Brad Dourif as Daddy in Wildling (2018) (© Maven Pictures / IMDB)

The Story Takes You: Actor Brad Dourif on His Role in Fantasy/ Horror Film ‘Wildling’

Safety is an illusion, Dourif says. There is no solid ground anywhere -- least of all beneath an actor's feet.

Fritz Böhm, Florian Eder
IFC Films
13 Apr 18 (US)

From Billy Bibbit in Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) to Raymond in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1983) and Wormtongue in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), character actor Brad Dourif has assembled an eclectic body of work. Alongside being the voice of Chucky in Don Mancini’s ongoing Child’s Play (1988-) franchise, he has also appeared in The X-Files episode Beyond the Sea (1994) as death row inmate Luther Lee Boggs and played Doc Cochrane in Deadwood (2004-2006).

Wildling (2018), the feature debut from Fritz Böhm is a dark fantasy tale centered on young Anna (Bel Powley), who has been raised in isolation by a man she knows only as Daddy (Dourif). Her true origins are a mystery. Suddenly thrust into the outside world, she comes under the protection of police officer Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), yet a pulsating bloodlust and being drawn back to the wild freedom of the forest makes adjusting to normal life a struggle for Anna.

In conversation with PopMatters, Dourif reflected on his way into a film, the unifying heritage of storytelling, the absence of safety and the necessity of abandonment.

Bel Powley as Anna in Wildling (2018) (© Maven Pictures, 2018 / IMDB)

In The Hero (2017), Sam Elliott describes a film as another persons dream. Would you describe a film as such or is this a romanticised notion?

That’s his idea of what it is, and it kind of is that, but it’s not for me. A film is a story, and stories are constructed; dreams are unconstructed. You are obviously getting into somebody else’s fantasy, but you can’t do that really. It’s theirs and whatever fantasy world you have is yours, and they are all unique. So when I do a part, I try to see first of all what the story is and what my character does for it.

Filmmakers and actors have frequently expressed that their respective crafts are a never-ending learning curve. Over the course of your career, have their been any moments that offered a significant insight into your craft?

Well I wouldn’t say so much moments, but working with Amanda Plummer was probably the most startling and unique experience for me. She has a kind of seriousness and not in a serious way; she is just a pure artist, impossibly wildly free, extremely blessed and really good.

What was the appeal of Wildling when you first read the script?

Fatherhood! Here was a twisted — and not really, I mean it’s never twisted — but this need to have meaning to your life by taking care of something, and how important that is was what originally drew me to it.

Storytelling through imagination can ask the question of ‘What if?’ Is it in this moment when the distinctions between imagination and reality blur and we find ourselves in the grasp of a story that we are most free?

Storytellers have been around from the very beginning of time, and I think the first thing we did as tribes and so forth was we always had a storyteller. They were important in that they unified, where we would get together and allow this person to hypnotise us as a group. There were actual ceremonies in some instances to get rid of the characters of the story because they were like living things, and that’s more I think what you are getting at.

It’s not a question of freedom, it’s a question of how we concentrate and how in subtle ways they change us. I have never really thought of it in that way, but I guess you are totally free. You give yourself to the story and you let it take you, unless it’s terrible and then you’re sitting there going: “Oh my God.”

The idea of transformation at the heart of Wildling looks to the possible interpretation of film as being built out of a psychological construct. From the layers of consciousness a film possesses to the psychological and emotional growth of the person, learning first about the world around them, and then themselves.

Well if we are talking about this film, someone described it to me as a coming of age film, and in a way I agree with that. I think that incorporates a lot of what you were getting at. This is somebody who is raised in an extraordinary way and she learns about the world and herself, transforming, and that’s what growing up is. It’s confronting this unknown and very strange thing called ‘the world’. You learn what it is and once you have learned and made a decision about it, you’ve grown up; you’ve come of age. You have a place in the world and you are ready to move forward. This film an extreme version of that and to me that was a good description.

On the subject of transformation, interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process, and should the experience of watching a film offer the audience a transformative experience?

Of course! Life and stories, all of that is dynamic and nothing stays the same. It’s terrifying in a way when you think about it because we are always trying to have something; we are looking for the rock or solid ground, and that’s not what’s real. What’s real is there is no solid ground, there is no rock, there’s not anything. The world is moving and changing, so are you, and you are not safe [laughs]; no one’s safe.

Interviewing Larry Fessenden recently he spoke of how a film is abandoned, that by a certain point you must accept the film you have and send it out into the world. Can this be translated to the actor’s performance of a character?

Of course, and when I was younger it was easier. But as I get older I have to be careful what I choose because it gets harder to do that. My shock absorbers ain’t what they used to be, so things can stick with me in a way I don’t like. But yeah, absolutely, there’s no way of moving forward unless you let go of everything you did before… you have to!

Wildling is released theatrically in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as on VOD and Digital HD 13 April 2018 by IFC Midnight.