This week sees the release of the Perth filmed thriller Hounds of Love. Set in the 80s Hounds of Love is an examination of the twisted relationship between a predatory couple and their next potential victim. It is a psychologically tense game of cat and mouse, that can often be excruciating, yet phenomenally worthwhile viewing. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to one of the stars of Hounds, Stephen Curry, about playing a serial killer, the praise his performance has been receiving, and how it was a million miles away from his previous work in comedy.
Hounds was initially inspired by director Ben Young reading about female serial killers and the influence of their male partners. Young conceived a script that explored those aspects of codependency, control and domestic abuse. For Curry the challenge became to embody that.
“John White is the worst person you would ever want to meet (or not want to meet),” says Curry. “He’s a psychopathic animal, basically. Someone who lacks empathy, who lacks an ability to love, but possesses a kind of animalistic urge to get what he wants. Evelyn (Emma Booth) is someone he’s managed to indoctrinate into his way of thinking, and that’s the way he likes it. He likes power, he likes control, but the moment he steps out of his house he loses all of that. So it causes him to rule with an iron first inside his house.”
Curry found two ways to portray this. The first was ignoring boundaries. “I think if you don’t’ possess empathy the boundaries go out the window, as the boundaries are only prescribed by what you want,” he says.
The second was more complex. White is a character that might not be able to feel love, but he can fake it to get his way. That meant Curry had to ignore one of the fundamental pieces of advice he had received on acting.
“From day dot I’ve had directors tell me to stop acting, so you can’t see the cogs moving,” says Curry. “This is a very strange situation where you’re playing someone who spends his entire life acting to get what he wants. You’re acting a character but remembering these lessons from a director when you were 13 years old. It’s very confusing.
“At the same time it makes it a very tantalising idea to be able to sink your teeth into the role. It’s important to present a character as a human being. It doesn’t matter how depraved this character maybe, if you don’t present them as a human I don’t think people are going to buy it. It would also sell the other characters short. We wanted to make this guy as human as possible. I find that more interesting than being a moustache twirling one note bad guy.”
The result is essentially a three-hander, with each character vying for what they want and needing to manipulate another to get it. Although the stakes are life and death.
“Ben Young has shown a deft touch to handle those three performances and that three-way dynamic,” says Curry. “It’s an extremely difficult thing to maintain, and to maintain for an entire feature film. Restraint keeps coming into it, as all the characters are not showing their cards too early. Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is this seventeen year old girl who has to turn into a puppet master in the face of two beasts. It’s such a compelling dynamic. Well, I would say that… I’m in it.”
Despite it’s brutal subject matter, Hounds of Love demonstrates a visual restraint. It often doesn’t show the depravity or violence, but instead looks at the emotional impact. It is intense and harrowing, but not gratuitously so.
“Ben has again shown his talent by showing restraint,” says Curry. “Treats his audience with respect. You know what is happening, we know what is happening-we don’t need to push it in you’re face. The emotional attack has far more impact.”
The result is a stand-out performance, albeit an often brutal and terrifying one. It left some American critics confused that Curry is considered a comedian, when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Even his mum was initially reluctant to see her son sink his teeth into the role of a depraved psychopath (although she did eventually enjoy seeing it at the Perth premier – Curry reports that they’re still cool).
As for what an acclaimed dramatic role could mean for the actor’s future: “I think I’m done – might go into accounting or something,” jokes Curry.
In the short term he plans to head back to comedy, at least for a while. “I enjoyed this film, but it took a lot out of me. It vindicated the thought that I could do it, but I like mixing it up. So I think I need to do some comedy before I go back to the heavy stuff. You know what it is, it’s going back to my comfort zone for a bit. Hopefully I’ll keep things as diverse as possible.”