With The Messenger released in UK cinemas following successful screenings over the summer, STARBURST caught up with lead actor Robert Sheehan...
STARBURST: How did you become involved in The Messenger?
Robert Sheehan: It was through David Blair – Darth Blair, the overlord himself who I love very much, who has got the best moustache of all the moustaches. The problem with his moustache, on a slight tangent, is that it’s quite hipster, which I’m sure he’d be very happy about. I’d worked with him about four years ago on a BBC thing called Accused and we had a good experience on that together. He got the script and sent it to me, and I said yes absolutely because he’s a very, very safe pair of hands. He’s someone who’s just really, really fucking good at making drama, so there were no qualms there. The script was incredibly strong from the get-go and then got better and better, and then it went though an 18-month quagmire of trying to get funding before it finally got its shit together. So off we went, and then we got those lovely other actors on board over a four-week period. It came together fantastically for very little money.
What attracted you to the part of Jack?
The character had a really interesting approach to his situation. The character is quite peripheral in a societal sense; he’s completely a law unto himself. It’s interesting playing those characters because you get to write the rules entirely. He’s someone who’s been rejected by society, or so he thinks, because he keeps showing up and doing the most obnoxious thing you can possibly do, which is try to tell people who’ve just lost someone – quite badly since he fixates on violent deaths – that the dead want to tell them something. It’s the worst fucking thing you can do. He ends up hating people, hating everyone. It’s always a richer challenge when you’ve got a strange character like that to explore and help to shape him. It challenges your imagination as an actor, much more than the regular stuff.
The film takes a more realistic look at how someone’s life would be adversely affected by talking to the dead. Was there anything you did to get into that mindset?
When you meet someone who has a disorder or an illness they have to live with, they speak about it like it’s a sibling, since there’s such a familiarity with the thing they have. Jack’s situation is like an illness to him, a thing that he just has to fucking live with as best he can. I like the way the script gave him a very humdrum approach to it, as well as the dramatic imperative.
As well as a supernatural aspect, the film also suggests mental illness as a possibility for Jack’s experiences. Do you have a particular take on it one way or the other?
No. That’s the ultimate red herring of the story: is he insane, or is he experiencing this thing as a delusion, or is it actually happening? To perform it, I just had to believe it was happening, because for him it was completely happening. My opinion on the end of it is: I don’t know. I don’t know which one it was. I’ve seen the movie once, but you can’t ever really know one way or the other. I like the fact that I don’t have an opinion, because it just means that I don’t feel like I’ve landed on either side, even though I’m in it. My obligation was to be completely in the head that it was happening. And so that’s where I was.
Did you do any research on mental illness?
I’ve been asked this quite a few times, but I’m not sure if any sort of research on mental illness could have helped me all that much because I’m not sure he even was mentally ill. He certainly wasn’t behaving in a mentally ill way, he’s just very sanely experiencing these things. So I just had to commit to the truth of what was happening and not think anywhere in my head that I was mentally ill. That was the long answer. Short answer: no!
In the last few years you’ve cropped up in a number of genre pictures, such as The Mortal Instruments, Demons Never Die and Season of the Witch. Would you say you have a particular affinity for them?
I love fantasy stuff; I love the departures from reality. I’m a huge fan of the works of Isaac Asimov, and when I was young I read Philip K. Dick and Philip Pullman, and still do, so it stands to reason I would enjoy that stuff in films. It’s a lot of fun to do; the little boy inside you is jumping up and down going “Woohoo! I get to shoot a flamethrower today! Go on!”
It’s fairly safe to say that most people’s favourite character from Misfits was Nathan. As positive as viewers’ reaction to him was, do you feel his popularity has left a degree of expectation from people of the kind of characters you should play?
Absolutely. It’s not the fault of the people, it happens on a different level. When people become familiar with you in a certain mode, they seek that out when they see you again. I do it with actors, I think everyone does. After I did Misfits I consciously stayed away from parts that were the same. I wanted to do other stuff, and that tends to be the nature of how I choose things or go after them. If it represents something I haven’t done before I’ll jump into it two feet first. The idea of doing something that’s a derivation of something else that’s a derivation of something else would make me want to jump off a bridge. I’d get that bored I’d just be sick of life. I suppose I’m quite a restless sort of character by nature.
What do you have lined up next?
There’s a film just announced so I’m allowed to yarn on about it which will be happening later this year. It’s made by this guy called Dustin Lance Black and it’s called The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.
That’s a very precise title.
Very precise. Very long for the Americans, hopefully they’ll be able to retain it! It’s an exploration into the nature of love as a concept and how to marry it with reality. It’s about two people who are very cynical about love, since they think it was the cause of the destruction of their families when they were young. My character is an English psychology major and he talks about the mountains of statistics against the idea of love prevailing between any two people in any real way. He very much married to the numbers because they’re there and they’re immovable. He meets this American girl, who is played by Hailee Steinfeld, and they have a five-hour flight from New York to London where they actually feel the beginnings of this attachment, but there are ulterior motives going on. It’s a really grown up script about love, but it’s actually adapted from a young adult novel, so in my head it’s kind of like an antidote to a lot of the sensationalist love stories that have been out over the past five or ten years, which I think paint this very unrealistic view of love.
An idealistic and naïve view?
Totally. Where love is not real, it’s more of a drug that people get off on at the movies, whereas this is taking love as very much an ingredient of our reality and having to practically live with it and all the implications that go with it. It goes into all that stuff in a very interesting and challenging way, and it becomes like a conversation between the two characters. There’s another thing, but they haven’t announced it so I’m not allowed to talk about it, but I’m doing it soon.
That’s a very exciting description.
Very, very exciting indeed, I tells ya! It’s going to be mega! Hold your breath!
The Messenger is currently screening in selected UK cinemas.
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