Axelle Carolyn Talks Horror, Acting, Writing, and Journalism
I first became acquainted with Axelle Carolyn when she authored an article in Fangoria magazine and I was struck by her unusual name. At first I thought she had just flipped her names (I wasn’t aware at the time that “Axelle” is a Belgian/French female given name) and was really Carolyn Axelle. But as time went by and I actually worked with Axelle on several projects (and discovered that “Axelle” is a real girl’s name), I became one of her biggest fans. She has done it all – respected journalist, talented actor, stunning model, and now she is a published horror fiction author. I want to be her when I grow up.
Strangely, for all the collaborations she and I have worked on, I have never spoken to her. Everything via e-mail or messaging. The same now with my first in-depth interview with the Queen of Horror wherein we discuss her career, what she dreams of doing down the road and her story in the anthology Dark Delicacies III – Haunted. This lady pull no punches with her story, “Resurrection Man”, and I would be disappointed if she did.
DC: Hello, Axelle, and thank you so much for taking time to chat with Dread Central. I know you are and continue to be very influential to women who want to break into the horror genre, whether as a journalist, author or actor. But let’s back up a bit and talk about you. Axelle Carolyn. You were born in Belgium – Brussels, I assume? And your father is a university professor who specializes in New World/Meso-American artifacts. You have two brothers and a sister and studied International Law and Politics. Not a major one would immediately apply to a horror fan. Were you originally planning to be a barrister/solicitor/attorney (whatever a lawyer is called in Belgium)?
AC: I always wanted to work in movies in some capacity, but since it didn’t look like a realistic career choice in Brussels, Belgium, my parents wanted me to study something more traditional, something I could fall back on. So I studied Law, and for a moment I dreamed of working for the UN, so I kept studying for a couple of years. But then as soon as I got a chance to start working in the film industry, I left my diplomas aside and seized the opportunity…
DC: I have read several interviews you have done, and it seems that you were bitten by the horror bug when you discovered your father’s collection of Jean Ray books (n.b. Jean Ray was a mid-20th Century Belgian writer of mysteries and speculative fiction with titles like Ghouls in My Grave, The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales and The Island of Terror) and then, Stephen King. Film-wise, it was David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. Were your brothers also fans, and what did your parents think of your new obsession? Also, how OLD were you when the bug hit?
AC: I was probably 8 or 9 when I discovered those books. Before that, I’d already shown a strong interest in all things spooky – like most kids, I guess – and was fascinated by ghosts and skeletons. My brothers are both movie fans, but not necessarily horror, although my brother Carl does go to the Brussels Festival with me every year. My parents didn’t worry too much, at least as long as I wasn’t watching inappropriate movies – which included pretty much any horror movie until I was about 16. I did sneak out once in a while to watch a film they’d forbidden, but on the whole I was happy to stick to books until then, or just watch Tim Burton films for example.
DC: You got your first break in horror at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in 2004 when you approached Johnny Butane and Ryan Rotten and asked if you could assist them. Prior to this momentous event, you have said you had been going to the festival for years. What was the allure of the festival, and again, were your parents concerned about their daughter being caught up in all this… weirdness (that’s how my parents referred to it anyway)?
AC: I’d been going to that festival since I was 16, and one year I just asked Ryan and Johnny, whom I knew through the Creature-Corner message boards, if they wanted me to write a festival report. It’s Ryan who suggested I get a press pass and interview a few directors. If anyone has the chance to visit the festival (it’s in April), I really recommend it. The audience is very vocal, and if they’re enjoying the film, their reactions make the experience much more intense. They gasp and laugh and scream in all the right places. If the movie’s bad, on the other hand… well, it can have hilarious results.
DC: Your first interview was with director Stuart Gordon, and then things seemed to explode for you – meeting director Brian Yuzna and being an extra in his film Beneath Still Waters (2005), being asked to cover the film for Fangoria, and then you’re suddenly in Prague, on the set of Hostel. At any time, did you think “this is insane! This sort of good luck just doesn’t happen to people!”? And “I guess there goes the career in law”?
