Horror fans everywhere should recognize the name “Leslie Simpson” from such favorites as Dog Soldiers, where he played Pvt. Terry Milburn, The Descent where he played one of the horrific Crawlers and Doomsday where he was Carpenter, one of the soldiers that were to escort heroine Eden Sinclair into the “Hot Zone”.
Well, forget about those excellent performances because Simpson has gone one MUCH better in his role as The Lone Man in writer/director AD Barker’s A Reckoning (aka Straw Man). Whether the film is post-apocalyptic or the tale of a man who has taken himself out of society or simply the story of a man going insane, Simpson’s performance is nothing short of breath-taking. And the sad thing is is that so very few people have seen this film, to date. Hopefully THAT oversight is being corrected and quickly because A Reckoning NEEDS to be seen. Beautiful, sad, horrific and nearly every emotion in between, Simpson covers them all – brilliantly and effortlessly.
Dread Central recently had the opportunity to interview Simpson, who is also a first class comedian, and get some more insight into his career-making performance as The Lone Man in A Reckoning.
DC: First things first, Leslie. Tell us a bit about yourself. Most horror fans know you from Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday but little is known about the “real” Leslie Simpson. Where are you from? Where did you attend school? Did you always want to be an actor and how did you get your start in this business? Just any little tidbit you think fans might want to know about you.
LS: I was such a butterball as a baby that the women in our local village called me Little Buddha. I played up to the image. I never spoke, never walked and ate only when I was fed. When I was four, having given up my former guise, I fell off a wall and cracked my head. When I woke up I was in a fourteenth century monastery. My teacher was Sean Connery and I had a pet fish called Goldmund who was played by that bloke from the John Livingston Seagull film. Things went a bit pear-shaped after that. But hey, three years later and here I am!! Score one for the team and so on!!
DC: How did you find yourself involved in AD Barker’s amazing The Reckoning? Were you the least put off by the fact that you are in nearly every scene in the film? And what did you do for your audition for the part?
LS: The first I knew about it was when Andy and Adam ‘Kraj’ Krajczynski turned up at my home with a crew and started filming. They told me to just go about my business and ignore them. It was obviously hard at first – I was a little camera shy – but I soon got into the swing of it. My main gripe, which I’ve brought up with Andy on a number of occasions, was the constant whispering and sniggering whenever I took a bath. It was COLD dagnabbit!!
DC: The film was shot in two FAST weeks in January and February…2009? What was that experience like? And most of all, HOW did you prepare for such a gut-wrenching role – both physically and, more importantly, emotionally?
LS: Fortunately I have extreme physical, psychological and emotional tendencies that over the years I’ve learned to sublimate for purely creative purposes. I have no idea what my limits are. Whatever anyone who watches the film may think – and there were enough people on set to verify this – at no point did I feel I had reached the point where we needed to say, ‘enough is enough’. In fact, there were some occasions when the extraordinary first AD Tiernan Hanby had to call time on my behalf. Actually that’s not entirely true, he was afraid that he’d get prosecuted if I died or summat so he was being selfish. Some shots were taken during lunch when Tiernan wasn’t looking. Emotionally and physically challenging? It’s playtime. It’s dressing up and pretending. I make no great claims and there’s no secret. I serve the purposes of the work. It’s all there in my manufacturer’s warranty.
DC: Much has been made in reviews of The Reckoning about whether it is a post-apocalyptic film, a film about a man who has withdrawn from society or simply a film about madness. What is your opinion on what the film is about?
LS: Ooh, multiple choice! A!! No, B!! Hmmm… this is a hard one. Yeah, I’ll stick with B.
…Can I say all three? I don’t want to come across like an idiot.
DC: There are a lot of literary references both in your lines as well as visual ones you have to look for (Lovecraft on the blackboard in the classroom, for instance). Were these references in the script or did you ad-lib any or all of them?
LS: All the literary references were taken from books.
DC: Was there any room for ad-libbing on your part or was your direction “tightly controlled” by director AD Barker?
LS: Yes!! Phew!! Thank the stars it’s out in the open. From the moment I signed the contract I was at Andy’s mercy. He was as nice as pie before that. This man needs to be stopped! Seriously, I had no say in anything. I was denied breaks, starved of food, and made to sleep on a damp mattress infested with bed bugs. In fact the bugs evicted me halfway through the shoot for non-payment of rent. And he has the audacity to say I’m a diva?? I’m a diva?? How flippin’ dare he?? I’ve kept all the emails mate; so don’t even think about it.
To add insult to injury he actually told me he wished he’d got one of his mates in to play the role. Okay, I’m not the best actor in the world but come on!? I was originally only in two scenes, and ironically neither made the final cut, so it’s a surprise to me I’m in it at all.
DC: How would you describe/sum up The Reckoning for those unfamiliar with the film?
LS: It’s not your average last man on Earth film. He doesn’t have a canine companion, no widescreen TV, access to fancy automobiles, nor even a decent change of clothes. We have no idea who he is, where he is, or why he’s there. And that puts you right in the nightmare with him.
DC: Tell us about your character, The Man.
LS: Every hint of history was wiped from the script. Defining the Lone Man separates the audience from the experience. Take away their baggage and they engage on a personal level, and that can be ‘ouchy’. Some viewers have recoiled because of the brutal implications of what the film is presenting. But there’s no need to be into ‘art house’ films to watch it. It generates a reaction whether you’re a nurse, a builder or a brain sciencer thingie.
So, unfortunately, audiences are asked to draw their own conclusions.
DC: Your performance has been compared to that of Klaus Kinski or a young Dennis Hopper. What do you have to say about comparisons like those?
