The Brain Beneath the Pins — An Interview with Actor Doug Bradley
When I sat down to interview veteran actor Doug Bradley (Hellraiser) at a horror convention in Louisville, Kentucky, I expected we’d only talk for fifteen minutes. We ended up chatting for nearly an hour.
You see, Bradley has a lot to talk about (at least, if you ask him the right questions). Hell, I didn’t even have to torture him by launching hooks into his flesh! He freely shared one or two small (but intriguing) bits of information about Clive Barker’s forthcoming novel, The Scarlet Gospels (NOTE: Out now in a limited edition), and offered his two cents on the scuttlebutt that the book will kill off his most popular character, Pinhead.
He discussed his early collaborations with Barker in the UK avant-garde theater scene and Barker’s relatively short-lived acting career.
He explained his status as a “religious atheist,” his impatience, to put it politely, with creationism, and his thoughts on possibly becoming a U.S. Citizen.
Perhaps most impressively, he was able to discuss—in detail—many of the classics of weird fiction. (Although one might say that’s all just part of a day’s work for him, as he’s the voice behind the Spinechillers series of weird fiction audio books.)
This interview was conducted on October 5, 2014. I’d like to extend my special thanks to Fright Night Horror Weekend organizer Ken Daniels for making this interview possible. I’m delighted to be able to share this with readers of Nameless.
Nicole Cushing: At this point it looks like the Hellraiser reboot—or, I believe they’ve been referring to it as “the reconfiguration”—is no closer to fruition. However, it was recently announced that Pinhead will appear once again in Clive Barker’s forthcoming novel, The Scarlet Gospels—which is slotted for publication on May 19, 2015. My understanding is that this is a book that’s taken a long, long time for Clive to finish. I have a couple of questions for you, about that. At any time during the writing of the book, did Clive Barker talk to you about the characterization of Pinhead? Did he ever call to tap into your insights into the character, engage with you in brainstorming about the book, or ask you if you thought the book was consistent with your insights into the character?
Doug Bradley: No… is the simple answer. No… Several years ago, I do recall a phone conversation in which he said that he was planning to write what then he was talking about as being an answering novella to The Hellbound Heart, which would close Pinhead out, create his ultimate demise. And that was funny, because I had fans asking me about that because they assumed I would be very angry that Clive was planning to kill Pinhead off—which is not the case at all. The only other thing that he told me about it then was that the story would also feature Joseph of Arimathea’s dog. So those are the only two things I ever knew about The Scarlet Gospels in its inception. I hope Joseph of Arimathea’s dog is still in it, because I think that’s a very cool idea. But otherwise, no, I’ve had no conversations with him, other than that I know that that novella grew and grew and grew and grew and grew until it seems to have been hundreds of thousands of words long, and I know that Mark Miller has been working with Clive to edit it down into a publishable form. But he didn’t ask my advice. Why would he? It’s his creation, there for him to do what he wants with it. What Pinhead is in Clive’s imagination is quite different from what we put on screen. Anyone who’s read The Hellbound Heart knows that and understands that. I certainly do. So, I will be as eager to read it as everybody else.
Cushing: So you don’t have any information about whether The Scarlet Gospels has been optioned or whether it’s in film development or if that might be how Hellraiser comes back to the screen—instead of a reboot, maybe a film adaptation of The Scarlet Gospels?
Bradley: I have no idea. I mean, what you suggest is clearly a possibility, I suppose. That is going to be a very different kettle of cenobites from a remake or reboot… All I can say to you about the remake is that I don’t know anything. I think it is now seven years this month since I first caught wind of the idea of remaking the first movie—to which I’m opposed. There’s no need for it. It’s entirely unnecessary. I’m opposed to the whole remake culture, which I think is lazy. Money should be being spent on nurturing new talent, not taking a ride on tried and tested formulas. And it never turns out well. Nightmare on Elm Street is the screaming example of that. It was a travesty of the original movie. Though, I felt the same about Rob Zombie’s Halloween, to be perfectly honest. And a year ago it all kicked up again because Clive posted a comment on his Facebook about a phone conversation that he had had with the Weinsteins. A year later, all I can say is nobody has spoken to me about this at all. One way or the other, whether they’re interested in using me if they get around to it or not, I have absolutely no idea.
