THAT HELLRAISING ‘PINHEAD’: Talking With Doug Bradley by Owen Keehnen

Horror fans everywhere are familiar with the name Doug Bradley. He’s a fright-flick sensation as the evil lead Cenobite and Dark Prince of Pain -- Pinhead, in all eight of Clive Barker’s deliciously twisted ‘Hellraiser’ films. He’s also worked with Mr. Barker in several other projects such as ‘Nightbreed’ (1990) as well as playing King Herod in the 1973 short ‘Salome’ (written and directed by Barker). Doug Bradley is also becoming rather closely associated with the film work of rising British horror writer/director sensation Frazer Lee and has appeared in two of his award winning shorts – ‘On Edge’ (2001) and ‘Red Lines’ (2002) – and is also starring as Richard Germaine in the upcoming ‘Urbane’, Lee’s first feature length horror flick. Some of his other films include the soon-to-be-released ‘Prophecy: Uprising’ with ‘Hellraiser’ alumnus Kari Wuhrer and Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd, ‘Killer Tongue’ (1996) with fellow horror icon Robert Englund, ‘Written in Blood’ (1998), ‘Archangel Thunderbird’ (1998), and the Oscar Wilde adaptation ‘An Ideal Husband’ (1999). He’s even written a book, Sacred Monsters: Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor. Is it any surprise this guy is a horror convention favorite?

Recently I talked with Mr. Bradley about his incredible career, the menace and allure of Pinhead, the world of horror, his amazing fan base, Robert Englund, and all those hours in the make-up chair.

  Owen: You are a legend to almost all horror fans for your menacing portrayal of the lead Cenobite Pinhead in all 8 of the Hellraiser films.  What are the primary means you use to get into character for your portrayal?

Doug: Well, the thing with a character like Pinhead is that most of the methods normally open to you as an actor are not available to you. By that I mean the conventional things we do like asking ourselves questions about the character’s life – what car does he drive, what music does he listen to, what does he eat for breakfast and so on. Nor can you – as far as I’m aware – go anywhere to watch Cenobites at work to study and observe them.

That means really the work is initially done between the script and your imagination – it’s true for all acting, actually – but especially so here. The script, the script, the script. Read and re—read and grab whatever you find swimming up from your unconscious mind, no matter how slight or crazy it might seem. Hold it tight and examine it for nuggets of gold. You can always reject the dross later. I’ve read that Hopkins ‘got’ Lecter while reading the script. He said he heard Lecter’s voice in his head and had an image of Starling running down a long dark tunnel, and everything flowed from that moment. For me it was initially the line ‘No tears, please, it’s a waste of good suffering’. I kept going back and back to that line. It was the baleful, bleak, mordant wit that was intriguing me. Fascination and boredom in the same breath. That was also where I started hearing Pinhead’s voice.

I also of course had the great luxury of being able to discuss the character at length with Clive before I ever got near the set.

And above and beyond all this: the make-up. I’ve talked and written at length about the first moment of looking in the mirror and seeing not me but Pinhead looking back at me. As I’ve said before, 90% of my ‘beats’ for Pinhead came in a rush of thrilling excitement there and then. Still today, it’s having the make-up and costume on that does it. The joking and goofing around stops and the serious stuff begins. Occasionally, Gary will play Chris Young’s Hellraiser theme (Hellbound in fact to be absolutely accurate) just to push me over the edge.

Owen: The make-up for the Hellraiser series has to be brutal and time-consuming - and you also had rather extensive prosthetic make-up in 'Nightbreed' and 'Proteus'.  What do you usually do to while away the time in the make-up chair?

Doug: Everyone’s always terribly impressed and awed by the amount of time I spend in the make-up chair and I’m very happy to bask in that. But from time to time, a gnawing sense of guilt forces me to point out that I don’t actually do anything in that time: it’s the make-up artist who does all the work.

Owen: What do I do? I chatter, listen to music, drink coffee, take smoke breaks (I wouldn’t any more: I quit nine months ago). Not to be immodest, I am very mindful of the make-up and try to be co-operative. There are times when you have to stay absolutely still, not talk, keep your eyes closed etc. There’s no point in goofing around during this process and then have the make-up causing problems all day. I’m less tolerant of constant touch-ups than I am of the original application. But I’m not a saint and there are days when I’m just so sick of the whole thing that I tend to give everyone a hard time – but they’re few and far between.

I’ve also been lucky for the most part to work with make-up artists that I have absolute trust in. That’s very important. Then it’s like a partnership: you’re making each other look good. Also Gary Tunnicliffe and I share pretty much the same sense of humour and wickedness – and that helps too.

Owen: Is it a welcome joy in other film roles like 'Archangel Thunderbird' or your newest film 'Urbane' where make-up really isn't an issue?

Doug: There is a delight in being dismissed from the make-up chair after ten minutes. Sometimes I’m looking around, thinking, is that it? Surely you have something else to do? But you’re in the mind-set of whatever the part is: if it requires lengthy make-up, it’s part of the job: if it doesn’t, it isn’t.

Owen: Pinhead is not only a physical menace; he thrives on psychological torture as well.  Does that quality (along with perhaps Freddy Kreuger) rather than other "bodily-harm" horror icons (like Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers) allow you to develop and deepen him as a character?  If so how do you see him developing?

