down with me. So they said, “You’re going to have a meeting today with this special effects guy doing the effects.” A guy called Giannetto, and I went, “Giannetto De Rossi? Hang on! Giannetto is doing the effects? Oh my god!” So I then went to see him, and I walked in, and I said “Oh my god, can we talk about Zombie Flesh Eaters?” and he said “Oh my god, please come and talk”. We had a big hug. It was a big secret for years, in regards to how he invented the zombie look. It’s amazing, because he then did it to me, as my burn make-up. It’s incredible, I videoed the whole thing, and it’s out in the open now. But it’s modelling clay. Literally that you would go and buy in an art shop. He sticks it on your face, and then carves it like a sculpture, and then paints it. And he did this thing to me, and it looked terrible until the last eight seconds when suddenly it was like, “Holy shit!” it was the greatest magic trick you’d ever seen in your life. So with Zombie Flesh Eaters, It’s mental, but I’m very nostalgic about it. Me and Giannetto sat and watched it together. There’s an incredible eye-gouging sequence in it. Even if you just watch that bit… the music, the cut! Imagine now, we see so much, and we are so used to the stuff we are exposed to, but even now, it has a visceral energy that is just amazing. It’s a piece of work, that’s for sure. It packs a punch.
Ringu is one of the scariest horror movies ever, what do you remember the most from watching this movie?
Ringu is an amazing movie! One of the reasons I love, what became affectionately known as J-horror – but I actually think that you can make it A-horror, as in Asian horror, really – Is that they are so akin to the British ghost stories in a way that American horror is not. Ringu is like one of the great M. R. James stories. It’s basically Casting the Runes, isn’t it? It’s the same as Night of the Demon. I’m handing you that cursed object, and now you have a limited amount of time before you die. But there’s something about the purity of the way the curse is handed on. The fact it fitted into VHS so beautifully. Again, it’s so easy now when things are so parodied and so much a part of the culture. But the first time you sat and watched that film and saw Sadako coming out of the TV. I mean, you can’t put into words the cold terror of it. There are so many brilliant things within it. In fact, the first TV job I ever did was The Woman in Black. The ITV version of it. Which if you haven’t seen, is available now. They did a Blu-ray a few years ago. I urge you to see it because it’s got maybe one of the best jumps ever filmed in anything. Not only is it a brilliant jump, it is a sustained moment of terror. It’s nightmares, proper nightmares. The Woman in Black is a real slow burn, so if you like your ghost stories and horror, then I urge you to see it. But the reason I say it, is that the performance makes the moment so terrifying, by the lady who plays the woman in black, Pauline Moran, it’s akin to the performance of the actress who plays Sadako in Ringu. There is such power in the vengeful spirit, when it’s done properly. Someone who has been wronged and is seeking revenge, and it’s driven out of an unstoppable pain. When you see, just the eye. It’s incredible. Then, the rictus that the people are left in when they die tells you the pain of this death. It’s phenomenal. My god, it’s such a brilliant film.
You’re noted for being an actor, writer, and magician, what can we expect to see from you in 2024?
Going into 2024. I’m starring in the West End in Hello Dolly in the summer. Also, I am in, although it’s not announced and I can’t say what it is, probably what is going to be the biggest film in the world next year. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Mine and Jeremy Dyson’s novel The Warlock Effect, which, if you haven’t read, you must read, came out this year, and we are adapting it for TV, so that’s a very exciting project.
The Warlock Effect, co-written with Jeremy Dyson, is out now.