In 1974 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' was released and changed horror cinema forever. Introducing us to one of the genre's most terrifying villains, the film influenced generations of filmmakers and remains a classic that used necessary low-budget techinques to capture a chilling realism and harrowing atmosphere. Directed by Tobe Hooper, it told the story of a small group of friends who innocently stop off on an isolated stretch of country road in Texas but who soon encounter their worse nightmares.
That was almost 50 years ago and the only survivor of the group was Sally Hardesty.
There's been a bunch of sequels, prequels and spin-offs since the original film was released (some varying in quality) and now we've got another sequel just around the corner brought to us by Fede Alvarez and Netflix.
'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is a direct sequel to Hooper's classic with Sally Hardesty returning in the wake of her adversary Leatherface being disturbed by brand new gang of youths.
Playing the part of Sally this time around is Irish actor Olwen Fouéré and writer Gavin Logan recently got the opportunity to interview Olwen about the film.
GL: At what point of development did you come onto the film? Was it after David Blue Garcia joined as director or when the Tohill brothers were still attached and did you know instantly that you wanted to be a part of the project when you read the script?
OF: I was offered the part by the first directors of the film, Ryan and Andy Tohill. I had worked with Ryan before and we had wanted to work together again. I was delighted to be offered that role and was already pretty clear that I wanted to do it before I had even read the script.
GL: Obviously the original 1974 Tobe Hooper film is an absolute classic. Maybe one of the most important horror films ever made. It changed the genre forever. Are you a fan of the original? When did you first see it and what effect did it have on you?
OF: I wasn’t particularly interested in what I called the ‘slasher genre’ when the original came out, and can’t recall much about seeing it other than I vaguely remember thinking there was too much screaming in the movie to be believable. I was much more into the interiority of European filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman at that time. I really only watched the original properly two years ago, just before shooting this version. It was extremely enlightening and I could see why the film had become such a great classic. It is a kind of masterpiece, with a very dark heart.
GL: You of course are playing Sally Hardesty from the original film. She is perhaps the quintessential "Final Girl". Were you hesitant at all to bring back such an iconic character?
OF: I had no idea how iconic Sally was when I took on the role and had never actually considered that there was a cult around the trope of the “Final Girl”. I believe the term was only coined in 1992 in a book called “Men, Women and Chainsaws” almost twenty years after the original 1974 film.
GL: How difficult was it to get into that character as opposed to some of your other roles? I know we haven't seen Sally for a very long time but this is a direct sequel to the 1974 film. Did you have a process of studying Marilyn Burns' performance at all to stay true to that character?
OF: I studied Marilyn Burns’ expressions and physicality but I knew I would have to create my own version of a character who we meet fifty years after the crazy trauma she experienced. There is only one brief moment where I refer to Marilyn Burns' performance while I am stalking Leatherface, close to our final showdown.
GL: When the latest trailer was released there was crazy excitement on social media to see Sally and Leatherface again. However lots of people have cited the new version of 'Halloween' (Michael Myers vs Laurie Strode) as a possible huge influence. Was that the pitch that was sold to you and/or what would you say might differ from how you all approached this story?
OF: I knew nothing about the ‘Halloween’ reference until people started posting about Laurie Strode. I actually haven’t seen that film so I can’t comment on it but, from what I can gather, the return of Sally Hardesty is very different.
GL: The film hasn't been released yet so we know you can't give away specific spoilers but in the original, Marilyn Burns' role was quite physical. There's lots of screaming too so we're gonna assume it was mentally draining also. Did this role have any physical or mental effect on you?
OF: I’ve played a lot of extremely physical roles over the last four decades, particularly in live performance, so I am always itching for a physical and vocal challenge on a film. Suffice to say I had a great time on the shoot, training for all of my stunts and becoming great friends with our armorer. The toughest parts for me are always when I have to multitask - like one shot where I had to aim, shoot, speak lines, shout out, all while stepping along a street in torrential rain and at very specific moments in one take.
GL: "50 years I've been waiting for this night...just to see him again." Again without giving away any spoilers, what was it like to finally have Sally and Leatherface come together again after all these years. There must've been a huge buzz on set..?
OF: It is a key moment which provoked a lot of discussion after the first rough cut. So a few versions were explored and we went back to reshoot some scenes last year. You’ll see!
GL: Mark Burnham takes over the iconic role of Leatherface in this film. We often hear in horror films how the hero and the villain will keep their distance from each other to help build the inevitable onscreen tension. What was your relationship with Mark during filming?
OF: It’s a fascinating relationship because she never sees his face. And sometimes I didn’t know if I was acting with Mark or with his stuntman! In many ways, he is not a person to her, he is a force and one wonders if any of the people he attacks are a person for him. Why Leatherface needs to kill everyone is a brilliant question to contemplate.