Doug: You’re absolutely right, and without question the fact that Pinhead is not just hiding in the shadows waiting to dice and slice whoever comes along makes him more interesting and satisfying to watch and play. No offence, Jason, Michael: take it easy, guys. But the rich, poetic language Clive and Pete gave the character, the Wildean aphorisms and the psychological games are certainly all elements that grabbed my imagination first – the physical harm was a secondary thing for me – not that I don’t revel in that as well.

In terms of development, I’d like to push further into the heart of Pinhead’s darkness, psychologically and physically. He’s maybe got a bit ‘clean’ later. Too much sermonizing. We know he can talk the talk; I’d like to see him walk the walk a little more.

Owen: Speaking of that, I know you are friends with Freddy himself - Robert Englund, your costar as well in 'The Killer Tongue'.  Did you two bond over your shared horror-character icon status?

Doug: Before Killer Tongue, we’d been passing ships at a couple of conventions: if we met it was only hail-and-farewell. We didn’t get to know each other properly until we did that movie in Spain – down in the desert near Almeria -where they’ve shot so many films including the Spaghetti Westerns – and in Madrid. And we’ve kept pretty closely in touch since then.

Of course the movie thing is part of our friendship – we wouldn’t know each other otherwise, but it’s not the only glue. Robert (and his wife, Nancy, one of the world’s great e-mailers) are great company whatever you’re doing, though with Robert, everything gets back to movies eventually. Thanks to him, I have only 3 degrees of separation from DW Griffith. And that’s pretty cool.

Owen: You are also becoming closely associated with the work of Frazer Lee --- you have starred in his award winning shorts, 'On Edge' and 'Red Lines', and have a commanding role in his upcoming feature length debut 'Urbane'.  What about his work and methods initially attracted you and how has that changed throughout the three films?

Doug: My first contact with Frazer was when the script for On Edge dropped through the letterbox. It had the usual accompanying letter – short film, no money, basically. I liked the script a lot and set up a meeting. I liked Frazer immediately; I liked his energy and enthusiasm and also warmed to a certain hardheaded cynicism. But he was clearly a highly creative guy with big plans and by the end of lunch I’d said yes.

I was not disappointed. The shoot was short, sharp, pressured, fun and rewarding and I was delighted with the end product. Therefore I had no hesitation about saying yes when he approached me with the Red Lines script.

Urbane is a great script and a great part for me, but I won’t talk about it because, at this point, there is no guarantee the film will get made. I really hope it does and we seem to be not far off getting all the funding in place but Sod’s Law has taught me that the more you talk about a project, the less likely it to happen.

Owen: What's the best part about playing the bad guy?

Doug: I should roll out the bit about the devil and the best tunes at this point, shouldn’t I? I have to say, I’m not overly analytical about all this – and I don’t actually approach Pinhead thinking ‘I’m playing the evil or the bad guy.’ It would be as disastrous as approaching a comic role thinking ‘I’m going to be funny.’ It’s all about truth. My touchstone would be Peter Cushing, one of my acting heroes, who could switch from bad (Baron Frankenstein) to good (Van Helsing) and do both with a great purity and passion

I’d have no problem playing the good guy, though I think the only interesting heroes are the seriously flawed ones.

Owen: You are also a very hot ticket at horror conventions.  What is that experience like?  Is it a bit surreal being so well known as someone else?

Doug: Well, I’ve been doing them for 16 years now, so I’m well used to it. The first one I did (Fangoria’s Weekend Of Horrors in LA in 89) was a trip. I went out with Tony Randel (director of Hellbound) for breakfast and came back to find a huge line outside the hotel. As we walked in there was clearly a lot of recognition going on. I assumed they recognized Tony. 20 minutes later, when I still hadn’t made it to the elevator, I was only too well aware of my mistake.

I’d be lying if I said they aren’t without their surreal moments: I’d be lying if I said there aren’t times when you wish everyone would go away and leave you alone, but I do genuinely enjoy doing the conventions. It’s great to meet your colleagues, many of whom are now friends, and occasionally a hero or two. And I enjoy meeting the fans: it’s not often as an actor that you get to meet the people you actually do all this for.

Bottom line: three days of drinking too much and having people say the most absurdly flattering things about you. What’s to have a problem with?

Owen: What projects do you have lined up in the future?

Doug: I’m about (this week, September 22) to record a ‘feature-length’ audio play of Doctor Who for Big Finish licensed by BBC Worldwide. It’s not for broadcast, but will be available on CD. I’m playing the bad guy opposite Colin Baker’s Doctor.

Renga are about to get the green light for the second Dominator movie. I’ll again be voicing the part of Dr Payne, undertaker extraordinaire, and I’ll again be Executive Producer. Very early days, yet, but it’s aimed for theatrical release either autumn 06 or early 07.

This October I’ll be out in the States doing some Halloween stuff and also performing my one-man show, An Evening With Death.

I’m also currently negotiating over a horror movie in the states this fall, but (see above) I’ll say no more…………Suffice to say it’s nothing to do with Pinhead. Well, not quite…

Owen: What frightens you in real life?

Doug: Requests for email interviews, buff envelopes from the Inland Revenue, wasps (which seem to be disappearing in this country: can it be true?) and fundamentalism of any kind – people with closed heads, basically.