Monsters: Dark Continent Round Table at MCM London Comic Con

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Following on from their public panel discussion at this month’s MCM London Comic Con, the team behind Monsters: Dark Continent took part in a special press Q&A, where MCM Buzz was able to find out more about their experiences of creating the movie.

Joining the conference were director Tom Green (MisfitsBlackout) and stars of the film Sam Keeley (Misfits, Raw), who plays main character Michael Parks, Joe Dempsie (Skins, Game of Thrones, The Fades, This is England) who plays his best friend Frankie McGuire, and Johnny Harris (This is England, The Fades, Atonement), who leads them in combat as Sergeant Noah Frater.

 

How does it feel to be here at the MCM London Comic Con?

SK: It’s amazing! I’m a big comic fan. I have been for years, and I kind of feel like I should’ve dressed for the occasion more – I should’ve worn my Punisher t-shirt! But yeah, it’s incredible because I’ve never been to an event like this before. I think for us to have our film that we shot in the desert here among all you lovely people is a great honour.

JD: One of the amazing things is seeing how these types of events grow over the years. The culture has previously been a little bit niche, but it’s actually become much more inclusive now, and the fact that our film can be welcomed at something like this is great!

TG: I think you always go on a journey making a film, and it’s a proud moment to see ours amongst these extraordinary, juggernaut franchises. We went out there and fought like hell to bring a film back under really tough conditions, and everyone gave it their heart and soul, so to sit here in a convention like this is extraordinary and slightly surreal. We couldn’t have imagined being here when we were sweating away in uniforms in the desert a year and a half ago!

JH: I’m just really surprised. I’m still riding on it. When I first got here, I got out of the car and had four girls run up to me with big platform boots and outfits on and I felt like Ringo! It was like being in The Beatles – or at least it’s the closest I’ve ever got! It was nice. We had a photo and then they just sort of went off again and that was my introduction to comic con, and I was like, “I like it here!” Obviously, we’ve just done the panel and it’s just really well set-up. There’s a lovely spirit in the air. It’s great!

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Tell us some more about what it was like filming and any particular moments you remember.

TG: For me, the incredible thing about our shoot was that every day had it’s own unique story, and I think in some ways the film is emblematic of that. As Joe has mentioned, we worked in a town that grew from a Palestinian refugee camp. That was an extraordinary process in itself. Another day we were hanging out of the back of a Black Hawk helicopter. A lot of it, we didn’t really have any right to be doing, really. Sometimes you’ll be making a film in the same studio for months upon end and it all kind of rolls into one, but here, each day was very individual, and I think that’s very unusual. There are so many memories to chose from.

JD: We’ve spoken a lot about the process itself and how immersive it became, and how taxing and how gruelling it could be out there in the desert. And I suppose, for me, looking back on it, it seems like a far more daunting thing now. If someone was to tell me I had to go and reshoot the whole thing, I’d be like, “Oh, I don’t know…” But as Tom was explaining, there were so many memories: let’s just forget working experiences – there were so many life experiences. Making this film was just completely unforgettable: hanging out of helicopters and meeting displaced Palestinian people and children. It was incredible! You felt far from home, but you also felt like you’d made a little family for yourself out there. It was intense, but character-building. I’m finding it hard to put into words what an important experience it was for me.

SK: I found that, with this entire process of releasing the film, being at film festivals and being here with you guys, I get frustrated, because I can’t articulate how I feel about what we went through. Every day was such a gift, and everybody showed up on that set, every day, knowing exactly what they had to do, and everybody played their part. There was no dead weight. It was just this really lovely, visceral experience. I’m kind of sad it’s over now because the next productions that we work on are gonna have a really hard time of trying to live up to this!

JD: It was weird coming back. It did almost feel like trying to readjust, especially to the hustle and bustle of London. You come back and there are all these people around you, and you feel like you’ve been at war. As people are going past you, a little part of you is going, “You don’t know what I’ve seen.”

JH: I think it’s hard to put into words, like Sam was explaining. It’s paradoxical: in a way, what you’re enjoying is the hardship. And that’s not to sound like we’re actors who just want to suffer: it’s because the story was always going to be physically tough. It’s very heavy subject matter that we’re taking on, so I don’t think it was ever going to be the kind of thing where we could sit around laughing. It was hard, but I think we’re all the kind of actors, and I know Tom’s the kind of director, that want to make great work and take their subject matter seriously. So even though it’s physically aching or emotionally taxing, hopefully you know that you’re performing good work, and that’s all any actor really wants to do.

In some ways acting is just like if you work in an office – my wife works in an office, and she always says that the hardest days are when you’ve got nothing to do, when you’re sitting around trying to kill time. I loathe being on sets where you’re sitting around waffling about who’s got the biggest trailer. You want to focus on the scenes and on the subject, and we did that with this film.

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TG: I think it’s interesting what Joe was saying about how all the way through, with anything I’ve done, I always think afterwards, “How did I do that? I couldn’t do that again!” If I had to revisit that process, I don’t think I could. With this film there was a confluence of things coming together with a very dynamic energy. You can have that intention to create something like that, but you’ve got to be fortunate enough to have people from your cast and crew around you to support you and to support the ideas. And it was pretty bold what we went and tried to do! By making a science-fiction spectacle movie of this scale for this type of budget, while trying to think more laterally with more scale and ambition than is usually associated with this kind of film-making, we took on something that I don’t think has been done in the British film industry before. It was quite frightening to go to Detroit and to the Middle East with limited resources and to try to come back with something that actually has international potential and speaks to a global audience in some way. A lot of people had to be brave, including the producers and financiers of the film, along with everyone involved in it. So I’m very lucky to have had the support of the people around me.