GL: The man behind this project is Fede Alvarez, who directed 'Don't Breathe' and of course 'Evil Dead' (2013). He clearly has an intense passion for classic horror films. Did you have a lot of interactions with him on set? How was he and David Blue Garcia to work with and was there something specific that they brought to you that helped your performance?
OF: I never met Fede Alvarez although I would like to. I didn’t see him on set any time that I was there but I had a great relationship with David Blue Garcia who was very collaborative to work with. He’s an extremely gifted writer, director and cinematographer and I’d highly recommend his previous feature film 'Tejano' which he wrote, directed, shot and produced.
GL: The horror community has embraced you in recent years helped by your gritty performances in films like 'Mandy', 'Sea Fever' and 'The Survivalist'. Is it a genre that pulls you in more than others? What do you believe the genre brings to the table?
OF: I know, there does seem to be a genre pattern emerging around my film work. I wouldn’t say it pulls me in more than others but I do think it is an increasingly fascinating genre. I’ve often said, in relation to my live performance work, that I am particularly interested in the theatre of disturbance. By that I mean theatre that creates a kind of tectonic shift, as opposed to a more surface effect in the realm of emotions. The horror genre clearly operates in the same territory of disturbance.
GL: Fundamentally you are an artist and a legendary stage performer too. You seem to have a deep sense of spirituality about you; when you speak, when you perform. Has that always been there from a young age growing up in a peninsula on the wild west coast of Ireland?
OF: I don’t think of myself as a particularly spiritual person but I have always had a very deep connection with the natural world, land, ocean, desert, the planet, space and all the many species that exist way beyond the human species. I imagine that is because of where I was born and grew up. At that time it was very remote and wild, and it remains a very powerful place, right on the edge of this island.
GL: Are you happier on stage or in front of the camera and what are (or were initially) the difficulties in transitioning between the two?
OF: That’s a big question for me. My stagecraft is far more evolved and I am definitely much more comfortable on stage because of my years of exploration in that medium. I still feel comparatively inexperienced in front of the camera but nevertheless there is so much about film that I find compelling and that I love. I wouldn’t say the transition was difficult, in fact it was easy, but I don’t have anything like the same body of experience or craft. What I miss in film is the creation process of rehearsal that you get in theatre. I would love to work on a film where that kind of creation process could be part of it. What I miss in theatre is the immortality that a film can have.
GL: Would you say you consider yourself a relatively solitary person? How (if at all) have you had to cope with gaining more notoriety in recent years?
OF: Yes, I am a very solitary person but I hugely enjoy being recognised for the work I do. And I have lots of places that I can escape to if I need to.
GL: We've seen a lot more film and TV productions coming over to Ireland and the North in recent years. What's your thoughts on the state of the Irish Film industry right now?
OF: I think the Irish Film Industry is entering a really interesting phase. By far the strongest movement forward has been from ‘home grown’ talent where independent filmmakers are creating really artist-driven non-formulaic work, and as for TV - look at an amazing writer like Lisa McGee and what she has achieved.
GL: Staying with that topic, 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' isn't the only big horror film you're involved in coming out this year. Robert Eggers' 'The Northman' is set for release in April. It's more of a revenge film but it's certainly in the horror realm. Much of that production happened on the North Coast of County Antrim not too far from our HQ in fact. You play a character called Ashildur. We think Eggers is one of the most exciting voices in cinema right now. Is it a large role and how was it to work on an Eggers' film?
OF: I totally agree, Robert Eggers is one of the most exciting voices in cinema at the moment and It’s been a huge highlight for me to work with him. Ashildur Hofgythja is not a large role but, of course, she is important. She is the temple priestess and the main person to perform blood sacrifices. I basically dropped everything to do it as it was such a great opportunity to meet and work with him and I would dearly love to work with him again. It would be a dream to do a film like 'The Lighthouse' with him, which to me is like a hybrid form of film and theatre. Just two actors, in one confined and very remote location, with quite a distinctive performance language.
GL: Can you tell us about any other projects you have coming up?
OF: Coming up on March 8th on TG4 is a six part half hour series called 'An Diabhal Inti (The Devil’s in Her)' which is a creative documentary series for TG4 and BBC NI exploring witchcraft accusations in Ireland and the witch hunts in Europe, directed by Paula Kehoe and produced by Ashlene Aylward of Lagan Media. I have a role in the new ITV series 'Holding' directed by Kathy Burke which will premiere soon. I have a couple of film collaborations going on at the moment - one by Stephen Fingleton and another one which will be written by Dave Tynan and Wendy Erskine - a few music projects, and a big visual arts project with artist Jesse Jones which we are about to shoot. And some other exciting screen projects possibly happening which I can’t talk about yet!
GL: Thank you so much Olwen for taking the time to chat to us. We really can't wait for everyone to see the new 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' film and we look forward to seeing you in other future projects too.
'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is available to stream exclusively on Netflix Feb 18th.
- Gavin Logan