LS: I’m not in control of how people view the work. There will be as many people who think I’m a rubbish actor. My opinion isn’t important. Hang on a minute… weren’t they both divas?? Barker!? I’ll ‘ave your nuts in a tripe sack!!
DC: Why was the film’s title changed? I always thought Straw Man a much more sinister title.
LS: I never get told these things. It’s something to do with having a higher Scrabble score I think. Personally I don’t care what it’s called. It’s what’s inside the box that matters. I suggested Peter’s Magic Banjo but they told me off.
DC: What was it like interacting with all of the straw people? Any joke-playing with them during the shoot? Did you get to keep one or two to decorate for Halloween?
LS: They were some of the best actors I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I had to raise my game to keep up with them. They never complained, had all their lines down from day one, and turned up at the read through in full costume and make-up. They look very young on camera but most were in their forties. I became good friends with the Hanged Man because we both have an interest in 17th century irrigation law.
DC: You have worked with Axelle Carolyn before, on Doomsday and you are friends with her husband, director Neil Marshall. Was there any “awkwardness” with your interaction with her in your scenes together? And who do you think her character represented? Salvation? Happiness? Death? Or something else?
LS: Intimacy is part of an actor’s repertoire. Nothing is uncomfortable or awkward as far as the craft of acting goes. Do I have to get my kit off? Is there a love scene? It’s all part of the work. I don’t give it a second thought.
Andy and Kraj placed layer after layer of symbolism into the piece, covering every possible angle.
In The Shawshank Redemption Andy Dufresne has his Screen ‘Goddess’. Anyone who has seen that film will know what she implies. In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank yearns to be re-united with Lauren/Sylvia Garland on the ‘outside’ after she makes a brief appearance in his make-believe world. Both Shawshank and the Truman Show have scenes involving the sea. Without giving spoilers, both those films are identical metaphors for the same redemptive journey in my opinion. In my view The Woman, played with aplomb by Axelle –the role is not as easy as she makes it look – serves the same purpose, but don’t quote me on it. I can’t over-state the need for audiences to watch the film without our input.
DC: How have the film and your performance been received by the people who have seen the film and how are the producers getting the film out to a larger audience? This really is a must-see movie.
LS: Not everyone has enjoyed it, because it’s pretty intense. But on the whole the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It invariably leaves a residue that lasts for days; weeks even. It’s hard to shake off once you’ve seen it. From what I can gather Andy, Kraj and I are the only one’s making any effort to get it seen. If there’s anybody else, then they should get in touch with Andy. But where there’s a wu there’s a wei. It didn’t stop Ink (the film), nor did it do them any harm.
DC: Who and/or what inspires you in your work? Authors, other actors, something else completely?
LS: I genuinely don’t have a clue. I pay very little attention to my thoughts. When anything does inspire me, I’ll go ‘Ooh, that was good’, or ‘Eek, that was bad’, then the next day, or at most a few days later I’ve forgotten what it was. Nothing sticks. It helps me to get over things. And then on top of that I have a self-destructive nature – in a genuine, positive sense. So if anything or anyone takes advantage of my nature enough times, I sear it or them off at the root – the root always being within myself. The upshot is anything that was inspiring me during that period is also likely to go. I’ve died loads of times so I’m used to it. Oh, okay, there you go, philosophy clearly inspires me and I never knew it. Well I’ll Be!!
DC: What are you currently working on? I know you are the Artistic Director of the ThreeOverEden Theatre Company – any plays on the horizon? Or are you doing more films?
LS: Actually we’ve collapsed threeovereden too. I had a clearance sale of all aspects of my former life about 18 months ago. It’s no surprise that this is almost exactly the time we wrapped principal photography on A Reckoning.
The king is dead!! Long live Gilbert Whistle!!
The shoots of my next great adventure are only just showing through now and I’m about to enter a rich vein of employment – older and stupider.
I’ve just shot a cameo in a feature called CRAWLSPACE. It’s a sci-fi action horror by first time director Justin Dix and produced by John Finemore. I can tell you with every confidence that this film will blow genre fans away. I saw an ungraded teaser yesterday and I was struck dumb. Justin is an art director & special effects wiz, and he brings that visionary zeal to his filmmaking. I’ll eat my hat if he’s not the next Ridley Scott. Greg ‘Wolf Creek’ Mclean is the Executive Producer.
DC: You have starred in two iconic horror movies: Dog Soldiers and The Descent. What is your opinion on horror movies and are you a fan? If so, what are some of your favorite horror films?
LS: Crikey mick!! My dissertation at University was shorter than this interview. I think I’m suffering from Scribbler’s Finger.
I love horror films. I was raised on them. One of my nicknames as a kid was Werewolf because I had very hairy arms, and I used to tell people that I’d be in a werewolf film when I grew up. Go figure? My fave horror films are generally satanic, although I can dig anything as long as it has a genuine presence of the ‘other’. While I enjoy some slasher/serial killer flicks, I think they’re really a sub-genre of crime-drama. I love Roman Polanski’s 70s output, The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby, I love The Exorcist & The Omen, yadda yadda. But my all-time personal fave is Angel Heart. In my opinion, everything about that film is magnificent.
DC: Any favourite horror authors and/or books on your bookshelves?
LS: I read a lot and have been through most of the major horror writers. Lovecraft, Irving, Poe etc. Bachman/King, Clive Barker, James Herbert, Crowley, Grant, the list goes on.
DC: What is one thing no one knows about Leslie Simpson that you think they should know?
LS: Eh? Who’s Leslie Simpson? I’m Leslie Scrivens. Isn’t this the application form for welfare support? Ah nuts!! That took hours to fill out.
DC: Did you get to attend the Royal Wedding?
LS: There was a royal wedding? Not on my planet.
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