JH: When you’re working in this way, you do tend to find that reality and the story you’re trying to tell on screen all start to blend together. Because we’re not soldiers, we had to take things from our own lives and you use our imaginations to try to convince audiences that we are. So if it’s all going right, I find that there’s a time in the process where it all starts to bleed into one.

I remember the night with the Bedouins. That was a big one for me. We were with a real Bedouin tribe and something happened there that night – I just remember thinking, “This is special” and what I was thinking was that the character had started to become part of the reality as I was looking at these people. I had started off in a condescending way, if I’m honest. These people, on the surface, had nothing. I remember just looking at them and thinking, “How can I help?” in my Western way of thinking, you know – “What do I do? Give them a fiver or something?” It’s ridiculous! And then, through the night, they started singing and I just realised that these people had something that I had never had or that I long for. There was a lot of stuff like that where it was very moving, very life-changing. I don’t know if enjoyable’s the right word. It’s a funny thing to think of it as “enjoyable” when you’re hanging out of helicopters and screaming cos you think you’re gonna die! But it was very moving for all of us. I think we’ve all had an important experience – that’s why friendships have been made.

TG: You’ve got to listen to people around you as well, very carefully. We have tried to explore very difficult and very raw subject matter, and to do that effectively, you need to listen to the people you’re discussing. So we worked very closely with our undercover British officers in between tours of Afghanistan and we cast a young man from Detroit who had served in Iraq, and all of that was very much a part of us creating the friction and the visceral, hopefully authentic, nature of some of the scenes. We also worked with these amazing US marines on set the whole time who helped with the action sequences, in everything from getting the reloading of the guns right, to the medical processes, to driving Humvees for us. We tried to listen to the Jordanian people and the Bedouins and evoke the way they live in the film as well. I think that’s why it feels quite profound to us all, because we’ve been dealing with people who have really experienced these extreme things. When you’re working with people who are so generous about giving you their intimate life stories and their testimonies, you really want to honour those, and that’s why these actors have all gone there and been so detailed and stayed in character – to really try to make that accurate. I hope that comes across in the film. I believe it does, but it’s for audiences to decide, ultimately.

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One of the ways this film preserves the legacy of the first film is in juxtaposing big sci-fi action with a very intimate, character-driven story. Could each of the actors tell us a little bit about their characters and what they bring to the film’s dynamic?

JD: I play Frankie Maguire who is a young private, who is essentially Parks’s oldest and best friend and the closest thing to a family that he has. But with all that he can lead people astray. He’s quite cocksure. He’s very keen on signing up to the army and going to war and then the reality of the situation probably hits him the hardest once they get out there. For me as an actor it was a great challenge and a great joy to be able to play those two sides of the same coin. That’s always what you’re looking for. You want your characters to be complex and three-dimensional and layered and to experience a change in some way. I think all the characters experience quite significant change during the movie and I found Frankie’s particularly interesting.

JH: I play a character called Noah Frater who is a platoon sergeant. He has served his country for 17 years and this is his eighth tour, so you could argue that this guy is coming to the end of his military career, or he certainly sees that in the distance. What was fascinating for me about him and about this film generally is that there are kind of two versions I could give you: I can give you a straightforward narrative version where this man goes on a journey with these young recruits, and it’s like a road movie where they find stuff out about each other and about themselves. But what’s beautiful and important about the film, and what first attracted me to it when I read the script, is the subtext, it’s the stuff going on underneath. It’s metaphorical in terms of what the monsters mean and what they represent, both in the bigger context of the story and to each character individually. With Noah, I love the fact that what’s going on within this guy is also going on without, and you can see that, through these monsters. I love that method of storytelling. Fairy tales were made up for that reason, for exploring the human psyche through metaphor. It’s kind of hard to describe sometimes. I can do the psychological thing and give you the break down of who the character is but the fact is, really, there’s a lot going on. There are parallel stories going on at once.

SK: I play Michael Parks who acts as the audience’s eyes and ears throughout this experience, if you like. Mikey’s a young kid from Detroit and Frankie is his world, the only person that he really deems to be family. He holds him very near and dear to him and as you watch the film you start to get a sense of how close they really are and how much they mean to each other. I was honoured when Tom cast me in this role because when I first read the script, I was completely blown away by it and I wanted in – I didn’t care how, I didn’t mind what part.

To play the character, I had to make a lot of changes. There was the change to be an American kid, but also to be a kid from such an impoverished area, and to be in the military as well. So there was physical change and an accent change, as well as a personality change. It was very important to get that stuff right, and I think that’s why we went so deep into this film.

When Mike leaves Detroit and goes into this mad war with his closest friend, he finds himself in situations where the person that he thought he was starts to dissolve, and he’s forced to make decisions that make him find out what type of man he really is and what he wants out of life. As the film goes on you get to see if he made the right choice in joining the army and what he makes of himself and his fellow soldiers. It’s the most rewarding film experience I’ve ever had in my life and I hope that, when audiences finally come and sit down to watch this that they’ll get a small taste of what we were trying to do. If they go through even a fraction of what we went through out there, we’ll have done our jobs.

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Monsters: Dark Continent will be released in UK cinemas soon. For more information, check out our panel coverage from the convention.

Photos by Caitlin Jenkins.

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