Monday, 25 October 2010

Short film diary - Guest post: Simon Messingham

Simon Messingham is a writer and actor with whom I have spent many enjoyable evenings in pubs drinking too much and debating the merits of various horror films. He also played the Magician in my short film Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw and was the first actor I cast.

At the time I first mentioned it to him I was not very far along with the project - there was a script and I think I'd mentioned it on the blog, but I still had no idea how I was actually going to pull it off. I also think I'd had a few beers when I asked him to be in it, which was necessary as I was a bit worried he'd turn it down and I'd basically written the part for him. Luckily he agreed to do it and despite me putting him through all kinds of hell he is still talking to me and still up for discussing horror films in pubs.

It was a tough part to play - he's the closest the film has to an actual villain but has to be sympathetic too. And he has to sing. And there were extreme weather conditions to deal with. This is Simon's account of how it went...


Here is my experience of Chris Regan’s Jenny Ringo and the Monkey’s Paw.

As an incredibly vain and shallow human being, I was thrilled to be invited to play the role of the Evil Magician. Nothing provides fulfilment like being asked to be in someone else’s production. More than having kids, going on holiday, making money, publishing a book, or even directing – the frisson of being asked to be in something someone else is doing is, for me, life at its best. And acting is the pinnacle of such a superficial ambition, so of course I said yes.

Christopher Regan is a strange man. Outwardly calm, laid-back even, almost shy – one instinctively senses the suppressed fury, anger and desire to inflict terrible acts of psychotic violence that consume every waking moment of his existence. In other words, he is a writer. I like him tremendously.

Knowing Chris’s love of hate, I was surprised at how tender the JR story actually was. I liked that too; although as an old man, I found some of the sensibilities – and some of the sense – difficult to understand. With only half a foot in the world of horror movies and none at all in comics (sorry: comic books, sorry: graphic novels) as well as little knowledge of nineties student slackers, I was occasionally lost in the mayhem. That was a weird feeling – normally I’m the one being told by genial, uncomprehending theatrical types how ‘marvellously strange’ my writing is.

When I realised I was going to play a psychotic, theatrical villain (officially an Evil Magician) I was even more excited. The role gave me the chance to play Christopher Lee in those super 8 behind-the-scenes clips from Hammer, when Lee struts round Bray in his cape, looking rather pompous and out of place as the crew set up around him (presumably grunting: ‘wanker’ as he ponces out of earshot).

When we actually filmed my bits, Chris sadistically chose the hottest day of the year to dress me up in tuxedo, waistcoat, top hat, thick cape and false moustache. And do a dance routine. He’s got a fine sense of humour has Chris.

He then compounded the fun by shoving me into an oven he called a fringe theatre and made me run around even more. I say: made me. That’s not strictly true.

The first inkling certain faculties in my brain were not functioning efficiently in this oven came about when I realised I was strutting round (a la Christopher Lee) telling the poor people being white-faced up as ghosts which grotesque they reminded me of. I’m thinking boiling hot, bored performers aren’t best pleased at being compared to Jeffrey Jones or Uncle Fester or whoever… Sorry about that.

The next inkling came when I couldn’t remember any lines and felt like I was sinking into a hot bath. The suit, cape, hat etc. were soaked through and my memory clearly wasn’t working properly. That was fun.

As a director, I believe I resemble a wired John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing. Not calm. Not happy.

I think my best experience on JR was working with lots of exciting young people who completely confused me with their talk of Canon 5D’s and Haribos. I felt like Dennis Price in the later stages of his career – a befuddled but well-behaved gentleman smiling benignly and hoping no one asks him anything. (And if you don’t know who Dennis Price is, shame on you. Watch Kind Hearts and Coronets immediately. In fact, watch it anyway. It’s not only the best English black comedy ever made, it’s the best film ever made). I hadn’t acted for a long time and the realisation I am now considered a veteran: someone to be looked after in a kindly old uncle way – is actually really great. So thanks Chris; had the best time. Let’s do more!


After being exposed to the ludicrous ambition of Jenny Ringo, Simon abandoned his short one woman in a flat film idea and decided to stage a huge musical comedy remake of The Stud featuring actors, dancers and disco hits to be performed at the Brighton Fringe. Without any real understanding of how this was actually going to be there in May 2011 to see how it works out.

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