XAVIER HEADS TO TWILIGHT AND BEYOND
by Paul Fischer
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Young Aussie actor Xavier Samuel is getting a lot of attention these days, first in the award-winning Aussie horror film The Loved Ones, and coming up in the third of the Twilight films, Eclipse.
The young actor grew up in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, the son of a teacher. Since graduating from drama school, he has worked professionally in both theatre and film, making an impact on the big screen in Murali K Thalluri’s 2:37, followed by the film Angela’s Decision. He made his feature film debut in the Australian feature film September, and also starred in Newcastle, directed by Dan Castle, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Samuel stars in the low-budget horror film The Loved Ones, where he plays high school senior Brent Mitchell who, in order to avoid a ghostly figure in the road, wraps his car around a tree, killing his father. Constantly confronted by his mother’s emotional collapse after the accident, Brent escapes into a marijuana-fueled world of loud metal music to block the pain and guilt. Dejected and out of sorts, he has a shot at happiness with his girlfriend Holly, a grounded, caring girl with drop dead good looks, a dream date for the high school prom. But his plans are thwarted by a disturbing series of events that take place under a mirrored disco ball, involving pink satin, glitter, syringes, nails, power drills and a secret admirer. Brent has become the prom king at a macabre, sadistic event where he is the entertainment. The film just won the inaugural People’s Choice Award in Midnight Madness at the Toronto Film Festival. Samuel will also appear in next year’s third installment of the Twilight franchise, Eclipse.
In this exclusive interview at the Toronto Film Festival, Samuel talked extensively about both films and what he can expect from those inevitable Twilight fans.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Well, I was sent the script.
QUESTION: In Australia?
XAVIER SAMUEL: In Australia, yeah. Well, actually, I think I was in Los Angeles when I put it down on tape and sent it back. And as is always the case, you kind of send these things out into the ether, and you rarely hear back on anything like that. But I auditioned for it for Sean and when I read it, I was kind of struck by how unusual it was. It’s kind of like peering into some sort of grotesque doll’s house, or something. One of the things that I didn’t pick up while reading it was how funny it is and I only kind of got that when I watched it for the first time at the Melbourne Film Festival. I was kind of struck by the comic aspect of it, which kind of operates like this pressure cooker, you know? Like, it builds up and then it releases, and then it builds up again.
QUESTION: Was this a character you could easily identify with?
XAVIER SAMUEL: In some ways. I think you’ve got to find a little bit of yourself in what you choose to play. He’s – Brent’s quite an introspective sort of individual, and I guess I could identify with that aspect of him. But he’s also – you know, incredibly grief-stricken, which is something that I haven’t experienced to the fullest extent that he had. And – yeah. And also, like, the – it’s hard to prepare for the horror element, because I have no frame of reference whatsoever. I’ve never been tortured, unfortunately. Or, fortunately, I should say. [LAUGHTER]
QUESTION: Really! The dark side of you.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Well, unfortunate for the role, you know because had I been tortured, I would have had more of an insight.
QUESTION: Is horror a genre that you’re comfortable with, that you enjoy?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Certainly, after making it. I kind of – had such a great time, you know? It was anything but torture, really, but in terms of films that I’ve watched, I haven’t really kind of gotten into the horror thing. There are films that I’ve enjoyed that I guess would fit into that world like Funny Games, and a film called Irreversible. The less mainstream horror films.
QUESTION: What do you, as an actor, draw on during torture sequences? I mean, are you one of these guys who thinks about violent acts that – or do you think about, how does it affect you if it was you in that situation?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Well, there’s a whole lot of terrible things on the internet, that if you wanted to, you could look up and reference, I suppose. But I found it strange capitalizing on that sort of thing. So the majority of it was kind of left to my imagination. And again, it’s something that’s hard to rehearse.
QUESTION: Are they hard scenes to do?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Very much so.
QUESTION: Are they exhausting?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Very, very, very exhausting, but you kind of build up some sort of adrenaline that gets you through. And also if you can laugh about it and unwind, I think that’s the best way to deal with it. Like, I didn’t have any nightmares throughout the shoot, thankfully. But I think it’s sort of uncharted territory, and you only know what’s going to happen after Sean’s called action, you know? Because it’s – you know, you just hope that what you’re feeling is translating in the appropriate way.
QUESTION: How is this different from other genre movies? I mean, there’s an Australian sensibility, too, I guess. Is it very – is that different from the American equivalent? I mean, do you think that Australian filmmakers view the genre in a very unique way?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Well, I certainly think Sean does. I think he’s managed to redefine the genre in a way, you know? He’s created this kind of pop horror, which – the majority of it occurs in broad daylight, you know? It’s usually sort of dark and dingy, and – that was one of the things that freaked me out when I got to see it. I was like, there’s really nowhere to hide. Like, it’s brightly lit. There’s a mirror ball.
QUESTION: Where did you shoot?
XAVIER SAMUEL: We shot in a studio in Melbourne for the majority of the film, but, yeah. It’s just like – “Well, I’m not half-covered in darkness.” You know, as you’d expect to be. That’s the usual thing, right?
