Following our recent chat with Twisted Showcase creator Robin Bell, we were lucky enough to grab some time with Twisted Showcase mainstay Gareth David-Lloyd. As the just-launched Series 4 premiere – Be My Head – sees Gareth make his directorial debut, we got the lowdown on this brand new episode of this much-lauded, critically-acclaimed webseries, discussed the challenges of sitting in the director’s chair, his work on last year’s impressive Dark Signal (for which there are spoilers ahead), and some of the preconceptions made about him due to his time playing the beloved Ianto on the genre favourite Torchwood series.
STARBURST: How would you best describe the Series 4 premiere episode, Be My Head?
Gareth David-Lloyd: I’d say it was a dark, zany, Lynchian little comment on the way we deal with depression and tragedy.
In that episode, you star opposite an extremely intense Mark Fleischmann. As the director here, did you ever feel the need to wind Mark in a little?
A little bit, but it’s good to set actors free. Usually, that’s where a lot of creative things happen, in those moments when they’re free. But in terms of telling a story, yeah, you have to reign them in at certain times.
This, of course, was your directing debut. Did you find that to be as challenging as you thought it would be, or was it relatively smooth sailing?
I’ve been working with things for so long that I was pretty prepared. I was actually surprised by how much we got done in the day that we had; I was expecting to walk away with a lot fewer shots and less time for ideas to play out. It went pretty smoothly. I think having the one location sort of helped. I was worried about having to direct and act in something I’d been part of writing, so that was quite nerve-wracking but I prepared a lot for it. But it actually went okay, although I think that was due to having such good people overseeing it. Robin was there to oversee it, and he’s had a lot of experience, then we had a great camera operator and a great DOP, Leonie , who also edited it. She instantly understood my creative language, which is important on set. You hear lots of horror stories from sets you go on where people don’t speak the same creative language and it can create friction and difficulties. But I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly it went, how lucky I was to have a good team around me and the elements working in my favour.
When we spoke to Robin, he mentioned that he’d popped over two or three scripts to you but that Be My Head was the one that you gravitated towards. What was it that particularly grabbed you about that tale?
I’ve always been curious about the idea of what we do to bury our pain. Using drugs, prescription or self-medicated, and those other things that numb the pain, and how far we should take that medication for our pasts and our pain before we lose our identities. I think that’s what I tried to achieve anyway. Robin sent a script which was quite quirky and funny. It was about a guy who had just had enough and wanted someone else to be his brain, hence Be My Head. Godfrey was almost an otherworldly Doctor Who-type character who came in to brain-swap with this guy. It was good, it was fun, but in between the lines I saw a much darker, more serious issue about a guy who could no longer bear being in his own head. Then all of these ideas of depression and self-medication came in. I had a little bit of a tinker with the script to make it darker, to bring those themes out. I put a tragedy at the centre of it, a real reason why this guy is unable to exist within himself. I basically wrote a little film that asked the question of whether we take treatment for depression – whether that’s administrated through a doctor or by ourselves – do we take that too far sometimes and lose our identity.
Gareth opening the door to something sinister in Be My Head
With you being, dare we say it, a bit of a veteran of Twisted Showcase by now, did your working relationship and friendship with Robin make this a natural fit as the place to make your directing debut?
Absolutely. I was speaking earlier about creative language, and I think that’s what made me feel comfortable enough to do it with Twisted Showcase. I knew Robin, I knew his creative language, I knew he wouldn’t mind me suggesting some new ideas or rewriting his script.
Was there anything you wanted to do with Be My Head but couldn’t for one reason or another?
These films are made for literally nothing. Where Godfrey worked from originally was this nondescript concrete room with files everywhere like The X-Files; it was going to have tapes everywhere, much more of an archive with an otherworldly contraption in the room that was very sci-fi. When we got there, it was just a garage full of junk because we didn’t have time to move everything. What I like about the finished version now, the garage itself could be anyone’s garage who hordes a lot of junk, who hordes a lot of memories, who has lots of stuff that they can’t quite get rid of because it’s a link to their past and who they are. It’s a great metaphor for Godfrey’s archive in the sense it’s where people go to dump their past, dump their memories, the things they don’t want any more but can’t quite let go of – as is the case with Lucifer . He comes back and he wants his pain back because he realises that in losing his memories of pain he’s also losing a lot of love and happiness. So the garage was quite a good metaphor in the end for the place where we dump our past.
How long have you been wanting to direct then? Has this been a few years in the making?
To be honest with you, if I can help tell a story that I believe in, that I think is honest or something that an audience can have a connection with, then I’m happy. I’ve been in a band, I’ve written songs, I act, so writing and directing’s always been in the back of my mind. I’ve just never felt confident enough in myself to get up and do it. Recently, with the connections I’ve made with Twisted Showcase and with being part of other low-budget projects that I’ve done, I’ve seen how people do it on their own from nothing; it’s inspired me and given me the confidence to tell my stories. So, I call myself a storyteller rather than an actor or a writer or director. I have experience in those different disciplines and I’m satisfied creatively.