AC: The thing you can’t really see when you look back now is that all of this happened over the course of several months, and there was no way to tell at the time if it would lead on to anything else. So even if I was excited to visit my first set and write for Fango, it all seemed like nice, isolated incidents at the time.
DC: What sort of training did you need to become a horror journalist? I get that question a lot and wonder how you answer it. I’m SURE there are plenty of readers who would KILL to get to do what we do.
AC: Well, for one thing, being able to spell helps a great deal! Other than that, I think I got so used to doing research and writing essays when I was at university that a set report or a film review didn’t seem too daunting to write. But mostly, you have to see as many movies as possible, know as much as you can about the genre. And be completely familiar with the magazines and websites you want to work for: know their style, what subjects they cover, what they may be interested in.
DC: You have interviewed EVERYONE I can think of in the horror genre. Is there someone you have NOT interviewed that would be your dream?
AC: No, I’ve happily left interviews behind. Which of course doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to hang out with Stephen King or Tim Burton some day. I had a brief chat with Tim Burton recently at an awards ceremony, and it was one of those few times where I got completely star-struck. I was such a huge fan when I was a teenager.
DC: Obviously, when you interviewed Neil Marshall for The Descent? Or was it Dog Soldiers? … you had NO idea where THAT was going to take you. Refresh the horror romantics among us about how you met Neil and when you both realized this was turning into more than just an interview?
AC: It was The Descent, though we’d met very briefly years before at a screening of Dog Soldiers. I didn’t see him for a good couple of months after the interview… At the time, Neil was living in Carlisle, 6 hours away from London. So our first few months were mostly getting to know each other through emails.
DC: And your wedding. I remember the stunning pictures you posted after having the sort of wedding we horror chicks can only dream of – ON Halloween with a masked ball reception and you actually were married in a castle (Edinburgh Castle). Just briefly, for the ladies reading this, how did the whole wedding come together? Halloween, that’s a no-brainer. But the Castle, the reception, your gorgeous dress and honeymooning at Loch Ness…doesn’t get much better.
AC: Thanks! The truth of the matter is… I don’t like weddings. I hate the whole hoopla around it – all I cared about was actually being married, so I would have been happy to ditch the whole reception thing. But we thought it would be great to have all the people we love around us… so instead of a typical wedding, we decided to make it a big Halloween party.
DC: It seems that after your marriage is when your acting career began to take off – some cameos in Neil’s Doomsday, several short films. Did you have any idea that you wanted to be an actor? How did all of that come about, and do you ever miss the anonymity of writing?
AC: It all happened thanks to (or because of?) Doomsday. I got to do a couple of cameos when I was on set, and while I was touring the US and Europe with Neil to promote the movie, journalists often asked me a few questions about the make-ups I was wearing or my experience on set. So I thought, mmh, maybe I could use this somehow… I did a couple of short films and started taking acting lessons, and I loved it. It went pretty fast from there.
DC: Actually, while your acting career was taking off, your first book, It Lives Again! Horror Movies in the New Millenium, was published by Telos (and anyone reading this who does NOT have a copy – you REALLY need to order one! Excellent reference book for early 21st Century horror.). You had been a horror journalist almost exclusively up until this point – how did it feel to have your first book published at the same time you were getting your acting career off the ground?
AC: I’d actually been doing quite a few things in addition to journalism by that point. I got a script optioned, I worked as a freelance script reader and as a film publicist, and did a few other odd jobs in the industry. I guess you could say I was trying to find my way. I hadn’t really started acting professionally when I started writing the book, but I had already decided I would quit journalism, so the book was meant as a swan song to that part of my life.
DC: What has been the most enjoyable aspect of acting for you after years of being a writer? And would you ever return to writing full-time or is acting it?
