In the Earth marks Reece Shearsmith’s third collaboration with director Ben Wheatley. Wheatley scripted his folk-inflected horror story during the height of the pandemic, and Shearsmith is grateful that he wrote him the role of Zach—a mysterious man living in the middle of a forest during the outbreak of a deadly virus.
As the world searches for a cure to a devastating virus, a scientist and a park scout venture deep into the woods. As night falls, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them.
On the latest episode of Post Mortem with Mick Garris (embedded below) Shearsmith recalls one highlight of their 15-day shoot: “Having just done a take of wildly running through the woods, hacking this undergrowth with a huge ax, I turned to [Ben] and said, ‘Thank you for writing this for me, Ben!’ I was doing my Jack Torrance!”
Garris, who recently saw In the Earth in a theater, admitted that Shearsmith disappeared into the role so completely that “I didn’t even know it was you until the credits played after the film.”
Shearsmith believes that the character is surprising because of how rational he appears, even as he’s revealed to be insane. “Zach could have been flagged [to show] what he was capable of, and the trajectory of his character,” he says. “[But] the thing I thought would be more frightening was that if he was so reasonable, then it’s hard to argue with him.”
This kind of performance is the natural result of a shorthand that frequent collaborators develop over time, Shearsmith says. Working with Wheatley on In the Earth, A Field in England, and High Rise, he noticed that the director was “always very open to any new trajectory or difference [in the character] that you may bring. You don’t mind if he says, ‘That’s great, but let’s maybe turn it down a bit,’ or, ‘Let’s go for a mad one!’ It’s fantastic to feel that you’ve got all options.”
Edgar Wright, who directed Shearsmith in Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, is another filmmaker who taught him the importance of a set where it’s safe to take risks.
“Edgar is a prime example of a director who’s fun and lets you feel very free,” he says. “When you return to work with people that you know and get along with, you’re free to try stuff out because you feel emboldened. Sometimes, you might second-guess a [director] if you don’t know them well enough. You want to be able to speak your mind and delve deeper. I love it when a director makes me do something that I would’ve never thought of, or pushes me to make me better. I love it if I feel like, ‘Yes, that’s not what I would’ve done naturally.’ That feels like opening a door to room you’ve never been in before, and that’s thrilling.”