Derek Magyar talks to us about his new film, No One Lives, out now on DVD/Blu-ray...
Starburst: Most of your career to date has been spent in front of the camera, but in recent years you have pursued opportunities to direct.
Derek Magyar: My father’s a filmmaker and it’s been in my blood since I was a kid. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do and my father has always supported me. The time presented itself, or rather the script presented itself and it just felt right for me to direct this film. The next thing I knew I was directing my first feature.
Flying Lessons was your directorial feature debut. In your follow-up The Secrets We Share you are directing and co-writing.
I supported the writing of The Secrets We Share, whilst someone else did the core writing. I did more of the dialogue stuff, to kind of take it to the next level.
How valuable was the experience of being in front of the camera when you finally stepped behind the camera to direct?
In terms of directing my first film, what the experience of acting gave me was exponential. It gave me the ability to know what was necessary, when it was necessary, what the camera really is, what the shot is, when to do this, when to do that. It was life changing.
Is directing something that could replace acting?
I don’t see myself becoming a full time director, but I do see myself directing throughout my career, that is God willing.
A lot of filmmakers cut their teeth on short film production. Would you be interested in exploring the craft of filmmaking through not only feature films but short films as well?
If it was the right project, sure. I’m open to anything that’s going to be special.
For horror filmmakers, is the process a journey of catharsis, a means of expelling the darkness, and putting it up on the screen? Do you put any stock into this idea?
Always I think. For me No One Lives is a character that couldn’t be further away from who I am. I tried to find one piece of the character I could tap into, and from there I just let it go and let myself unfold within the character. So I certainly let go of a lot of pent up aggression and anger from who knows where in my life.
Whilst some people say there is nothing to it, do you think film operates on a sub-conscious level and does not necessarily function on a wholly conscious level?
I don’t know how to answer that further in depth other than to say yes I do. I think it affects us on another conscious level, from the viewer to the filmmaker to the actor. There are lots of things that are sub-conscious that will come out later in life or you will never realise, but I absolutely believe in that; it’s absolutely a part of it.
No One Lives is first and foremost intended to be an entertaining yarn, but continuing this narrative of thought, there should be a reason for a film to exist. Having said that is there a reason to be heavy handed with subtext as it always finds a way to exist within a piece of filmmaking?
The film began as a way, it is still a way to entertain people, and it’s a place for people to lose themselves and not think about their problems or about life. With any movie, if you are able to go and see it, and lose yourself for two hours then congratulations, that’s a success.
That approach of escapism can discreetly push an audience towards reflection on the subtext and deeper themes and ideas.
That’s very true, and sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing.
As actors you wear masks, and you have spoken about the difficulty to separate yourself from the character at the end of the day. Are there any characters in particular who you have found it difficult to separate yourself from?
No One Lives was certainly like that for me. It was definitely something that I went deep into, and it was a long shoot, and it was tough to kind of wrap and put the mask on the next day.
But at the same time that is why you act in films to put that mask on, and so you have to take negative with the positive.
It goes with it. Some people throughout the making of the film are just present in the moment and then their mask comes off right away. It’s not the way I act, not my style, and not my method of acting. So it’s a little bit harder I think for my style in terms of ripping off the mask in the beginning, but that’s the way I know that I can succeed in the work I do.
You began in theatre, and didn’t act on screen until after you graduated. In the theatre you block the character out in rehearsals. Are the consecutive nights similar to the consecutive takes in film in the exploration of the character?
Depending on who the director is I’ll try to get different things in different takes. Once I have created something in the wide shot, if I have to stick to that I stick to it, but within that there is always freedom.
You have your set beginning, middle and end, the journey you have to play and take that has to be formatted, and it is. In film you do have that ability because it is so segmented and so broken up that you are able to potentially try out different things.
You have said No One Lives will be a dilemma for the audience as it is fundamentally evil versus evil. The film turns the idea of morality on its head.
It does, and that was what was so interesting to me. It is a story that in the end is about evil versus evil, and when we are put in that situation who do we root for? What side of yourself do you find yourself gripping to. I thought that was amazing for the audience.
Does the quandary you pose the audience serve to involve or immerse them in the drama much earlier?
Yeah. From pretty early on you can tell it is a story of villainy versus villainy, and so who do you ride with? For the most part you are riding with Luke and the driver, but what can become interesting is the other characters, and your enjoyment of what they are doing. Then you see if you want to follow what they are doing and that story line and find the interest in that.
How do you perceive the place No One Lives occupies in your career?
It is an amazing film for me to be a part of. I was really lucky and it was something I wanted badly. As an actor it was challenging and very helpful in continuing my growth as an actor. Where it came in my career and in my life was perfect.
Speaking with Kevin Chapman recently he spoke about there being only one person for each part compared to other professions, and the responsibility that can stem from that. Are you conscious of that when you take on a role?
Maybe for a moment, but then you have to let that go because you cannot afford to let that be present while you are working.
Besides The Secret We Share are there any other projects you are working on?
I have a film I am working on called Stranded, a sort of psychological thriller about a girl who is running away from her life. She ends up stranded and has to hit the star button to get help, and it’s about the relationship that is spawned between her and the person trying to save her life essentially, because she’s trapped. That person turns out to be a killer. It’s interesting, and is similar to The Hitcher in a more postmodern kind of way. This is one I’m producing and starring in. I have a couple of television shows I have just done that will air. I just did NCIS and an episode of CSI, and I am about to go to Cape Town, South Africa and work on Strike Back. Keep going and keep working.
We have already discussed the differences between theatre and film, how would you contrast the different experiences of television compared to film?
Television is even more so a very well-oiled machine. There is some freedom to create but not much. You have to follow a specific set of rules and you do. If your show is on cable like Breaking Bad for example, then you have a lot of freedom. Procedurals like CSI are very set in their ways, and they work, and people like that. As I said it is a well-oiled machine that’s a, b, c, d equals e.
Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?
Yeah, I have always enjoyed horror films. I am a big fan of The Exorcist, and I like films that involve… I like horror movies where I can see it being possibly a piece of reality. Things that are super far-fetched are just popcorn for me. I’m drawn to a more psychological horror, or thriller-horror film than I am a gore film.