AC: Working as a journalist was frustrating, in that I would write about what other people were doing while what I really wanted was to create something myself. I didn’t want to be an observer, as awesome as the job was. So for me, being on a set where I was an essential element of the shoot rather than a visitor was bliss. Also, as a writer, you can feel a bit isolated sometimes. As an actor, you’re constantly surrounded with people. Acting and writing appeal to different parts of my personality, and they complement each other nicely.
DC: For the uninitiated reading this, would you mind summarizing the films you have done to date and any anecdotes from any of those shoots (I know working with Leslie Simpson HAD to be hilarious)?
AC: Besides lots of shorts, and a part in The Descent 2 that didn’t make final cut, I’ve got three great features coming up next year. Straw Man, from director Andrew Barker, is the one you’re referring to, with Leslie Simpson. It’s a post-apocalyptic drama we shot in the midst of the coldest winter in the past 15 years. There were no heaters on set and we were freezing to death in skimpy clothes in the snow. And on the last day, both Les and I had to walk into the sea! But the crew took such good care of me, it turned out to be a great experience. I’d love to work with those guys again! There’s also Vivid, a thriller with Charisma Carpenter. And last but not least, I played a Pict warrior called Aeron in Neil’s new film Centurion. I got to shoot arrows, fight with an axe, and ride the best horse I’d ever seen, a gorgeous black stallion who happens to belong to Sting!
DC: This question goes more with being a journalist, but there really aren’t all that many LEGITIMATE female horror journalists today. Why do you think that is and what advice would you give to a young woman wanting to break into the horror genre as a writer?
AC: To be honest, I never thought of myself as a female writer or a female horror fan. I’ve very rarely, if ever, felt discriminated against, so it’s not something I’ve ever really given much thought. Actually, whenever someone was surprised to meet a chick who worked for Fangoria and knew what she was talking about, it worked in my favor because it made me stand out. It’s only since I got married to a horror director that I encounter people who think I’m into horror because of my husband and can’t seem to believe that a woman could come to like these films without the influence of a man. That gets on my nerves sometimes, but it’s nothing dramatic.
DC: What is next for Axelle Carolyn? You have a short story, “Resurrection Man”, coming soon in Dark Delicacies III – Haunted. What was the genesis of the story and how exciting was it for you to have it accepted by Dark Delicacies?
AC: I’d read the first two volumes, and one day when I was at the store in LA, Del Howison mentioned working on a third one, so I asked him if I could submit something (it’s by invitation only). Surprisingly, he said yes. Until then, I’d written very little fiction, and the couple of stories I’d written were gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, so I thought there was little chance. But I gave it a try anyway; it was too good an opportunity. If nothing else, I’d get some feedback on my writing, since no one had ever read any of my fiction. I had an idea for a story and wrote it just in time to make the deadline.
DC: How did you come to be included among such horror luminaries as Richard Christian Matheson, Simon Clark, Gary A. Braunbeck, David Morrell, Chuck Palahniuk in Dark Delicacies III? And how did you react when you got the word you WERE in?
AC: I was over the moon! Del and his co-editor Jeff know so much about horror; they know everyone and have read everything. I mean, look at the quality of the stories in the first two volumes! Just getting those words from Del, “keep writing”, was amazing. Needless to say, I’ve been following his advice. It was the best encouragement I could have had.
DC: Did you write “Resurrection Man” specifically for DDIII or did you have several completed stories to choose from?
AC: I wrote it with the deadline in mind, but the story idea came from a very different source. Last year in July I moved to a different side of London, much closer to the center and closer to all the historical parts of the city, like the East End. So I started reading books about what I guess you could call the dark history of London: the Great Plague, the fire of 1666, the witch hunts, the construction of the great Victorian graveyards… And I decided to write short stories inspired by that. The first one was Resurrection Man, which is the name people of the 19th Century used to give to grave robbers.
DC: How much research did you do in order to write the story? Any books you might recommend for readers curious about 18th Century anatomists or grave robbers?