Cushing: If Pinhead does perish at the end of The Scarlet Gospels, it sounds like you’re at peace with that idea; that you have no objection, obviously and—as you say—you respect the literary creation as separate from the film adaptation. Does it trigger any emotion at all? Any wistfulness? Any sense of loss at all if that were to happen?
Bradley: No. He’s a fictional character. I mean, look, we already destroyed him once in Bloodline. And you can establish a pretty firm bottom line, anyway, when it comes to fantasy and horror, which is: you’re never going to let a little thing like death stop you.
Cushing: Very good point! I want to talk a little about the Hydra Theatre Company and The Dog Company, experimental theater groups that were predecessors of your film collaborations with Clive. I was always curious—and this may seem like a trivial question, but I now have an opportunity to ask it—why was it called The Dog Company. Is there any particular reason why it was called The Dog Company?
Bradley: I think it may have had something to do with it being “god” backwards. Plus, Clive’s always been a great lover of dogs. Myself also, most of us were. But there was also a… it was really the first production that The Dog Company did… a play, which is now published, called Dog. And that had gone through a number of transformations, because before The Dog Company was born, we were actually a mime company up in Liverpool called the Mute Pantomime Theatre. We did a commedia dell’arte show called A Clown’s Sodom , which then transmogrified into a much longer, darker mime piece called The Day of the Dog and then we stopped being a mime company and put the words back in, and the first production we did was yet another mutation. From A Clown’s Sodom to Day of the Dog, Day of the Dog then became Dog—which is now published as a play. So it may have been just a lazy thing that we were The Dog Company because we were doing a play called Dog, but I’m pretty certain it was also the idea of “dog” being “god” backwards.
Cushing: Thank you. I’ve wondered about that for years and now I have that question answered. My understanding is that, while you were in The Dog Company, there were several members of the company who lived in the same house. I’m just wondering about all the interesting things that could’ve happened with several creative people under the same roof. Do you have any stories that, in retrospect, might seem particularly amusing about that time?
Bradley: Not really, to be honest. Actually, the point at which we were sharing a house, again, predates The Dog Company, because that was up in Liverpool. You mentioned the Hydra Theatre Company and I mentioned the Mute Pantomime Theatre. In between the Hydra Theatre Company and Mute Pantomime Theatre, there was yet another incarnation of this madness that was called the Theatre of the Imagination. And we put on a whole bunch of original theatre at The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and it was kind of by default that we ended up sharing a rented house in Liverpool and then subsequently across the water in an area known as the Wirral. But that was only for about a year, and that was actually the point at which we moved again from Theater of the Imagination [and] became the Mute Pantomime Theatre during that time.
But The Dog Company didn’t form until we were down in London, which had happened by degrees around 1976, ‘77, and we were all in separate domiciles by then. So it was only a brief period of time, but it was kind of a creative hothouse. There was always stuff going on… I was preparing to make a movie with my then-partner, called Children of Pride… a masked, African story. I started filming another—this was all being shot on 8mm, Super 8, or 16mm—called Vampire Hunter. And it was the period, as well, when Clive was still working on [the film] The Forbidden. So, there was a lot of stuff going on. As I say, it was only a year. It was all of us and a dog and a cat and a Bengal monitor lizard.
Cushing: How long into this theater work did Clive act? Because I understand that Clive acted for awhile, but eventually gave that up. How many years did he do that?
Bradley: Certainly [he continued performing] into The Dog Company because he was in Dog. I’m trying to remember now, he was in Nightlives. We did Dog and we did a short play called Nightlives, which was about a politician and a gangster as alter egos, as separated identical twins. And then we did The History of the Devil and it’s my feeling that that was the first point that Clive stepped back from acting and was concentrating on directing. So that would be, I think, around 1980… when we were doing The History of the Devil.
Cushing: That actually played in Louisville.
Bradley: Oh, really?
Cushing: Yeah, about a year or so ago. And I saw the production, and I just loved it. And then I read the play and enjoyed that, too. It’s a very interesting characterization [of the Devil]. And you played the Devil?
Bradley: Yes. It’s a wonderful part. I was saying yesterday in the Q & A [session at the convention], because I was asked about this, I think it was while I was playing the Devil that I kind of—by default—kind of thought Oh, it looks as though like this is what I’m going to be doing, being an actor. So it turned out….
[Please read the entire interview with Mr. Bradley in
NAMELESS Digest #5, available later in 2015]
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