How did you find it analysing the final product as the director rather than just being an actor looking at your own particular performance?It was different because as a performer in someone else’s story you can’t help but analyse yourself. And I think it’s important for an actor to do that to hone their craft. This is very much looking at every detail, every cut, every edit, every light. There’s a lot more things you can wish to improve on or a lot more things that take you by surprise, the positive elements that you didn’t know were there. So it’s a different experience but still satisfying.
Gareth in one of his previous Twisted Showcase outings, Peter and Paul
One thing we couldn’t not ask you about is a film released last year called Dark Signal. That was a brilliant movie set in the landscape of North Wales where you play someone with a rather nasty edge. How was it to sink your teeth in to something like that?
Every actor likes to play a villain at some point in their career because then you can have a good vent. I really enjoyed it actually, and again it started off as a low-budget project so it was another chance for me to see how people with not much money or materials could generate something like that. So it was great all-round. And to play that double-sided character was great.
So many people associate you with Torchwood’s Ianto, so did that almost give a false sense of what to expect when Dark Signal progresses and there’s the big reveal that you’re really a sinister lunatic?
It was brilliant, and that’s why I injected a bit of Ianto in to the Ben character. When we first see him, there’s definitely some subtle Ianto mannerisms in there to give fans a false sense of security.
Of course, the Torchwood side of things brings such a huge fanbase with it. How is it for you, though, that people may often typecast you or have pre-conceptions about your possible roles because they associate you so much with the Ianto character. That brings with it a lot of attention, obviously, but can that be a bit of a double-edged sword at times, too?
I do feel that. I’d be lying if I was to say it didn’t. Because Ianto became a cult-ish figure and a very specific sort of character towards the end, I do feel that producers or casting directors see my resumé land on their desk and just think, “Oh, it’s the dry, gay one from Torchwood that’s got a shrine. We’ll leave that alone.” It is, it’s a very distinct character. I think with the mega machine it is and the turnover it has, people can’t help but pigeonhole you and I do feel I’ve suffered with that.
With some of the recent Big Finish audio releases, that’s given you the chance to reprise the Ianto role, but in terms of breaking those misconceptions and the typecasting element, is it just a case of trying to get out there and do as many varied projects – such as Twisted Showcase and Dark Signal – as you can?
That’s exactly what it is. There’s been a multitude of actors that have been lucky and talented enough, and worked hard enough, to get typecast in a role then land another role later in their career that redefined them as an actor and showcased their ability to be diverse. But for some actors, it is difficult. The way I’m trying to, not reinvent myself, but to show another side of myself through writing and directing, through working with Twisted Showcase inspired me to kick off my own webseries, which we launch a Kickstarter for later this month. If people aren’t seeing you for anything other than what you’ve done before then I think it’s up to you to stand on a bigger hill and make a bigger noise to take control of the situation yourself and do it that way.
Gareth as Torchwood's beloved Ianto Jones
We did hear some rumblings that you had maybe proposed a series to Amazon. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
I can talk a little bit about it. I sent my original idea for a six-part horror drama set in South Wales, I sent a pilot treatment to Amazon. They got back and said, “It’s a great idea but it doesn’t fit our development slate this year. But please, keep developing and resubmit at a later time.” I saw an option on there where you can add a short video or teaser just to give them more of an idea of tone and atmosphere, what we’re trying to achieve visually and aesthetically. So then I thought, “Why don’t I just do that but do three, open three windows to lives of character in the story?” – and then next year when I have a rethink, I can send them one of these episodes. Then I was talking to Robin – he’s done a Kickstarter, he’s got a successful webseries under his belt – and I thought he was the natural choice to join forces with. So he’s come on as executive advisor and writer. We’ve got the script for the first episode, we’ve got a near-assembled crew, our Kickstarter’s populated so we’re just waiting for the right time to launch it.
As we wrap things up, what’s the craziest Ianto story that you have regarding your fans? There’s obviously the shrine in Cardiff, but is there anything else that springs to mind?
Just having a shrine erected to a character that you worked on is probably the maddest story. Then I’ve had presents, like My Little Ponies dressed like Ianto, then coffee – lots and lots of coffee! My fans are pretty good. You hear some stories of fans jumping over desks at conventions or grabbing your arse at photos or stripping off and asking you to sign their bits, but my fans have been very respectful and nice. I’ve had strange presents and I’ve had a shrine erected to the character, but nothing too mad or too insane.
Finally, what’s next for you right now?
I’ve just recorded the voice for another game. That’s out next year, so that’s literally all I can say about it – but I’m happy, very happy with the work I’ve done on that. Then I’m shooting a low-budget film in South Wales this month but I can’t say anything about that either. And I’m writing as well for another thing.
You can check out Twisted Showcase’s Series 4 premiere, the Gareth-directed Be My Head, in the player below:
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