In Dutch filmmaker’s Martin Koolhoven’s new Western thriller Brimstone, Dakota Fanning plays Liz—a young mother and frontierswoman wrongly accused of a crime fighting for her life when her town’s vengeful new preacher (Guy Pearce) sets out to destroy her. Recently, Film Independent caught up with Koolhoven and Pearce to discuss the project, including the movie’s meticulous Old West production design, the influence of color in each of the film’s four chapters and the role religion plays in the story. Plus, the pair also offered some helpful advice to aspiring actors and filmmakers. Here’s the chat:
How did you prepare for your role, and what attracted you to this film in the first place?
Pearce: For starters, I had to do a Dutch accent. I [also] had to try to see the Reverend as a three-dimensional human being and not just an obsessed, psychopathic, religious preacher. It’s mentally exhausting playing someone who’s that driven and that dangerous. I’m much better at joking around in-between takes [when not playing a character] with electrical wiring that’s not right, whether it’s violent behavior or antisocial, antagonistic behavior. It’s exhausting in real life, and exhausting to play. [The Reverend] justifies his behavior based on religion. It’s really fascinating when in a setting like the 1800s—it’s time when religion was all a lot of people had. He’s the Reverend, talking about the word of God… He has the power to banish or reprimand somebody. He’s playing God. It’s really powerful and dangerous stuff.
What were some of the challenges in re-creating the American West and immersing yourselves within that production design?
Koolhoven: We shot in Europe even though the film was based in America. So there’s a lot of Dutch architecture that we implemented. We raised 12 million Euros and had 35 financiers, which allotted a lot of artistic freedom. It was a tight budget for [this type of film], so there was a challenge there. The design was the starting point of the whole [production]. The film has four chapters and every chapter has its own visual identity. Certain chapters have more red, others have more green or white. Taking all of the different chapters and forming one [cohesive] movie was certainly a challenge.
Pearce: There’s something organic about anything pre-telephone. Where, if you want to communicate with someone, you’ve got to walk up to him or her and start the conversation. You’ve got to get on a horse and go to them or write a letter. There are so many elements to consider that are so vastly different than the way we live today.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors and/or filmmakers?
Pearce: It’s tricky with advice, because it depends on the person and what they need to know specifically. I would tell all young actors to try and do as much as they can. Go to drama school; get involved in local plays and theater. You might meet somebody who needs to learn how to audition or one that needs to learn how to be more confident in their craft. There are more actors than there are jobs. You get chosen for the job by having the right thing to offer at the right time. Learning how to deal with that and accepting it is really important. It’s just the nature of the business.
Koolhoven: Do what you really want to and what your heart tells you. That’s absolutely true, I believe in that. If I take it one step further: if you get your first movie made and a bit of success, be sure to listen to your own voice and make the movies you want to make. Make your own movies and not just the movies everyone else wants you to make.