QUESTION: Now are you from Melbourne originally?
XAVIER SAMUEL: I was born in Hamilton, Victoria, and then I kind of grew up in Adelaide.
QUESTION: And was there always an actor within you? I mean, did you always feel that was your calling?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Not at all, really. I mean, the usual response is, you know, “I’ve been acting since I was three, and I used to perform plays for my Mom and Dad.” But I never really did that sort of stuff. It was just – I kind of followed a friend of mine into auditioning for drama schools and sort of landed in a drama course as a result of that. And it wasn’t kind of ‘til halfway through that first year that I thought, “Actually, this is something that – that is a craft, and it’s not just a hobby.” –
QUESTION: How surprised are you by any level of success that you’ve attained?
XAVIER SAMUEL: I feel – I don’t know. It is – it’s just like – for me, it’s just like riding a wave. I haven’t – I feel like I’ve made a lot of choices by being completely indecisive. [LAUGHTER]
QUESTION: Oh, really?
XAVIER SAMUEL: And it just sort of – not like a natural progression. But just, things have worked out in a way that I’m very happy about, and there hasn’t been any degree of expectation. Just the hope that I can continue working, you know?
QUESTION: Was it by design that you chose – that you’ve landed a kind of international career? Did you relocate to LA?
XAVIER SAMUEL: No. No, no. I still live in Sydney with my brother, who’s an actor as well, who’s studying at NIDA [the National Institute of Dramatic Arts] And my sister’s a stage manager.
QUESTION: Which part of Sydney are you in?
XAVIER SAMUEL: I live in Newtown. But in terms of design – I auditioned for Twilight. So there was some kind of design.
QUESTION: Did you know anything about that particular franchise?
XAVIER SAMUEL: To be honest, not really. Like, I watched the film on the plane. And at that stage, I hadn’t read the books, but I have now. I knew very little about it. I knew that it was extremely popular, and people kind of go crazy for it.
QUESTION: Crazy is an understatement.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Yeah. Like, you know, this notion of eternal love, and danger, and – you know, the thing that you love could kill you – that sort of stuff is, like – I guess it’s intoxicating for a lot of people.
QUESTION: And you play a vampire in Eclipse?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Newborn vampire.
QUESTION: A newborn vampire. Do you do any research on something like this?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Sleep in coffins at night, and stuff like that?
QUESTION: Or look at classic horror films that explored vampire culture.
XAVIER SAMUEL: I think that I’ve resisted that temptation, because the vampires, in Twilight, are very different. I think there’s a crucial element to portraying something like that is retaining some sort of humanity, and if you can do that, then hopefully it can work, in less of a stereotypical, clichéd kind of way.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of relationship with Kristen’s Bella? I mean, is there a bond of some kind that exists?
XAVIER SAMUEL: That’s a tricky question to answer, without giving away the plot.
QUESTION: There might be, or there might not be?
XAVIER SAMUEL: That’s a valid statement. How am I doing evading it?
QUESTION: You’re doing very well. David Slade is the third director associated with the franchise.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Yeah, David’s astonishing.
QUESTION: Now I was wondering whether or not he brings that kind of raw sensibility to this particular interpretation of Twilight.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Well, he’s such an intelligent, very down-to-earth director. And from what I can gather, the way that he’s approaching shooting the film is quite different to the previous two.
QUESTION: Now, is your character in any other books?
XAVIER SAMUEL: In Eclipse. Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you prepared for the female adulation that will result from this gig?
XAVIER SAMUEL: [LAUGHTER] Look, I don’t know how you prepare for something like that. I bet you just sort of take it in stride, and try to manage to lead a reasonably normal life, even if people are following you around while you’re getting your coffee.
QUESTION: You realize that you’re going to be probably at Comic-Con next year.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Probably, yeah.
QUESTION: I covered Comic-Con, and I was talking to Kristen at Comic-Con this year. And it’s clearly a very surreal experience, even somebody like her, who’s sort of used to it. But, it’s – you’ll be in for an interesting experience.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: If you treat it with a sense of humor, you’ll probably be fine.
XAVIER SAMUEL: I think so. And I guess I’m not under the microscope to the degree of intensity that other cast members are, so I’m kind of engaging with it in a way that hasn’t been too overwhelming.
QUESTION: The upside of doing a movie like that, I guess, is that it does open up a lot more doors for you. I mean, did you notice that the doors were opening a little bit further, that you’re associated with such a big movie?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Yeah, certainly. I think – you know, work kind of breeds work. And this opportunity has perhaps opened doors that may not have otherwise been open to me. Yeah. That’s a wonderful thing.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea what you’re going to be doing next? Are you looking at other things?
XAVIER SAMUEL: I have absolutely no plans.
QUESTION: Obviously no plans to come to LA.
XAVIER SAMUEL: Well, if I can juggle living in Sydney, and visiting LA—you know, a few times a year, that’d be ideal. It may end up that I have to set up camp.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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