AC: I did read quite a few books. The best ones were probably Necropolis: London and It’s Dead by Catharine Arnold, and Digging Up The Dead by Druin Burch. I also read a book about the history of freak shows, called Freaks.
DC: What is the genesis of “Resurrection Man”? A subject that fascinated you either from the viewpoint of the doctor or the carnival folk (and were there REALLY that many freak shows in 18th Century England?)?
AC: It was just the combination of several historical anecdotes I’d read in those books. Everything, at least up to the finale, is as historically accurate as I could make it.
DC: Do you have other short stories that are ready to be published? Would you be open to having them collected into one volume now, or would you prefer to see them published in various genre magazines or anthologies first?
AC: I will have another short story called “Arise”! in an anthology called Forrest J Ackerman’s Anthology of the Living Dead, edited by J. Travis Gordon. This one’s about the plague… And I have one about Jack the Ripper that I recently sent out to a couple of magazines.
DC: And what is next for you in the acting arena? Is there a dream part you would drop everything to play? Or an actor you would walk over hot coals to work with?
AC: I’m attached to several projects which are still looking for financing right now or will be shooting later in the year. There are plenty of actors I’d love to work with, from Jeffrey Combs to Robert Downey Jr. A dream part would be pretty much anything directed by David Cronenberg or Paul Verhoeven. Or in a different genre, Woody Allen…
DC: There has been SO much discussion on message boards, Facebook, MySpace, everywhere lately about the state of horror: remakes/re-imaginings, PG-13, CGI-overload, Spanish and French horror blowing US and UK horror out of the water, J-horror and K-horror being overexposed, torture porn. As an actor married to a genre director as well as being a respected horror journalist, what is your opinion on the current horror trends from your different viewpoints?
AC: I think it’s brilliant that horror can take so many different forms. In French, the word “horreur” refers almost solely to gore films and slashers, and for everything else, there’s “fantastique”, which covers everything from gore to ghosts to fantasy. I like that term. It’s more representative of the variety the genre can offer. Personally, my favorite sub-genre is ghost stories. But you can find brilliant movies in every sub-division.
DC: Of the recent crop of films (past couple of years), have there been any that just blew you away? And what would you like to see an end to in the horror genre?
AC: I loved The Orphanage, as you can probably tell from the cover of my book. There’s been quite a few great Spanish horror films lately; REC is another one. In the past couple of years, I’d also list A l’Interieur [Inside], even if I hated it the first time I watched it! As for film trends I’d like to see end, I’d say zombies… Although I’m looking forward to REC 2, and I’m attached to a 3-D Nazi zombie film shooting early next year which has a great script!
DC: I have read that you don’t have much time for reading horror fiction, but have there been any recent authors or books that you REALLY want to read or you found the time and the book was amazing? I find it distressing that horror literature is not getting the “press” on the websites that the films are getting. Horror DID begin as literature…
AC: I don’t get to read half as much as I’d like to, and it’s a shame. I enjoy reading as much as I do watching movies these days. Books have an ability to tap into the darkest places of your mind, to stimulate your imagination, that films just don’t seem to have. I read a lot of non-fiction, for research and for fun… I’d love to read more of Dan Simmons’ books; I recently read Drood and Summer of Night and loved them. I’m also delighted to hear that Steve Niles’ Criminal Macabre is going to be turned into a film; I loved it. And fellow DDIII contributor Mick Garris has written a wonderful novel, Development Hell, which I very strongly recommend.
DC: Is there anything I have not asked you that you want to add?
AC: I think we’ve pretty much covered it all!
DC: My infamous question EVERYONE gets: What is one thing no one knows about Axelle Carolyn that you think they should know?
AC: I get obsessed with the most random things. Right now it’s London history, but past interests over the years have included the space race, soccer, US presidents, Disney animation, Ancient Egypt… and I even once spent six months learning German, just because I liked the way it sounded. But horror is the one thing that has always been there.
DC: Thank you so much for your time, Axelle. And I know I speak for many when I say “break a leg” with your acting career!
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